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July 23, 2009

Ready to roll? Before you go …

Linguistics professor and long-time bike commuter Scott Kiesling offers a few tips for new riders:

Ride confidently and defensively

• Assume people don’t see you and ride accordingly.

• Take your place in the lane: Don’t ride so far to the right that you’re too close to car mirrors or unable to maneuver out of the way should the door of a parked car open unexpectedly.

• Think of your bike as a vehicle: Avoid riding on sidewalks.

Don’t skimp on gear

“That doesn’t mean you need a $4,000 bike, but most important is that the bike fits well,” he said. It’s better to pay a little more at a bike shop where staff can fit your bike properly.

Learn to fix a tire

Sturdy tires mean fewer flats, but everyone who rides needs to know how to fix a tire.

“It’s not hard, but it needs to be practiced,” he said. And, carry the tools, a tube and a pump with you.

Wear a helmet

Kiesling knows firsthand: A collision with a driver in Sydney cracked his helmet and sent him to the hospital. “I always ride with a helmet, especially after that,” he said.

Dress properly

“There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes,” he said.

Think of how you’ll carry your belongings

Some people prefer backpacks; others, including Kiesling, dislike riding with them. If panniers are your preference, “get good bags that fit what you want to do,” he said, advising that spending more for good quality bags can be a bargain compared to replacing cheaper ones every season.

Plan your route

“Don’t think you have to go the way you drive,” he said. “The most direct way might be the hilliest or might be more or less safe.”

In short, consider: How far? How steep? How safe?

Don’t be shy about asking other bikers about their routes, either in online forums such as the Bike Pittsburgh message boards (available by clicking on resources at or by hanging out along the routes and asking other bikers in person.

Just do it

If biking all the way from home isn’t an option, consider driving part of the way and pedaling the rest.

And, don’t feel as if you have to bike every day. “It’s worth trying,” Kiesling said. “Even if you say, ‘I’m going to ride when it’s really nice,’ you might get addicted.”

Kiesling is happy to share what he knows with others interested in commuting by bike. Contact him at

The Office of Parking, Transportation and Services offers tips and information for bikers at

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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