I was biking to work this morning, as I do almost every morning and I went to "take the lane" on my way down 9th St which I do pretty much every morning. I was thinking about the expression. It essentially means that I ride in traffic as though my 15 lb bike frame is an 2 ton SUV and I take the entire lane instead of staying to either the right or left side of traffic.
Before I started riding, I would see bikers do this in the city and I always thought it was kind of annoying because there's no easy way to get around them. But when you're biking, it makes a ton of sense. You take the lane when there's no visible bike lane so that you don't get accidentally crunched in traffic. It's the choice between being visible and making a nuisance of yourself for a block or not being seen and risking certain death on the pothole infested streets of Frisco.
I've now been riding for a year and a half and it's amazing how much fear I've conquered in that time. When I was 9, I was riding down a big hill and took a sharp left turn. My bike fell out from under me and I proceeded to skid from one side of the street to the other on my knees. I actually still have some gravel spots in my knee and a pretty gnarly scar from this.
When I started riding in SF, it was my first endeavor into urban biking. I hadn't really biked regularly since before I got a driver's permit. I was completely terrified for my first month of riding. I got a membership to the SFBC (San Francisco Bicycle Coalition) and they sent me a map of bike routes in the city. This helped immensely. Designated bike lanes were definitely useful.
There's a lot of tension in this city between cabs and bikers, drivers and bikers, pedestrians and bikers, Muni and bikers, and bikers and other bikers. I've almost been hit by cars, buses and skateboarders while biking in the city (I'm lucky my Jewish mother doesn't read my blog). When you're driving a car, everything in your way is an obstacle. When you're on a bike, everything in your way is an opportunity to improve your riding skills.