Friday, January 22, 2016

Overcomplicating winter cycling

This winter is being easy on us so far. About this time a year ago we would be already well frozen, with average daily temperatures not rising over 15F (-10C) and easily dropping to negative American degrees (or -20C) at night.

Not this year though. We can still enjoy a balmy 20F (-7C) weather with only a thin blanket of snow. It's supposed to change this weekend as a bigger snowstorm has been already announced but it seems like it may skip my area and move somewhere further south.

All this means that winter cycling this year should be particularly easy (and it is!). Unfortunately, judging by the severely decreased number of fellow morning commuters I usually see on the Minuteman Bikeway, I guess that most people assume that bicycles are unusable in winter months.

Recently, I read a blog post by Mikael from Copenhagenize, who argues that most people who promote year-round cycling for transportation, do it wrong. According to him, they present winter cycling as something difficult and unapproachable without lots of special gear. That people who ride bicycles to work in winter must have super human abilities, otherwise they would not survive a few mile long ride to the office. A good example how over-complicated it could get is this article about a Boston female riding just 4 miles to her work: balaclava, ski goggles, ski helmet, two scarves, two jackets, tights, running pants, biking pants and shoe covers. Can she actually still move in all those layers? Well, maybe I shouldn't judge. Everyone has a different sense of temperature.

Mikael wrote that lots of advice you'll find about winter cycling is targeted at wrong people. Most of us don't need much of this superfluous gear because the right winter clothes are already in our closet - those that we wear everyday anyway.
What you need for riding your bicycle in the city and what various guides will try to sell you - according to Copenhagenize.

He is right, at least partially. If you live in the city and not too far from your work, riding a bicycle there in winter should be simple. All you would need is your regular winter outfit - jacket, hat, scarf, gloves, boots. There's really no need for any special gear, even if temperature drops down to negative Fahrenheits, you won't freeze to death on that 2-5 mile ride.

But at the same time, I think that Mikael's point of view is quite different than many of American winter cyclists. Lots of us here don't live that close to work or school. We live in suburbs. We have much longer bike commutes, covering often more than 10 miles one way. Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, the situation looks as follows:
Number of Copenhagen citizens choosing bicycle as their main mode of transport drops down drastically once they have to ride further than 10km (6mi) (Source: City of Copenhagen 2010 study).

For those short trips, averaging between 2 to 10km (1 to 6mi) bicycle is the preferred mode of transportation for Copenhagen citizens. No wonder - it's simply the fastest and easiest to use. But once the same people have to travel further, they start choosing cars or trains and leave their bicycles behind.

This, I think, is the position of an average American bike commuter. Either we have an option to go multimodal (bicycle + train) or we have to ride the whole 10-15mi distance by bike. And that may require taking some special steps in severe winter conditions.

I wrote about it last year. Cycling at subzero temperatures, once your ride takes about an hour or longer, means that you will have to take some extra steps to stay warm. Fortunately, it doesn't mean you have to spend nearly $1000 (as Mikael suggested) for special cycling gear. In fact, I only use two pieces of clothing on my winter rides to work that I would consider cycling-specific. One is a wool buff, that I wear around my neck and sometimes over the face, instead of a scarf. The other one is $25 waterproof pants that I pull over my regular work pants when temperature drops down below 15F (-10C). The block all the wind very effectively, keeping my legs warm.

It doesn't have to be that complicated. Just get your bike ready, look in your closet and start riding.

Monday, January 18, 2016

And the Oscar goes to...

This year has just barely started and we can already name several new nominations to the Biggest Moron Award. Or the Village Idiot Prize. Whatever you call it, these people do their best to keep bicyclists off "their" streets (Only U.S. nominees are considered for this special prize):

5. Jon Cox, WY
You would think it should be safe to ride a bike or drive in the least populous U.S. state, but you would be wrong. Wyoming scores very high (#2) on the list of the most dangerous roads in America and state's Dept. of Transportation's chief Jon Cox makes sure his state will stay in top three for quite some time. Apparently, he believes that high collision rate on roads in Wyoming is not due to their poor design but drivers' and cyclists' irresponsibility. Even if he was partially right, he's not willing to fix the situation because... it's easier to blame others.

4. John Culberson, TX
If you have never heard about induced demand, go to Texas. John Culberson, the state representative who lives there, has never heard about it either. Maybe that's why he begged Congress for money to widen Katy Freeway in order to reduce congestion. The result? In 2011 during the rush hour it took about 47min to travel between downtown Houston and Pin Oak. After the highway widening, in 2014 you needed over 70min to cover the same distance. Good work Texas! Now not only you have the widest highway on Earth but you also spend much more time on this concrete desert. Not to mention that you didn't solve the traffic problem at all.
Cars, cars everywhere. The new Katy Freeway in Texas. (Found somewhere in the interwebs).
3. Jeff Jacoby, MA
Second runner up is our local road safety and traffic flow "specialist" - Jeff Jacoby from Boston Globe. He wrote so much nonsense in his newspaper that it could nearly instantly give him the first prize... if only there weren't bigger idiots than him (Hard to imagine but it happened!). Mr. Jacoby claims that bicycles should be banned from urban roads, cyclists pay no taxes (!) and should be licensed. But wait, there's more. Read it if you like. Meanwhile, I'm going to look who's in place #2.

2. Ed Orcutt, WA
State Rep. Ed Orcutt from Washington truly deserved his second place. Until just last week, he was the only serious candidate to the Biggest Moron Award. All that for one email where he described why bicyclists are big polluters and should likely be taxed more. That's because "a cyclist has an increased heart rate and respiration (and) that means the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider. Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride." Right.

And the winner is...
1. Jay Houghton, MO
State Rep. Jay Houghton found a way to improve road safety in his district. He proposed a law, which would require every bicycle to be equipped with a fluorescent orange flag to make it better visible to drivers. Just this is seriously idiotic but once you realize that Mr. Houghton suggested the flag should be... 15 feet tall (over 4.5m), it's clear that he wins the competition. Congratulations Rep. Houghton for the most idiotic road safety law presented within the last year!
Hmm... I hope they don't have low bridges in Missouri.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

My 2016 resolutions... for our dearest governors

The new year is here, which means that gyms are packed now, at least for another week or so. Then, things will come back to normal when most of those who committed to work out more in 2016 drop out by February and only the regular gym-goers stay.

The truth about resolutions is - if you haven't done this already it won't happen this year either.

But if 2016 should bring some changes, here is my New Year's resolution all local politicians should adopt: make you city/town more livable. And by more livable I don't mean more free parking spaces. Sorry.

There's a bunch of politicians who should seriously rethink what livable means and why it doesn't involve catering to car drivers.

Let's start locally. Colleen Garry, our State Representative, seeks to increase fines for jaywalking. Apparently, she still lives in 1930's. Just like the politicians from Nova Scotia who recently increased fines for jaywalking to nearly $700, making them more expensive than the penalty for using a cell phone while driving! Looks like in Nova Scotia crossing an empty street is equally dangerous as driving distracted. The latter one may lead to killing someone. The former one - not so much, unless Nova Scotia governors believe their population is so stupid that people would run across the street in front of approaching vehicles.

Now let's jump across the ocean. Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Właszczykowski said recently that bicycling in cities is a "foreign culture" and doesn't fit in the traditional Polish lifestyle. I guess he was referring to this very traditional lifestyle when you get totally wasted after work, crawl onto your horse-drawn cart and ride back home in glory. He's right. I can't see a place for bicycles there.
Polish MFA thinks cyclists and vegetarians are a "foreign culture" and don't belong to XIX century Poland. (Source:
Meanwhile in Australia (Oh boy, we love Australia, don't we?), now all cyclists in New South Wales are required to carry an ID and will get penalized more for riding without a helmet ($319) or running a red light ($425). The new rules were announced by Duncan Gay, state's roads minister and my "favorite" Australian politician.

All this means that if you are a cyclist in NSW your life may be miserable but if you are only a person on a bicycle, who just rides to the grocery store 2 miles away, you're screwed. I repeat myself here and say that Australia should just ban cycling completely and be done with it. Why pretend to be a modern country when it's obvious that you're stuck in the 60's?

The list gets longer. In fact, I've just discovered that the Bicycling magazine made my life easier and published their list of "people who could use some bike love in 2016". Worth a look.