Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Bicycle Safety Within: Watchout For Spokes

External Safety Risks
There is is a lot of information and debate about bicycle safety these days. Most of it, except for the helmet debate, is focused on protecting bicycles from external risks: cars. All good stuff to talk about. I've profiled my friend Johan's ordeal after he put his knee through a car that pulled in front of him.

Internal Safety Risks
Nevertheless, the recent experience of another friend of mine reminded me to stay focused on the internal risks as well. Her experience, in particular, may become more common as all of us start using our bikes for more than sport.

She did something a lot of us have done at one time or another. It looks harmless enough when you see it but it is a potentially harmful way to travel on a bike.

Broken Elbow
First, let's highlight the risk. On this page, is an x-ray of her broken elbow from the accident: a displaced fracture. It shows the metal plate and screws holding her arm together.

Mind-bending Pain
When she first did this, she said the pain was so bad it took over her entire consciousness for several minutes. She lay in shock right outside her office next to her bike. No one was around to help. When numbness finally kicked in, she was able to get up and then some co-workers finally found her and helped.

Just Steps From Work
She had just left her office and had only been riding for a few seconds. No other vehicles or people were involved. The thing that caused all this was her purse. She had hung it on her handlebars for a second. It somehow got caught between the front wheel and the fork and locked up the wheel. That threw her over the handlebars and plunged her elbow squarely into the pavement.

It's been 8 weeks since the accident.  The surgery went well. The cast is off. She still has a metal band threaded under her skin that must be taken out in a few weeks. But, otherwise, she is fine.

Back in the Saddle
To her credit, she hasn't been the least bit shell-shocked by the incident. She is already riding again. Insanely, she started riding within a week of the accident. This is so not recommended since another crash could damage the repaired elbow. However, it demonstrates this stuff doesn't have to deter you from bicycle commuting.

The one change she has made to her cycling is the installation of a rack and basket on the *back* of her bike. I've been urging her to install an enclosed pack on the back because things can fall through the wired basket and catch on the wheel. Until then, even if that happens, on the back wheel it should not launch her so badly.

Increasingly Common Site
Today, I saw a guy pedaling home from the grocery store with 3 bags swinging from his handlebars. He also had a U-Lock dangling over his back wheel. I tried to warn him about the danger but he didn't believe me. That inspired this post. Hopefully, this will help some folks avoid a lot of pain and hassle.

Mundane Matters
We hear about dramatic bike crashes and fatalities all the time but the mundane stuff is no less dangerous so it seems like a good cautionary tale to feature. Since I'm the one who introduced her to cycling I feel responsible that I didn't warn her about this so I'm venting that guilt by way of this caution to others.

While pushing for greater safety in our bicycle infrastructure, we've got to stay focused on the safety within. Sometimes, it's the little stuff that gets you.

I've heard similar stories about headphone wires falling out and snagging. If it swings or dangles it can snag. Watch out.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Does the Cycling Epiphany Hold Water?

Cycling Epiphany
Posts like this one claim that a simple bicycle ride through an urban landscape will do more to educate about urban ills/joys, and sell the joy of cycling better, than any other kind of communication. It contends the bicycle is "an instrument of experiential understanding" through which complex civic and environmental issues are graphically conveyed.

There is no question that the experience of cycling as serious transport is powerful stuff (see #1,3,4,5,6, and 8 of Why I Ride). It is also true that, like many things, actually trying something may be the best way to understand it's value and that cycling revolutionizes ones view of ones surroundings.

Back to Reality
However, it is still a massive challenge to get enough people in the saddle long enough to have that revelation.

Acquired Taste
I've been actively recruiting new cyclists for years but I can still count the converts from my personal life on one hand.

Even when you get new butts in the saddles, the first thing those butts do is complain that they are sore. It can take more than a couple rides for the epiphany to kick in.

Then, there's hair. For those who care, if the helmets don't ruin it, the wind does. That knocks out a surprising number of recruits.

And, heaven forbid it rains. Even avid cyclists complain about rain and/or don't ride in it. The cycling epiphany is quite definitely waterproof but this is not apparent even to many of the initiated (those folks need to see these photos of European cyclists in winter).

A prerequisite to the cycling epiphany seems to be a reintroduction to one's own body and  the physical world. That can happen at the same time but that is too much for some.

Feeling Threatened
Amongst all the recent hype about cycling are sobering articles like this: Expansion of Bike Lanes in City Brings Backlash. This article, and many like it, show that a formidable number of Americans are still far away from having a cycling epiphany even when the opportunity is right in front of them.

Gratification Guarantee
Like a lot of great experiences out there, most folks are skipping "experiential understanding" in favor of driving home to eat something tasty and watch TV. After a hard days work, most folks want guaranteed satisfaction not a mere chance at satisfaction through something new.

Perception Issues Persist
What's more, many Americans still assume most cyclists are simply people who can't drive, e.g. the poor, the drunk or the under age. At best, they see them as over-educated nerds naively trying to save the planet.

The entertainment media embellishes this. explains this in: "Dude, Where's Your Car?" Most movies still portray bicycles as emasculating. The "40 Year Old Virgin" is a classic example. This leaves many thinking cycling is not sexy at all. Car advertisements take it from there.

Perceptions are changing on their own in certain pockets of the U.S. And some celebrities like Katy Perry make cycling sexy by wearing their bicycles well. However, that's not putting enough butts in the saddles either.
Proven Motivators
Ironically, what compels many to start cycling are the nuts and bolts justifications downplayed by some. The FRONTLINE story "Poisoned Waters" describes this well. Although it is about the relationship between urban centers and water quality, it includes details about what swayed voters on green urban design and "livable streets". It wasn't new positive experiences or visions, it was known pain points like health, safety, and taxes.

This jibes with my personal experience. One recruited cyclist I know is a hardcore republican. The environmentalist arguments fell flat with her but after much of my nagging she tried cycling to work and found that, combined with CalTrain, the bike got her to work 20 minutes faster than the jam packed 101 freeway. After that, she was sold. She has since had the Cycling Epiphany alluded to earlier. This has led her to initiate trash cleanups of things she sees on her ride, etc.

All this makes it pretty clear, to me at least, that cycling cannot sell itself. And no single aspect of cycling is more compelling than any other. The experience of cycling is indeed profound but most people are surprisingly far from ready to appreciate it. Consequently, every catalyst must be leveraged. In fact, we need to find more of them if cycling is to become a serious mode of transport in North America.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why I ride

I ride because:
  1. I can get from A to B without spewing carcinogens at anyone who dares go outside
  2. My money stimulates more economic growth when 1/5 does not go to oil, cars, and loans
  3. My commute is my workout and my lack of any other ride home is my discipline
  4. 100 years with the 24 hour din of combustion engines is enough
  5. You don't know a city until you can see, hear, and smell it
  6. Everyone treats one another better when there's no steel or glass between us
  7. It gets blood pumping fast enough to prevent a host of diseases and make me thin quick
  8. Any mistakes I make while riding may hurt but will rarely kill anybody
  9. I never worry about parking
  10. It is fun even at night, in rain, and in snow