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Rules of the road

Justin and Lily Booth have three daughters, live in the West Village and barely use their 2003 Honda Civic hybrid these days – not that it hasn’t been used before.

It has more than 180,000 miles on it.

Bicycles are the preferred mode of travel for the family.

“I ride year-round,” said Justin Booth, a 6-foot-9 former Buffalo State College basketball player who leads GObike Buffalo, a nonprofit helping to turn the city into a more bike-friendly and accessible community.

The Booths choose bikes over their car for financial, environmental and health reasons, and they recommend that you and your family give biking a serious spin this fall – even if it’s purely for fun. Before you hit the road, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Think safety: You never will see the Booth kids riding on bikes without a helmet; it’s state law for those 14 and younger. You also never see their parents without one.

“Wearing a helmet is the most important thing a biker can do,” said Dick Wellenc, owner of Dick’s Bikes in Tonawanda. He and Justin Booth say it’s also important to be visible, particularly when it comes to clothing, proper bike reflectors and lights. “It starts getting dark earlier,” Booth said, “and it’s New York State law to have lights when you’re riding at night.”

Wellenc said you can buy a set of lights for $30. You should also have a bell, he added, “especially if you’re riding on a bike trail.”

Whenever you can, the two bikers say, you also should ride with a friend.

2. Dress wisely: Fall in Western New York can bring big temperature changes, sometimes within hours. Avid bikers tend to dress in layers and have rain and winter gear at the ready, Booth said, but they also live by this motto: “Dress for the last mile instead of the first mile,” because you’re likely to work up a sweat.

Avid biker Brent Patterson also recommends that those who sometimes end up riding in the rain buy a bike with fenders to limit the soaking along the way.

3. Be prepared: Many bikers roll away from home with a cellphone. Water and a first-aid kit also are important. Those traveling a mile or more from home also should take ID, a bike tube, patch kit and small bike pump; maybe even a bike repair kit, which costs about $20.

“You should know how to fix a flat if you’re out there biking a lot,” Wellenc said. “Most bikes now, you hardly need any tools to take the wheels off. All you do is snap a lever and the wheel comes off.”

GObike Buffalo ( and other bike-related businesses have periodic workshops that teach bicyclists how to fix flats and make other repairs.

4. Follow the rules of the road: “The biggest thing about cycling, especially in traffic, is that you are predictable and can be seen,” Booth said.

Motorists have a legal responsibility to share thoroughfares with pedestrians and bicyclists. Sidewalks and bike lanes make the process safer, but in every case, bicyclists and pedestrians also have a responsibility to abide by traffic signals and devices. Cyclists should ride with traffic, not facing it. They should be on the lookout for car doors’ opening, drive in a straight line and make eye contact with motorists, particularly at intersections. Patterson said he waits several extra seconds after a light turns green because he’s had a couple of close calls with drivers turning right.

5. Bike hazards: Nighttime temperatures can be tough on bikers in the fall. Puddles can freeze and become dangerous.

“Black ice can be very dangerous,” Wellenc said. “I would say if it’s freezing out, don’t use your bike.” Booth, who owns about 20 bikes, uses one with wider tires and better road grip when it gets colder.

6. The road ahead: Liability insurance rates forced Wellenc to end bike rental from his shop and limit many others from getting into the business at all. Rental options for fall are limited, and can cost more than $50 a day. The future looks brighter, however. is working out a bike rental plan that will focus at first on University at Buffalo students and Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus workers.

More trail lies ahead, too. “The city is working on the North Buffalo Rails to Trails project,” said Booth, “which connects into the Erie County project that connects into the Erie Canalway Trail, which essentially will bring you all the way across the state.”