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Two Sides of Changing a Flat

Two Sides of Changing a Flat

Which one do you want to hear first? Let’s flip a coin. Oh, it doesn’t matter because they’re both relevant.

Several years ago, the League of American Bicyclists revised the Smart Cycling curriculum. There were some things that needed to be updated. The focus before the revisions was on roadies. Spandex-clad, skinny-tired, long-distance road riders…With the revision, the whole point was to be more inclusive, with anyone pushing the pedals considered a bicyclist.

That was good, because, of course, not everyone driving a bike wants to do a century, or to race. Far more people use their bicycles for transportation and/or recreation, so the shift was appropriate.

One thing that fell off the plate left me wondering, though. The basic course taught by LCIs nationwide included basic bicycle maintenance. It included a bike check (the ABC Quick Check) designed to make sure your bike is ok before a ride. It also included brake and derailleur adjustments (that many folks may never attempt to do…). Finally, it included changing a flat.

All of those except the ABC Quick Check went away when the curriculum changed. All of those changes seemed OK to me, except…changing a flat. I, and several others, pointed out that everyone riding a bike ought to know how to do that. And…even in training to become an LCI, there was officially no requirement that someone know how to do that. We felt then, and I feel now, that there is an issue of (dare I say it) fairness, or equity, in that change?

In my experience, working with many LCIs over the years, more men than women know how to change a flat. And here’s where the two sides I mentioned earlier come in. Shouldn’t we equip all riders with that basic knowledge? Undoubtedly, some people riding bicycles will never do it themselves (bike shops will do it quickly, and at low cost). But there are some who will do it themselves, because it empowers them to take care of their vehicle, or because it frees them to go wherever/whenever without major concern. But if no one ever shows you how to do it, you’re at a disadvantage.

Here’s the other side. I’ll illustrate with a story. On a long charity ride, my (adult) daughter got a flat. Several of the men in our group jumped in to fix it. They assumed 1) she didn’t know how to do it, or 2) she would take too long. My daughter, having been taught to do it, told them all to back off (it was fun to see!). She quickly and efficiently changed the tube, and we went on.

So now we see the issues. We don’t teach people to do it, and then even if we do, we assume they can’t (or they aren’t good at it). How about we give people the skills they need, and then let them decide how to address the problem?

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A giant leap…and baby steps

A giant leap…and baby steps

And so it begins. without a quote today, because I’m just going to tell you a story. About police and bikes…good news.

It’s about perseverance, and has both a giant leap and the baby steps I mentioned in the title of this post. As many of you know, I moved back to New Orleans a few years ago after spending much of my adult life in New Jersey. If you’ve read any of my early blog posts, like this one , or this one (both about law enforcement), or one about road rage, you know of my passion for trying to get everyone to play nice in the sandbox. In 2014, I talked with a couple of friends, active police officers who also ride bikes regularly. They said that officers didn’t have any better knowledge of what it means to ride a bike than anyone else!

So we decided to put together a course on how traffic law applies to bicyclists. We did, tried it out in 2014, the worked with a couple of groups, getting state grants to do the program. We’ve done it most years since then, and participation has been great. So when I moved back to Louisiana, I was all ready to jump in with both feet. That didn’t turn out the way I expected. There is no state bicycling group. I contacted the local police agency to see if we could do it here and ran into one roadblock after another. But…baby steps. I finally was able to present a “pilot” of the course in Kenner, LA. Meanwhile, though, I didn’t stop reaching out to all the names I heard. I didn’t stop calling and emailing people at the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, either. My name was out there (maybe as that crazy bike guy who won’t stop calling)!

Finally, late one Friday, I decided to give just one more try to reach the key person…and she answered the phone. She said,”I want to talk to you!” I replied, “I’ll be in your office as soon as you give me a date and time to be there.” Long story short, I got a grant. It took 5 years. We’re now implementing the program statewide.

There are still plenty of baby steps, though. Getting the details of the course approved took quite a long time, which cut into the length of time I had to actually do the course during the year. Meeting/discussing/organizing sessions (oh yeah, with COVID thrown in the mix!!!) has been even harder than it should have been. But we’re getting there. Two sessions down, several more to go. I’m trying to do it in all regions of the state, so that I can gather a core group of people who know about it and who will champion it to others for next year.

I could keep going, but I’m not going to ask you to keep reading more right now. My next post will tell you a little bit about how it’s going so far. I’m already seeing some interesting patterns in the two sessions I’ve done. Of course, that’s just to tease you so you’ll read the next post. Don’t worry, it’s coming soon!

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Insurance! Insurance?

Insurance! Insurance?

“Why don’t bicyclists have to purchase insurance like motorists do?”

-anonymous

That’s a question I heard very recently at a class I conducted. The questioner couched it in terms suggesting that if bicyclists want the same rights as motorists, they should be responsible in the same way for covering the damage they cause.

Umm…the damage they cause?

Let’s go back to the basics of insurance coverage. What is it, really? It’s really a bet. I heard your brain explode just then…but that’s just what it is. The contract between you and your auto insurer is no more than a glorified bet. You’re betting that you will be involved in a crash. Your insurer is betting you won’t. They’re willing to take the bet, because for the most part, people aren’t involved in vehicle crashes. So they take the bet (and your money), knowing that the odds are in their favor. The damage to property they must pay is far less than the funds they collect in premiums (bets).

So let’s talk about that property damage. The damage in a collision depends partially on the mass of the two colliding objects. It also depends on the speed of the objects at the moment of the collision; higher speed equals more damage. 

Let’s apply that to the subject at hand. A small sedan weighs just about one and a half tons. The impact of a 1.5 ton object hitting anything is going to cause significant damage to whatever it hits. Of course, there would be even more damage from the average (two-and-a-half ton) SUV when it hits something. Now when those two objects collide with each other, the damage is enormous. Liability insurance covers the property damage that results.

Let’s apply that same thinking to the bicycle and its driver. A road bike may weigh as little as 14-15 lbs. The heaviest bikes (e-bikes) may weigh as much as 80 lbs. What’s the comparison to the impact of a motor vehicle? It’s easy to see that even the heaviest bike could not cause anywhere near the amount of damage as even the smallest sedan. But when those two collide with each other, what’s the outcome? 

Because of the weight differential, there can be, at most, minimal damage to the motor vehicle. And the driver of that vehicle probably suffered no injury at all, since cars are designed to protect the occupants, who are already shielded inside a substantial metal box. How about the bicyclist? Having collided with a 1.5-2.5 ton object, much more damage is to be expected to person and property. Aside from the simple weight differential the bicyclist does not have a sturdy metal frame around him/herself.

Let’s not forget the speed differential. The motorist will typically be moving at two to five times faster than the bicyclist. The likelihood of serious injury or death rises quickly as speed at impact increases. But regardless of speed, the damage will certainly be greater to the bicyclist and the bicycle than to the motorist and the motor vehicle.

The questioner then continued to deflect from the (obvious) problem with his argument, saying, “Well what if the motorist swerves to avoid a bicyclist and hits another car?” The answer is, of course, that’s 100% on the motorist. From the question, it’s clear that the motorist was not paying enough attention to the environment at the time. If he/she were, other solutions might have been apparent.

Yes, there are cases in which a bicyclist collides with a pedestrian or with another bicyclist, but those are rare. When they occur, there is typically little damage to persons or property. Could there be serious damage or injury? Yes, but that’s unusual. In those cases, of course, the courts are available for adjudication. And oh, by the way, many homeowner/renter/condo insurance policies would cover damage anyway. So the whole argument is without basis.

We come to this: as a motorist, you bet the insurance companies that you’ll cause substantial damage with your vehicle. They take the bet since you probably won’t. If you do, they’ll pay out, but still make lots of money in the end. As a bicyclist, it’s unlikely you’ll ever cause any significant damage, so you don’t initiate the bet.

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Another “Oops!”

Another “Oops!”

I’m sitting in a car dealership, having recall work done. The perfect opportunity to start going through stuff on the computer and cleaning things out/reorganizing/deleting, etc. In digging through the files, I find an old post on bicycle safety from 2020 (wow! pre-COVID) that I apparently never put up. But it’s worth taking a look at it. I wrote it after going on a bike ride with local police officers. And my goodness, that day, they got to experience first-hand some of the craziness that people on bicycles experience ALL. THE. TIME. So I’ll just go ahead and put this out there.

You should think about this in light of all the new bike infrastructure now being built around town. Of course, it’s meant to make roads safer for all users. The whole “Complete Streets” philosophy entails making roads safer for ALL road users, rather than just getting motorists from Point A to Point B faster (which has been the operating principle of road design for quite some time). However, motorists are saying that bicyclists “taking over my streets” and “getting in the way of traffic” and “slowing me down” are just wrong. And they’re taking it out on anyone who disagrees with them…see the road rage incidents mentioned below against bicycling groups that include police officers!!!

Read on…


At the end of January, several LCIs/ride leaders met with officers from New Orleans Police Department’s First District for a bike ride. The inspiration for the ride came when Clark Thompson spoke with Captain LeJon Roberts at a neighborhood association meeting. To Capt. Robert’s statement , “We should go for a bike ride,” Clark responded, “OK. When?”

And so last week, Clark and I, and three other LCIs (Janneke van der Molen, John Strange, Scott Verdun) led a group including about a dozen officers (including Capt Roberts) on a bike ride through the CBD during evening rush hour. Blue Bikes provided bicycles to officers who needed them. The ride included a bit of the French Quarter, Baronne St, Loyola and Tulane Avenues, Galvez, Canal, and Broad Streets, and the Lafitte Greenway/Basin Street.

The officers were split into small groups, riding in plainclothes, so as not to attract any special attention. A mere three blocks from the start of the ride, one group experienced road rage as a motorist told us to quit blocking the street (in not so friendly terms). As soon as we crossed Canal, another group encountered a taxi driver blocking the bike lane, who, when approached and asked to move, threatened the ride leader (it didn’t hurt that Capt. Roberts was in that group).

On reaching Tulane and Loyola, because on the high volume of traffic, we elected not to move to the left lane to turn onto Tulane. Instead we did a two-stage turn, crossing Loyola and Tulane, then waiting for a green light to proceed on Tulane. The light turned green and a motorist gunned it to get in front of us and turn right, almost hitting an officer in the process.

We stopped along the way to discuss what we had seen, and to alert officers to upcoming challenges. We could not have planned for a better (worse?) outcome, as several incidents brought home the reality faced by bicycle drivers every day in the Big Easy…it’s not so easy for people on bicycles. The incidents I mentioned (and others along the way) brought a new level of awareness to the officers. We leaders could see/hear the “Aha!” moments on the ride.

At least this group of officers has a better understanding of how much different roads look when you’re under your own power on two wheels, rather than in a big metal box with the power of a gasoline engine. Capt. Roberts told us that he wants everyone in the First District to experience bicycle safety (or in this case bicycle “un-safety”), and that he will bring it up as something that should be done across the city.

And by the way, the next day, officers were in front of the business where the taxi driver was blocking the lane, handing out $300 tickets.

Small steps, big results. We’ll take it.

For more about These Guys’ efforts in law enforcement, see my post Bikes and the Law or Bicycling and Traffic Law 2018.

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“I want to ride my bicycle…”

“I want to ride my bicycle…”

Freddie Mercury, Queen

Health. Thankful that I have it, but all too aware of our fragility.

So what’s with my philosophical musing today? Well, in mid-January I went on a trail ride with a friend. My first trail ride since moving back to Louisiana, believe it or not. We were having a nice ride on a flat, but very winding course. Having a good time on a warm January day. The trail was (mostly) dry, and well-maintained. We were just about done the circuit. About 100 yards from the end, we came across a slightly wet portion of the trail. Roots everywhere. All of a sudden, the bike went one way, and I endo’ed. Yep, splat. Perfect face plant, splayed out completely. My left wrist hurt a bit as I untangled myself from the bike and the roots and stood up. Got back on the bike and rode out to the levee for the trip back to the car.

My left wrist complained. I wasn’t sure if it was broken…I did immediately think back to when my wife had a bike mishap that led to surgery and multiple screws in her wrist…I drove home and took some ibuprofen. My wife and I agreed that if it still hurt the next morning, I’d go to Urgent Care.

Well, yep. First thing next morning. X-rays showed what’s called a “buckle fracture,” a tiny little thing. A few days later the orthopedist put my thumb/wrist into a cast. It’s still on…they tell me they’ll (probably) take it off next week.

I want to ride my bicycle. Not exactly feasible right now. I want to go see the “House Floats” that have sprung up all over the city in this pandemic-cancelled Carnival season. I want to get out with my wife and ride around town to explore the amazing creativity that fuels this city in spite of everything. I don’t want to have to get in the car to do that. But the reality is that, for now, I have no choice. I realize this is really a tiny setback, and that things are much worse for many other people. Unlike some others, I will be able get back to this thing that I love to do, very soon.

Next week, though…

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A thing apart

A thing apart

“It is no exaggeration to affirm that a journey by bicycle is like none other; it is a thing apart; it has a tempo and a style of its own.”

James E Starrs, The Noiseless Tenor

A journey by bicycle is a thing apart. It’s not like driving a car.

In a car, you are separate from the world, not a part of it. The metal box has its own environment; one created by the car manufacturer, and customized by the driver, to minimize the interaction with the world outside. In recent years, the car’s environment has become even more insular. Touch-screen interfaces, messaging, Bluetooth connectivity, all combine to make the motorist even more laser-focused on the inside of the vehicle and the inside of his or her mind. More and more distractions are available. Less and less attention is given to the outside world, to the ROADWAY, and to OTHER ROAD USERS! 

We’ve seen (among many other things in 2020) an increase in bad motorist behavior. It seems that as the streets emptied early in the COVID era, those who were on them decided that they didn’t need to follow the rules so closely. Average speeds increased, with a parallel increase in crashes, injuries and fatalities.

But another thing that has increased in 2020 is bicycle use. Data show increases across the country. People have rediscovered the bicycle’s tempo and style. Continuing the musical analogy, what’s the tempo of a bicycle? Somewhere between a pedestrian’s “Andante” (a walking pace) and a motorist’s Allegro” (quick) or “Presto” (very fast). Moderato,” then, using the musical term for “moderate.”

And it’s more than just a difference of speed: it’s a difference of approach. When driving a car one sees the world in glances, in (often) disconnected bits. The driver passes through the world at a pace that allows only glimpses between the start of the journey and its destination. The journey is incidental. The goal is the destination. 

On the bicycle, the journey is often as much a part of the experience as the destination. One sees so much more. The more relaxed pace allows the bicycle driver to see details that would be missed by the motorist. The sights, the smells. The sounds, the breeze. The hills, the weather. The light, the clouds. In all, a journey, not a mere conveyance from Point A to Point B.

Think about your neighborhood, and about your usual haunts. Most of your travel is within a few miles of your home. What if you used a bicycle to get to the hardware store for those batteries you need to replace? How about a bike ride to get that gallon of milk? Do you ever think about driving your bike instead of your car to the drugstore? What would you get?

A little cardio exercise…a little saving on gasoline…a little less wear on your car…maybe even more time to do something else, since you didn’t have to get the car out, find a parking place, park it, walk to the store’s front door (you can park right in front!), put things in the trunk, drive home, find a parking space (or put it back in the garage)…

And it’s not just about those things; it’s about being outside on a bike. Maybe it’s been a very long time since you’ve been on a bike. Maybe it’s time to rediscover the joy that is possible on two wheels!

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Really? Anything works!

Really? Anything works!

“Sometimes jerseys are even uncool. The guys that have a bike and a helmet and that’s it, they’re my favorite mountain bikers.”

Dave Wiens, US pro mountain bike racer

No, this is not a post about the World Naked Bike Ride. It’s about gear. Riding gear. What you ARE wearing rather than what you’re NOT WEARING…

What to wear?

There are those in the bicycling community who have certain “standards” about acceptable wear for riding their bicycles. And if you don’t conform, they look down their noses at you. For example, a popular magazine in the sport actually has articles occasionally about things like proper sock height; or about whether your sunglasses should go over or under the straps of your helmet.

Good grief. What’s the point, anyway? The point is to get some exercise. The point is to get to work. The point is to run some errands. The point is to reduce your carbon footprint. The point is…to ride your bicycle. That is all. And to do that you DON’T need any special (magical) sock height to fit in with the in-crowd. You DON’T need to worry about placement of the arms of your sunglasses.

What to wear!

What you DO need is serviceable clothes that will keep you comfortable and safe. That means you probably don’t need anything special! Depending on the weather, layers and wicking fabrics will keep you more comfortable than thicker materials. Lightweight gear for precipitation can be had without spending a lot of money, but the “style masters” will insist that you NEED high-end clothing for every type of weather. Nope.

Accessories are also available in unexpected places, and sometimes for free. For example, organizations like AAA give away slap bands to protect your pants leg from getting soiled by the chain. Also check out local bike groups, which sometimes give away seat covers to keep your seat dry in wet weather. Sunglasses and/or clear glasses from big-box hardward stores are significantly less expensive than “bicycling” glasses, and do just fine, thank you very much.

When to wear something else

Now this is not to say that special clothing has no place. Many riders who begin to ride more may find that some of the options that are available make sense. Like padded shorts. Like tops (and bottoms) made of wicking material that may keep them cooler/more comfortable. The choices are many. And they’re at all different price points, from reasonable to “you paid how much for that???”

But remember it’s not about any of that. It’s about getting on your bicycle.

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Go outside! Get healthy!

Go outside! Get healthy!

“So ardent a cyclist must be full of good health.”

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist

A cyclist is full of good health. Riding a bike has a real health benefits. First, it’s low impact. Since you don’t land on a hard surface with every step, you may experience less joint pain and damage…I’ve known a number of riders who used to be runners. They gave up running eventually and discovered they they could continue to get great aerobic exercise by hopping on a bike instead.

It also uses lots of the body’s muscle groups…not only the legs get a workout. Glutes, back, core, arms; all help keep the bike upright and keep it moving.

Riding a bicycle generally gets you to breathe deeper (you can vary the intensity to made it as hard, or as easy, as you’d like!). And a 2014 study actually showed that people driving bicycles were exposed to far less air pollution than those driving cars!

Active people just feel better! Exercise causes the release of adrenalin and endorphins, which may energize you and make you feel good. And the extra activity burns calories…there’s no guarantee you’ll lose weight, but if that’s a goal, cycling (or any other exercise) may help you reach it.

Heart rate: cycling raises it, and is a good way to cut risk of heart disease. Many exercises will do this, and more. Possible side effects of exercise include improved sleep, brain health, and a strengthened immune system.

And here’s a shocker: using a bicycle for those short trips and errands often takes less time than using a car. Think about it. Getting in the car, driving to where you need to go, finding a parking place, walking to the entrance…or…jump on the bike, drive to where you need to go, park right by the front door, BOOM. Many “races” in numerous cities ended with the bicyclist arriving long before the motorist.

Want a little more information about how cycling can help? Check out these articles from Cycling Weekly, Harvard Health Publishing, MDAnderson. Or try it out yourself. Get on your bike and ride!

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Bikes and the law

Bikes and the law

“Is it about a bicycle?”

The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brien

No, it’s about bicycling and traffic law. I haven’t read the book from which the quote comes, but it looks fascinating, and more than a bit weird. I put it on hold at the library so I can learn what the line has to do with anything. But for now, I’m using this quote to spur me on to other thoughts.

I’m in the middle of thinking through/planning/executing a series of short videos on bicycling and traffic law. If you followed my blog for a bit, you know that working with police officers has been my “thing” for the last few years. Over the next year, I’ll have the opportunity to work with a whole new group of departments. I’ve gotten a grant to expand statewide here at home, so I’ll begin laying the groundwork now. For posts about earlier work I’ve done in this area see posts here (2018), here (2017) and here (2015).

But what’s the connection? The series of videos would be about bicycles and traffic law and directed towards bicyclists, rather than towards police officers. Because experience says that many bicyclists don’t understand the rules of the road…

Hey, that sounds familiar:

Many police officers, while they understand traffic law from the motorist’s perspective, don’t understand how that translates into traffic law while seated on a saddle. So, since I’ve developed a program that facilitates giving officers that perspective, I thought it might be a good idea to bring that to the public-at-large, too.

If will have to be a bit more general, though, since laws differ by location. I would discuss the general principles of traffic and how they might look to a person on a bike, but not get into specifics on any one state or municipality. With every state and many local governments creating their own laws under those principles, it would be impossible to do a comprehensive program.

But there’s still plenty to talk about. What are your rights and duties as a road user? What’s the deal with being a part of traffic? Do you need to follow the same rules as motorists? Can you get a ticket on a bike? How does a bicyclist’s view of the road differ from that of a motorist?

In all of this, I’ll show that it’s about the law and how, and when, it applies to people on bikes. It isn’t about a bicycle.

What do you think?

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Riding While Black

Riding While Black


“Being stopped and harassed is one of the top concerns of Black and brown cyclists.” —Charles Brown, Rutgers University

A just-published article in Bicycling Magazine discusses one of the racial issues in cycling (See the original article here). Author Dan Roe looked at data from three major cities and found that, for black people on bikes are more likely to have problematic interactions with law enforcement.

Charles Brown, a senior transportation researcher at Voorhees Transportation Center (Rutgers University), reported on the results of a 2017 survey showing that 15 percent of Black and Latinx riders said they had been unfairly stopped by law enforcement.

Bicycling found only 3 out of 100 major cities that classify stops by race/ethnicity. Oakland, CA, New Orleans, LA, and Washington, D.C. had such data. The short version of the article: black riders are stopped at a high rate, disproportionately to the population. Black riders are also more likely to get tickets, white riders are more often let off with a warning.

One important finding: stops were made more often in neighborhoods that were historically or are currently home to black residents. Why? Is it because of the people who live there? Or is it because these areas (at least in New Orleans) have typically been underserved, and safe infrastructure has not been a priority?

Questions, not answers. Have we come a long way? Yes. We still have a long way to go, though. “Riding while black” can’t be an excuse to treat people wrongly.

For more on bicycling and equity, see these posts: “Welcome, Ladies,” “Is This About Bicycling?,” “Riding and Not Seeing.”

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