Bicycle Culture

9 Rules for Biking in Tempe

For cyclists, Tempe is a mythical place. With its 175 miles of bikeways and thousands of bike commuters, the sunbaked college town has won global attention for its pedaling population. The website TravelPulse even named Tempe one of the seven most bike-friendly cities in the world. And unlike cyclists in rivaling Boulder and Saskatoon, our riders need never contend with snowdrifts and freezing rain.

Now that Arizona State University’s 80,000 students have returned for the academic year, Tempe has again blossomed with bicyclists. It’s a great season for the derailleur set.

But before you pump up your tires and ride into that grid of sublime streets, remember that biking is still a safety-first activity, and there are as many ways to wipe out as there are cars on the road. College communities are notorious for accidents, and pretty much everyone – cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians – tends to be more cavalier. In the spirit of your nagging, security-obsessed mother/father/grandparent, here are the dos and dont's of biking in Tempe.

Do Avoid the Sidewalk
Curiously, riding on the sidewalk is not illegal, or even discouraged, in many parts of Maricopa County. Legions of riders prefer the sidewalk, even when bike lanes are available, because the concrete blocks are wide, smooth, and completely car-free. Not so in Tempe. Signs are posted all over the place, especially on Mill Avenue, forbidding cyclists from pedaling down pedestrian corridors. Luckily, Tempe is crowded with designated bike routes, and traffic is generally slow, so cyclists should never need to veer into crowds.

Don’t Run Red Lights and Stop Signs
We all know how annoying it is to stop at an intersection when there is obviously no traffic. Why should a cyclist make a full stop at a stop sign, when there isn’t a single car, pedestrian, or stray dog in sight? The thing is, Tempe is a very busy town, and with so many young drivers and oblivious pedestrians, getting in the habit of blowing red lights is just asking for a collision. Yes, there is an entire subculture of light-runners, usually riding aerodynamic fixies without brakes, and they make flying diagonally across a busy intersection look freewheeling and fun. Seriously, though, those guys are crazy.

Don't Trust Drivers
This is sound advice for any rider, since most drivers have no idea how to function around bicyclists, and some are openly hostile to all those earth-loving hippies holding up traffic. Yet in a bike-friendly environment like Tempe, it’s easy to forget how thoughtless drivers can be. Thousands of Tempe drivers are still teenagers and have only had licenses for a couple of years. One driver might yield ride of way, gesturing benevolently through the windshield, but the next driver might just as easily plow through the bike lane without a second glance. Keep an eye out, always.

Do Invest in a Good Bike Lock
When it comes to locking up, you really can’t be too cautious. Thanks to Operation Bike Peddler, Tempe police busted a ring of bicycle thieves and recovered $24,000 worth of bike-related belongings in 2014. That’s encouraging, but the flip side of this statistic is that a lot of bikes get stolen in the first place. With the right bolt-cutters, wire locks are surprisingly easy to sever. ASU campus is pretty well trafficked and policed, but the less visible the bike rack, the more likely the theft.

Don’t Ride Around at Night Without Reflectors/Light
No matter where you go in the world, night riding is risky business. Pretty much every responsible cyclist wears bright clothing, affixes reflectors or flashers, and even pierces the dark with a front-mounted lamp. In a boozy town like Tempe, this is particularly important: According to Tempe police, 366 people were arrested for DUIs in 2014 – and that was a slow year for drunk driving.

Don’t Bike the Walk-Only Zones
ASU campus is flat, well paved, and easy to navigate, making it the perfect place to pedal around. And you can pedal around – as long as it’s before 8 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Large chunks of the Tempe campus are designated “Walk-Only Zones,” where bikes, skateboards, and golf carts are strictly forbidden during peak hours. Weekends remain bike-friendly, no matter what the hour. Also keep an eye out for sidewalks that dip below the railroad tracks, and the signs that read “walk your bike.” The dips are more severe than they look at first glance.

Do Ride with Flow of Traffic
Okay, we get it: What's the harm in riding the bike lane the wrong way, as long as it’s only a couple of blocks? Isn’t it only a one-way street for cars? If there’s gridlock traffic, what does it matter if you weave between the vehicles in the opposite direction, just making sure not to knock off any side mirrors with your handlebars? Wrong. Always ride with the flow of traffic. Even if biking the opposite way is more convenient, or seems safer, or just makes more sense, the law states otherwise. Also, drivers freaking hate it.

Don’t Forget About the Ride Back
Tempe is like a nuclear reactor of nightlife, and a lot of venues are extremely bike-friendly. By all means, ride to The Handlebar or Boulders on Broadway. Please, sample the drink specials. Converse late into the night with cool people about your two-wheeled escapades. But just remember: You still have to get home. Taxis and Uber drivers are usually reluctant to stow bikes in their trunks, and mass transit stops running at a certain hour. The last thing you want to do is get hammered, mount your bike, and pedal several miles in the dark. It's, obviously, very unsafe.

Do Bring Water

Downtown Tempe is clean, shady, and tree-lined, and it’s easy to forget you’re riding through the middle of a desert. There are plenty of cavalier students who scoff at water, or feel that “hydration” means “tequila shots.” Biking on such level surfaces can seem so effortless that it’s not really exercise. For cyclists in the warmer months, all of these are dangerous presumptions. Whenever you ride, bring a bottle of water. Your circulatory system will thank you.

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Robert Isenberg