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A biker’s practical, nonpartisan guide to the 2010 US midterm elections.

CYCLISTS HAVE A STREAK of political involvement in them that isn’t common in sports. Bikers have used their sport to pursue change on broad range of social issues, from cyclists’ rights (Critical Mass) to sustainable development and foreign aid policy (Bikes Not Bombs).

Curious as it may sound, it’s arguable that helping cycling grow could go a ways towards mitigating the major problems facing the US today. Bikes are cheap to operate, help commuters stay out of the hospital by getting regular exercise, don’t depend on foreign oil, and don’t emit greenhouse gases or carcinogenic smog.

We don’t presume to tell you who to vote for. Instead, we’ve put together the following guide to cycling-rights resources and issues to empower voters, so they can make their own decisions this November.

Vote the issues

Before you head to the polls, there are a number of resources available to help you find out how candidates have voted on cycling-related bills in the past and where they stand now. While it may not get people as worked up as gun ownership or abortion, cyclists’ rights are far from clear-cut; some measures, like “road diets” or helmet laws, are actually quite polarizing, so it helps to do some research before you decide what your positions are.

Unlike for many issues, it’s county and municipal governments that make most of the decisions about where cyclists can ride and how traffic laws are enforced. The best place to start is with your local cycling advocacy group, such as the Washington Area Bicyclist Association or Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance. These local groups work to establish links with city councils and police forces, as well as lobbying for cyclists’ rights.

The League of American Bicyclists has a state-by-state listing of how incumbents have voted on bike-related issues in the past.

Image by Padraic

Learn about bike sharing

Modern bikesharing systems are a cheap, convenient way for commuters and other occasional bike users to borrow wheels for short jaunts in the city. Subscribers can borrow bikes from any of several bike sharing kiosks located around major cities, with programs active in Denver and Washington DC, among other places. It’s like Zipcar, but with bikes, and way cheaper.

Because of their public location and high overhead costs, the backing of local transportation authorities is essential in getting a bike sharing program off the ground. While transportation officials are usually appointed, the officials who choose them are not. Try to find out more about your local candidates’ views on transportation policy; while not historically reliable, the platforms they profess on their campaign websites are a start.

If you’re interested in voicing your support for a bike sharing program, check your city or town’s Department of Transportation’s website to find its contact information.

Know your rights

Election year or not, being familiar with your rights as a cyclist will empower you to become a more effective advocate for the sport and yourself. Traffic laws vary, and local groups in places including Oregon, Texas, and Massachusetts have compiled guides to help bikers get to know their home states’ regulations.

The guides include rules about where cyclists may ride, as well as laws on aggressive driving and vehicular assault.

Community Connection

Read about San Francisco’s new bike sharing program on Matador Change.