Category: Safety

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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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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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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The same…but different

The same…but different

I was in Oklahoma this week. I did my law enforcement class in Tulsa on Tuesday. Representatives from several agencies in the region were in the class. It was a very rewarding session; good questions and comments, good participation overall. One officer even got up to draw scenarios and ask the other officers how they would deal with it! Another officer who commented early in the day that he’d “pull over bicyclists when they’re doing things that aren’t safe” left the class with a different perspective.

Wait! That was the point of the class, wasn’t it? The idea was to get officers to think about how the road looks when you’re sitting on a saddle instead of sitting behind the wheel of a big metal box hurtling down the road.

That second officer came up to me at the end of the day to say I had really changed the way he looks at bicyclists. Wow. He realized that, often, the things bicyclists do may look like they’re being unsafe, when in fact they’re moving in a certain way to keep themselves safe!

Safe…now there’s an important word. In Oklahoma, that word is used in the law. Bicyclists “moving at less than the normal speed of traffic” don’t have to ride “as far to the right as is practicable.” They have to to ride “as far to the right as is safe.” The same, but different.

As far as is safe. Not a weird word that no one understands anyway. Not a word that can be mistaken for “possible.” Not a word that causes confusion. Because who gets to choose how far right that is? The bicyclist does.

In the class I use a momentary diversion to illustrate that point. I talk about passing laws. I ask, “Assuming a motorist is in a place where passing is allowed, who decides when it’s OK to pass a slower-moving vehicle?” Of course, the answer is: the motorist who wants to pass. The passer decides when it is safe to move left and pass the slower-moving vehicle. Then I ask, “OK, then, who gets to decide where/when a bicyclist may move left, because any further right is unsafe?” Of course, the answer is: the bicyclist who is in the lane. And then I watch several heads explode as officers process that…

It’s one of the “AHA!” moments that I get to see during this class. It’s one of the moments that make it so worthwhile, because I can see the shift. In each of those moments, their viewpoint moves a bit further.

I had a rare opportunity to go even further with this scenario in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. I spoke at the Traffic Safety Forum of the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. It’s a statewide gathering of LEOs, many of whom are police chiefs.

I had walked to dinner Tuesday night and noticed a streetcar track, across the street from the hotel. Someone in Tulsa had said that a bicyclist went down in OKC because the tracks “grabbed” the front tire and he was hurt when the bike went down. Here’s a pic of the layout I saw. I simply had to talk about it during my presentation. Why?

See anything problematic? Yep. The bike lane (lane 3) is against the curb and the streetcar tracks are in the next lane to the left (lane 2). Motorists can use lane 1 (hard to see in this pic) or lane 2. In Oklahoma, bicyclists are not required to use bicycle lanes, by the way. So, if there’s debris in the bike lane, or if a streetcar is coming, or if the gutter pan is part of the bike lane, bicyclists certainly would not want to be in the bike lane. What position puts them “as far right as is safe?” Is it lane 2, between the rails?

Just like train tracks, streetcar tracks are just about the right size to grab a bike’s tire. If that happens, the bicyclist may completely lose the ability to steer the bike…and fall. The fall is dangerous regardless, but if it is to the left, and there are motorists traveling in the left lane, it could even be fatal.

So the correct travel lane for the bicylist is…lane 1(the far left lane)! You should have seen the heads explode when I said that! And then I could see the heads nodding. An “AHA!” moment. I think even in that brief talk, I was able to get a bit of a change in perspective. I hope so.

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coming back to the bike

coming back to the bike

“It’s when you come back to bicycling, after long dispractice, that you realize how exquisite a physical art it is.”

Christopher Morley, author, The Romany Stain

Long dispractice.

Yep. Bought property. Sold property. Moved across the country. Fix up/ decorate/ make the house ours. Inertia. Not an urban rider. Few roads for road riding. Don’t want to get in the car to go for a bike ride! No one to ride with.

I’ve managed to come up with a number of excuses not to ride since our big move. Recently, though, I’ve gotten out a bit more. Mostly in town, but on a couple of occasions I’ve gone out to the Mississippi River Trail. You ride on the top of the levee. [Back to excuses: The scenery doesn’t change. It’s boring. It’s all flat.] “Well, buddy, you knew that going in.”

In some ways, New Orleans is a very bicycle-friendly city. There are LOTS more riders out there these days. The city is putting in bike lanes all over town. A bike-share program will launch this fall.

But in other ways, it’s still a bit problematic. Motorists don’t always know how to drive with people on bicycles on the road. Many of the bike lanes are “door-zone bike lanes,” which are potentially an accident waiting to happen.

But if you’ve been reading my blog, you know that there is joy in riding here. The sights, sounds, smells of the city. The greeting called out to passers-by, and their happy response. The understanding that I wouldn’t have really saved any time by getting in the car and driving to many places I want or need to go!

And, as Mr. Morley points out, the exquisite physical art that is riding a bicycle. Legs pumping, heart beating, lungs hard at work: the unconscious dance that is balancing the bike, a skill that you likely learned as a child. Arms signaling, head turning, negotiating with motorists: the conscious dance that is riding in traffic, the skill you are still learning as an adult.

It is an art. A beautiful composition. A bike, the most efficient form of transportation in the world (this will be a future post!). A rider, whether for pleasure or utility, elegantly moving from place to place.

I’ll be doing more of it.

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Looking, but not seeing

Looking, but not seeing

“In the city, ride like you’re invisible. As if nobody can see you. Because a huge percentage of the time, nobody can.”

Jason Makapagal, bicycle messenger

The Crash

And that seems to be what happened last week at a school near me. A police officer friend called to let me know of the crash:

The bicyclist was riding in the right lane of a road with two lanes going in her direction. She saw a car in the driveway of the school waiting to enter the roadway. The motorist looked towards her, and the bicyclist believed that she had made eye contact with the motorist. Apparently, though, the motorist didn’t see the bicyclist, and began to edge out into the street to make a left turn immediately in front of the bicycle driver…

The bicyclist swerved to avoid the crash. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

But here’s the rub. The motorist didn’t see the bicyclist. Even though the bicyclist looked right at her, and was in the right lane, where she was supposed to be. She did everything right, and still almost got nailed.

Looking, But Not Seeing

Many motorists look, but don’t see. Let me explain. We all have filters. It’s the way our minds work. Without them, we could not focus on the important things around us. We couldn’t differentiate sounds. For example; ambient noise would be no more or less noticeable than the conversation we’re in, and no different from the sound of the fire engine’s siren coming up behind us. Our brains have evolved to help us sort out the things that matter. The same thing happens visually. Without any filters, the page-turning of the person sitting next to you in the plane would have no more or less importance than the bag about to tumble out of the overhead bin into your lap.

In the same way, a motorist filters the environment, searching for things that matter. It is vitally important for a driver to know when a car or truck is coming down the road before he/she comes out of a driveway into a travel lane. So he looks, doesn’t see any cars, and proceeds out into the roadway. “Oh, no! There was a bicyclist there! I didn’t see her!”

The reality of that situation is that even though the motorist saw the bicyclist, his brain filtered out the bicyclist. So even though the bicyclist WAS in fact in the motorist’s field of vision, his brain considered and discarded that part of the picture. Now you’re questioning what I’m talking about…Want to see it for yourself? Go here to see what I’m talking about. Really. Take a couple of minutes to watch this video. I’ll wait…

OK, you’re back. That was fun, wasn’t it? Did you fall for it?

Most people fail the test in the video. If you didn’t go take the test, you really should. I’ll give you another chance here.

What happened to you is probably the same thing that happened in the incident I used to start this post. The motorist looked, but didn’t see what was right in front of her.

The Moral

The moral of the story: Please look around you. Please SEE what’s around you. Let’s watch out for each other.

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Close Call

“Wow, that car almost hit me!”

“…that $#^^#*@ threw a soda bottle at me as he went past!”

Most of us have experienced close calls, if not exactly one of those two scenarios, then one just as unsettling or dangerous. Your heart races, and flashes of what might have happened go through your mind. Now there’s a place we all go to report problem motorists. A database called “Close Call” has been established to help identify them.

Let’s say a car comes up behind your group cycling on hilly, narrow rural roads. The driver pulls up close to the last rider, backs off, then does it over and over. She tries to pass, but since the roads are narrow and hilly she can’t get around you without taking a chance that a car may be coming in the opposite direction just around that corner. Eventually, she pulls out and floors it, taking a chance with her own life, and with the lives of the riders in your group.

You call the local police, and are told that since the officer was not there to see what happened, it’s your word against hers. Therefore, they won’t do anything…

This is not a hypothetical. It happened to me and some friends.

The reality of that situation is that this is probably not the first time that motorist did this. And it probably will not be the last. The Close Call Database can provide a means of tracking such drivers. After a close call, you can log in to report the incident. Enter as much data as you have, and information about it will be shared with cyclists in your area. When others report an incident, you’ll get information on that, too. Serial offenders will be identified, and police will be contacted.

In addition, the database being built will give police information so that if a future incident occurs with one of those same drivers, there will be evidence to show that no, it wasn’t just a one-time lapse of judgment.

So do yourself…and your fellow riders…a service and register on the database. Go to the Close Call Database. We’ll all be glad you did.

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