If you commute to work every day, the thought might cross your mind on the morning you're running a half-hour late and idling at yet another red light, only to realize that the lady with the walker has overtaken you. Or it might be while you're on a Green Line train, someone's wet umbrella jammed into your back, waiting out the latest "temporary delay" so you can resume your noisy, swervy ride. You're uncomfortable, you're antsy, and you have to wonder: wouldn’t this be better if I were on a bike?
For a devoted population of city bikers, the answer is a resounding "Hell, yes." Sure, as a driver or pedestrian you might occasionally curse those maniacs on two wheels. But don't you often wish that you, too, could squeeze in between a long line of stopped cars? That your commuting frustrations could be quelled by endorphins?
If you're finally ready to trade in your Charlie ticket for a bike helmet and hit the roads on a two-wheeler, you should make sure you're prepared. It's bad enough getting cut off on Comm Ave in your car, but if it happens on a bicycle, it could be fatal. So here are some tips from expert urban rider Mike Budka on how to bike around Boston safely and efficiently. Budka has been biking here for about two decades, first as a student at the Berklee School of Music, then as a bike messenger, and later as a commuter. He now operates a bike repair shop, fittingly called Mike's Bike Repair, from his home in Woburn.
Realizing the risks
There is no shortage of hazards for urban bikers, and any one of them could send you flying. Cars may be huge and lethal, but as Budka points out, at least they're fairly predictable — they're on the road and they have to stay there. Pedestrians, on the other hand, are loose cannons: "They're everywhere!" Budka says. "They behave as if they're entitled to walk wherever they want without paying attention, which is annoying as all get out." So even if they're not looking for you, make sure you're looking for them.
Inanimate objects can be dangerous as well. While looking around for reckless pedestrians, don't forget to keep an eye on the road itself: potholes or steel plates can be avoided, but only if you see them coming.
And then there are the deadly doors. Budka's been "doored" a couple times, and he's been lucky not to get too hurt. He's heard stories, though, of people being impaled on doors and dying. Not a pretty thought. That's why you want to stay far enough away from parked cars. It's also smart, Budka says, to peek in the back windows of cars as you go, to see if there are any oblivious people in the drivers' seats about open their doors into your path.
As Budka told his oldest son before he set off on a bike messenger career of his own, "Just behave as if everyone's trying to kill you, and you'll be fine."