Lately, I’ve been feeling too spooked to ride my bike. Chalk it up to too many near misses, some of which occurred when I was just walking my bike home in the rain. I often think of the shoulder injury my friend has yet to fully recover from or be compensated for (damn those uninsured motorists who skip town) after being doored two years ago. It doesn’t help matters that I spent the weekend at an East Bay music festival held annually in memory of Matthew Sperry, a bassist, composer, husband, and dad, whose very special life ended while he was cycling to work at LeapFrog in Emeryville on June 5, 2003. And let’s not forget Sarah Tucker (hit and run accident, 1/12/06) and Spider Davila (deliberate hit and run, 12/17/05).
Looks like I’m not alone in my fretting. According to a "report card" issued by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, 13 percent of us are reluctant to pedal around town because we’re too scared. Overall, our city got a C-minus in bike friendliness from the 1,151 respondents who filled out the SFBC’s online and hand-distributed survey, mostly owing to scary motorists, bumpy streets, and not enough bike lanes (all issues the bicycle coalition works very hard on to make for a better biking city).
Even though I’m afraid of eating pavement while riding, I don’t wear a helmet. I used to, but those things never look good with my outfit. Besides, if two tons of car slams into me while I’m rolling down Gough, a little piece of plastic and foam wrapped around my Gulliver won’t save my life. Some of you fixies reading this article might be nodding in agreement. Well, that’s because your heads are still attached to your bodies.
Fixed-gear bikes do look beautiful, unfettered as they are by brakes, cheap plastic reflectors, and clunky beam lights, but I’m here to say that you don’t always have to sacrifice aesthetics in favor of living to a ripe old age.
Here’s a handful of ways for you, whether you’re a fixie, a chopper rider, a hybrid commuter, a BMX daredevil, or just really vain (like me), to avoid wearing a neck brace as a fashion accessory. Trust me, you and your bike will still look cool.
1. Get a light How many times has a passing motorist screamed that at you? You bitch about it, because every time you buy one, someone steals it, so finally you got one that slides on and off. But it was too big to fit in your pocket, and then some moron decided to strip the light’s pedestal still screwed to your handlebars. I solved this problem by getting a Topeak front beam light ($20). It’s small enough to fit in your mouth, and it straps on kind of like a wristwatch. No screwdriver necessary, no tacky plastic pedestal marring the sleek looks of your untaped handlebars. I got mine at San Francisco Cyclery on Stanyan across from Golden Gate Park.
2. Don’t be a sucker Jerks are also always stealing back lights and reflectors off bikes. Valencia Cyclery sells lots of "lollipop" lights, which are made by Cat Eye and attach with elastic cords — to your backpack, seat, helmet, belt loop. They cost $13 for a red and $17 for a more-expensive-to-make white LED light.
3. Cop skater style It’s hard to say how these things get decided, but among the tragically hip, lightweight and aerodynamic helmets specifically made for biking are as out as fanny packs. Case in point: Only hybrid riders wear them. But for some reason, wearing a skateboarding helmet while biking is dope. Whatever, they protect equally well. Giro and Bell make bicycle helmets that look like skater (or BMX) helmets, which are more rounded and human head–shaped than the amphibious-looking bike helmets of the ’90s. They come in an array of colors in matte and sparkling finishes. Freewheel and American Cyclery sell them for between 20 and 40 bucks. Skates on Haight sells actual skate helmets online for $20.
4. Just don’t commit suicide Road bikes are more the rage these days, but it’s hard to look out for wayward traffic while leaning over those drop handlebars. Cyclocross interrupter break levers ($20–$40) install at the top of the bars, near the stem, allowing road bike riders to sit upright. Since these levers connect to the housing instead of to your lower brakes, they are a much better alternative to the old-school versions often referred to as suicide brakes. Valencia Cyclery will retrofit your vintage road bike with these for $30. SFBG
Freewheel Bike Shop
1920 Hayes and 914 Valencia, SF
(415) 752-9195, (415) 643-9213
San Francisco Bike Coalition’s Report Card
San Francisco Cyclery
672 Stanyan, SF
1065 Valencia, SF