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Why Do Cyclists Break Traffic Laws?

August 28th, 2012 No comments
Busted

Photo Credit: BR!AN QU!NN

I’m paying close attention to my behavior and the behavior of other cyclists on the road. I made a decision to ride my bike consistently with the rules of the road, but other cyclists may not share that sentiment. The problem lies not in the cyclists themselves, but in the way that cyclists are treated as road users.

There is one particular crosswalk on my commute that represents the issue. It is a pedestrian activated traffic light that allows people to cross Iliff Ave (a fairly busy road) and connects two sections of bike path with homes and a school. It’s a major crosswalk that is ignored by essentially every pedestrian that uses it. The problem is that it is a 3 minute wait for the signal to change (that doesn’t sound like much, but the average traffic light changes every 30-60 seconds). During that 3 minutes there are frequent breaks in traffic, and there is a large median in the center of the road, so most pedestrians just cross when they can rather than wait. The question I ask is, “is there a timing for this signal that people would be willing to wait for to cross safely?” I think the answer is yes.

Apart from being a long wait, this traffic signal sends a clear message: “Pedestrians are not important!” It effectively treats anyone who uses the crosswalk as a second-class citizen. As a result, people act like second-class citizens and ignore the laws that are meant to protect them. This is the same behavior I see from cyclists. When infrastructure is provided that creates a positive environment for cyclists, generally there are fewer infractions. When cyclists are marginalized, however, the reaction is to act outside the law.

Of course there will always be cyclists that ignore the law, just as there are motorists that do the same. But some cyclists’ perception that they can ignore stop signs and traffic signals is just as prevalent as motorists’ perception that bikes don’t belong on the road in the first place. If the infrastructure and attitude changes to give bicycles equal share of the road (and really we’re only asking for 3 feet), then I believe we will see more cyclists acting responsibly. The result will be safer roads for everyone.

Categories: bike, commute, opinion, safety Tags: ,

Bike to Work Day 2012

June 20th, 2012 No comments

Next week on June 27th I will be participating in Bike to Work Day 2012. If you live elsewhere you may have already done this back in May, but in Colorado we have it in June due to the fact that it is less likely to snow. I have a special fondness for BTWD (as us old timers like to call it) due to the fact that it kicked off my attempt to commute to work via alternative transportation. The first year I participated I had no bike, so I ran the 14 miles to work. I vowed to get a bike for the next year, and that May my dream was realized. By the time my second BTWD rolled around my butt had almost healed from my first attempt at riding to work without bike shorts. Now a few years later, BTWD is just another day on the calendar that I ride to work but I love to remember how it got me started!

If you talk to many hardcore bike commuters you will find that many of them hate BTWD. It’s the one day of the year that you are guaranteed to see someone on a bike do something crazy, putting themselves in harm’s way. It’s inevitable when people are trying something for the first time to have problems getting started. And I know it is tough to ask for help when you are doing something that most of us have been doing since we were 5!

So for BTWD 2012 I thought I would write a few tips that I have picked up over the years of riding my bike to work (and I’m still learning). You probably know all of these things already, but you’d be surprised at the things I’ve seen and done.

Choose your route carefully! You are not going to want to ride the same roads that you drive to work on your bike. You are not going to be able to pedal 40mph, so it’s not going to take you any longer than it would otherwise by taking side streets. And if you can avoid streets completely to ride on bike paths, do so even if it’s out of your way! It is SO much less stressful traveling on a bike path than it is on a street with cars. Bike lanes do improve that comfort somewhat, but even with them there is the feeling that you are going ridiculously slowly compared to traffic. Google maps has a great feature that will let you search for directions to travel by bike. It’s not perfect, but I’ve found lots of potential routes by that tool that avoid many of the main traffic problems. Don’t be tempted to ride on the sidewalk, or ride on the road against traffic. Cars are expecting other cars on the road, so if you act like other cars they won’t be surprised. I’ve run into a few “bike lane salmon” in my time, you do not want to be that cyclist!

Be prepared! Make sure you have an extra tube, tire levers and a pump with you. If I meet you stranded on the trail I can probably help you change a tire, or make adjustments to your bike with my tool set, but I don’t carry tubes and pumps for all sizes of tires and chances are you don’t have the same size I do. If you have the things you need most cyclists will be happy to help you deal with the problem if you are in over your head. Ask for help if you need it. There are not “born cyclists” who are good at everything from day 1, everyone has had to start at some point. If you do know how to change your own flat tire, great! Just make sure you don’t leave any trash behind. Abandoning your blown-out tube on the side of the road will not give it time to think about what it has done.

Be comfortable! I know you hate spandex, everyone does. But there’s a very good reason that bike shorts exist, if there wasn’t no one would wear them. It’s not to make you more aerodynamic. Apart from providing some much needed padding for your sit-bones, the chamois ensures that there are no seams rubbing against any part of your body that touches the saddle. The chamois is your first line of defense against discomfort, and it’s not a thing you want to go without. If you are concerned about the spandex issue wear bike shorts under your regular shorts. Once you get to work, change as soon as possible, a sweaty chamois is not your friend.

Ride your bike like you drive your car!  Stop at the stop lights and stop signs and wait until it is your turn to cross. Take your place in line at intersections, just because you can fit by on the right side doesn’t mean you should. Cars are not expecting you to come flying by on the right and that’s an invitation to getting cut off. Signal your intentions with hand signals, and thank drivers that give you extra space with a wave. Don’t react negatively to cars that cut it too close. If they are dumb enough to be trying to “teach you a lesson” with a 2000lb hunk of metal, they are probably not going to park their car to politely debate the merits of bike travel with you.

Relax! Riding your bike to work is fun. Give yourself extra time to enjoy the slower pace. If you wanted to be at work “right away” you would have taken your car. On BTWD, find a couple of breakfast stations and stop to chat. In the morning it is cool, and if you are doing it right you probably won’t even need the shower when you get to work! If you really do need that shower, just take it as an opportunity to brag to coworkers about how you just rode to work.

Categories: bike, commute, fitness Tags: ,

Project Bike

May 11th, 2012 1 comment

Commute BikeThe conversion of road bike to commute bike is complete! With this I forgo any aspirations of ever racing this bike, and instead dedicate its use to meeting my transportation needs. I began this journey a few months ago with some investigation of how to attach a rack to a road bike. As my bike has no attachment points for accessories I was clueless as to how to begin. The search revealed two possible solutions. The first “P-clamps” which are readily available at hardware stores, and the second, a quick-release adapter to mount a rack directly to the axle.

The QR adapter was favored by touring enthusiasts and I wasn’t sure I needed to go that route for my 20 lbs of gear (I weighed my usual full commute bag). But I did know that I needed to go with something more robust than a seat mount rack, which are generally rated to only 15 lbs. It turned out that a particular brand of rack (Racktime) could be adapted to work with a QR-adapter specific for Tubus racks. Tubus racks are much more robust, and designed specifically for touring, but Racktime offer a similar design with slightly weaker aluminum construction. I ordered a Racktime rack and figured I would try with P-clamps first.

My first attempt at mounting the rack with P-clamps resulted in a functional rack system, but it did not feel very robust. With my loaded panniers (a sweet set from KoKi), my heels would occasionally catch on the bags, even in their farthest back adjustment. Also, the P-clamps that attach near the axle were carrying a lot of load on just a thin, sheet metal mounting point. My fear was I would be riding home and the clip would snap, leaving me stranded without any way to fix it.

Rack and Fenders

Rack and fenders attached with QR adapter kit from Tubus

I ordered the QR-adapter, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to mount the rack on the supplied brackets (just two holes needed to be drilled). Mounting the rack on the bike with the wheel and attaching the rack to the seat stays was another issue entirely! Eventually, after several failed attempts, and a couple of trips to the hardware store, I am finally happy with the way the rack is mounted. The QR-mount is a solid attachment point, and I would have no problem loading the rack to its full 66 lb rating with the current configuration. Heel strike is a thing of the past as well.

Buoyed up by my success with the rack, I went about adding fenders to the mix. I was convinced that fenders were essential to allowing me to ride my bike on inclement weather days. Usually, the only times I ride in the rain are when I get caught in an evening thunderstorm. The result of this is that I arrive at my destination drenched, having to completely disassemble my bike, and needing to stand in the shower for half an hour to warm up. None of these things are possible at work, so I couldn’t ride my bike to work on days when it was raining in the morning.

I bought a set of fenders that were specific for a road bike. They are 35 mm wide so that they can (potentially) fit through the brake calipers without touching the wheel. I managed to get the rear fender mounted, but it turned out it was rubbing along the whole left hand side of the fender. In other words, my rear wheel had moved over in the frame a few millimeters, and while not enough to notice without a fender, with a fender it was a big deal! I went about tightening up the spokes on the right hand side of the wheel to move it over, and in a few short minutes had completely destroyed the wheel. Not only was the dish still off, the rim was completely bent and un-true.

Front Fender

Front fender attached with P-clamps

It was then that I tapped out and took the wheel to my local bike shop to fix. They returned a true wheel, that fit properly in the frame. With that the job of attaching the fenders became much easier, and it was only 2 or 3 hours of minute adjustments before I had two fenders mounted and clear of the tires.

This week I got to reap the full benefit of my labors as I rode to work in the rain on Monday. Fenders make a massive difference, and I arrived at work almost completely dry. In addition, all of the water had been directed away from the sensitive parts of the bike so no disassembly was required, just a re-lubrication of the chain. My work clothes emerged from my water-tight panniers dry, and by the time the ride home began my bike clothes had dried out too!

Making the switch from road bike to commuter was a lot more difficult than I had imagined, but the payoff is huge. I have added so many days that I can potentially ride to work to my calendar, helping to keep me healthy, and keeping me off the bus!

 

 

Categories: bike, commute Tags: , , , ,

New Possibilities

March 27th, 2012 No comments

What is possible? Do we ever really know what we are capable of? Even if we try something and fail, that only tells us that our approach was wrong. Further attempts may yield success. One of the best things about life is getting to find out that something we once thought was impossible is not.

Yesterday in Colorado we were faced with one of our characteristically strong wind events. Every spring (and to a lesser extent, summer, fall and winter) we get strong winds blowing down from the mountains into the “bowl” that is the Denver metro area. These winds often range in the 30-50 mph sustained, 80-100 mph peak, gusts. They almost always blow in from the south, southwest.

One of the biggest challenges of my bike commute is this wind. My commute is due south, uphill, and brutally difficult at the end of a trying day. It is painful with even the lightest 15 mph wind. I was faced with the choice of riding home into a 30 mph headwind, easily stronger than anything I’ve faced before. I was not even sure that I could handle the crosswind on some of the exposed sections of my ride, I had visions of blowing over in a strong gust. My commuter bag is anything but aerodynamic.

Somehow I found myself standing over my bike outside my office, and with the snap of clipping in to both pedals I was committed. I had no aspirations of speed, with each section riding into the wind I just fell into the drops and ground it out as best I could. I must have looked ridiculous to the cars going by, teeth bared in effort, the silent scream of exertion, barely moving, pushing against an unseen barrier. “He must be drunk,” they must have thought as my front wheel wobbled against the crosswind. Isolated in their 2 ton bubbles they would have barely noticed the torrent I was facing.

My steepest climb faces exactly southwest. It’s short, but difficult on even the best of days. It’s near the end of my ride, when I am at my limit. I sat in, trying to minimize my effort on the long slope leading to the steepest section, and then was brought to almost a standstill as I turned into the wind. Getting out of the saddle I was almost jumping on the pedals to keep moving forward. It felt like the wind was blowing even stronger, as if it knew this was its last chance to make me succumb. With every muscle screaming, I finally turned away from the wind and tried to recover on the gradual slope leading to the next climb. Mentally, I knew I was finished, I had made it through the worst of it, survived my battle with the unseen enemy.

There is nothing like a challenge that you meet head on to put you in a great mood. Bike rides doubly so. The physical exertion puts the thrill of success over the top. Yesterday I did something that I wasn’t sure was possible, and today I am a better cyclist because of it.

Categories: bike, commute, motivation Tags: ,

Project Bike

March 22nd, 2012 4 comments

My life is all about change and adaptation. So why am I obsessed with stock when it comes to my bike? My little road bike is my pride and joy. Purchased on Craigslist used a few years ago I delved into its history: Marin “Limited Edition” road bike in blaring neon green (all the rage in its 1993 vintage). Full Shimano 105 components, 7-speed, shifters on the downs. They don’t make them like this anymore.

Literally, they don’t make them. If I want to buy a new wheel set I have to spread the frame. It’s not wide enough to accept today’s 8-10 speed cog sets. If I want to buy new shifters they are not made for 7-speeds either. The stem is a quill stem, if I want to go threadless I have to buy a whole new fork.

But all is not lost, the frame is beautiful steel, light and strong and infinitely adaptable. The shifters and brakes are simple, cheap and easy to fix. The bearings in the hubs are smooth as the day is long. It’s a hobbyist’s dream, just as long as you are willing to let go of the past.

I have spent 2 years on my bike preserving its integrity. Riding in an uncomfortable position because I did not want to swap my neon green stem with a longer one. Lugging my commuter bag on my back and getting soaked because I didn’t want to mount a frame or fenders. It was my race bike, even though I never raced it.

That’s about to change. If I am for adaptability, then I need to adapt my machine to my needs. I use this bike for commuting 99% of the time, it should be set up for that purpose. If that means changing parts, adding after market items, or even…gasp…bending and welding, then I should be open to that. Face it, this is not a $5000 race bike, it’s a $100 Craigslist special. If I can screw anything up without feeling like I’m out a ton of money, it’s this. I’m officially declaring it a “project bike.” If something is not working for my purposes, I’m changing it. Because I should love my bike, not just put up with it.

Categories: bike, commute Tags: , ,