Biking for Dummies – Street Basics

We’re hanging out with Ms. Raggedly Riches today who has been awesome in her pursuit of a creative life. We’re talking about alternatives for those of us who live car-free! There are so few win-wins in life and the one thing that’s totally it: biking. It’s good for your wallet and it’s good for your health! I’ve been meaning to crack the egg on this and I’m excited she will be doing the cracking!


Guest Bio-thefrugalgene

{ Raggedly riches are the best riches! Rich looks different for everyone – and that’s why I want to share my experiences, passions, and tips and tricks with whoever wants to read about them. As an artist, I’m never going to be able to make a six-figure income but that doesn’t mean I can’t utilize the money I make and have in the best way possible. We all have different priorities and passions, and we’re all in different stages of our life – which is okay!

I think all you need to do to be happy is to be honest with yourself about what you want, why you want it, and what you need to do to get it. My blog’s all about Canadian finances, writing, and art – and there’s bound to be something for everyone there. Come on over, take a look, and drop me a line! }

Biking for Dummies: Street Basics

Biking for Dummies

Adding a bike to your routine can be daunting. But it’s an excellent mode of transportation, and a great way to swap out your car every once in a while. Here’s a quick overview to hopefully make it seem more approachable and friendlier:


  1. Always wear a helmet. I cannot stress this enough. You don’t need a $70 helmet, but you do need a certified helmet that fits well. Go to your local sporting store, and get someone to help you fit the cheapest helmet you can find. Your helmet won’t save your skull if it doesn’t stay on your skull.

  2. Know your limits. Terrified of cars and traffic? Then don’t bike in busy car lanes. Most cities have bike lanes or bike streets that have a fraction of the traffic main routes do. Google has an option for mapping out

  3. Be visible. The most places require a bell, and bike lights (or at least reflectors) by law, at night. I always have my reflectors on, I have a bell I rarely use, and cheap bike light. I paid less than $15 for my lights. You don’t need amazing lights, you just need lights.

  4. Know the rules of the road. And don’t trust that other people do. I’ve been in one too many Canadian stand-offs in the middle of an intersection, where a car has the right of way but has been too worried about me darting out into the street to go through the intersection (even though I’m completely stopped at a stop sign). Don’t count on this happening to you. Assume that no one sees you, that no one will stop for you, and that no one will care about you.

If you’re aware of your surroundings, 9.8 times out of 10, you’ll be able to see someone who’s distracted or reckless before you encounter them, and be able to avoid them. I either slow down, or speed up, to make sure our paths won’t cross. Be careful of pedestrians too! Don’t trust them to look up before crossing the street. And remember:

In a battle between you and a car, the car will win even if you have the right of way.

And that’s not to scare you! As long as you’re careful, you can usually prevent an accident from happening. Taking the precautions above will help make sure you avoid any situations where you are in danger.

So now that you’re doing everything you can to give yourself a great shot at a safe and low-stress ride, here’s some tips:

Fair Weather Bike Gangs

You don’t have to be an intense cyclist if you don’t want to be. I biked to work rain or shine, mist or torrential downpour. If you’re going to be biking in wet weather, either invest in some rain gear, or bring an extra set of clothes. I had an extra set of pants at work, and had underwear and socks tucked into my backpack.

That being said, the second the sun started shining, I was no longer alone in my commute – the biker gangs came out in droves, and there was suddenly a dozen of us waiting for the light.

Don’t be afraid not take your bike. Especially if you’re not as confident as you could be; take your time, and do what feels right to you.

Bike Lanes

Know how to use them. Here’s a nifty video in Canada explaining how to use bike-lane turn boxes:

And just because you’re in a bike lane, don’t assume that drivers will respect or remember what they’re for. Keep an eye on any cars parked by the bike lane, try to look through the windows of the cars 10-15 feet in front of you. Is there someone whose brake lights are on, and whose wheels are starting to turn out? Someone whose hands are on the wheel and starting to turn it? Slow down and assume they don’t see you. They probably will, but you’ll be happy with your paranoia if they don’t, and you’re already slowing to a stop in anticipation when they pull out.

Hand Signals

They’re pretty simple. Just remember to use your left arm. My trick for remembering them is to ‘point’ where I want to turn. Extended left arm means I want to turn left. Pointing towards the sky like I’m about to do one of those yoga over-the-head arm bends, means I want to turn right. Pointing to the ground, means I’m stopping.

Stop Signs

Technically, cyclists follow the same rules of the road that cars do. This means no sneaking up along the curb when you’re stopped at a light to get to the front of the line, and you do need to stop at stop signs.

In practice, I find that these are the two rules people don’t follow. The one that drives me the craziest as the operator of a vehicle, is when cyclists sneak up along the curb after they’ve been painstakingly (and sometimes dangerously!!) passed by cars while there’s a lineup for a stoplight. There are exceptions, like when there’s space for this, but if there’s only two car lanes and that’s it, that isn’t enough space.

When you pass the four or five cars that have almost hit you, they’re going to do the exact same thing when the light turns green, and almost hit you again as they pass you, again. If there’s no dedicate lane for you, take up a good portion of the car lane so people can’t clip by you, and stay behind the car in front of you when you come up to a light. People may disagree with me, but I’ve never been close to getting hit when I take up the space I’m entitled to, and when I’m not a jerk and try to gain 40 feet at a stop light.


I usually scan the intersection and see if there are any oncoming cars before I get there. You usually CAN get a ticket while on a bicycle, if you don’t stop at a stop sign. I haven’t seen it happen often, but I have seen it happen. I usually try to match my speed with one of the cars that’s going past (on wide streets), so that I don’t have to stop, but I’m next to a car going the same direction I am, that does have the right of way. If you don’t trust your judgement of which way cars are turning, then come to the stop sign, stop, and proceed when it’s safe. Don’t rush it, it’s not worth it.

If there’s one thing I hope people get from this post, it’s:

Don’t rush it, it’s not worth it. It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong, a car will win against a cyclist 99.9% of the time.

If it’s your first time, test out the route on your day off. Make sure you use streets and paths that aren’t busy. Don’t overwhelm yourself, and give yourself plenty of time. For the love of all good, wear a helmet. And have fun.


Lily’s 2 Cents

It’s becoming a luxury to be able to bike to work although I think most people who can bike would prefer it if they knew how much the savings would come down to. Sadly for us Americans over here it comes down to infrastructure (or a lack thereof.)

This reminds me of the time when one of my old flames brought a $800 dollar bike. I was like so shocked at the price tag! For a bike! But now I’m thinking, well, the average auto loan is about $30,0321 so a $800 initial investment in exchange for incurring the otherwise cost of maintenance, insurance and gasoline is pretty darn frugal in comparison! He was also able to weave in between a lot of morning commuter traffic which means he got to the office faster as well.

He took all the safety precautions above and he wore of reflective clothing too. For the years he was biking, he had just one mishap. While biking on a nice sidewalk, he tripped on a fat pebble. Then he veered and fell onto the soft lawn with a scrapped knee. He told me while he was nursing his knee on the lawn, the entire sprinkler system on a timer went off and he was soaked from head to toe. He went into the office wet as a dog. “Still a money win!” I thought to myself 🙂



24 thoughts on “Biking for Dummies – Street Basics”

    • Plus! During rush hour, sometimes it a lot faster than being stuck in a car. When I’m home in the suburbs I use a car because the distance is too great (though I try to hop on my motorcycle as often as I can) – but it’s definitely the better bet when I’m in the city centre.

  • I do enjoy biking, although I’ve never actually biked to work. Probably because of the huge hill I live on. It’s a white-knuckle ride going down, and horrible to ride up. I should start though. If you ever read Mr. Money Mustache, he’s a huge fan of biking everywhere, both to save money and for health. Thanks for posting.
    Chris recently posted…Mind the Money Gap, and Have Some Fun.

    • Thanks for the read! I lived on a huge hill at one point during a contract – 14 streets up; took 2 minutes to get down (definitely used the bike friendly streets), and about 20 minutes to get up if I wasn’t utterly exhausted. There was a lot of collapsing on the couch when I got home 😛

    • Oh yeah great point Chris! I sometimes follow MMM and I totally forgot he was a bike enthusiasts too. Aw shoulda included him as an example!

  • I’ve saved thousands and thousands since I quit my car habit almost three years ago. Not just gas and insurance, but car payment, parking tickets, speeding tickets, repairs, windows bashed by hooligans, all this stuff I just don’t have to pay for anymore. It’s great!

    My newbie advice:
    -One ear out with the headphones, if you wear them at all! I’ve also seen people tie boomboxes to their bikes, but I don’t know how polite that is.
    – There are some cool free apps that will track how fast you go, how many calories you’re burning and how many miles you’ve gone, these are great for motivation!
    -Having a bike with gears can make a huge difference in evening out the exertion spent on hills. I used to think I was just out of shape… then I swapped for a bike with some gears 😛
    Meow recently posted…Why a Lower Monthly Payment on your Student Loans isn’t Always Good

    • Great advice! And yes, definitely on the one headphone out, though I don’t use them at all. And if anyone’s going to be entirely bike dependent, I would recommend looking into personal liability insurance. Accidents can still happen, but I don’t think it’s nearly as expensive as car insurance.

      And the gears really help out a lot. Especially when you’re working on conditioning too – I went from having to be on the first gear on the way up the hill to being able to keep it on the third/fourth gear by the end of 7 weeks, depending how tired I was. A bike’ll end up being a solid investment, if you use it a lot!

  • “…If you’re aware of your surroundings, 9.8 times out of 10, you’ll be able to see someone who’s distracted or reckless before you encounter them, and be able to avoid them.”

    So true. I bike all over downtown Philly and I try to stay hyper-vigilant. I also avoid biking when there is ice or when it’s raining. I don’t have a problem with the rain but I find cars have a much harder time seeing me and I’m more likely to get side-swiped.

    I use Philly’s bikeshare, Indego. It’s a great alternative to owning and storing a bike. Plus I can bike to one station, walk somewhere, and pull a bike from a completely different stations – so convenient.
    Mr. Freaky Frugal recently posted…The shocking Rule of 25

    • Bikeshare’s are great! Supplemented with a carshare, and I think you’ve got most bases covered if you live in a city. I also like using bike shares as a tourist – I roamed around a few of London’s park on a bike-share. The time limit rate-hike was a little stressful for my frugal mind, but it was enjoyable 🙂

      ( I find the same to be true in most high-velocity situations: biking, driving, skating backwards in hockey… )

  • This post was so helpful! I can’t bike to work because my 30 mile commute is all highway. And yes to always wearing a helmet! I see so many people biking in Boston without a helmet and I always get so scared driving next to them on the bridges. If I had a bike-friendly commute, I would do it in a heartbeat. I’m busy envisioning a life where I don’t have to go to the gym because I get all my exercise during my work commute.
    Ying-Navigatingadulthood recently posted…Secret Revealed: How To Find Authentic Chinese Food

    • I can’t bike to my joe-job because it’s all highway too – but every little bit helps!

      I lost about 4″ in circumference in my calf after I fractured my foot and tore two ligaments during my Euro-trip from hell a year ago; after biking to and from work for 7 weeks, it looks nearly the same as my other one. Does wonders as an exercise!

  • Ms. Raggedly Rich… you are awesome! Thank you for the great tips for bike commuting, I love that you are a die-hard biker 🙂

    I love biking and the sense of freedom as I fly down the road (ok- sometimes its flying… other times I’m slogging up a hill slower than the I could walk up the same hill!) but its one of my favorite activities!
    Mrs. Adventure Rich recently posted…Our Financial Independence Mission Statement

    • It does feel a little badass when it’s whipping rain in your face and you’re still out there, toughing it out to work 😛

      I’ve definitely had times where people are walking faster than me and I’m just throwing all my body weight on the pedals in an attempt to go forward. But then you make it and it feels great!

      Do you guys mountain bike? And have you ever tried a motorcycle? The sense of freedom and immediacy is what I love about motorcycles too 🙂

  • You would be appalled at the cost of my bikes if $800 turned you off. Since I am into racing along with being frugal and trying to retire early, I have a small fleet of bikes. They all have different purposes and uses, but it is hard to explain to those that don’t fly in the same circles. My wife and I enjoy our titanium tandem bike (~$4,000) that comes apart for easy travel. I commute on one that cost about $300, but my race bike is another $1,500 bike. Compared to my riding and racing buddies riding on $3,000+ bikes I look like the frugal weirdo I really am. I have finally reached the point where I have enough bikes and my bike expenditures have declined significantly.

    I love the freedom of the bike. Rain or shine, cold or hot, get out and enjoy the freedom!

    I will end with this.

    If you have ever come across Velominati’s The Rules: Rule #9:

    If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

    • Wowza – you’ll cringe to learn about the $50 bike I bought off Craigslist after my childhood one got stolen across a busy street in broad daylight. It was only worth about $10, the brakes were questionable, it realistically only had 1 gear, it squeaked and rattled, the chain grinded even with some WD-40 and grease, and the handlebar padding / seat was falling apart. But I sold it once I was done my gig for $50, and I never worried about leaving it locked up over night 😛

      And I understand! There’s so many different ones depending on what you want to do – full suspension for downhill, hard tail for trail riding, street cruiser for city commuting, a road bike for highway – and I consider myself a layman when it comes to bikes! I’m glad you’ve got a fleet you’re happy and satisfied with 🙂

      Heh, thanks. Velominati knew what they were talking about! I’ll remember that next time I’m out there shivering. Thanks for the great comment!

  • Thank you for the great tips, Ms. Raggedy Rich! I take the transit to work in DC, but I know many people in the city, including my colleagues, bike to work, and they love it! Biking can definitely help save money and is good for the environment, so I’m all for it!

    Lily, that’s a very interesting twist at the end of the post! 😉
    Ms. Frugal Asian Finance recently posted…The Free Article That Helps Our Marriage

    • Transit’s a great option for commuting too 🙂 Thanks for reading!

      Where I was at, you could combine the two! Take your bike on transit, during the off-peak hours. And almost all the buses have space for two bikes in the front. I can see how biking part way and transiting the other segments would be great.

  • I’m lucky; most of my commute when biking to/from work is residential. While there are cars most drivers are on the lookout for you in a residential settings, and (some) are going slower than on major roads.

    The problem now is the heat. I have a hard time commuting to work, cooling down and changing clothes in the summer without being covered in sweat!

    • Quiet streets are the best streets. I actually got yelled at by a police officer in his car one of the first times I biked to work, before I discovered residential streets and bike streets. “Turn off at the next street, it’s a bike lane, avoid main streets during traffic hours.” Those speakerphones are loud.

      I think I almost prefer having to layer up and being a little chilly for the first five minutes – being hot and sweaty is the worst! But kudos to you for sweating it out when you can! I think that might be just as badass as biking in rain, even if it’s a lot less glamours 😛

  • I’m not a biker during the week because the subways are the most efficient ways to travel, but on the weekends, the bike-share programs are the best way to get around.

    • I always have a distance cap when I bike. I drove 10 minutes to University for my two middle years, and used the bus the rest of the time. Driving was more convenient when I was there 12+ hours a day, and there was this GIANT hill. It took 40 minutes to bike but then you had to de-sweat, and it was just too much of a hassle all-in-all, so I totally get you on the transit.

      Glad you’ve discovered the joys of bike-sharing! I hope we see more and more of them popping up.

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