A Practical Guide to Biking in the Suburbs
Some Statistics For Thought
An estimated 47.6% of people reading this article live in the suburbs and 73% of these suburb-dwellers live in what I call the “deep suburbs” which are defined as neighbourhoods from which (using public transit) it takes over 45 minutes to reach a major urban centre during the day and approximately 100 hours after dark. Luckily, statistics show that 55.8% of deep-suburb residents own bicycles. Unfortunately, only a measly 2.67% of these bike-owners actually use them regularly in lieu of a motorized vehicle.
That last statistic is very disappointing, and maybe also true. Biking is good for your health and the environment, and shouldn’t just be reserved for yuppies and Europeans. And with gas prices skyrocketing, biking can also be excellent for the longterm health of your wallet. Luckily, I’ve recently been experimenting with deep-suburban bike-use and have compiled the following guide for the benefit of the masses:
1. Economy is key
Spend as little money as possible. This is good advice for life in general; however, in this case, if you’re turning to biking as a way to avoid spending all your money on gas, then it only makes sense to be as cheap as possible when it comes to the hardware. Luckily, every cookie-cutter suburban subdivision in North America is within a reasonable driving distance from at least three Walmart stores (wait, do they have Walmart in Mexico?). You can buy a fully functioning bicycle for $80. You should also pick up a couple bike locks, and maybe a loaf of bread and some shaving cream while you’re there. Also, make sure you own plenty of WD-40–otherwise your discount bike will probably stop working within a week. $100 later and you’re all set!
2. Making your bike rideable
The kind people at Walmart have assembled your bike for you. This is lucky because most of us suburban people are not good at building and fixing things. But you should still adjust a few things. Find a wrench then locate the bolt under the bicycle saddle. Use the wrench to loosen the bolt and then lower or raise the saddle (aka “seat”) until it is at a comfortable height (when sitting, your legs should be able to almost fully extend when you pedal). Also make sure the brakes and gears work, and the wheels turn, obviously. Finally, spray WD-40 on everything.
Spend at least ten minutes per day poring over maps of your local neighbourhood (and any areas where you might accidentally wander out to). Ignore the “bicycling” option on Google Maps. The information presented with respect to the suburbs will most likely make zero sense and be more misleading than helpful. The key is to familiarize yourself with the most direct and safe routes to places of interest. Avoid busy roads and take smaller parallel roads if possible. If not possible, just bike on the sidewalk. No one actually walks anywhere in the suburbs, anyway.
4. Doing the deed
Make sure you have plenty of time to get to where you need to go, and pack water and maybe a snack in case you get lost. This is not a joke, you will get lost at least once. Streets in subdivisions built from around the 50s onward have a tendency to curve and/or end abruptly, and I presume you didn’t study the maps like I advised (I know this because I’m a teacher; but don’t worry, you’re not being graded). Make use of your gears. Gentle slopes are torture for the out-of-shape suburbanite. Lower gears will save your legs. Finally, try to ignore all the staring onlookers–especially children, who have no shame– they probably don’t see many people riding bikes with bags of groceries hanging off them. They’re most likely also jealous of how cool you look.
There are a few things you’ll have to keep in mind in order to keep yourself and your bike safe. Firstly, lock up your bike whenever you go into a store. You’d be surprised how many hooligans there are living in your neighbourhood. Second: left turns are terrifying. Make use of hand signals to indicate your intention. Or hop up onto the sidewalk, get off your bike, and pretend to be a pedestrian. Finally, when riding on the side of a road, be wary of cars passing you. Odds are, most of them have never done this before; therefore, they will either get too close, or, in an effort to be polite, give you way too much space and swing into the opposing lane, endangering everyone else on the road. Be aware of the former and worry about the poor life choices of the latter.
Have fun and get in as much biking as you can. Remember, summer is short, and if you’re not lucky enough to live in the south, the outdoors will be completely inhospitable again in a few months.
PS: I made up a few inflated statistics to grab your attention, sorry, I just wanted to fit in with the mainstream media, read more here