Bike safely on Philly’s streets


illustration by J. P. Flexner

Contrary to what most medieval scholars thought (four humors? c’mon, guys), the brain is where all that “you” stuff happens, and keeping its little house intact and not cracked is important when navigating streets full of steel, plastic and rubber death machines. So wear a helmet. Yes, they look kinda dorky but until personal force fields are available, this is the best way to protect your head. Make sure the helmet fits over your whole head, doesn’t have any previous cracks and the straps are snug.

The best way to avoid joining the ranks of sad American health stories is to be aware of your surroundings and make yourself visible. Many accidents happen because someone wasn’t paying complete attention. While it’s sometimes the fault of a motorist who didn’t think about the possibility of a cyclist being on the road, the person on the bike is far more likely to end up hurt. So follow these car-minding tips:


  • Look for turn signals, or other indications that a car is going to turn. If you’re on the right of a car at the intersection, watch for a blinker or a shifting of the car to the right. Same for lefts from cars on the other side of the intersection. Expect the worst (i.e. no signal and an abrupt turn) and you’ll avoid getting hit.
  • Don’t assume a car is going to stop at a stop sign.
  • When riding next to parked cars, make sure to stay a couple of feet away to avoid getting doored (hit by an opening door). You’re better off annoying some drivers than meeting a door handle up close.
  • Ride with traffic, not against; you’re not a salmon.
  • Keep a straight course and don’t swerve in and out of lanes; this makes it harder for cars to see you.
  • It’s also important to make yourself visible: Wear bright clothing, attach reflectors to the front and back of your bike and use a headlight at night. A mirror and a bell are also very useful. Hand signals are part of this, too. Left arm out means left turn, left arm down means stop, and a right turn can be signalled by either the left arm bent up or the right arm straight out.
  • Stay off the sidewalk; just as a car can hurt you, a bike can injure a pedestrian.
  • Stay in bike lanes when possible.
  • Watch out for trolley tracks (which can catch your wheels), grates with large spaces and big potholes that can pop your tubes.
  • Like your mother or father said, always look both ways. Even on a one-way street, it’s best to assume every driver is drunk and part of a high-speed chase.

This article originally appeared in Grid's 2008 prototype issue.

Story by Will Dean