"Driving" your bike with Tamara Flanders

Tamara Flanders.jpg

Tamara Flanders and her daughter on their tandem bike

We'd like to bike more in the Capital Region. Really, we would. But frankly, we're a bit, well, chicken. OK, maybe not exactly chicken. It's just that riding a bike in an area with few bike lanes and often-inconsiderate drivers seems a bit hazardous.

Which is why Tamara Flanders new class on how to "drive" a bike looked interesting to us. Flanders is a holistic health teacher who added a class for novice adult cyclists to her repertoire this spring.

Why did you decide to teach this class?

It was actually my mother's idea. My ten-year-old daughter and I bike together a lot. We've taken a few tandem rides across New York State. My mother saw us having so much fun and wanted to try herself. But she was too embarrassed to ride with people who were more skilled and she didn't know a lot of he basics. But she would ride with me -- and I taught her.

There are lots of people like that, who want to ride but maybe are too nervous or too embarrassed to get in on a class with experienced cyclists. There are lots of classes for more experienced folks who want to get into racing, but not many for novice adults. I took one when I started riding with my daughter a few years ago and I found it very empowering. I think classes like this could get a lot of people started in late in life cycling.

What's the difference between driving your bike and riding your bike?

When I think of riding your bike I think about going on back trails. Driving your bike means following the roadways and the rules -- taking the responsibility for using your bike as a vehicle. It's traveling safely and effectively when you're sharing the street with cars.

But isn't a lot of this just common sense?

You would think so, but not always. It kind of depends on the person. I see people doing dangerous things all the time -- darting into the street, making unsafe lane changes. And then there are the cars swerving into the bike lanes.

People talk to me about driving their bikes and they're like "don't you just look for cars and squeeze in where you can?" There's a lot more to it. And it's very empowering to know how to do things correctly. I took a class several years ago when I started riding with my daughter. There are about five of us now that teach in the Capital Region.

So what exactly do you teach?

I always start with bike safety -- doing safety checks and how to change tires, how to do hand signals and scan over your shoulder so you can change lanes, safe gear shifting and changing lanes, how to communicate with cars around you, bike maintenance and city navigation. A lot of novices are just learning how to use their bikes -- how to use gears to climb a hill, emergency stops and turns, how to dodge objects in your path.

I also teach kids and I've offered my class to schools that teach drivers' ed, so that motorists can learn how to safely share the road with cyclists.

What are the biggest mistakes you see Capital Region cyclists make?

Riding on the wrong side of the street is one. Always ride on the right with the flow of traffic. A lot of us were taught that you should ride facing traffic and some people do it because they don't know how to cross a street. Also, adults riding on the sidewalk. Legally you can't ride on sidewalk after you're 12 years old.

And not wearing helmets is a huge mistake. I see more adults than kids cycling without a helmet.

What are some of the safest/least-safe roads to bike in the Capital Region.

Central Ave is difficult for sure -- pot holes, construction and a lot of drivers who are not excited about sharing the road. And there's not always going to be a bike lane -- there's debris in the streets. I know they're working on it, though, and it's getting better.

I have to say that after cycling across the state that our bike paths here are the best maintained in the state. Many of the trails around New York state are made of gravel.
The trails here are nice and there are a lot of them. Between Niiskayuna and Clifton Park there's the River Road loop that follows the Mohawk River -- beautiful rolling hills. And there are tons of bike paths in Albany, Troy and Schenectady. There's a nice 20-mile loop where you can go from Schenectady County Community College out to Pattersonville all along the Mohawk and it's mostly a flat ride. It's actively used for bike commuting.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Comments

A lot of people -- cyclists and motorists alike -- need more instruction in this area. Most of the biking I've done around here has so far been confined to trails, and pedaling out of our bucolic little village for the first time last week was a shock to the system. Much of the U.S. is just unfriendly to pedestrians and bicycles in general, but there are things we can all do to make it better.

One thing I noticed when I moved to the region is that it seems practically no one on a bike (especially younger riders) seems to understand that bicyclists are subject to the same traffic laws as other vehicles. Bicyclists must stop at red lights, stop signs, etc. just like the rest. I've seen some extremely dangerous riding around the Capital Region. Drivers, too, could use an education, because they don't give the same right of way to bicycles as to other vehicles, and that's the law as well. Ignorance on just that tidbit alone makes for some scary circumstances.

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I'm not sure that was factored into that race against the car promoted here a couple times, either, come to think of it. ;-)

It's great to see something like this. It's also funny that it doesn't come from the Albany Bicycle Coalition.

I have to agree with you, James. I would always think "irony!" on critical mass rides when my fellow riders were bellowing "We are traffic! We are traffic!!!" as they ran red lights/stop signs/rode 5 a breast etc and so on....

I wince every time my wife rides road...and this is coming from a guy who competitively races downhill mountain bikes!

It's not like the Capital District has encouraged cycling or anything. A couple more 'roundabouts' and it'll be killed off completely.

BTW, anyone ever ride the joke of a bike lane on Western Avenue?

F+

Sorry for the cynical tone, but Ive been a "serious" cyclist since long before it was cool and I've yet to see those responsible for our highways here take cycling seriously.

Nice bikepath tho.

C.

I'm not sure if it's the "least safe" road in the Capital Region, but the Rt. 32 stretch that you have to ride in Watervliet to get from Albany to Troy is pretty awful. You really do have to "drive" your bike there.

http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=812398&category=YTBETHLEHEM

great article; more people need to criticize others for biking on sidewalks- i bike about 100 miles per week myself, and can't stand seeing people booking it down the sidewalks of Lark or anywhere else. The Albany police really should start issuing tickets for this.

On another note, this prompted me to actually read the bicycle law for the city of Albany. Did you know you're not allowed to bike on the roads faster than 8 mph? That seems unreasonable, but it certainly appears to be the case.

I rarely but into these kinds of conversations as they all are the same, but as a person who only rides a bike, please do not tell me how to ride it until you have commuted every day for years.

Motorists love to tell cyclists to stop at stop signs, or nitpick any tiny thing a cyclist does wrong, but the truth is every day I see motorists do things much worse than running a stop sign, or light. Uturns with no signals, passing on the right while speeding, passing over the double yellow, texting, on their phone, etc.

The problem with this is is that /this will kill me/ if I'm not paying attention. I might dent your car if I'm going real fast and hit you, but be realistic, I'm running the light to get away from all of these inattentive people in their metal tanks for _my own safety_.

I apologize if it makes you upset or worried the way I ride, but motorists feel cyclists are not part of traffic while they're driving by them too closely, and part of traffic when it comes to being prosecuted by the law.

Does anyone know of a website that has information about local trails? And where can I get specifics (location, time, cost) about Flanders's class?

As someone who bikes 60-100 miles a week exclusively on roads, I have to disagree with Chuck D. on the roundabout issue -- there's almost nothing that makes cycling through an intersection safer. Once you're in, you can command the lane. You're highly visible, you can see all the traffic coming at you (because it's coming from one direction), and you clearly have the right of way. Count me as a cyclist who will be happy to see many more roundabouts, rather than sitting in the back of a long line of traffic (I don't like to slide up beside cars that have no idea I'm there) waiting for the light to change and having to stomp on the pedals to get through it before it changes. Or, worse, sitting at an intersection with a road sensor that I can't trigger with my bike, which happens all the time. I have to wait for a car to come to cross the street legally.

@Jenn C

Here is the page on Tamara Flander's website that lists info about her cycling classes:

http://yourbodyawake.com/id4.html

And here is a map of the Mohawk Hudson Bike-Hike Trail

http://www.cdtcmpo.org/mhbkmap.htm

Hi guys.
This is Tamara Flanders who was interviewed. Looks like some of you are trying to figure out how to reach me/find classes. You can find info on my classes on my website at http://yourbodyawake.com/ or e-mail me for private/group of friends "I have a bike, now what" classes. For other classes offered by other great and local cycling instructors you can go to: http://www.bikeleague.org/

Ride on, ride safe!

I appreciate Andrew's comment. I have been a regular bike commuter on Delaware and Lark for a year or so (though I have taken a break now because of construction has made the ride so uncomfortable). It always is interesting to me when motorists (and I am one of those, too) complain about bikers disregard for the law while close to 0% of drivers stop at red lights before turning right or actually stop at stop signs, (as just a couple of examples). And cyclists have better reasons for not stopping than motorists: we have the least control of our bikes at very slow speeds, and if we stop, our bikes fall over! At least one state has recognized that this is a safety issue and made it legal for cyclists to NOT stop at stop signs when they can clearly see that no traffic is coming.

Having said all of that, though, I want to add that I have found motorists to be overwhelmingly respectful of bicycists. And it really annoys me when I see bicyclists riding on the wrong side of the street or on the sidewalk, both because it gives the rest of us a bad image and because (in the case of sidewalks) it make the uninformed think the sidewalk is where we should be! There needs to be more enforcement in these cases.

This region needs more bike lanes. The only one of which I know is a pathetic 50-foot stretch on Broadway under the 787 overpass. I can't tell you how many times I've been cycling in a median, scared half to death as cars and trucks barrel past me at 50+ mph.

The local bigwigs are always brainstorming ways to make this region more livable and retain residents...so why not start with an extensive bike lane "master plan"? It would be a cheap and easy way to "capital"ize (groan) on our beautiful and natural outdoor assets.

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