On the Bike Commuter Code

My friend Mary, of the world-renowned Chasing Mailboxes blog, has written a great post on the Bike Commuter Code, which I will excerpt at length (ok, in full) and annotate because that seems kind of like a fun thing to do:

1. Everyone who bike commutes is special and righteous, no matter whether they ride 10 miles or 2 miles, or whether they’ve commuted for 15 years or seven months.
It takes a lot of gumption to bike in the city and it also takes a bicycle and some people lack gumption and bicycles and there is not yet Capital Gumptionshare through which short-term gumption rentals be may accommodated. 

2. All commute cyclists have one common goal: to get to where they’re going. 
This isn't totally true. Some of us are trying to get away from where we've come. Or bears. 

3. You can wear whatever clothing you want to bike commute. 
Indeed. You can be a snappy dresser (like me- I don a tuxedo each trip and a change into a fresh tuxedo for the ride home) or you can be a slouchy dresser (like me when I wear a wrinkly and unclean tuxedo) and you can wear work clothes (like me- I'm a maitre d/ orchestra conductor/tuxedo model) or you can wear bikey clothes made of space-age fabrics like wool and tweed or bike clothes made of space-age fabrics like lycra. You oughtn't wear clothes that obstruct the free movement of your legs such as petticoats or Jason-style hockey masks that limit your field of vision. But if that's your thing and you're the guy in the petticoat and the slasher mask on a CaBi downtown, more power to you. 

4. You can ride whatever bike you like to bike commute.
Yes. You don't need a special kind of bike to be a bike commuter. Sure, some bikes have advantages over others that might prove beneficial for the task at hand, but you can ride to work on any bike and shouldn't let your not having the "perfect" commuter bike get in the way of your choosing to ride. That said, I'd recommend commuting on a bike with a rack for carrying stuff and fenders for keeping road wet and grime off you, your bike and your fellow commuters. Or you could be like one of those people who doesn't cover his mouth when he sneezes. 

5. You can carry your crap however you prefer when you bike commute. Panniers. Backpack. Messenger bag. Milk crate. Carradice. Whatever works. 
I avoid carrying crap on my bike at all, instead putting my crap in a hot air balloon and hoping the winds carry it to my office or home. This hardly ever works. So, panniers or messenger bags seem slightly more sensible. 

6. Eye contact with other cyclists is rare, even at long stoplights. The dynamics are similar to being in an elevator with other people.
I don't know. Depends on the person who's doing the looking and the person you're looking at. Sometimes I'll make eye contact at someone riding in the opposite direction on a two-way cycle track or a trail, mostly to make sure that they see me and aren't planning to ride into me. I will withhold eye contact from a person riding the wrong way down a one way street. THEY DO NOT DESERVE TO SEE MY BEAUTIFUL BROWN EYES. They are committing a major wrong and deserve ostracism, which I believe means getting beaten up by an ostrich.

7. Verbal greetings are also uncommon, as are conversations with other cyclists. (That’s what Friday Coffee Club is for!) 
I'm more in agreement with this one. Unless it's someone I know, I'm probably not gonna say anything. Sometimes if I'm stopped behind someone and they turn around to look me over (EXTRA TIP: don't look back at the cyclists stopped behind you. It seems judgey) I'll say hi to a stranger because a stranger's just a friend you haven't met and also because it seems like such a look shouldn't go unacknowledged. 

8. If you say hello or attempt to converse with a fellow commuter, do not be surprised if they do not immediately respond. If anything will start a conversation with another cyclist, it’s saying “nice bike.” 
You can be a little surprised. You should be even more surprised in they respond in a foreign language and the most surprised if they respond in a made-up sci-fi or fantasy language like Klingon or Orcish. Because what would that be all about? "Nice bike" is always a good way to start a conversation, but don't be disingenuous. 

9. Shoaling, i.e., budging in front of someone at a light instead of waiting behind them, is a no-no. 
Never do this! Only pass while moving. Wait your turn. First-come, first-go. This isn't hard. Also, stop in such a way that the front of your bike remains fully behind the bike of the person in front of you. Otherwise, it seems kind of lurky. Don't be lurky. 

10. Audible indicators for passing, either with a bell or saying “on your left” are not mandatory, but they are nice gestures and help with predictability. 
It's a really good idea to do this. 

11. Passing another cyclist on the right is not cool, no matter where it happens. Even in the bike lanes! 
Unless you're in England or some Commonwealth country where you should only ever pass on the right. Also, a standard, one-direction bike lane isn't wide enough to accommodate passing. If you want to pass the person in front of you in the bike lane, get out of the bike lane, get around them and get back in. If you can't do this because there are cars in the lane next to you, tough cookies. 

12. Commute racing is undignified, yet fairly common. You never know when it will happen, only that it will. (Well, sometimes you can guess, as certain stretches of road set up well for commute racing. Not that I would know.) The finish line is arbitrary and almost always unknown to the parties involved. If you unwittingly find yourself in the middle of a commute race, you have a choice: do nothing (oddly, sometimes hard to do) or race back (always silly). 
I always have a pretty good idea of when commuter racing is happening and it's when some dudes ride really fast right past me because I'm kinda slow. It's not much of a race. I find it not too difficult to avoid commuter races and don't have an especially difficult time dropping out of them when they start. I guess I'm just not that competitive. On rare occasions, I'll find myself unavoidably mixed up in one and then I'll just make it my business to totally crush that old lady and scream "SUCK IT, GRANDMA!" as I barely beat her to the end of the block. 

13. A slew of new riders join the commute every spring and fall, and year-round commuters should prepare themselves accordingly for these times of year. These newbies do not know yet know the bike commuter code. 
Think of it this way: the newbies have chosen to be more like you. It's validating. At least that's what I tell myself in the mirror over and over and over to feel better about my bike commuting lifestyle choice. And they'll learn the rules and norms eventually, so there's no sense getting worked up about it. 

14. Special rule for those areas with Bikeshare programs! Empathy and patience must also be exhibited when encountering the big red CaBi bikes. You should also slow down for good measure. Anything could happen. The person riding it might be an experienced cyclist or commuter, but they could also be a tourist unfamiliar with the city or an inexperienced rider new to urban cycling. 
An additional tip for the riders of CaBi bikes: they are slow and cumbersome and you might find yourself unable to ride with the panache you normally exhibit on your more speedly bike. You should accept this as true and not fight against it. 

15. A little tolerance goes a long way. Like it or not, we’re all in this together. 
This lesson has been passed down from the great moral philosophers Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. I would advocate for patience more than tolerance. Patience, aside from being a virtue, is just better for your own well-being. There's no sense in turning something that you really enjoy (and is objectively really enjoyable) into something as immiserating as the other ways to get to work. 

That’s the bike commuter code in a nutshell. What do you think? What did I miss?
I think it was great! As far as what you missed, it's that I'm deeply grateful for your writing this post, that I could glom on to it. And always, thanks to everyone who's taken the time to read this. You're all special and righteous too. 


  1. Great, B, just great. I am going to #FridayCoffeeClub tomorrow, in hopes of getting a glimpse of your beautiful brown eyes!

  2. So much goodness here! I like your thoughts about the new riders validating us! Also interesting that you ultimately select patience over tolerance. I'm not a patient person by nature so I think that's why I viewed #15 more from a tolerance point of view. I may not agree w/ how a person rides, but I'll tolerate it 'cause everybody has their own quirks when it comes to getting around the city.

  3. I'd add my own personal one, handed down to me from my sainted grandmother. Do something childish every day.

    I think she meant child-like (English was not her native tongue), but I do both, just to be sure.

  4. I don't completely agree with you. I need a folding bike to be a bike commuter. I live to far away form my work place. I usually drive half of the way, and then I take my folding bike out of my trunk and continue riding.
    It's the idea of the “park and pedal”, which is one way of getting more people on bikes. You don’t have to do the whole trip on two wheels, but every little bit helps.

  5. #10 should be mandatory, although with more people wearing headphones while riding sometimes the passee won't hear the passer.