Sometime after Thanksgiving I noticed a bicycle locked to a fence at the end of my street. The seat had been removed, but the rest of the bike looked fine.
All winter long I wondered if that bicycle had been abandoned or was getting the cycling equivalent of an extended time-out. The mystery was solved last weekend when I noticed a woman crouched over that forgotten bicycle, a can of WD-40 in her hand.
“Excuse me,” I said, “but can I give you some unsolicited advice?” She smiled: “Sure.” “Don’t use WD-40 to clean your chain,” I said. “It will mess up your chain. Chain cleaner and a wire brush work much better. Then you can oil it with a chain lube.”
My neighbor fessed up: “I don’t know why, but I left my bike outside all winter long and now it’s rusted. I was hoping the WD-40 would clean it up.” Then it was my turn to fess up: “I don’t know why you’re not supposed to use WD-40, but that’s what I’ve been told. It messes the chain up, I think, but I’m not sure why. And don’t worry about the rust. It will flake off if you just start riding,” I added.
I’m glad that velveteen rabbit of a bicycle finally got the love and cleaning it deserved. With spring in the air and warm weather that’s just perfect for riding, I offer some tips so that you and your bike can enjoy a season of safe and pleasant pedaling:
1. Always wear a helmet. The statistics are pretty clear: if you have an accident you are more likely to be seriously injured if you’re not wearing a helmet. I know that driver education, enforcement of the rules of the road and better infrastructure are important, too. But that will take time. In the meanwhile, buckle up.
2. If your bike has been neglected all winter long, make sure it’s working before you start riding. Check the brakes, make sure your wheels are true and your tires are not dried out or cracked. If you’re not comfortable with the basics of bicycle repair you can take a class or just drop your ride off at your LBS (local bike shop) for some TLC.
3. Learn how to change a flat tire. Keeping your tires fully inflated and free of debris (especially after it rains) decreases the likelihood of a puncture wound. Still, no matter how careful you are, eventually you will get a flat. At which point your options are to rely on the kindness of strangers, call a cab, or rest easy with the knowledge that you can DIY (do it yourself).
4. Learn the rules of the road. This means don’t run red lights (until we become like Idaho and allow cyclists to stop, look both ways and then proceed, you need to stop, look both ways, and cool your jets until the light turns green), don’t be a salmon (riding against the flow of traffic) or pretend to be an undercover Special Ops agent (dressing in dark clothing and riding at night without lights).
5. Ask someone who’s pulled over to the side of the road if they need any help. Once you ride you become your brother’s (and sister’s) keeper.
6. Don’t pass another cyclist on the right, especially if they’re stopped at a red light that you’re blowing through on account of some very important, top secret mission. And when you pass someone, call it out: “On your left.”
7. Do not use separated bikeways like the Minuteman Bikeway or the Esplanade to practice your interval training or sprinting as you prepare to ride the Tour de France.
8. If you’re looking to ride with a group, you might want to try Meetup, one of our many local bicycle clubs, or Bike Friday (you’ll be rewarded for your hard morning commute with a free breakfast burrito at City Hall).
9. Smile and have fun. Put streamers on your handlebars and baseball cards in your spokes. Remember: you’re on a bicycle!
10. Make sure to always carry a five dollar bill with you when you go out on your bike. That way you can stop and get a slice of pizza or an ice cream cone at the end of your ride.
Readers: tell us your tips for having fun on your bike.
May 14-20 is Bike Week. If you’re looking for some bicycle related activities, check out the calendar at MA Bike or Boston Bike week. And don’t miss Brookline’s Bicycle Parade on Sunday, May 15th: registration is at 11:30, riding at 12:30.
Jonathan Simmons is a Brookline psychologist and avid cyclist.