Tips for Biking in the City

bikingPhoto by Stefan Malner.

The Community Development Department hosts a slew of bicycle workshops throughout the year, from Rules of the Road to Bicycle Maintenance Basics to Riding with Families. Workshops are free to attend and include free helmets.

The Urban Cycling Basics workshop focuses on getting people road-ready for the special set of challenges biking in a hectic city presents. Here’s what you need to know.

Watch drivers’ behavior, not just their blinkers

Cars don’t always use their blinkers—as anyone who’s walked, biked, or driven these streets knows. But there are other signs you can pick up on to predict whether a car is going to turn. If the vehicle slows down, Sustainability Planner Jennifer Lawrence recommends slowing down also and getting behind the vehicle. This tactic can help save you from the treacherous right hook, where a car turning right hits a cyclist in a bike lane.

Helmets expire

Got a helmet that’s covered in cobwebs? Check the expiration date printed on the inside. Helmets are made of styrofoam, which deteriorates over time. It also cracks to protect you, so if you’ve fallen in your current helmet you should get a new one.

Here’s how to tell if your helmet fits correctly, according to Lawrence: “You want to look up and be able to see the edge of it. That means it’s covering the front part of your forehead, the brain part, so it’s really important. And then you want it to be tight enough so that you can bite an apple but it doesn’t hurt while you’re doing that, and not loose enough that it can just fall off if there’s a big bump. And you want the straps to be around your ears.”

“You’re not a pedestrian”

People are so used to walking their neighborhood streets that sometimes they forget that the rules of cycling are much closer to the rules of driving, Lawrence explains. That means stopping at red lights, making sure you’re not going the wrong way down a one-way street (unless there are contraflow lanes), and yielding to pedestrians.

Stay away from doors if you can

Dooring is another major safety issue for bicyclists, as bike lanes are often on either side of a parking lane. While there are campaigns to get drivers and passengers to watch out for cyclists before opening their doors (like the “Dutch Reach,” which asks people to use their opposite hand to open car doors), Lawrence recommends cyclists stay three feet away from car doors whenever possible to help stay safe.

Try out your route on a weekend

If you’re new to biking to work, don’t try it for the first time during rush hour. Give it a test run on a weekend when traffic will be calmer—that way you’ll get comfortable biking the roads and your route will feel more familiar when you try it at 8 a.m.

Dress comfortably

The misconception that you need special biking clothes can be a barrier to getting started, Lawrence explains, but she bikes in whatever she plans to wear for the day, even if it’s a dress. If you’re biking at night, though, be sure to wear light colors so others can see you.

To find a schedule of upcoming workshops, visit

This story originally appeared in the Technology & Transportation Issue issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.

Like what you’re reading? Consider supporting Scout on Patreon!