Mexico City is notorious for its bumper to bumper traffic, and many people spend hours in their vehicles every day. While the popularity of bicycling is growing, there are many locals who are still not convinced. I’ve heard that Mexico City just doesn’t have “the culture” for riding bikes. I never buy it. Drivers here are used to things coming at them from every direction and they have to be ready for anything to happen.
But, nerves are understandable. It can be risky. Then again, sitting in traffic can be risky too. So, hop on your own bike or a shared Ecobici, and try out these tips to help you get over your fears:
1. Ride in the moment.
Surely you’ve heard many a time that it’s important to live in the moment. Well, riding your bike in the city is a good time to practice. Get rid of distractions. Be aware of your surroundings. Know what’s coming.
2. Be aggressive.
Passiveness is not going to cut it. Drivers are aggressive, so you’ll have to be too. Hold your own and they’ll show you more respect. But…
3. Remember they are bigger than you.
Don’t push it.
4. Look both ways.
This may seem like flashback advice from your kindergarten days, but it’s worth the extra emphasis. There are many one-way streets in Mexico City, and you may think, “Ah, just a quick glance this way, no one’s coming, I’m good.” BAM! No. Don’t do it! I was nearly run over one day for not realizing that the trolleybus goes opposite traffic on some streets. Also, be on the lookout for vehicles going in reverse at full speed when they’ve missed a turn or want to take a shortcut.
5. Don’t rely on red lights.
It’s not uncommon for a driver to interpret stoplights like this:
Green light = go.
Yellow light = go faster to make it through.
Red light = one or two more cars can still speed through.
Don’t only watch the lights, watch the cars too. Before you cross an intersection, either make sure they’re far enough away or wait until you’re convinced they will stop, and then go.
6. Make eye contact.
Sometimes you might want to squeeze by stopped cars or pass in front of someone before they merge. If you just wait patiently, you may be waiting a very long time. (See number 2.) In these tight situations, make eye contact with the driver. If they see you and you see them, they’re not going to run you over.
7. Keep your distance.
One of my greatest fears while riding my bike is getting whacked when someone opens their door, especially when people are getting out of taxis. Also, watch out for cars and buses that stop suddenly in front of you, pull out of parking spots, etc. Remember that you have a right to be on the road. Stay at least a meter away from parked cars. Claim your space (again, see number 2).
8. Wear a helmet.
This is for obvious reasons. Here is where I have to ashamedly admit that I can be caught riding an Ecobici without a helmet. The beauty of this bike sharing program is that you don’t have to make a plan to ride your bike when you leave your house in the morning, and at times I’m guilty of being a creature of convenience. I’d like to take this moment to propose Eco-casco, or helmet, stations to go along with the Ecobicis! …Meanwhile, I’ll try to follow my advice more often.
9. Ride as if you were invisible.
A friend once told me the trick to surviving on two-wheels is not to assume that people can see you. Ride as if you were invisible.
10. …But not literally.
While you are riding as if you were invisible, you should actually be overly visible. The easier it is for drivers to see you, the better. Wear bright colored clothing in the day. In the night, be sure to have lights on the front and back. Ecobicis have built-in lights, but they only turn on when you’re moving, so be careful where you stop. Reflectors are also a good idea.
If you want to start in a friendlier environment, the city organizes Sunday bike routes from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on the major avenue Reforma and through the historic center, and on the last Sunday of every month there’s a longer ride.