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How to Bike in Traffic (Frugal Fun Tip, May, 2002)

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for May, 2002, Vol. 6, No. 1

THIS MONTH'S TIP: How to Bike in Traffic (#2 of three in a row about children's activities)

I've sung praises to the bicycle already (See the May, 2000 Tipsheet: Pedal Power). Not only is it cheap, fast transportation, but it gets your heart rate up too.

For children in the suburbs, the bicycle can be a lifeline--and a lifesaver for harried parents who would otherwise be driving their children all the time. Considering that the vast majority of car trips in the U.S. are under five miles--a distance where the bike can actually be faster than a car or bus, if traffic is heavy--it's useful as transportation, too.

I've paid $10 to $50 for decent basic used bikes (usually three-speeds). Even buying new, you can get a very good quality 18 or 21 speed hybrid from around $300--and if you get 15 years out of it, that's only $20 a year.

But too few parents take the time to instruct their children in basic bicycle safety. If you ride with your children until they know safe practices inside and out, they'll not only be much safer on their bikes, but when they get to be driving age, they will probably be better drivers.

* Use proper equipment. Always wear a helmet, make sure the bike is equipped with reflectors, consider an attached mirror. If they will be riding on busy streets or in less than perfect light conditions, reflective orange vests and/or safety flags can make them a lot more visible to drivers. And the bike should fit properly, which probably means adjusting the seat every few months.

* Ride on the right side of the road, in the same direction as traffic; while it's true that it's safer to walk facing oncoming traffic, on a bike, you are infinitely safer going with the traffic flow, because drivers can predict and anticipate your movements. Use your mirror or just turn your head to scan behind you. Keep as far toward the shoulder as possible. If you face an obstacle, such as a sewer grate or broken glass, stop the bike and wait if you don't have time to swing into the traffic lane.

* Use hand signals when turning, stopping, or changing lanes. Left arm extended for moving to the left, left hand upright (If you're in the right lane already) or right hand extended (if you're merging into traffic) to move right. Left hand pointing down if you're slowing to a stop.

* Always ride single file in traffic.

* Never dart into traffic or swerve out suddenly from between parked cars.

* If riding with small children, an adult should bring up the rear; children should wait at all intersections and stay within voice range.

I started commuting to school by bicycle when I was 14--in busy New York City traffic. I had a 3-mile commute, and then when we moved, it was over five miles. It was faster and more enjoyable than the bus!

Recently, I've been training my 9-year-old son in bicycle safety, and he now rides with me (not yet by himself on a busy, hilly state highway).


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The investment is small enough and the potential payoff big enough that I did sign up as an affiliate. I'll keep you posted!

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