The Language of Biking

Thanks to everyone who donate to my Bikes Not Bombs ride. We raised much more than last year–over $100,000 dollars after pledges come in. It was a hot day–97 degrees–by the time I rolled back into the city via Blue Hills Ave in Dorchester, but it was a fun ride nonetheless.

bnb_ride_2008

At the beginning of each leg, we formed a fairly cohesive group, and I was reminded how important communication is when riding like this. Being primarily a commuter cyclist, I don’t often bike with others on longer rides and I had forgotten the many hand signals and rules of etiquette that groups of riders use in order to function as a safe and efficient units.

While biking in the city, I’m usually just looking out for myself and I don’t communicate as much as I probably should with those with whom I share the road. Occasionally I manage a half-hearted hand signal to indicate a turn or to acknowledge someone who has stopped let me pass; more often I just dole out dirty looks to drivers who cut me off or edge too close.

But riding in a group of 20 or more cyclists required more deliberate communication, and I enjoyed picking up the finer points of the language as we went along. Often hand signals were passed back to make others aware of potholes to avoid or upcoming stop lights. At other times, we created a verbal form of vision, a collaborative seeing that kept us aware what was happening behind use without having to look.  Those at end of pack (which was usually me) would tell the rest of the group a car was coming from behind by yelling “Car back,” which then would be repeated by those ahead until it was passed up to the front of the group.

As the ride went on, the group would attenuate and break into smaller units, but good communication remained important even when riding with just one other person.

Now that I’ve brushed up on this biking lingo, I’m trying to be better about communicating as I ride, whether I’m riding in a group or just trying to make my way to work. I figure the more I can stay on the same page with others around me on the rode, the safer we’ll all be.

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