First off, whether getting to class or riding through a forest, please be polite about it.
Pros and Cons - Bikes - Before Riding - While Riding - Routes - Leaving Your Bike - Technique - Maintenance - Shops - Cycling Tips - Pedestrian Tips - Driving Tips - What Next?
Tech students ride everything from old $20 bikes to the lastest $2,000+ bikes. Road, hybrid, mountain, and BMX bikes, 1-speeds, 10-speeds, and 24-speeds. Suspension, fenders, baskets, racks, pumps, saddle bags, frame bags, frame pads, elbow pads, knee pads, water bottles, toe clips, kick stands, and bar ends are optional. A gel-filled anatomically correct saddle helps. Don't worry about a funky paint job--it'll fit right in.
If you use clipless pedals (as I do and love), it's not a problem to wear clipless shoes to class. Just ride your bike instead of walking on too much concrete. Keeping the clips fairly loose may help, given the abrupt moves of many pedestrians and drivers.
Where are you going? What will you do with your bike when you get there? You may want to bring a lock or two.
Is it time for a class change? Unless you need to get to class, you may want to wait a few minutes for both auto and pedestrian traffic to die down.
What is the weather? How will it be while you're riding and while your bike sits wherever you'll leave it? You may not want to ride at all. Even light rain may dramatically decrease brake performance, decrease visibility, distract drivers, make you wet, and transform your bike into a rusty parallelogram. It's also Georgia law to have headlights on during rain.
Is it dark outside? Tech has pretty good lighting now, but if you're on roads after dark, you should have a front light and a rear reflector. Front, rear, pedal, and wheel reflectors are good anyway. Light clothes are helpful.
What are you taking? Keep ID, emergency contact info, and an insurance card on you, e.g. in your clothes. When the paramedics scrape you up off the ground, they aren't going to look in your backpack (wherever it is) or your saddle bag for ID. Put everything else in a backpack or strap it to your bike. Don't try to carry items in your hands. As usual, the less weight you take, the better. Your backpack may serve as a crumble zone during an involuntary dismount, so avoid expensive breakables.
What are you wearing? Avoid hoods and other clothing items which might restrict your vision. Sunglasses are nice, and even clear glasses keep bugs out of your eyes. Smoke and dust may still pester you. It's hard to ride when you can't see. Be careful about shoelaces and pant legs. They may get cut or caught in your chainrings (front gears).
A helmet is essential. There are many pedestrians and cars around the crowded Tech campus, and bicyclists are often the last concern. Look out for yourself. Hitting virtually anything at virtually any speed can ruin your day. You don't have to be going fast or even hit anything--trust me. Studies have found that head injuries when falling unprotected from a bicycle are generally worse than when falling unprotected from a motorcycle, because the problem is more gravity than road speed. Cyclists have been seriously injured while riding around Tech, and just as while driving, you may get hurt without doing anything wrong. If that's not bad enough, the cops will get angry if you hurt yourself and you weren't wearing a brain bucket. :) Protect your helmet from drops and bangs while it's off your head, too. Some people lock their helmet with their bike, but I prefer to keep mine with me, so it's, uh, safe. Weather, pollution, and bumps mean than even without a crash, it's good to replace your helmet every 5 years or so. This is regardless of what you know about the half-life of plastic. :)
Is your bike in safe working order? Do you trust your brakes? Are your tires inflated?
Soon after bringing your bike to Tech, you should register it with the Georgia Tech Police Department. Get the registration form at the GTPD. The form will ask for your bike's brand, model, number of gears, serial number (check the bottom bracket, which houses the crank bearing), frame style (male or female), estimated value, color, and other descriptive information, along with your personal information. The cops have listed some bicycling laws and tips and info on bike theft and locking. You may see some cops riding bikes around campus.
So, you've gotten on the road safely . . . let's keep it that way. Even though many drivers think they own the road, Georgia law gives cyclists basically the same privileges and responsibilities as drivers, so use your brain and follow the law. Use turn signals: hold your left arm straight out for a left turn, or bent up 90 degrees at the elbow for a right turn. Stop at stop signs and stop lights. Even go the correct way down Sixth Street (one-way west). When you can keep up with traffic, it's fine to ride in the center of a lane. You are also allowed to do this when riding on the far right would be hazardous, as when there are cars parked on the curb. Watch out for opening car doors. When you can't keep up with traffic and it's safe to move to the right, do so. You may find it helpful to move to the middle of the lane while approaching a stop sign or stop light, because otherwise a car will use the lane and get in your way. When in doubt, ride in the middle of the lane (if, of course, you're visible).
When crossing roads, choose wisely. I think everyone's ridden across an empty road, but if there is traffic, dismount and walk your bike across. Drivers are supposed to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, but you're not a pedestrian unless you are on your feet.
It's impractical to stay on roads all the time. And besides, the bike racks aren't along roads . . . obviously you're supposed to ride on sidewalks sometime. Although pedestrians often seem like obstacles, they do have the right of way. Expect the unexpected, on the road but especially on the sidewalk. There's no such thing as a walker's license. Few people look before turning, "changing lanes," or stopping.
Whether on the road or the sidewalk, DO NOT ASSUME that anyone--particularly those in front of you--can see or hear you. Look out for yourself. Look inside cars for people who may open doors into your path. You may want to get a bell for your handlebars. I do not think that these are required by law. My experience with a bell is that I have to be pretty close for someone to notice it, and then they just turn around (with their arms out) and move directly into my path. Therefore, I don't usually use my bell. When you're walking, try to respond to bells appropriately.
The bumpy brick sections of sidewalks are not your friends. Neither are wide sidewalk grooves. If you ride along a sidewalk groove that is more than a hair's width wide, you may get "trapped" in it and loose your balance. A similar phenomenon may occur if you ride in grass or leaf litter next to a sidewalk, then attempt to ride up onto the sidewalk at a low angle (i.e. nearly parallel to the sidewalk). Slow down and turn onto the sidewalk at a reasonable angle, such as 45 or more degrees to the sidewalk. This is also the preferred technique while driving a car from the shoulder onto a roadway. Ride slowly on loose leaves to avoid skidding when you slow down.
Also avoid curbs, sand, dirt, gravel, glass, and other debris. If you have narrow tires, watch out for storm drain grates. It would be nice of you to stay off the grass, too.
With fewer sidewalks, more buildings, and more people, routes around campus seem to get worse every week. Riding these routes is still better than walking, though.
Watch out for wheelchairs and pedestrians while on wheelchair ramps. Blind corners are hazards--particularly on the south end of the MARC. Also be careful on the sidewalk on the south side of the Bunger-Henry Building (ChE and MSE). Stay away from these buildings (ride on the outside side of the sidewalk), and keep it slow.
The number of gated parking lots is increasing. The underground sensors will usually detect your bike and let you out of lots, but the gate arm may close before you're completely through it. Therefore, I recommend going beside the arm.
To get to the NORTH half of campus, go to 8th Street, then go right on Hemphill, then left on Ferst. If your cut immediately right on the sidewalk by the MARC and MRDC, be careful, because nobody will expect you to turn that way.
To get to the SOUTH half of campus, ride on the sidewalk along 6th Street (along the SAC fields and the Burger Bowl). Don't ride in the street, because it's one-way west. Then go right on Ferst and up the hill to SAC. Perhaps turn left onto the sidewalk along the Management building and proceed to the Student Center, or keep going to get to Tech Tower. Also, it is often useful to turn left from Ferst into the parking lot between the Bookstore and the SST Building. Then you can go to the Bookstore, Student Center, Boggs, Bunger-Henry, Skiles, etc.
I don't ride much on East Campus, but I guess that either the Hill (Bobby Dodd Way) or 4th Street would be fine. Remember that along Peters Parking Deck, both Fowler Street and Brittain Drive are one-way.
Do you like your bike? Someone else probably likes it too. Leave it safely. A recent check showed 9 bikes stolen on Tech's campus in 11 days. You can read about them on the newsgroup news://news.gatech.edu/git.police.crime-reports. I avoid leaving my bike outside overnight.
If you live on East Campus or in traditional dorms, the best place to keep your bike is probably the bike lockers outside of the dorms. I hear that you can rent one for $25 per quarter. I've never used a locker because I didn't have a bike while living on the east side. There are also plain bike racks, which give much less protection from theft, vandalism, and the weather. Some of my friends had tires cut, wheels stolen, etc., and I saw plenty of rusty bikes.
If you live at a fraternity or sorority house, look around for somewhere sheltered (preferably indoors) and secure where you can leave and lock your bike.
If you live in an apartment-style dorm (mainly on West Campus), the best solution is to bring your bike into your apartment. If you live on the first floor, this is no problem. If not, there are elevators, or you can of course use the stairs. You're in shape, right? There is usually enough room in the hallway outside your bedroom but inside the apartment, so that you only have to worry about your roommates (one to six of them) and visitors getting to it. If you don't trust your roommates or their visitors, or your roommates don't latch the apartment door, you may want to lock your bike to something inside your apartment.
Many apartment-style dorms also have enclosed bike racks built in to the dorm. I have seen these at the ULC and 6th Street West, but others may have them too. Your room key will open the gate to these outdoor rooms. They are sheltered from rain.
You'll just be in class for an hour or two . . . or maybe six, and it's usually light outside during class, so the regular bike racks are ok as long as you lock your bike. If you have a choice, leave your bike it a lit location near plenty of people.
If you think it might rain or mist while you and your bike are apart, consider a sheltered bike rack. These are near the loading dock of Boggs (chemistry), at the southeast corner of the courtyard of Skiles, and the north side of the Mason Building (Civil Eng.). Partially sheltered racks are at the Pettit Microelectronics Research Center (MiRC) and the Old Architecture Building. I haven't noticed any others.
How To Lock A Bike
The idea here is, without damaging your bike yourself, to deter someone else from stealing or otherwise damaging your bike. First off, be careful how you position your bike at the rack. Try not to scrape the paint or crush components of your bike. I usually orient my bike downhill and make the cranks horizontal. The crank arm (against the rack) keeps my bike (and its paint) a little away from the rack, and the pedal (also against the rack) keeps the bike from moving. If you hate your paint job and your derailleur cables, just throw your front wheel over the rack.
Next, think about what's valuable on your bike. You can't lock up all the components, and someone can still cut a tire or loosen a screw, so go for the main equipment here. Usually, the most valuable part of a bike is the frame, followed by the rear wheel, then the front wheel. The wheels are relatively easy to remove too, because most bikes have quick-release wheels now. A single cable- or chain-type lock might do, if you run it through the frame, both wheels, and the bike rack. I hear that cables and chains are relatively easy to cut, though. If you have a single long U-lock, you can remove the front wheel, place it by the rear wheel, and lock both wheels and the frame to the rack. I've done this a time or two, and it's a pain. Or you can just take the front wheel with you. With all these parts to lock, you may want to have multiple locks. I use two U-locks. I use one to lock the front wheel to the down tube (front tube) and the other to lock from the bike rack to the rear wheel, through the rear triangle. What about locking my frame? Read on.
The rear triangle has vertices at the bottom bracket (where the cranks and pedals attach), at the rear wheel hub, and the seat lug. If you use a U-lock to lock from a bike rack to the rear wheel rim in the arc (about 45 degrees) inside the rear triangle, then removing either the wheel or the frame requires considerable work on the rack, the lock, the frame, or the rear wheel rim. I've never tried it, but I hear it's difficult to saw through a rear wheel rim, because the tension from the spokes makes the saw blade bind. Note that this locking technique is fast and easy because you don't have to get your lock around both the frame and the rear wheel. Locking the rear wheel in this position (the rear triangle) protects both the rear wheel and the frame.
Most U-locks come with a frame mount that lets you carry the lock on your bike. Otherwise, put your lock(s) in your backpack or somewhere else where it won't get in the way of your riding.
Get in the habit of checking that you actually locked your bike.
Don't sweat it. All you have to do is make your bike less appealing to steal than the next bike on the rack. :)
I regularly see people walk bikes into the post office. I do that, but I wouldn't ride my bike in, as a few people do. If you forget your lock one day, you might bring your bike to class, but that would probably be a pain to do regularly.
Now that you know the basics . . .
Try to stay smooth and fluid. Your arms and legs can be good shock absorbers, but using your legs requires rising off your saddle.
Most riders keep their saddles too low and their gears too high. Unless you do some tricks and jumps, try raising your saddle. It'll be more efficient and easier on your knees. If you put your heels on the pedal, your leg should be almost straight at the bottom of each stroke. When riding, the balls of your feet should be on the pedals. If your hips rock as you pedal, your saddle is too high. Try a lower gear, too. Your muscles won't tire so soon, and it's also easier on your knees. You can pedal more smoothly (spinning), too. About 60 to 90 rpm is good. Unless you're bouncing in your saddle, or your feet fly off the pedals, the gear is not too low.
The less sand and water you ride through, and the less rain you ride in, the less maintenance you'll need and the less rust you'll see. You'll need to keep tires inflated at a minimum, though. Get or share a pump, or there are some gas stations near Tech where you can get air. If you don't, you may get a snakebite (double puncture of a tube, caused by hitting an obstacle or by underinflation of tires).
I've never been to these shops.
When you're riding, remember what it's like to be a pedestrian. When you're walking, remember the cyclists. Look before you "change lanes," make other abrupt movements, or stop. If you and your 20 friends are walking side-by-side along a sidewalk, please move for cyclists. Otherwise, it's usually best to keep walking instead of changing your path to yield to a cyclist. Cyclists figure that they have to dodge walkers anyway, and they have a working knowledge of the laws of motion, so changing your path just makes you unpredictable, annoying, and more likely to be hit.
Georgia law requires bicyclists to pretty much follow the rules that govern automobile drivers. You know that even drivers don't follow all those laws, so be on the lookout for cyclists. It's scary enough to ride a bike on Atlanta's roads, so show cyclists respect by following the rules of the road at intersections and so on.
For more information about biking at Tech, try these resources.
The GT Cycling Club facilitates student participation in road, off-road, and track races. The club maintains a list of mountain biking trails. The newsgroup news://news.gatech.edu/git.club.cycling may have some information.
To get away from Tech, check out ORGT (Outdoor Recreation at Georgia Tech), located in the basement of the old O'Keefe gym. ORGT has a mountain biking subcommittee.
The PATH trail leads from Georgia Tech to Stone Mountain. I've never ridden it, but one of my roommates reports that it's about half on- and half off-road. There's a sign on Ferst Drive, heading northeast just before Hemphill. It would probably be good to bring a patch kit, a pump, water, some snacks, and maybe a cell phone. :) Personal accounts are on the way.
MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, allows bicycles on trains.
There are many, many other web guides to various aspects of cycling. Many people are into mountain biking, and http://www.stud.ifi.uio.no/~sigurds/sykkel.html has plenty of links on mountain biking and general biking.
Have fun, and be careful!