Training wheels: Cyclists educate newbies before bike-share’s launch

“There will be more riders on the road after the launch of CitiBike, so we have to start educating novice riders on the ins and outs of city riding,”

Story by Danielle Furfaro - Source: http://www.brooklynpaper.com
Biking 101: The instructors at Brooklyn Skillshare’s Beat The Fare class showed students simple bike maintenance, as well as urban riding skills.  Photo © Elizabeth Graham

Biking 101: The instructors at Brooklyn Skillshare’s Beat The Fare class showed students simple bike maintenance, as well as urban riding skills. Photo © Elizabeth Graham

The city’s much-hyped bike-sharing program is coming — and cycling activists are on a quest to make sure the sight of a blue cruiser does not instill panic into the hearts of borough riders.

As the launch date of the soon-to-be-ubiquitous bicycle rental initiative quickly approaches, advocates for two-wheelers are cheering the CitiBike plan while riding hard to mitigate the potential for dangerous encounters with biking newbies.

“There will be more riders on the road after the launch of CitiBike, so we have to start educating novice riders on the ins and outs of city riding,” said Meg Wachter, an organizer with Brooklyn Skillshare, which hosted an urban cycling class for beginners last week.

The focus of the “Beat the Fare, Learn to Ride” class wasn’t on balance or turning: instead, the session was meant to teach those comfortable in suburban and less-intense urban settings how to ride down Brooklyn’s busiest roads without missing a beat.

And with CitiBike pick-up and drop-off stations already popping up in Downtown, DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights, and Fort Greene in preparation for the program’s May launch, now is the time for beginners to gain confidence on two wheels, organizers say.

Some worry the tourists and local beginners who take advantage of the 10,000 citywide rental bikes may lack the street savvy to stay safe, but Noah Berland, one of the instructors at the Brooklyn Skillshare class, said the influx of blue cruisers will help all cyclists citywide.

“Infrastructure makes it easier,” said Berland, who grew up riding around Park Slope and helped students learn how to interact with traffic, properly lock up their two-wheelers, and fix flats at the seminar. “As there are more cyclists on the road, drivers will be more aware and that will be better for everyone.”

A greater number of cyclists on the streets will have a traffic-calming effect, according to Caroline Samponaro, senior director of campaigns and marketing at the bike advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.

“As the rate of bikes goes up, the rate of crashes goes down,” said Samponaro, who hopes the tourists and new borough cyclists who use the rentals will adopt a watch-and-learn attitude when riding in Brooklyn.

“It’s not that different from using the subway for the first time,” she said. “You have to ask for help.”

The program, which is sponsored by $41 million from Citibank and $6.5 from Mastercard, will offer its own free classes to beginners in partnership with Bike New Yo. The CitiBike website already offers a detailed how-to guide for aspiring riders, warning renters to yield to pedestrians, stay off sidewalks, obey traffic lights, ride with traffic, plan sensible routes, check equipment before setting off, use hand signals, avoid the “door zone,” and keep headphones off, among other advice. The page also directs riders to the city’s “Bike Smart: The Official Guide to Cycling in New York City” in multiple languages.

The out-of-town bicycle sharers expected to enter the borough across the East River bridges might not know where to find a bike lane, how to turn a Kryptonite chain into a belt, or the best turn of phrase to chide cabbies into sharing the road — and that might be a good thing, according to professional cycling educator Tim Haney.

“The tourists are a little more reserved and not quite so confident and that ends up benefitting them,” said Haney, who is planning to roll out his own series of continuing bicycle education classes through Bike New York later this year.

And for Brooklynites who feel wary about cycling, the bike-share program is the perfect way to turn a novice into a pedal-pushing pro, according to Wachter.

“If it’s a way to try urban cycling without buying a bike, that’s awesome,” said Wachter.

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