Monday, May 19, 2014

Still going backwards...

I touched this topic multiple times here, many others wrote about it a lot as well. Apparently, not enough. Still so many people here in America believe that helmeting every single cyclist on the road is the ultimate goal to road safety. The sad thing is - even those who see benefits in cycling seem to think so.
Yesterday, I found this article on Washington Post by Matt McFarland. The author presents multiple facts that can be summarized simply by "cycling is good for you" and "it's also good for the environment". I guess most of us agree with these statements. However, the story starts with this:
(...) He hopped on a red bike from Capital Bikeshare — which like most U.S. bike sharing services doesn’t offer helmets for riders – and started his commute home. He never arrived.
This is double-tragic: sustaining multiple injuries after being hit by a car but also trying to insinuate that wearing a helmet would reduce these injuries. There is no evidence anywhere in this (and related) article that the cyclist suffered any head injuries.

That's not all. Apparently, according to the same author, "you should always wear a bike helmet" and this gets explained in just one simple chart:
Which the author summarizes as "This makes it about as clear as it can be. To stay out of this pie chart, you need to keep a helmet on your head". Unfortunately, he's wrong. To stay out of this chart you would have to stop riding bicycles but that's not the message Mr. McFarland wants to deliver. He failed to notice that this data is incomplete because it doesn't answer one important question - how many of those unhelmeted 11186 dead cyclists would be now alive if they were wearing a helmet at the time of collision? We don't know. Maybe if they did, they wouldn't just be "out of this pie chart" - they might have as well joined the other 839 helmeted ones. In other words - yes, helmets definitely may reduce sustained head injury but if you think that a helmet is going to save your life when you are being mowed down by a 4000lbs SUV, you really have no imagination.

If you like the above chart, then how about this one:
I made this one myself. I don't think it's too far from the truth. I left that 0.1% for those dead drivers who were actually paranoid enough to wear a helmet when driving their cars. As you can see, "this makes it about as clear as it can be. To stay out of this pie chart, you need to keep a helmet on your head" when you drive your car. Not!
Unfortunately, Mr. McFarland is not alone. Many of us fall for this kind of data and accept it without even thinking twice about it. The AAA magazine, Horizons, published recently something like this:
Here we go again: "Statistics show that 91 percent of riders killed were not wearing bike helmets". But how many of those killed had actually a chance of surviving if they wore helmets at the time of accident?
Yes, helmets may help. But they will not reduce your chance of having a collision on your bike (which is statistically much, much lower than having a car accident). And even though Washington Post claims that "the stats on bicycle helmets are abundantly clear: They save lives and prevent head injuries", it doesn't suggest somehow that we should require all drivers and pedestrians to wear helmets as well. While authors are fascinated that 29% of ALL trips in Amsterdam city are done by bike and they admit that "America is anything but bike-friendly", instead of proposing real changes (yes: Dutch-style!), they promote this backwards approach to road safety.
Still going backwards...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Xtracycle Edgerunner 27D Family - first impressions

I got really excited when last Wednesday Bicycle Belle's owner Carice, posted this tweet,
to which my response could only be:
Anyway, all that meant that the last weekend I had a chance to pickup my new family minivan - Edgerunner 27D Family.

I am going to wait with a full review for some time. This bike is so different than anything I rode to this day that it requires some special attention. I need some time to get used to it and I want to be sure that my opinion is presented here as unbiased as possible (Which we all know is impossible). For now, I am ready to share some first impressions.

As my family is growing, I wanted to find some way to accommodate my kids on a bike (or bikes) and not only for those lazy Sunday neighborhood strolls, but also (or maybe especially) for those fully-loaded grocery runs. Fortunately, I have at least 2-3 good grocery stores in my area in a close proximity to the Minuteman Bikeway, which means I can transport my kids to and from those destinations away from the  bike-haters driving on Massachusetts Ave.
No, Brooks saddle doesn't come with the bike. I took it from my Schwinn.

This turned my eyes towards Edgerunner essentially as soon as it was announced. It took me a while (and multiple short test rides) to figure out which model to buy and eventually I settled for a large 27D Family with fenders (normally an option). It was probably worth waiting until 2014 to get this bike as the new Edgerunners feature a few upgrades, not available on earlier models by default, such as hydraulic (vs. cable-actuated) disc brakes on 27D and the new Flightdeck (the rear rack platform) that is now Yepp seat-compatible without adapters.

Another welcomed option is the Bionx electric assist, now offered on Family and Cargo versions of 27D. I seriously considered Bionx on my bike as this would greatly improve its usability on Arlington's hills, but eventually decided to pass. The Bionx system for Edgerunner costs about $2100 alone, nearly doubling the cost of the bike (yikes!) and if I really feel like I need it, I can always add it later myself. Apparently, there is no benefit in getting it built-in up front (Except that it's already built-in, duh!) as the 27D with Bionx from Xtracycle costs the same as 27D alone plus an aftermarket Bionx kit - there is no monetary savings in having it factory-installed.

So first of all, the concept works. Thanks to the tiny 20" rear wheel the cargo platform is very low to the ground. As we (me and my 3yo son) tested, it greatly improves handling, stability and comfort when riding with children and sitting them on the Flightdeck. No more top-heavy bikes, no more wobbly rides with kids sitting above a large 28" wheel. My son immediately loved sitting on the Flightdeck and holding on to the Hooptie bars (the frame that surrounds the deck). All I could hear from the back was either "Faster, faster" or "Let's do it again".

But aside from that, Edgerunner feels almost like a normal bicycle. I wrote "almost" as I still must remember that this thing is at least a foot longer than any regular bicycle so its turning radius is substantially larger. Also, thanks to the Hooptie and foot rests, the Edgerunner is quite wide - important if you are trying to squeeze through some narrow places. That may actually be a nice safety feature - will now the drivers give me more space on the road?

I think I would compare this bike to riding a mountain bike - it's quite heavy (Although pretty lightweight for a cargo bike!) and on pavement feels a bit slow rolling. However, this is likely not so much due to its weight but because of those 2.3"-wide balloon tires. They swallow all bumps of the road nicely but roll like heavy mountain bike tires despite their smooth tread. Could in reality this bike be a Slowrunner?

That's what I thought until I took the first longer ride (to work on Monday morning). Yes, the Edgerunner can't compare with your road bike but it's not supposed to. It may feel slow but it's not sluggish. My morning commute takes me 40-50 min. - essentially the same as my regular time on a 3-speed Schwinn. This was likely thanks to the gearing. Those 27 gears on the Edgerunner keep the bike going and thanks to the 20" rear wheel it accelerates very quickly. In fact, during my entire ride to work I didn't have to switch from the largest 48-teeth chainring even once. On the other hand, on my ride back home that snail-speed gearing of 26T (front) and 34T (rear) helped me tremendously when riding up the steep 10% grade in front of my house.

I definitely need to spend more time on this bike and try some fully-loaded runs very soon. This time however, I don't have to leave kids at home.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Local news

Something from my town (Arlington, MA). Our local business council is wondering how to lessen everyone's daily dependence on cars:
"Arlington has a lot of commuting options compared to other communities,” said Monica Tibbits-Nutt, executive director of the council - among them Red Line access and bus stops along Mass. Ave. “We’re trying to understand why, with so many options, people are still choosing to drive."
And their solution is to bring Zagster to Arlington. It is supposed to be a bike share program on a budget - less expensive than Boston's Hubway, but still efficient and accessible. My take on this idea is:
  1. If you really want people to use cars less and switch to something else during their daily commute then put those T-tracks in the middle of Mass Ave finally.
  2. If you can't to do that then at least designate some lanes on Mass Ave to busses only, during morning and evening rush hours. Nothing is less discouraging from using public transportation than busses that are stuck in traffic and effectively even slower than cars.
  3. If you want a bike sharing program in Arlington please remember that this town is a very hilly place and not everyone lives in lowland right next to Mass Ave.
  4. If you decide to go ahead with Zagster don't limit it to Arlington. It just doesn't make sense. Extend the stations at least to Porter Square in Cambridge and Lexington Center.
  5. Put those bike lanes on Mass Ave. Both sides. And the full length of it.
  6. Don't forget about bike racks. But no "wheelbenders" please!
 Zagster bike share (

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Carlisle-Concord Loop Ride

Remember the cranberry bog I encountered in Carlisle during my last ride? Yesterday, I decided to visit it again. I left my office at 5p.m. and took a longer route around Burlington to eventually cross Route 3 and Concord River. I followed the same North Rd as the last time, and quickly reached the cranberry bog reservoir.
The path across the bog is layered with lots of small rocks and gravel and is generally easy to ride. Except some mountain bike-only sections in the forest the entire area is very bike-friendly. The trail takes us through the forest
and next to many bogs and ponds
to finally end at Elm St. From there I took the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail I visited earlier and rode south towards Rt 225. I moved east through Carlisle having lots of fun on Binghman Rd. If you ride this section from Cross St to Concord St, it's all fast downhill on a winding forest road. Just watch for cars (not many of them there, though).
In Carlisle, I turned left onto Brook St, which was closed to trough traffic for some reason but despite this I decided to give it a try. The road turned out to be perfectly passable - at least on a bicycle. My next goal was to take the hidden trail around Greenough Pond and end up on Riveredge Rd. The beginning of the trail didn't really look very encouraging
Same old tune "I wish I was a mountain bike"

but it improved quickly and the rest of it was actually passable except a few difficult sections. I had to be extra careful on those roots not to pinch the tubes in my tires. Riding with any 30psi pressure works very well for my Clement X'Plor USH tires but on paths like the one above it may be a bit risky.
The rest of the ride was pretty straightforward. I crossed Concord River again, took Bedford Narrow Gauge Trail south, then Reformatory Branch Trail to Concord Rd and finally Battle Road Trail back home. It was close to 8:30p.m. when I was nearly done with the last trail and I still had a few miles left before I would reach Arlington. It started getting dark very quickly so I put the lights on my bike and continued riding in darkness.
Those last miles felt surprisingly good. My bike was moving forward so smoothly that riding felt nearly effortless. On the negative side, I was getting super hungry at this point and all I could think of was a large dinner. I reached my house at 9:00p.m. after riding 70km (44mi).
By the way, if you frequently use the short connector between the Minuteman Bikeway and Spencer St in Lexington, start looking for alternative routes. When I got there the owner of the nearest house saw me and asked me if I found this path on Google. I confirmed and he said it wasn't supposed to be there. Apparently it's his property and he's is planning on putting up a fence there. So much for a convenient way of accessing the Bikeway from that side.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

On general perception of cyclists and cycling

I was browsing through my old posts on this blog and I started asking myself what is the general perception of cyclists and bicycling in our society.


As I wrote in my previous post, a whole bunch of cyclists (But not all!) are simply impatient and happily break the law by e.g. running red lights. This is one reason why motorists often hate cyclists and consider them being "cycloterrorists". This is why you keep hearing from the drivers things like "We will start respecting cyclists once they obey the law", which obviously is just a plain stupid statement and whenever you hear it from a driver you can laugh straight in his/her face. You see, I would argue that 100% of motorists break the law every day (Driving 2mph above the speed limit is violating the law!) so maybe the drivers should first look at themselves before blaming others.
Nevertheless, many cyclists (myself included) think that those cyclists who break the law reflect on all of us people on bikes and make the motorists hate us even more.

Helen Blackman says "Stop blaming me for what others did" and disagrees with this point of view on her blog. She claims that "cyclists are disliked for transgressing social boundaries, for not doing what’s “normal”" and the "normal" behavior is to drive a car everywhere, not ride a bike. I generally agree with it. We are hated for being different. We are the few who refuse to "save" the legs and spend life sitting in a car.

But this is only half of the truth. I believe that as nearly everywhere, the truth is a bit more complex. Helen says that cyclists are bullied by motorists so you can't expect the victim to earn respect of the bully by (in this case) obeying the law to the letter. But even if breaking the law is not the main reason why drivers hate cyclists who ride on "their" roads, it doesn't mean that cyclists are excused for following the general rules of the road, even though I realize that a lot of today's road infrastructure was not designed with cyclists in mind.

So when she says that "cyclists are not disliked for their law breaking", I think she's wrong. Cyclists are definitely disliked for their law braking but it's not the only reason (and maybe not even the main one) why they are disliked. When motorists sit in their cars being stuck in traffic and see cyclists passing by, often running red lights, they must think "He's on a bicycle and can get away with it, while I am stuck here!". This likely leads to frustration.

Helen notices that many motorists seem to think that "it’s OK to run one cyclist over because once someone saw another cyclist somewhere else doing something wrong." On the other hand - we, cyclists, don't even have to try to run any drivers over (assuming we could) because just by simply looking at car accident rates we know that those drivers are already doing a great job killing each other.

To sum up - yes, some cyclists can be real a**holes and some of them break the law (Newsflash! Drivers break the law too - statistically much more often than cyclists). But let's not generalize. If according to Helen, motorists hate as already by simply being different, let's then not put even more arguments in their basket and stop running red lights. It's just stupid.

... and bicycling

When it comes to the general perception of cycling in our society, a lot has been written about it already and it can be explained by our culture of fear. For some reason we just love to picture cycling as a very dangerous activity that requires special protective gear, even though statistically cycling is much safer than driving a car - something most Americans believe is perfectly safe (Otherwise they would give licenses to 16 yo kids).

The best evidence of this the widespread fear among cyclists is a high rate of helmets and reflective vests use in the U.S. Yes, helmets can be very effective... in decreasing the number of cyclists on roads. But other than that - how helpful they really are? Howie Chong thinks that not so much. In fact, he found data showing that wearing a helmet may be a bad idea. The general facts from his and other similar studies are:
  1. If you get into a serious accident, wearing a helmet may significantly reduce your head and brain injury.
  2. On the other head we have to define what a "serious accident" is. Head collision with a car moving at 50mph means cyclist's death. No helmet will help here other than having a psychological effect of feeling "safer".
  3. Head injuries are dangerous but they can happen anywhere. Statistically, they happen most often when driving a car, yet we don't require drivers to wear helmets. Same with pedestrians - they suffer more head injuries than cyclists but there is no public demand to put a helmet on every person on a sidewalk.
  4. Statistically, helmets reduce the damage to your head but obviously, only if you get into an accident. Logically, this applies to everyone regardless of activity but there are no studies on helmeted pedestrians or drivers because there aren't any.
  5. Bicycle helmets are designed and tested to reduce damage to your head with the force acting to the top of the helmet. So they may effectively reduce the damage caused by a falling brick but how often if you fall off your bike you would land exactly top of your skull down?
  6. Wearing a helmet may be bad for you. There is evidence showing that drivers leave helmeted cyclists much less space when passing them. Helmets may also increase a chance of some neck injuries and also some cyclists get a false sense of security (even subconsciously) when wearing a helmet and ride more aggressively.
So to summarize, the general perception of cycling in America is that this "extreme" activity should not be attempted without a styrofoam hard hat. And even though the Dutch and Danes showed that cycling in the city can be perfectly safe without any protective gear worn, still many people think that mandatory helmet law should be introduced.

I don't really find any compelling reasons to wear a helmet but I still do it frequently. It keeps me warm in winter but now that days are getting warmer, I will start to hate my helmet more again.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Impatient maneuvers

It's been a bit chilly for the beginning of May (except this weekend). I had to wear gloves on my last morning commutes and on the top of that - it rained nearly daily. The kind of spring weather I would expect in the end of March.

So the weather has not been very motivating and I didn't really have time to go for any longer rides recently, other than my regular commute. And as I mentioned a while ago, my commute has changed mid March - I use the Minuteman Bikeway regularly now. This means that I regularly meet other cyclists on my way to/from work and their behavior often leaves me puzzled.

The first thing I immediately noticed was how many cyclists ride to work in lycra clothing. I guess that they don't want to spoil the looks of their brand new road bikes by wearing "inappropriate" clothing, but seriously - what's good on a recreational ride is not necessary good during your regular commute. It's unlikely that your commute is 100 miles long so you really don't need those diaper shorts and lycra jerseys.

But I can understand that everyone has different preferences when it comes to clothing choices. What I don't understand at all is those crazy, impatient maneuvers I witnessed multiple times during my commute.

The Minuteman Bikeway crosses multiple busy streets and there are button-activated crossing signals that help stopping rushing car traffic and crossing those streets safely. I request these signals routinely on my commute - it's obviously safer this way than trying to play the frog and hop across the street between speeding cars.
But it looks like some people just hate to wait, even about 15sec. - that's what it typically takes for lights to change once you push the button. So these impatient cyclists just ignore the crosswalk lights completely and instead turn right from the path onto the street, to merge with the car traffic. Next, they take the lane and slow down watching onto the opposite traffic. Once they spot a hole between cars, large enough to fit in, they take a sharp turn left, crossing the opposite traffic lane in front of approaching vehicle - essentially executing an u-turn in the middle of the road. Then they ride back to meet with the bike path on their right, which they immediately take, continuing their ride.

The complexity and danger of this maneuver leaves me puzzled, especially considering how little time one needs to wait to get a green light and cross the street safely without the risk of being hit by a car. I have seen this trick pulled by men and women, old and young. It just seems to me that most people are extremely impatient and they would rather put themselves in danger saving some illusionary seconds on their commute than taking it easy and enjoying the ride.
"I have no idea what I am doing" (Found somewhere on the internets!)