When I first moved to New York, I thought people who rode their bikes around on the streets were lunatics. New York drivers are angry, impatient jerks, New York pedestrians are phone-distracted, J-walking jerks and New York bikers are fearless, or stupid. At least, that's what I thought before I bought my first bike. At first, I was terrified. I bought the safest helmet on the market, and I only wore close-toed shoes and stretchy pants and thick fitted jackets. I avoided busy streets and stayed as far away from cars as humanly possible. I'd never go more than a few blocks and always do a search for bike paths before opting for city streets. And by the time I got where I was going, I was always a little bit shaken up and grateful to be parking my bike and still alive.
But like anything, the more you do it, the less scary it becomes. You become very jaded very quickly on a bike in a big city. You'll have a close call with a bus swerving into your bike lane and you think it's going to ruin your day and scare you away from riding in the future — but then a pedestrian wanders into the road refreshing their Instagram, causing you to stop abruptly causing a biker behind you to nearly crash into you and by the time you get to your destination, you've had half a dozen other close calls or bouts of aggression directed towards everything and everyone else on the street and you've already forgotten about the bus and the Instagrammer.
After awhile, you'll start to feel more confident. You'll find your voice and know how and when to use it. You'll find your balance and get better at recovering from swerves and stops. And most notably, you'll start to take any excuse to ride your bike. The more you ride the smaller your city will become, the more fun it will be to navigate and the more excited you'll be about getting around. Because riding your bike is the closest thing us working adults have to recess. However, there are definitely some hard lessons to be learned from riding in a big city. Here are a few examples of mental adjustments you'll have to make for yourself if you ride your bike in a big city:
Never Trust A Bus
You might think that since a bus is a city operated vehicle it will be safe, always give you enough room and never run you off the road or push you into an unsafe position. If you think that, you'd be wrong. I've literally never been on a single bike ride that didn't include at least one close call with a bus. They're fast, reckless, and not concerned with your safety — so you have to watch out for yourself when a bus comes around.
Never Get Close To A Car Door
When you're cruising down the right side of the lane, you might think that people getting out of parked cars will check behind them before they open their door into the bike lane. Guess what? They won't. When you're riding your bike in a big city with lots of street parking, you have to always assume that a passenger might be about to pop out of a car to your right and give yourself enough space that if you need to swerve away from an incoming car door, you can, safely.
A Bell Is Key
Because your bike is silent, you'll often run into situations where people don't hear you so they can't sense that you're coming. People will just wander into the crosswalk texting, or start driving into the bike lane mindlessly. You'll need to quickly learn how to yell quite loudly or invest in a bell. It might save your life, or someone else's.
Left Turns Suck
Just the same way that left hand turns can be a pain in the car, they're a pain on a bike. You might wait for ever, or you might make a risky turn that forces you to wait on the yellow line of the road.
You'll Always Flash In A Skirt
When you first get on your bike in a skirt or a dress, you'll sort of tuck it under your legs on the seat and find a way that makes you feel secure and covered. But no matter what, once you start moving, your skirt will fly up and you will flash literally everyone. Thank god for bike shorts.
You Have To Wear A Backpack
You'll try to wear a tote bag or purse on your bike and it won't work out. Once you put your hands on the handlebars, the straps will start to slide down your shoulder and drive you crazy until the bag completely slides down your arm and is hanging on your wrist. Eventually you'll just give up and start wearing backpacks all the time. They're the only thing that makes sense.
It's Actually Really Fun
People who don't ride their bikes probably think you're a nut, because when you don't ride, you don't realize how fun and easy and convenient it is. It makes any city feel like a playground and makes getting around a good time, rather than a chore.