Monday, April 30, 2007

One Day Blog Silence

One Day Blog Silence

Friday, April 27, 2007

Top Ten Reasons To Bike Commute

It's not my list, but rather that of the Bike Nazi - another bike blogger whose stuff I read regularly. Here's his list:
Reason #10 – "Unrighteous Pride"
Reason #9 - The Environment
Reason #8 – Sense of Achievement
Reason #7 - Social Responsibility / Conservation
Reason #6 - A Feast for the Senses
Reason #5 - Independence and Self-Reliance
Reason #4 - Exercise and Physical Health
Reason #3 - Stress Relief / Mental Health
Reason #2 - Economy
Reason #1 - (Drum roll... ... ...) FUN!!
It's a great list and he does a wonderful job of explaining each of them. And you gotta love his number one... I mean, if it weren't fun, would we all be so passionate about this?

Check it out!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

My First Close Call

I had just jumped on my bike, and was therefore still in our parking lot at work. I was just getting up to the first turn into the drive that leads from Ackerman into our lot, and I was rolling past a row of cars when the big ugly SUV just to my right (and the one I was JUST passing) suddenly starts backing up. I don't remember getting panicked, more angry. The backup lights came on, and it started rolling just as my front wheel was rolling behind it. I lifted my left hand and smacked down hard on its rear windshield with an open palm.

The SUV stopped quickly, and the blond gal at the wheel looks out the window with a look of either "Who the heck did I just hit?" or "Who the heck do you think you are hitting my car?" Either way, I think I got her attention when I yelled back "What the HELL are you doing?" I think she was on her cell phone - she was when I was unlocking my bike and putting the locks away as she walked past me.

Well... I think I did the right thing with smacking the windshield - no damage to the car and it conveyed the message of "Stop before you hit me." Hopefully that girl with the car that was obviously too big for her to handle learned a lesson, too.

Bike To Work Week Commercial

Here's a commercial released by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin for Bike to Work Week. Enjoy, and spread it around!

The Practical Pedal: New Magazine for Bike Commuters

If you've ever tried to peruse the bike magazines at a newsstand for information on what might be useful for bike commuting, you probably walked away disappointed. There are plenty of publications for racers of all types, bike industry wonks, "extreme" cycling and cycling culture, but there is nothing for people who simply want a publication with articles about using your bicycle as transportation...

Until now.

Meet the Practical Pedal. Here's their own description of what their magazine is all about:
The Practical Pedal is a quarterly journal of practical bicycling. What's practical bicycling? It's bicycling for transportation, be it on the daily commute, the run to Costco, or a trip around the world.

Bicycling is good for the environment, good for the body, and good for our cities. We're convinced it was a mistake to relegate the most efficient means of transportation devised by man to the aisles of recreation and sport alone.

The first issue of the Practical Pedal will be out this summer.
Sounds like it's going to be right up our alley, doesn't it? Well, I've already subscribed, and if you go to the website above you'll get information on how to subscribe as well. I should also probably mention that the thing is FREE for the first four issues... according to the website.

They also have a blog if you're interested in keeping up with another cycling commuter's adventures (but don't stop reading here! ;)).

Athens, OH Bike Rocker Attila Horvath

I listen to a couple of bike podcasts, and one that I really like is bikescape, by San Francisco's Jon Winston. He covers lots of different aspects of bike culture, not only in San Francisco but around the country. He's done 'casts about pedicabs in New York, Critical Mass, and his latest podcast is about musician Attila Horvath, who hails from Athens, Ohio.

Horvath's music is fun, lyrically clever, and almost all about bikes! It's available on iTunes so check it out. And listen to bikescape, too... you'll learn something new about bikes!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Locking It Up

A bicycle can be a pretty serious investment. That's why you hear lots of advice about getting used bikes, having a clunker bike to use for commuting, ways to "uglify" your bike to make it less attractive to thieves, etc. But I think there's one point that needs to be made: locking your bike with a strong lock or two is the best way to go.

There's a saying - if you and your friend are being chased by a bear, you don't need to be faster than the bear to get away: you only need to be faster than your friend. Horrible, I know, but it's true. And the same goes for bicycle security. You don't need to protect your bike from any possible thief... you only have to protect it better than the bike next to you is protected. A thief is under a time crunch with bikes - he has to get it before someone is on to him. So he's going to go for an easy target.

For that reason, I lock my bike up with TWO locks. I have a u-lock that keeps the bike attached to the bike rack, and I have a long cable lock that keeps the two wheels attached to the frame. That way, the bike is protected by two different kinds of lines of defense, and a thief has to be extra prepared to get my bike by having two different tools to get the locks open. Most thieves are going to look for easier pickings.

Here's a picture from one of my favorite commuting blogs, Paul Dorn's Bike Commute Tips Blog: it shows a bunch of different u-locks that have been dumped - obviously by a thief who was getting rid of the locks he'd opened in order to steal the bikes. Notice - they're all the same kind of lock! So this guy could get one kind of lock open but not multiple kinds. The harder it is to steal your bike, the less likely it'll get stolen.

Also, there are some ways to use your locks that make it harder for thieves to get at them and break them open, pick the locks, etc. Urban Bikers' Tips and Tricks, which I've mentioned before, has lots of great tips on how to use the various kinds of locks in this way.

So get a couple of locks of different types. Your bike will thank you, and so will your wallet. And... so will your sanity. If you've never had a bike stolen, consider yourself lucky - it's a frustrating and maddening experience.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

May is National Bike Month

The League of American Bicyclists has announced May to be "National Bike Month." This will include "National Bike to Work Week" from May 14-18, and National Bike Day on the 18th.

So if you're not biking, this is the time! Get out there and take the lane!

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Night Commute with a Disappointing Situation

Last night my wife decided that she and Duncan (our son) weren't going to go to the Columbus Crew game since they both have head colds. I, not being particularly bright at times, decided to go despite the fact that I have the same cold. :) And so that she'd have the car and since it was a nice night, I biked to the game.

The commute went very well. It's actually a little bit shorter than my ride to work, but a little more crazy. This is because I have to get onto Silver Drive, which is a service road next to I-71 and also handles a lot of the traffic onto and off the expressway. But I navigated the entire trip with no issues.

The trip home was also a success - despite it being dark, my lights work really well (if you want to see which lights I have, visit my Amazon.com store - I list both my headlights and rear flasher).

Now the disappointment: I pulled up to the gate to go in, waiting for an opening, and was chatting with a police officer briefly while I waited. He then informed me that I was supposed to go to another gate to enter as that was the gate for PEDESTRIANS. I quickly informed him that I wasn't a pedestrian, and offered to show him where it says so in the Columbus traffic code, which I carry with me when I ride. He gave me a disdainful look and beckoned me on to the other gate anyway. I left after asking him to refresh his knowledge on the traffic code (which I probably shouldn't have done) and went into the stadium.

The police have one job: to enforce the laws of the city. And in order to enforce the laws they have to KNOW the laws. This guy obviously didn't. One person who I related the story to suggested that maybe the law had changed and he didn't know it. But I've always been told that ignorance of the law is no excuse. And that is the case for the enforcers just as much as it is for the enforcees.

It wouldn't even have bothered me if he'd said something like "We'd like bikes to use the entrance further down," as that wouldn't be his displaying of his lack of knowledge about the status of bikes as vehicles.

I do my best to always follow the law when I ride, and obviously have made the effort to understand the traffic code here in Columbus. And cyclists fight pretty hard to be recognized as vehicles (and not as pedestrian traffic), which the law says we are. When something like this happens, it's disappointing. It means we still have a long way to go in order to get true acceptance. And when the attitude toward traffic has a preference for a form of traffic that is destroying our environment, killing upwards of 40,000 people a year, destabilizing our national security, and contributing to skyrocketing obesity rates, that acceptance can't come too soon.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New Cafe Press Store

I've opened a Cafe Press store with t-shirts and some other things that sport a design I put together. I hope you like the design, if not I plan to come out with some others as well. Some may be a little more locally-oriented than the one I have up there now, some may be more general. It depends on when the muse strikes me.

This prompts me to ask a question, and I will NOT be offended by your answer at all. I was wondering if you, the folks who regularly read my blog and comment on it, would be interested in being informed of new items I have for sale in a newsletter.

I would probably only put out a couple per YEAR - I'm not that prolific an artist or designer. If you would be interested, let me know, either here in the comments or you can email me at jfellrath AT gmail DOT com (you know the drill here).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bike Boulevards in Berkeley

Here's yet another video that makes me question my decision to live in Columbus, Ohio... Berkeley, California has instituted a series of Bike Boulevards which are streets that favor bikes and pedestrian traffic by design.

This strikes me as the perfect traffic pattern to have in Clintonville, German Village, and other residential areas of the city.

More on A Billion Bikes

Last night I finished up the Copenhagen series and started the "On the Canal" series on A Billion Bikes.com. One of the best things about the Copenhagen series is that they show both the challenges and the positives of cycling culture in Copenhagen.

And it made clear to me something that I've been saying all along - what we need to do in Columbus, and probably in most other places, is stop trying to make things so convenient for cars. That will move more people to try other forms of transportation, such as bikes. And in the meantime, start creating things like bike lanes (or cycle tracks, as they call them in Denmark) and implementing bike-centric traffic signals. Watching the signals make it clear that bikes were first was a refreshing change, and having signals specifically for the bikes was even better!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Billion Bikes.com

One of my favorite media coming from the internet is the podcast. For those of you who aren't familiar with podcasts, think of it as a downloadable radio or tv show that you can watch/listen to at your convenience. I listen to several podcasts from National Geographic, a few music podcasts, some environmental news podcasts, and even a couple of cycling podcasts. As I don't have a video iPod nor do I have time to watch it while commuting to work (or the ability - as my hands are on the handlebars!) I watch video podcasts at home instead of TV on a regular basis.

One podcast that I've recently picked up is A Billion Bikes.com - it's a podcast about different cities around the world and how they integrate cycling into their normal traffic culture. I've watched the first couple of episodes on Copenhagen, Denmark (the first two of five) and I am SO envious. I wish I could send this to Mayor Coleman and the entire city commission to watch... this is like a dream for bike commuters and all the benefits are clear. But the nice thing about this podcast is that it also concentrates on the things that cities are doing to make their cycling infrastructure better - even in cities like Copenhagen where the situation is already one of the best in the world.

I highly recommend you watch this one!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My Transportation History

I am a fortunate man to have had a positive role model for cycling in my life... my dad.

I grew up in a small town in Michigan (Alma, if you're familiar with central Michigan) and my dad was one of the few (possibly the only, in car-happy Alma) who rode his bike to work. He did it with his suit on and though he didn't try to tough it out in the winter or inclement weather, when the weather was nice he was on his bike.

The rumor was that people would see him reading the paper on his bike on the way to work, but he always strongly denied it. When he hit the curb one time and broke his wrist, the rumor was even more widespread.

My first bike was a red Schwinn Bantam (mine didn't have big green streamers on it, though). I got it for Christmas one year and I loved it from the beginning. I wasn't able to ride it to school because our elementary school didn't have bike racks as far as I can remember. It didn't really matter, anyway, because I walked to school, so I was still getting exercise and not wasting gas. The other big thing I remember about that bike was that if you re-arranged the letters in the name, you got "Batman." And I thought that was pretty cool. It was just the thing for riding around the neighborhood, and of course I didn't have any silly banana seat - my bike was a classy item!

My next bike was also a Schwinn, a Schwinn Speedster. No hand brakes or multiple speeds or anything like that... just a regular coaster. I rode that bike to school pretty regularly. My middle school had a bunch of bike racks in front of it, so that was nice. It was sturdy, got me around town with no problems, and I rode it a long time... until my first boy scout bike-campout.

Most of my friends on the campout had ten-speeds (or at least five- or three-speeds) and they were able to adjust to terrain and wind and the like. I, on the other hand, was stuck in the one gear I had. So I was getting wiped out while everyone around me was having an easy time of things. I continued to ride that bike for a while, but eventually I gave it up for a used ten-speed. The local bike shop fixed it up for me with new gear shifts, brakes, etc. and I was good to go. I rode that bike through high school in the spring and fall months, and throughout the summer. In the winter, I drove or got a ride... especially on those mornings when swim practice before school was a requirement. But even then, I wasn't too taken with cars. They were big and smelly, required too much maintenance and money for gas, and I have just never been big on driving.

In college, a bike wouldn't really have helped much. Notre Dame is a walking campus - nothing's more than about a ten-minute walk away, so a bike wasn't really necessary (in fact, folks who tried to ride their bikes on the sidewalk were pretty much hated as there just wasn't enough room). And there was good public transportation everywhere off-campus if you needed to go there, plus dad let my brother and I share a car while we were there.

I never really even thought about having a bike immediately after college - I rode one to my summer jobs while in college pretty frequently, but I wasn't comfortable on the main road in Alma with all the car maniacs. But my one summer job was an eye-opener for me. I was working in a convenience store and one of my co-workers was a girl named Kris, who was about 4 years younger than me. And we'd be chatting during the lulls in waiting on people, and I noticed that whenever she asked me if I knew someone and she had to describe them, she told me what car they drove. I have NEVER identified a person by their car - I knew what cars my friends had and that was about it. And I asked her about that... actually, I think what I said was "why are you telling me what car they drive? No one notices that!"

Well, apparently I was wrong. She couldn't believe I DIDN'T pay attention to what cars people drove. But then, I drove my $2000 1987 Mercury Lynx wagon, which was simple basic transportation. I didn't care what car I drove. And I frequently got asked when I was getting a new car... I quickly learned that cars were, for whatever reason, something that identified you. But that didn't change me. I only got rid of that car because it was falling apart... after putting 31,000 miles on it.

When I moved down to Columbus I was driving all the time. As a consultant I really couldn't help it. I was rarely in one position for a year at a time... and I was consulting for about 7-8 years. Eventually I started taking the bus when I was in one place for a while... that was nice because I didn't have to sit in traffic, I could read on the bus, or whatever. When I started at Ohio State full time, I continued to take the bus.

I actually did own one other bike during this time - my wife used some rewards points that she got from incentive deals from her sales job to get me a mountain bike - a beautiful Trek 3900 bike (though mine was orange). I rode it a bit, but for whatever reason it never occurred to me to try to ride to work (though I did ride it around town on errands and to Columbus Crew games occasionally). And eventually that bike got stolen, before I was able to get out and ride some trails on it.

But I started to think about riding to work not long after my Trek was stolen. And last year I got a bike for my birthday... so now I have my Specialized Expedition Sport. And I have two locks for it, one cable and one u-lock. I've added Fenders, lights, the whole nine yards.

This is my commuting baby right now. I'm still looking for a rear rack and panniers for it, but I have never been happier about commuting to work. I'd still sort of like to have a mountain bike, too, but it'd only be for fun... and I have to say I've never been happier with a vehicle than with the one I have now.

So... what kind of bikes have you had and loved? Tell us about them in the comments!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Meet the Founder of Consider Biking - Meredith Joy

A good friend of mine is on the faculty of Ohio State's Department of City and Regional Planning, and she let me know about the independent project of her student Meredith Joy. Meredith is in the process of putting together a website called Consider Biking (the site is currently under construction, but she'd be happy for you to check out some of the things she's offering). I was impressed with the focus and breadth that the site seems to be taking and Meredith was kind enough to submit to an interview. I'd like to share that with you now.

Meredith would like to announce, before I get started, that the website will be officially opened on Earth Day (April 22). Also, Consider Biking will have a booth at the Goodale Park Earth Day event, so look for her there!

And so, without any further ado, here's Meredith!

First, please tell us a bit about yourself and what you've been studying at OSU in regard to planning.

Hello! I'm Meredith Joy and here's a bit about me: I grew up in Pataskala, Ohio, just east of here, and went to the University of Pittsburgh for undergrad, where I got my BA in Philosophy in 2001. Immediately afterwards, I went on a 3-month road trip with my college roommate (on September 11 we had gotten as far as Indianapolis!) all throughout the south and up the coast of California. Then, when I was broke and tired, I came home to Pataskala to stay with my parents for a while and regroup, and worked at a battered women's shelter and the Newark Advocate.

In early 2003, I moved to Columbus and got a job working for the Executive MBA program at the Fisher College of Business. After a couple years, I decided to quit that job (suits don't suit me) and do freelance writing and editing...which ended up sucking a whole lot, actually, and I only did that for one year. As of September 2006, I took on a part-time job with one of my clients (writing federal & foundation grants for healthcare organizations) and enrolled in the Master's of CRP course at OSU.

I just recently started the program so I'm still in core courses, but I plan to study energy & transportation issues and policy. And all my independent studies will be around commuter cycling, which will be the topic of my thesis as well. Outside the program and my job, I live in Clintonville with my kick-ass boyfriend (a programmer who is building my site) and we try to generate community wherever we can. We host a monthly conversational salon and he’s part of the arts scene and I’m starting this bike group, and…etc., etc….

What kind of bike(s) do you ride? Are you primarily a commuter or recreational cyclist?

I ride a Specialized Sirrus road bike. It's comfy and sturdy and light—nothing super-duper special, but I give it high marks! I rarely ever ride recreationally b/c I'm all about commuting by bike, reducing reliance on the auto, you know. Plus I freeze up when contemplating a ride with no destination!

What challenges do you see for cycling as an accepted mode of transportation in Columbus?

Well, there are several challenges we’re up against in Columbus, as I see it.

First, we’re a car town in a car culture that is already challenged by high rates of obesity and inactivity. I’m certainly not the only one out there trying to figure out how to get people to be more active—it’s tough. Especially when commuter cyclists are out in the real world, outside of gym environs, and may be a bit sweaty when they get to where they’re going! There has to be a culture that supports sweatiness (so to speak), and right now in Columbus there isn’t, so people who bike can be seen as somewhat “X-treme” or weird. It’s not mainstream to bike, and people can feel threatened by that.

Second, to cycle for transportation is to add yet one more element of planning to a day, because cycling requires special prep for weather, errands, hauling things, etc. It’s not as easy as, “well, just hop on a bike and do it!” I mean, of course in some sense it is just that easy, but what if you have kids? What if you work in Dublin? What if you’re in sales and need you need to look polished all day? These are real considerations that can be addressed with thoughtful planning, but the cycling lifestyle does take some work.

Third, the infrastructure in this town is insufficient to support large numbers of cyclists, and probably won’t be in place until a large number of cyclists are already riding on the roads and begin to demand changes. So the early renegades are going to have to deal with poor conditions for a while. Soon enough, this will change, but in the meantime we must be hardy and diligent!

And finally, people are scared. They don’t want to go it alone for the first few times and come within 12 inches of autos with hostile or inattentive drivers! And there has been no real community devoted to making it comfortable for them. Which is completely valid—cycling can be dangerous, especially if you’re new to it and biking improperly. So we have some work to do in the area of outreach to new cyclists so that they can be safe on the roads.

What are your goals and expectations for Consider Biking?

What I’m out to do here is create a culture in which people are informed and confident enough to “consider biking” when making a local trip that they would otherwise have used their auto to accomplish. I think a lot of the commuter cycling world focuses on the commute to work, but the fact is that if people were only using their cars to get to and from work, we wouldn’t have nearly the problem we do today with oil demand. So I want more people to bike, more often, to more places, as they are able to. I think my vision and mission statements really capture what I’m up to in that regard.

But I also plan to facilitate community among cyclists in this town, because my experience has been that it’s a fragmented community and not one that is particularly welcoming. I plan to focus on outreach and education with Consider Biking, and I don’t think that has been a common focus among cyclists historically. On a related point, I’ve actually heard from several planners that one of the problems with cyclists is that they don’t speak with one voice. Some want bike lanes, some don’t; some prefer paths while others want to be on the roads…so I hope that once we reach a critical mass (ha, pun intended) of bikers we can address these differences on a grander scale and among a more diverse population of bicycle commuters.

Tell us a bit about your website and the features it has/will have.

The website will feature the tools you’d expect of a commuter cycling site—community resources, links to relevant info, maps, discussion forums, etc.—but also some multimedia stuff that really elevates what is possible using an online community-building tool. For example, we’re going to feature:
  • local bikers in a section that has an audio interview with them playing as a photo slideshow of their image (ala the slideshows on The New York Times website)

  • the opportunity for bikers to upload videos or photos of the things they do to accommodate cycling in their lives

  • a buddy system, whereby experienced riders can volunteer to ride with newbies until they feel comfortable on the road or people can organize “bikepools” to/from work

  • community-generated content (moderated, of course) in which people can contribute articles or tips as desired

  • interactive Google maps whereby people can submit routes, find stores (and rate them!), and pinpoint where their bikes were stolen

  • a personal membership account that allows people to register their bikes in case they are stolen or otherwise compromised
Plus more, no doubt, as people make suggestions and we move this along!

What aspect of this project excites you the most?

I think the part that excites me most is that I sense this kind of "click" with my project and what's going on in Columbus and the world in terms of waking up to our impact on the environment, and to how our over-reliance on resources can make us weak and unstable. In terms of Columbus specifically, I have felt a shift even in the past couple of years with respect to the general "buzz" about sustainability issues—certainly Mayor Coleman has been at the fore of some of that. There is now the sense that big things can happen here, that we can be a model city for green issues. I happen to believe that my project is unique in all the country and I would love to be a model for organizing other towns' cycling efforts. I think that's a realistic expectation for Consider Biking, because it has been our intention all along to create a site that is exportable. So there are Big Things ahead for me and for Columbus, which is so great. I love the idea of staying here to build something awesome, as opposed to relocating to San Fran where it’s all set up for me. More people should consider that, and stick around for a while!

San Francisco Critical Mass Incident Illustrates the Problem With Modern Traffic

Many of you who are long time members of the cycling culture may be aware of a movement called Critical Mass. If you're not, you can read the wikipedia definition of the movement/phenomenon (linked to the left), but basically it's a bike ride, held on the last Friday of each month, that uses its size to take over the road from other forms of transportation, namely cars.

As you can imagine, this ride is very controversial, but it's hard to stop because there is no set organization or membership involved. Everyone who wants to participate simply shows up at the prescribed place and time, and they go and ride. That's it.

The motto of this ride is simple: "We aren't blocking traffic; we are traffic." But to a nation that is still under the impression that automobiles rule the streets, this is a problem. So Critical Mass tends to get a hard time in the mainstream press. But it also brings a lot of issues about the use of streets to the forefront: are streets simply places for cars to drive, and everyone else can use them at their own risk? Or are they commons, places for all to use no matter what mode of transportation you use?

Being of the latter mindset, I tend to be a fan of Critical Mass and the forced realization that traffic is about more than just cars.

Well, Critical Mass is getting a hard look in San Francisco, where it originated, after an incident at the end-of-March ride. Apparently, a family from out of town was driving into town to celebrate a birthday when they ran into the end, more or less, of the monthly ride. Apparently the driver, Susan Ferrando, revved her engine in annoyance at the riders not letting her pass, and then swerved out and hit a cyclist. She then attempted to drive off, but other cyclists surrounded her car to foil her escape while 911 was called. One of the riders apparently broke the rear window of her car.

Ferrando then told the press and anyone who would listen that she only bumped someone and that's why she was trying to drive off. She made the whole thing sound like the cyclists' fault.

There are two people at fault in this particular case, without looking at the bigger picture of the Critical Mass ride itself: Ferrando, for attempting a hit and run, and the cyclist who smashed her window. Both should be in jail.

Some may argue that Critical Mass is at fault for this incident - that the mob mentality that arises from such an event led to the incident getting out of control. I see it differently.

Modern automobile traffic IS the mob mentality. It's a perpetuated cycle of "strongest rules" and the idea that if everyone does something wrong, then that makes it right. That's why police don't stop people for speeding, failure to use turn signals, etc. EVERYONE does it. In fact, you can get ticketed for NOT speeding, because you're not "following the flow of traffic."

Critical Mass, on the other hand, is simply a case of the cyclists showing the motorists how it feels.

My point: traffic, and the insatiable need that people have to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, is the problem. The officials of this and every city that has traffic issues like ours (and that seems to be most of them) should be doing everything they can to slow traffic down, and to discourage the use of private automobiles.

Cars are the problem here, not the victim. When people die in car-related accidents, it's looked at as a necessary evil to keep people moving. But sit back and think about that: your son, daughter, mother, father, cousin, etc. dies in a car accident. But instead of taking action to fix the problem so that it doesn't happen any more, city officials shrug it off and find the blame with your relative - they did something wrong that got them killed.

I say the system got them killed, because the system is flawed both in practice and in intention.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Encounters with the Law

Since I started bike commuting, I haven't had an encounter with Columbus's Finest. In fact, I really haven't had an official encounter with them at any time, unless you consider questions about where I got various kilts I own to be official. I know police have seen me riding - they've passed me, or seen me at intersections, etc. And I've never been talked to or anything, so I guess I must be doing things right.

But if you read a lot of bike commuting blogs and forums (as I do), you invariably hear stories and anecdotes about people who think the police are hassling them or don't know the law regarding bicycling, etc. An example of this is someone who was stopped by the police after doing a track stand at a stoplight instead of putting his/her foot down, and the officer ticketed the rider for not stopping.

I personally always carry a copy of the Columbus traffic code as it pertains to bicycles with me so I can try to figure out where I've gone wrong (if I ever get stopped) or whether the officer is wrong. Because, let's face it - there are more bike commuters out there this spring than there have been in a darned long time (today's weather notwithstanding), and the possibility for cyclists being stopped is higher as a result. My wife said she saw a very reckless cyclist (cutting across two lanes of traffic near an intersection) get a ticket a few weeks ago, so you know they're watching.

Have YOU had run-ins with the police in Columbus? What are your impressions? Please add a comment if you have any experience with our boys in white.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

NHTSA Bike Safety Video

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released this video in conjunction with the League of American Bicyclists. Very basic, but good stuff if you're looking to start cycling for the first time in a while.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Bring Your Kids With You!

A while back, I promised my friend Matt that I'd do a post about bike trailers. Well, with the warmer days apparently upon us, now seems to be the perfect time to do just that.

A Bike TrailerThere are three options for those who want to bring kids with us on bikes: trailers, seats, and trail-a-bikes. Trailers are just what you're thinking: a wheeled contraption that you tow behind you on your bike, and on which the child pretty much just sits. This is what my wife and I have for our boy to ride along with us. He loves it and a bike ride with him is always a fun adventure when in one of these contraptions.

A nice thing about trailers is that they can be used for more than just carrying your children around - you can use them to carry items home from running errands and the like as well. Also, it's easier for the child to bring along a beverage or snack in case they get thirsty while you're out. The downside is that it's a little hard to hear your child if they need something while you're riding.

The one we have, which is the Burley Bee as seen on this page, has a roll-up plastic sheet that either allows the wind to hit the passenger's face or if closed protects the passenger from the elements. It also has a conversion kit to allow you to make it a jogging stroller if you are so inclined. It has a safety strap and a quick-release option that will keep it upright, yet connected, in case you go down on your bike.

The second option is a bike seat. You've seen these... these are the seats that sit behind the rider's saddle over the rear wheel. The benefit of these is that it's easier to hear the child if they need something. I imagine that they're actually cheaper, too. The downside, as I see it, is that if you go down, the kid goes down, too. Also, having one of these on your bike can negate your ability to have a set of panniers or baskets on the rear of your bike. If you have only one bike and use it regularly for commuting, then a bike seat might not be the best option.

The third option for bringing the kids with you is the trail-a-bike, which you probably have seen as well. These are those half-bike things that allow your child to ride along with you on the back of your bike. They have to pedal and hold the handlebars, and are a great tool for helping to teach your child how to ride a bike properly.

In fact, I've read in a couple of spots that they are BETTER than a bike with training wheels, as training wheels don't allow for the concept of leaning into turns and such. All the steering with training wheeled-bikes is done with the handlebars... which sounds all right until you think about how you actually bike... you don't really turn the handlebars, you lean into a turn and control the lean somewhat with the handlebars. A trail-a-bike will get new cyclists more used to that leaning action.

This is by no means a consensus opinion, though. If you search around on Google you'll find that many folks won't let their kids onto a trail-a-bike until they had a chance to learn with training wheels. I understand both arguments, and not having had to train a child to ride a bike yet, I'm not going to put in an opinion on this one.

One opinion that I will put forth is that even if you decide upon a trailer for your child, you still need to put a helmet on them. You never know what you're going to encounter when you're bicycling and it's better to be safe than sorry. Plus, your kid may just love the helmeted experience. My boy didn't want to take his new helmet off when he got it for his last birthday - he wore it for the rest of his party!

At any rate, if you go out to Bicycle Trailers.com you'll find all sorts of information on this topic, as well as a number of products and reviews for these things. All the bike shops that I've seen in town have trailers for sale, and you can also find trailers at some of the big box stores like Target.

Keep in mind, however, that you'll probably find more quality products at your local bike shops - this is a time when you really don't want to skimp as your children's safety will be affected. You'll also benefit from specialists who will be able to show you how to attach trailers, seats, etc. to YOUR bike (if you bring it with you) so that there's no question when you're ready to ride.

Kids love bikes, there's no question. My boy loves bicycles and loves to go on a ride with mom and dad in his trailer. What better way to get your kids to love bikes than to include them on rides in a fun way like this!

I'd like to get a lot of reader input on the trailer/seat/trail-a-bike products that are out there, or on anything I've said in the article! PLEASE comment on your experience with these products!

Ways to Get Busted On Your Bike

Bike Commuters.com has a list of infractions that the police in Topeka are enforcing this biking season... even though it's not Columbus, I see no reason that our boys in white and the police in surrounding suburbs won't be doing the same. Be safe, be smart, and be courteous. I've noted some comments below:
Maj. John Sidwell, spokesman for Topeka police, talked about some of the main infractions.

1. Failing to stop completely at a stop sign or red light. “Every year we work accident scenes between people on bikes and people in cars. Doing a bump and run on a stop sign doesn’t give you an adequate amount of time to see a car coming. We do write citations for this.”
It's frustrating for us as cyclists to hear about the police enforcing this when it's obvious that they rarely enforce it with motorists. But let's try to keep to the straight and narrow on this one.

Also, for those of you who know how to do "track stands," I've seen reports from various places that police, particularly those who don't ride themselves, don't realize that it is possible to come to full controlled stop without your feet touching the ground. It probably behooves you to touch the ground, even if it means disengaging your feet from pedal clips and such.
2. Riding the wrong way on a one-way street. “This really is a major hazard. Think about your driving. When you pull up to a stop sign at a one-way street, you look at oncoming traffic. No one is coming, so you pull out. You don’t look both ways.”
This is just dumb. Don't do it.
3. Not stopping for school buses that are loading or unloading children. It is the same law as with a car. “You can cause yourself injury and cause the pedestrian, or kid, injury, if you go by that bus and a child runs out in front.”
I often get into discussions with my wife about driving and pedestrians and how they always have the right of way, no matter if they're in the wrong (jaywalking, etc.) or not. The same goes for cycling - pedestrians, which we are NOT, always have the right of way. That goes double for kids getting off or on school buses.
4. Riding after dusk without a front head lamp that emits a white light visible for at least 500 feet. “Think of the car driver. Most look for headlights. If they don’t see anything, they figure they are clear to go. It comes down to a visibility issue so other vehicles can see you are on the roadway.”
This is Columbus law anyway and the smart thing to do. Remember - staying visible is the best way to stay safe.
5. Riding at speeds faster than what is reasonable and proper for road conditions and safety.
A pain - this is a judgement call, and police who aren't cyclists may not know what's safe and what's not. But don't push it.
6. Not using arm signals when changing directions or stopping.
See number one. I wish that the police would enforce this across the board but they don't.
7. Riding three or more abreast. “Traditionally speaking, if they will break and allow traffic to get by, we normally won’t write them a citation. But if they are making traffic go out of their way, we can write (the cyclists) a ticket.”
Again, this is Columbus law. Two abreast at the most. I wish they were a tad more clear, though. Will they write a ticket for two cyclists abreast, if they think traffic is being held up?

NOT A LAW, BUT …

“We very, very strongly recommend helmets, particularly for kids. Every year, we work accidents where children fall and hit their heads on the curb. They die or receive severe injuries. Helmets are extremely important.”
It just goes without saying. Helmets save people from injuries. And kids fall down more than adults on bikes - they try stuff that is more dangerous and they don't always have full coordination.
NO KIDDING …

“Sometimes, people are in disbelief that they are actually getting a ticket. Often, they don’t realize they are in violation of the law. Normally, we don’t give kids tickets. What you are trying to do is get the person not to do it again. Often, kids are pretty pliable if you chat with them.”
I think this is especially the case for new cyclists, who don't realize that they have the same rights and responsibilities as a motorist.

With more and more bikes taking to the roads, though, you can be sure that police are going to be watching for us and our mistakes.