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Bespoken’s Top Ten Tips for Safe Bike Riding

Bespoken’s Top Ten Tips for Safe Bike Riding

Riding a bicycle is arguably the best way to get around a city like New York–with public transportation getting more expensive and less reliable, a cross-town trip by bike is a million times more enjoyable (not to mention way faster) than waiting for the M23. We all know how dangerous cycling in the city can be–check out this blog by Bespoken client and all-around superwoman Katie McKenna about her bike accident–but we also know that it gets safer with every new commuter who joins us on the road. Bespoken co-founder and daily #BikeNYC commuter Leah Bonvissuto explains how clear communication can help you stay in control, make a connection and #OwnTheRoad when taking to the streets!

1. BePredictable

No matter how aggressive some drivers may be, most of them don’t actually want to hit you. We all know how confusing and dangerous it is when vehicles fail to signal–that’s all the more reason for cyclists to clearly communicate every intention to drivers and pedestrians. Opt for simple hand gestures (an outstretched arm pointing right when you make the decision to turn and again as you make the turn will do) and make eye contact with drivers before entering their lane to be sure you’ve communicated effectively. You will be able to feel the connection (and they will appreciate knowing your next move!). Tip: Check out wayfinder Jessica Sato’s take on cycling in the city in this interview with Bespoken.


2. BeSecure

If you want your bike to be there after you get out of BAMcinématek, lock up to official DOT bike racks instead of traffic signs or scaffolding. With a basic toolkit, thieves can remove sign-posts and lift your bike over the top (or loosen scaffolding connectors). Tip: Click here to watch Hal from Bicycle Habitat rate New Yorkers’ locking techniques.  

3. BeVisible

Not only is it illegal in NYC to ride without front and rear lights, being visible is a huge part of riding safely at night or in the rain. Be ultra-visible–wrap your bike with EL wire (avoid your break cables!) or grab these snazzy wheel lights to make sure you’re seen from the sides.  Tip: We can’t wait for the US release of Volvo Lifepaint–this is sure to be a game-changer for cycling visibility.


4. BeBold

Don’t get stuck between a truck and a hard place. Instead of making yourself smaller to squeeze through, fully “take the lane“–signal, make eye contact with drivers, and move into the middle of the full lane of traffic. It tells everyone on the road that you belong there too and does not allow a driver to take space away from you. It might cause momentary frustration for drivers but it’s way better than losing control of your position on the road! Tip: If you’re really in a tight spot, ring your bell, use your voice, wave your hands, stand on your petals–do everything in your power to make yourself bigger.

5. BeConsistent

The biggest risk for cyclists in NYC is getting doored. Always ride in the bike lane–even if there isn’t one! Stay five feet away from parked cars to avoid the “door zone” and stay the course–if you weave from the “lane” to the shoulder when there aren’t parked cars, you might take a driver by surprise when you have to take back your lane. Tip: On one-way streets, stay on the left. While all cars have a driver, a much smaller portion have a passenger so you are far less likely to be doored riding on the left side of the road than on the right. 

6. BeStylish

Just because you’re working out doesn’t mean you have to dress like it! Biking in NYC may necessitate a few wardrobe adjustments–fitted jeans over flowy skirts for sure–but it doesn’t mean you have to wear spandex and sneakers. Eleanore’s NYC curates a must-have collection of gear and apparel you never knew you needed from bike garters to helmet turbans to leopard-print helmets. And don’t settle for a helmet you’re not in love with–it’s another opportunity to showcase individuality while upping your visibility (and you’re more likely to wear it if you like it). Tip: We love Iva Jean‘s functional yet fashionable (and water-resistant) clothing for female cyclists.

7. BeEmpathic

Biking in NYC is a totally unique experience–those who’ve never done it just won’t grasp the intricacies and dynamics of #BikeNYC. Try to be patient with pedestrians and drivers–this whole thing only works when we work together. Tip: For first-timers, jump on a Citibike and opt for protected bike paths to optimize safety while you get the lay of the land. Download the Ride the City app before your first ride for a customized route based on your comfort level.  


8. BeResponsive (but not impulsive!)

Doors fly open, drivers run reds, pedestrians dart off the sidewalk into bike lanes–much of this is unavoidable but up your odds by always remaining hyper-aware of your surroundings. Sometimes all it takes is half a second to veer and avoid the door of that SUV. Also, avoid substances that might dull your ability to react in the blink of an eye or cause you to act impulsively or out of anger–especially in the evenings when drivers may be drinking. Tip: In the warmer months when car windows are more likely to be down, listen for running taxi meters to avoid getting doored–it’s a sure sign that the door will soon fly open.

9. BeProud

I know it can be frustrating when you get honked off the road biking to the corner store. Whether you’re just trying to commute, get some exercise or lower your carbon footprint, daily frustrations can make it hard to remember that you are riding for all the right reasons. Tip: Plug in one earbud (two is illegal and dangerous) or grab some speakers and curate a personalized soundtrack for your commute.

10. BeConnected

Chat with other cyclists at red lights. Complement a random pedestrian. Jam to the tunes coming off that truck. It’s the best part of NYC–and what makes the transiency of biking so attractive: We’re all in this together. Tip: Join Transportation Alternatives, ride with Bike New York and get to know the people who are on the road with you.


Find Your Way with Jessica Sato

Find Your Way with Jessica Sato

Here at Bespoken, we focus on how people communicate vocally, physically and intentionally, but we love talking about effective communication of all kinds. Jessica Sato is a designer serving major institutional and corporate clients, including NYU Langone Medical Center, Johnson & Johnson, the Environmental Defense Fund, and L’Oréal/Lancôme, as well as small businesses and startups. She earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Art Practice from the University of California at Berkeley and an MID in Industrial Design from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Her focus is improving human experience via egalitarian design. We sat down with Jessica to talk signage, how wayfinding gets people from A-to-B, and #BikeNYC!

Tell us about wayfinding. How does being a wayfinder affect the way you interact with the world?

Wayfinding refers to systems of signs, maps, and other cues/tools that help the general public (“users”) navigate through spaces. It is often coupled with branding, which describes the elements—graphics, language, even music, smells, etc—that build a brand in the minds of these users. Wayfinding is important in spaces large and unified enough to warrant this degree of attention like hospitals, stadiums, campuses, and communities.

I was a “wayfinder” before I knew that wayfinding was a profession. I’ve lived in lots of places and always needed to feel oriented in order to feel comfortable. My mother likes telling people that I would tell them where to drive from my car seat. As I’ve gotten older and become a professional, I have developed a habit of analyzing every environment I’m in for its signage, the impact humans have had on the space, and how the space changes over time.

How does communication factor into wayfinding?

Wayfinding is a key way that a place communicates to its users that it cares. Through effective wayfinding, users trust and relax in a space, often without knowing that they are building this relationship. We all already know this is true when we think back on times when this relationship has failed to form: when we’ve been lost, misdirected, or felt downright antagonized by a place. We take it personally.

Communication is also key behind the scenes in the professional practice of wayfinding. No single person can define the wayfinding of a place. Often whole departments, companies, and stakeholders need to align in order for this all to make sense to the user.

What’s the first thing you consider when figuring out how to get people where they’re going?

I first ask who they are. This will determine where they will be looking, what they will understand, and what kind of attention we can expect them to give to the information at hand.

How do design choices enter into your process?

At my current position, we have a thick Standards Manual that determines most of the wayfinding design basics, though we often have to improvise. What we do is primarily utilitarian, so the objective is to harmonize and highlight but never detract. Accessibility, legibility, and simplicity are our priorities so that what gets installed is effective.

You’ve got a background in mechanical engineering—how does that impact what you do now?

Well, there is a lot of counting in this job. Quantifying and problem solving. Taking stock of the variables/parameters, determining the right operation/transformation, and then documenting the results/outcomes. It’s kind of like a scientific process. Although I haven’t really worked as an engineer, I suppose the coursework I did in college showed me that problems can be much more complex (at least mathematically) than the ones I am currently tasked with solving. And I appreciate colleagues with and without technical backgrounds, which helps us clearly communicate.

You’re also a #BikeNYC commuter. Why do you bike?

I love biking in NYC. I love that on a bike I get to see the city at a different speed, temperature, and height than on foot, in a train, or by car. It’s like an alternate reality. Cycling signage and infrastructure has improved so incredibly since I arrived in 2006. The growing number of cyclists is necessitating that rules and enforcement of rules evolve. Bikes are not cars, nor are they pedestrians. And NYC pedestrians are unstoppable! I’m not sure how this will look in NYC, but there are many precedents worldwide. Wayfinding will be key in communicating this to the public.

What’s your favorite sign—literal or metaphorical?

My first favorite song was literally “The Sign” by Ace of Base. I can’t choose a favorite sign, really. Perhaps Google Maps—I still can’t believe that exists. And in the physical world, everyday I’m amazed that mostly signs are in the right places, saying the right things clearly, despite all that pushes our environment toward chaos.

If you could design a sign to be placed anywhere in the world and say anything, where would it be and what would it say?

At heart I only use resources when necessary. Also, really big signs that people know and love (or sometimes hate) are almost always “grandfathered” and no longer allowed under current building codes. That said, I love so many old signs that have been allowed to remain. And old signs layered on top of old signs, even when no longer relevant to what’s there now. Additionally, I often notice and appreciate impromptu, often illegal street art. So this is hard for me to answer! Perhaps I’ll steal my answer from my colleague, who fantasizes about wrapping one of our neighboring towers in crochet. I’d love for this to be a community project that sources only biodegradable, donated, otherwise unused yarn. There would be no words and no waste and it would be astonishing.