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Tips for Friday’s Bike to Work Day

A cyclist crosses the Wilson Bridge Trail over the Potomac River. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)
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Prepare for the annual clash of commuter cultures: Friday is Bike to Work Day, when thousands of people will travel to their jobs in cycling convoys, sharing the streets with drivers and pedestrians.

The cyclists’ skill levels will vary, and that’s part of the point. The day is about gathering in supportive groups to try something new. Many of the newbies will see cars and pedestrians from a very different perspective. Meanwhile, drivers and walkers should be prepared to see many more cyclists than they would on a normal day.

And everybody should stay calm about it.

Tips for bikers

There are 70 gathering points across the D.C. region for cycling convoys. More than 10,000 people are likely to participate.

Each pit stop will provide registered attendees with free T-shirts and chances to win bicycles and other prizes. There are enough T-shirts for the first 12,000 participants who have registered, but you can pick up the T-shirt only at the stop for which you registered. Here’s a link to a page showing the pit stop locations. (Check the start and end times for the gatherings.)

Feel free to visit multiple pit stops on Bike to Work Day but remember your free Bike to Work Day T-shirt can only be picked up at the pit stop you choose while registering. Here’s a link to the online registration page.

You don’t have to be registered to participate in the ride. Each convoy is led by experienced bicycle commuters. They go to popular employment centers throughout the region. Most of the convoys end up in Freedom Plaza at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW in downtown D.C.

For those a little rusty on cycling skills and the rules of the road, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association has some terrific guides and education programs. Among the resources is this pocket guide to the D.C. region’s bike laws.

Here are some of the riding safety basics for commuters who will be cycling on Friday and beyond:

  • Wear a helmet.
  • Be sure your bike is in good condition.
  • Wear bright clothing or reflective accessories.
  • Try a practice run on a weekend to find a good route and see how long it takes.
  • Find a co-worker or friend who bikes and commute with them.
  • Try bicycling to the nearest Metro or commuter rail station.
  • If you’re worried about whether you can bike the full distance to work, try driving part of the way and biking the rest.

Tips for drivers

Remember that the cyclists have as much right to be on those streets as you do, and they’re a lot more vulnerable in collisions than you are.

Many bikers don’t obey traffic laws, and they should. I rarely see a cyclist stop for a stop sign or red light. Some don’t even slow down. Drivers almost always slow down for stop signs. Few stop.

So let’s not worry about which type of commuter is more above average and instead just make sure no one gets hurt Friday. Drivers will be seeing more riders than they’re used to on busy commuter routes. And many of these cyclists will be riding in packs that include less-experienced bikers drawn in by the event.

AAA Mid-Atlantic put out a list of good suggestions for drivers on sharing the road:

  • Be especially careful to watch for cyclists when making right or left turns. [Cyclists are taught to be especially wary of a driver’s “right hook,” a right turn across the path of an oncoming cyclists. When making lefts, drivers sometimes watch only for cars, somehow rendering oncoming cyclists invisible.]
  • Check for bicyclists along the edge of the traffic lane before opening car doors so as not to cause a collision when exiting the vehicle. [Such accidents so common that cyclists refer to it as “dooring.”]
  • Allow three feet of passing space between your vehicle and the cyclist. Tailgating or honking can startle or fluster a bicyclist, causing them to swerve further into the driving lane.
  • Be patient. Remember, cyclists are moving under their own power and can’t be expected to go the same speed as cars.
  • Pay special attention to blind spots.
  • Be attentive on side streets and neighborhoods. Follow the speed limit, avoid being distracted and always be aware of your surroundings. It is particularly important to be cautious when backing out of a driveway and onto the street.