Ed W, better known to the bicycle blogging ranks as CycleDog, hits us hard with this fictional story today. It's fictional... but very realistic.
People, not speed.
Just a quick note - I want to thank the famous Yokota Fritz for adding a link to this blog in his sidebar on his fantastic bicycling blog Cyclelicious.
If you're a regular follower of this blog you know how often I've linked to his work, and you know that Fritz's scope for cycling news extends across the board. Doesn't matter if it's advocacy, road racing, mountain biking, celebrity bicycle spotting, bike culture, what have you - Fritz gets it all. He's also a frequent guest on the Spokesmen Cycling Roundtable podcast.
Plus, he's a really nice guy. Go visit Cyclelicious and drive his readership levels through the roof.
People, not speed.
At the Interbike trade show last month, one of the big buzzwords was e-bikes. Short for electric bikes, the concept has elicited a lot of different reactions from the bicycling public. And this is honestly to be expected, as the cycling world is hardly homogeneous. But not knowing anything about the e-bike other than it's a bike with some electric assist features, I decided it was time to find out something about them. And that took me to the Short North and Jared Cavalier
Talking with Jared was a pleasure, as it always is when you're talking to someone with a true passion for what he's doing. And his passion is redesigning the way that we get around town, and making it easier for everyone to do. Segway of Ohio has Segways, of course, but they also have lines of other vehicles including folding bikes, powered skateboards, and the EcoBike. And the EcoBike, which is the brand of e-bike that Segway of Ohio chooses to carry, was my mission for the day.
Before going in to see Jared, I did a bit of research, particularly this article from CNN and an Interbike TV interview with one of the founders of mountain biking, Gary Fisher.
My initial reaction before reading the CNN article and watching the Gary Fisher interview was that these were just scooters with some pedaling ability, and that the only folks who were going to be using these were people who were simply too lazy to ride a "real bike." But both the article (which is accompanied by a segment on video, below) and the Gary Fisher interview revealed that these were a real option and that you didn't have to give up "real riding" by getting on one of these bad boys.
Fisher's interview in particular reminded me of some of the reasons people give for not bike commuting, including having to change clothes, getting all sweaty, etc. We've discussed these before, naturally. And after having a chance to check out the EcoBike and test ride it, I'm convinced that this vehicle can be the answer that many folks are looking for. And after talking to Jared, I'm also convinced that my preconceptions about e-bike riders simply being wimps was not the case at all.
First, a bit of discussion of the EcoBike. The bikes themselves come from Europe, where cycling culture is more accepted into the mainstream and bike companies don't focus nearly as much on recreation as they do here. Bikes in Europe, though they have the high-end mountain and road bikes, are generally more functional, and just another form of transportation. And the EcoBike follows that mold with one tiny difference: you get a bit of help while riding.
EcoBike comes in three models in the US market: the folding Vatavio, the urban Elegance model, and the more rugged Adventure mountain bike model. All of them have a 36 volt Lithium Ion Battery and a 290 watt brushless rear hub that provide the assist. The wheels on the Elegance and Adventure model are standard 26 inch wheels, and the folding Vatavio has 20 inch wheels (which Jared said does tend to change the ride somewhat significantly, making it not quite as smooth as the non-folding models).
Other than that... these things are bikes, pure and simple. Jared was pleased to point out that they are customizable with parts that come from any bike store (with the exception of the rear wheel which holds the motor in its hub and the battery casing). If you wanted to modify yours to include a Brooks saddle, change the tires to something a bit more sturdy (though they come with Kenda puncture-resistant tires), and put on some panniers, you can do so. If you want to put your kids in the Burley trailer behind the bike and get them to school or the park, you can. All the models come with a rear rack attached (complete with bungees), a rear light, a double-kickstand, full fenders with mudflaps, and a full chainguard.
The motor is, as I said, fully electric - no gasoline required. A full charge takes 4.5 hours, and that'll last you for up to 25 miles of assisted riding (a term I'll explain momentarily). Naturally, your results may vary depending on your route, how much you pedal, etc. The battery lifts out of the bike easily and is about the size of a small shoebox. And if you are planning on some serious distance, you can get a second battery which fits perfectly onto the rack of the bike.
Jared pointed out that the EcoBike does not have regenerative braking or any in-ride-recharging ability (like a hybrid car does), but that's one of the features that keeps it inexpensive. And inexpensive is, in this case, under $2000. Before you gasp, go to your local bike shop and look at the prices of even some of the mid-range road bikes - the cost is similar.
So now the big question: how does it ride? Well... the answer is simple. It rides like a bike.
I rode the Elegance - the urban model. And riding it felt pretty much the same as riding my current bike - which is a bit heavier than most bikes simply because I like sturdiness for my daily commute. I took the bike up High Street a bit, onto some of the sidestreets in the Short North, and up and down some hills in my test ride. The ride is very comfortable, even on the brick streets of the Short North. And pedalling without the power assist is, while not perfectly easy, not any harder than riding my bike when fully loaded for work. The six speed Shimano Tourney gears on the bike allow you to put the pedalling intensity right where you want it, and it shifts very smoothly with a twist grip.
But putting the bike into assist mode was the most pleasant surprise of the day. As I pedalled away from the store, I was immediately propelled forward ever-so-slighly by the assist motor which gave me a little more "oomph" in getting off the line - solving a frequent issue mentioned by cyclists in that they feel they're holding traffic up a bit too much as they pull out. And going up the hills was much easier, obviously. You barely feel that there's any assist as you ride, but when your legs aren't burning as you hit the top and the flop-sweats fail to leave their mark on your work clothes, you'll appreciate just how much work the bike is doing for you.
Top speed on the bike is about 20 mph (depending on conditions, of course), which puts it right at the same amount of speed as most bikes - thus (in my mind) removing the question of "do bikes like this belong with non-powered-bikes?" The answer is yes. As I said... this is most certainly a bicycle. And if you want to ride slower, that's no big deal either. Ride slower. The bike's not going to push you to go faster with its motor behind your work - it gives you a bit of help when you need it, that's all.
To switch between assisted-pedal mode and full "scooter" mode is done with a flip of the right thumb. I wasn't particularly impressed with the full scooter mode - but then I'm a cyclist and don't have the same frame of reference there. And Jared said up front that it's not built to be a full scooter - it's a bike, period.
I returned from my too-brief test ride with a new jones, so to speak. This bike is really the answer to a lot of questions regarding bike commuting. You still get exercise, there's no doubt about that. You're still moving and pedalling. This bike just makes the ride in traffic and among faster vehicles that much easier.
I asked Jared about who the market for the EcoBike was and who was buying them the most, not sure what I expected as his answer, but was surprised anyway when responded "everybody above 30."
And after riding it, I can see his point. Everything we teach in the League of American Bicyclists Traffic Skills 101 class still applies with an e-bike, because it's still a bike. As an instructor, I would have no problem with a student coming to class with one of these bikes. It has the same capabilities and limitations of a regular bicycle.
But for those who don't want constant changes of clothing as they ride to and from work, want to arrive at work looking fresh and ready to go, or even have some physical challenges that might keep them off a standard bike (Jared mentioned that he has some nerve damage in his knee that keeps him off a standard bike), this is a more than acceptable answer.
So don't fear the e-bike. Try it out and judge for yourself.People, not speed.
This post is less about rules and safety, and more about trying to be courteous to everyone else on the road. We've been talking quite a bit about cyclist perception on the road recently, with posts on obeying the law and the like. This post is a more "best practices" idea that came up in response to that post and some questions I've been asked on Twitter.
One of the things I tell people when they start bike commuting or ask me questions about it is that we, as cyclists, need to stop worrying about whether we're holding up traffic. It's simple: if we ride safely and as we're allowed to within the law, we are going to do just that. And that's the basis for a lot of the enmity we face - we don't go as fast as everyone else and the perception is that we're roadblocks. And let's face it - the dehumanizing aspect of cars makes many drivers feel as though everyone else out there is just a drone out to piss them off. Well, that's obviously not true, and there are some things that we can do to help to keep the peace with drivers.
First, one thing that you see a lot of on the road, and that isn't technically illegal but is a big no-no in my book, is cyclists who come to a line of cars at a red light or stop sign and ride up the side of the line to the front of it in order to get out in front of everyone else. If this was Portland, and we had bike lanes and bike boxes, then not only would that be kosher, it'd be legally allowed. Now I'm not going to say it's illegal in Columbus because, to the best of my knowledge, there's nothing on the books about it.
But if you were in a car, and you passed a cyclist on the road, trying hard to give him enough room as you moved past him, only to come to a stop and have him pass you and every other car in the line to zoom up the front, wouldn't that tick you off?
For that reason, I suggest that cyclists take their place in line with all the cars - and do so right in the center of the lane behind the car in front of you. That will set your place in the line, show the cars around you that you're a part of traffic just like them, and also give you the advantage of not allowing cars to pass you in the middle of the intersection (which is REALLY not safe). Get over to the middle of the lane as soon as you see cars lined up at the light or stop sign and take that lane position as soon as possible. Sure, it's a bit slower, but it's more courteous and you'll do more to show that you are PART of traffic that way, not a hazard to traffic.
Second, you frequently see cyclists who need to come to a stop as a light changes from yellow to red. I mean, let's face it - the lights aren't timed for us. It happens a lot. Now obviously, I'm not going to tell you to blow through it, that's illegal and dangerous. And I'm not going to tell you to position yourself in the lane all the way to the right, unless you're turning right. In that case, signal your right turn as you come to the stop and then (if signage allows it) turn right when the way is clear, like any vehicle in traffic.
But what if you're going straight through, and the option for turning right on red is there? What I like to do, then, is position myself on the left side of the lane, and allow cars that wish to turn right past you to do so. Wave them through if they seem hesitant. I do this a lot.
"But what if they try to blow straight past me when the light turns green?" you ask. Good question. Keep an eye on the approaching cars behind you, the ones who might potentially be turning right on red. If a car is coming up that isn't turning, then angle your bike slightly so that they can't get by you, and then pull straight out into the lane in front of that car when the light turns green again. No car is going to be getting past them to turn right anyway, so you're not really holding anyone up. Again, you're part of traffic, you're just taking advantage of your smaller size to be courteous to a few people.
If you're not comfortable with this second option, and I can certainly understand if you're not, then don't do it. Safety comes first every time. I don't do it if the car behind me is a Hummer, bus, or truck, for example. I don't want a wide car like that trying to inch past me - even on the wider streets. But if it's a small car, then give it a try. You'll soon figure out what you're comfortable with.
Now let's say you're riding down a narrow two lane road (one lane of travel in each direction). You're taking the lane for safety, but you've got a long line of cars behind you. There's nothing wrong with letting longer lines of cars get past you when the opportunity presents itself (a side street or a driveway, for example). In fact, many cycling manuals will suggest you do just that. It's not required - in fact, Ohio bike law states that cyclists can't be charged with "going too slow" as long as they're travelling at an appropriate speed for a bicycle. But it is a nice gesture. And give a friendly wave as you let people pass you.
So those are a few options for being courteous to your fellow vehicles on the road. What courteous things do you try to do on the road when you're riding?
People, not speed.
From the Gear Junkie on Outside Magazine comes a product review that is a great idea - a cold weather cycling glove that has mitten-like finger covers for the REALLY cold days!
The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Lobster Glove looks to be the best of both worlds: a glove that allows for dexterity and protection during moderately cool weather, and a lobster-claw mitten that gives maximum protection for those REALLY cold days. The mitten flaps fold back into a small pocket on the back of the hand of the mitten, keeping it out of the way when not needed.
This seems like a great idea. I can easily see a ride where I realized half-way through the route that I'd misjudged the temperature, wind chill, etc. and wished I'd brought my lobster claw mittens instead of my gloves. I'm in a hurry to get to work and don't want to pull over to pull them out of my pannier, assuming I packed them at all! With these babies, it'd be easy to simply pull them out and over my fingers while sitting at a stop light when I'd have to stop anyway.
And the price of $45.00 seems to be a bargain for an item that serves two purposes. I am going to have to try to find a pair of these to give you a real review of them!
People, not speed.
Today, I was commuting down High Street as I normally do, taking the lane the entire way (for those who don't live in Columbus, High Street's lanes are not wide enough to share with a passing car). I ride from approximately Arcadia in Clintonville all the way down a few blocks south of the I-70 bridge.
I was coming down from the "cap" past the Convention Center and was almost to the red light (and it was red at the time) at Nationwide and High. It was at this point that a bus (#9527) decided that he had enough room to pass me and did so. Normally, not a problem. If someone wants to pass me then as long as they get over I have problem with that.
But this bus driver apparently had no clue how to do it properly. First, he jackrabbited past me and left me maybe two feet of clearance. Second, he cut back into the lane almost hitting as he did so in order to get to the light ahead of me. Third, there was absolutely no point in his doing so because as soon as we crossed Nationwide after the light changed, I passed him again as he stopped to drop off passengers in front of the Nationwide Building.
I know I probably don't get a lot of motorists on this blog. And preaching to all of you who read this regularly is pretty much preaching to the choir. But please, please, please, motorists: think about why you're passing someone. Is it really necessary?
If you know you're going to be turning right at the next street, do you REALLY need to jackrabbit past that cyclist just to get in front of him? Or, if you're a bus, and you're making frequent stops, is it really necessary to fly past a cyclist just to get to your next stop? Or could you wait a moment longer to let the cyclist get past the stop? Is it really worth the five seconds you "save" to put someone's life in danger?
For those wondering, I have made a formal complaint to COTA about this driver, and I hope to hear a response, soon.
People, not speed.
I'm generally not a fan of bike lanes and the like, as I think it's not a good idea for a Complete Streets mentality to separate bikes and cars from each other. That being said, New York City is doing some very interesting things with their bike lanes and sharrows. Streetfilms has a video here:
It's interesting to look at these and think about places around Columbus where such ideas could be implemented. Any ideas? Please comment!
People, not speed.
The blazers, jackets, trousers, and shirts of the collection are made of high-tech materials like Gore-Tex, Merino Wool, and Windstopper technology, and look like they'll be perfect for getting around in the cooler months while staying clean and dry on our bikes.
They're a bit pricey, but undeniably well made and should last a long time. And with markets like this, the pricier stuff will soon lead to other companies following their lead and driving prices down across the board. I look forward to seeing more such offerings from Arc'teryx and other companies!
People, not speed.
I've been out with the flu for a few days (no, I'm not oinking), and I missed this surprising post from Jeff Stephens of Consider Biking back on October 9th. Suffice to say that Jeff took some time to sit back and watch the behavior of our city's cyclists, and was dismayed at what he saw.
I'm in complete agreement with Jeff on this issue. Simply too many Columbus cyclists do not obey the law. But let's look at the reasons that Jeff proposed in his commentary:
Why are you riding this way? Are you so self-absorbed, that the world revolves around you? Are you just opportunistic since the bicycle gives you the opportunity to cheat traffic? Are you “expressing yourself” with your nonchalant coolness, hipness, whatever? Or, do you just not know any better? Do you just follow the example of the guy/gal in front of you because you’re new to urban bicycling? (I think it’s the latter.)
Jeff's statement breaks the possible reasons for this behavior down into two extremes:
1. Those who know the law and don't follow it.
2. Those who don't know the law.
And there are probably groups of people who fall into both categories.
The very first thing I did when I started this blog was a rather thorough discussion of what the law is as pertains to cyclists in the city of Columbus. Links for those posts are below.
I wanted to know what exactly was expected of me as I commuted by bike, and what I could expect from the people around me. And a quick look at the law was the easiest way to do this.
But the topic here is WHY? To quote Jeff again:
And don’t give me the “loss of momentum” or “it’s safe because there are no cars” or “cars break the law too” arguments. I’d heard them all ad nauseum. We ought to be better than that. Hold ourselves to a higher standard.
All of the reasons above are nothing but excuses, excuses that aren't going to hold water if you ever actually are stopped. And excuses aren't going to keep you safe when you miss seeing that oncoming truck as you blow through a red light.
So what if you're going to lose momentum? So what if there are no cars? So what if cars are breaking the law, too? The point is that the law exists, and it doesn't exist to try to keep you down, or anything like that. The point is that traffic law is created to keep people safe. If there's one point that I've been hammering on since the day that this blog began, it's this:
The current traffic code in Columbus, if enforced and followed, is more than adequate for ensuring the safety and proper operation of bicycles in this city.
Now, whether the city's police are doing what they should to enforce the law is an entirely different matter, one that I've also tried to get across since starting this blog. But that's neither here nor there in this case. Proper, legal riding has gotten me to a point in my daily riding where I don't fear for my safety because I know that I'm doing what drivers expect and they're doing what I expect. I'm predictable, assertive, and know my place on the road. Most of the time, safety concerns don't even come to mind.
But ignorance of the law is another issue. Sure, you may never have been taught the law as it pertains to bikes. In our car-obsessed culture, that's a fair thing to say. I can't recall ever having been taught bicycle law when I was growing up, either, other than "keep to the right" and "don't ride on the sidewalk downtown" (I didn't grow up in Columbus - that was the law where I grew up).
But even if you've never been told the law as it pertains to bicycles, you can't honestly (key word: HONESTLY) get on your bike and think that the law doesn't apply to you. Somewhere in that head of yours, you know that there are laws that pertain to bicyclists.
But it's your own fault if you don't look it up and use that law to your advantage. Did you know that people getting out of parked cars are responsible for making sure they don't award you the door prize? Did you know that you only have to stay as close to the right side of the road as is practicable? Did you know that there is no "minimum" speed limit that would prohibit a bike from operating on anything except an expressway in Ohio?
So ignorance of the law is no excuse, either. If you're on the road without knowing the law, you're negligent. So either you're negligent or you're a knowing lawbreaker. There's no middle ground, other than you may be both (knowing only some of the law but breaking it anyway).
So perhaps it's most proper to say that there's really only one reason that people have for their scofflaw cycling habits: willful disregard of the law. Either you know it and disregard it, or you don't know it, and you disregard the need to find out what it is.
Either way, you're a menace on the road: a menace to your own safety, and a menace to those who do follow the law and have to deal with the repercussions of your behavior.
People, not speed.
People, not speed.
League News National News State & Local News
"Working together, we have the ability to make dramatic strides in making Tennessee's roads safer," said TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely. "As a major partner in this effort, TDOT is increasing its focus on implementing improvements that can make roadways safer, like cable barrier rail, high visibility pavement markings, and improved directional signs." Read more here.
UrbanVelo - Some more Interbike pics!
Cycleliciousness [Copenhagen Bicycle Culture] - It doesn't just annoy the piss out of me: traffic noise kills!
The Bike Nazi - How riding a bike regularly makes the Bike Nazi more like one of my personal icons, Theodore Roosevelt.
People, not speed.
Bike-PGH, a Pittsburgh-based bike advocacy group, recently released an article about how the Steel City ranks against other cities in the US on the percentage of trips that are taken by bike commuters versus other forms of transportation (bus, walkers, single-occupant cars, etc).
Part of the article was the data collected and presented by the US Census Bureau's American Community Survey and had a list of the top bike-commuting cities in the country. And Columbus ranks #21!
The report gives Columbus a 0.9% rating for the percentage of trips that are made by bike commuters who live in Columbus. This does not include people who live in other communities such as Dublin or Gahanna who ride to their jobs in Columbus. And it doesn't handle a count of multi-modal transportation users - so folks who ride partway and bus the rest have to pick one form of transportation as their mode.
But the point is that just under 1% of people in Columbus ride their bikes to work. That's a great statistic and definitely one that the city should take notice of.
Another interesting statistic, and one that planners and advocates should take into account, is the ratio of men to women who commute by bike in a city. Nationwide, the ratio is 2 men to 1 women who ride to work, and Columbus follows that trend with 1.2% of men who ride versus 0.6% of women. And my personal experience bears this out - I hear many more women than men tell me that they'd love to ride to work, if only it was more safe. And my unscientific view of who's out there riding each day seems to favor the number of men on their bikes.
So it seems that a good tactic for getting more riders out riding, period, is to find out what women want when it comes to bike commuting, because for every one woman we get out on her bike, we're likely to get two men!
People, not speed.
When looking at the traffic laws in Columbus (or almost any city, for that matter), it may seem that bicyclists have no reason to fear: the laws are already in place to keep them safe from harm.
But as Bob Mionske, the famous bike lawyer who wrote Bicycling and the Law: Your Rights as a Cyclist, and currently writes a regular law column for Bicycling Magazine, there's a distinct bias for cars evidenced by police all over our country. And that bias can take many forms.
One such form is the one-sided investigation. When a cyclist is hit by a car, the cyclist is frequently not in good enough shape to give a fair account of what happened in the incident. Even if the cyclist is not sent to the hospital due to the accident, he frequently is disoriented enough that he cannot answer questions about the accident, leading the officer to only have one side of the story. And if a cyclist is sent to the hospital, frequently the first thing they know when they wake up is that they have received a traffic ticket without any chance to give their impressions of the incident.
Another form of bias frequently evidenced is the refusal of police to enforce the law. A good example of this is police refusing to enforce a three-foot passing law in Tennessee after a motorist intentionally brushed a cyclist off the road, because the cyclists present at the accident had a discrepancy about the distance they were from the accident.
And a third form is the opposite of the above - enforcing laws that don't exist. This was seen in Chesapeake, Ohio when an officer tried to force cyclists off the road because they couldn't ride at the speed limit, despite the law in Ohio that states that bicyclists only have to ride at a proper speed for a bicycle. No such speed limit law exists in Ohio.
It all goes back to education and leadership. And as more cyclists take to the streets to avoid paying for gas, get exercise, and avoid the hassles of car operation, it falls to our public officials to ensure that our police understand and enforce the law properly, instead of becoming hindrances to progress.
People, not speed.