I have been bike commuting off and on for 24 years so I am pretty comfortable riding in all sorts of city traffic. Others, however, are not comfortable at all—they might not have much experience in traffic or they might have had one or two bad experiences that have scared them off from riding solo.
However, most riders (urban traffic novices in particular) feel much safer in a group, especially if they trust the group leader. I have taken some traffic novices through some pretty complex traffic quite safely. The experience was usually exciting for them, but not too scary, and we were definitely safe. When they follow an experienced leader through traffic, they gain competency.
So here is the point for this article—to help less experienced people learn to negotiate urban traffic on a bicycle, consider starting a Bike Bus Ride in your area.
A Bike Bus is a group of cyclists riding together to a specific destination on a schedule with an experienced leader. Bike Buses were originally started to allow commuters to ride together to work. However, a Bike Bus can be adapted to go anywhere groups of riders want to go- church, shopping, the zoo, parks—If a road goes there, a Bike Bus can go there.
The Bike Bus rides two abreast (where legal) and will single up as needed. The Bike Bus rides legally and courteously—Bike Bus members are ambassadors for cooperative legal road sharing, adhering to the “Same Roads, Same Rights, Same Rules” slogan. The Bike Bus stops at traffic lights and stop signs. (Well, we may slow down and not stop dead still if it is safe to roll, but we will slow down and act like a, uh, act like a Bus.)
The pace of the bike bus is agreed upon by the members that day. Since the Bike Bus serves a safety and a social function, dropping slower riders is generally not a good idea. However, if there are enough riders, splitting the Bike Bus into two or three groups riding different paces can be a good idea. Smaller groups are easier for motor vehicles to pass as well.
A group of 4 is big enough to feel like a Bike Bus. I think once the group reaches 12 or so, splitting into more than one Bike Bus might be a good idea, depending on the situation. If there is only one leader, don’t split it. Recruit competent co-leaders.
MidTown Bikes is leading a Farmer’s Market Ride on Saturdays. Bill Draper is leading a Downtown Memphis History Bike Tour a couple of Saturdays a month. In my own neighborhood, I think that a good thing to do would be to create a Bike Bus ride to local grocery shopping. I live just 2.5 miles from Wild Oats, Super Lo, and Kroger, so it is very bikeable. To me it is bike friendly, but to novices riding down Southern and crossing Poplar looks like certain death.
Consider getting on the Bike Bus! Here’s a website from down under-- be sure to check out the video.