Gear Prudence: I get really close to signing up for big event rides until I remember that I hate crowds. And I’m not a great bike handler. The idea of biking amid thousands of other cyclists makes me so anxious. I don’t think I could relax and would be afraid of causing a crash. I feel so left out of the bike community by not participating. How can I get over my fear of riding in big groups? —Nope! Evading Everyone Demands Some Special Pedaling And Can’t Even 

Dear NEEDSSPACE: It’s possible that you don’t. Many people, including GP, don’t like biking in crowds where personal space is constricted and where it’s difficult to predict where people are going. You can become more comfortable over time by seeing that every ride won’t end with a huge pile-up caused by your wobbliness. But to gain the experience, you’ll have to subject yourself to a some initial discomfort. 

Give plenty of space to any riders in front of you. Also, try to stick to the outside of a group (or lane). If you find yourself in a crowd, don’t panic. Keep your eyes ahead and maintain a consistent pace. If you intend to move laterally, always signal and look over your shoulder if you can. Strive for a relaxed attentiveness, like an aged golden retriever waiting for a treat. —GP 

Gear Prudence: OK, so this must have happened to you at least once. Car passes too close and, in a moment of annoyance, you justifiably say something crass to the driver. He hears it and says something back before speeding away. And then a few blocks later, you pull up next to the guy. You really don’t want this to escalate further, but you’re three inches away! How do you avoid the awkwardness? —Avoiding Words, Kindly, When At Regrettable Distances

Dear AWKWARD: Don’t pull up alongside of him! Just wait behind the car and avoid the whole mess altogether. 

But what if you get there first and the driver pulls up next to you? You’ve got some choices. One option is to pull out your phone and stonewall. Refuse to make eye contact. Refuse to acknowledge he even has eyes. If he says something, just don’t hear it. This is hard, but maybe he won’t say anything? 

Your next option is to bail. If the intersection is clear, ride through. Turn on a side street if you can. If there’s a manhole cover, go full ninja turtle. 

Of course, you could also choose to continue the conversation. Not in an angry way, but with a matter-of-fact explanation of your reaction and what behavior prompted it. In most cases, this will be deeply unfulfilling and might lead to more colorful invective than the initial encounter. —GP