Tag: 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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More minds changed…

More minds changed…

In this time of the world being “on hold,” I’m digging up random things. I found this post that I wrote mid-summer, last year. Somehow I neglected to post it. So it’s old, but you didn’t know that!

Different towns, very different programs. We taught the same material, showed the same videos, said the same things. But the days were very different. 

In one session, there was mild interest, but little interaction, and almost no one participated in the afternoon on-bike clinic. Our experience shows that the classroom session, as expected, gives the “intellectual” understanding of the issues, problems and concerns regarding traffic law and bicycling. But participants who then join us for a bike ride around town after the classroom session get it to a degree that others don’t. 

In a second session, there was real interest, and a lot of interaction among participants and instructor, and EVERYONE participated in the on-bike clinic. They genuinely began to understand what the world looks like from the perspective of the saddle. They realized that things do not look the same as when they’re driving in a large metal box that protects/insulates from the outside world. As one officer said after the road ride, “It’s amazing how much more you can see when you’re on a bike!”

During another road ride, officers experienced the lack of care some motorists have for other road users: I was riding at the back of the group. We were riding lawfully, two abreast in the right lane, when a motorist decided to pass us in the same lane. We were taking up most of it – so he moved over just barely enough to sneak by us. The left lane was unoccupied. Nonetheless, he passed so close to me that his passenger-side mirror came within about three inches of hitting my left arm.

…The best part of the story? I’m riding next to a police officer, in uniform, with the word “POLICE” in reflective, capital letters across his back! Karma’s a bitch, though. The light just ahead turns red, and the motorist has to stop. His window is open. We pull up on his right side and proceed to discuss idiot drivers who think it’s ok/funny to do stupid things like almost run over a group of bicycle riders with police officers in the group. Of course, he wouldn’t look in our direction. The officer was not local, so could not ticket the idiot, but I think it was probably a good thing his windows were down – he looked like he had an accident in his pants!

The light changed, and off he went, rather quickly. I think he was just glad to get away from us once he realized what he had done.

During the course of those rides, I saw a change in how the officers view the world. In the first case, their eyes saw more things, and saw them differently. In the second, they saw how people driving motor vehicles treat other road users, and began to understand why people driving bicycles may feel threatened whenever they get on their bikes to travel.

And that was the point.

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What’d You Say?

What’d You Say?

OK, I’m not starting with a quote. “But wait, you always start with a quote!” I’m not starting with a quote because what’s most important here is one word: “accident.” I was inspired to write this post having read an article about language, and how it shapes our understanding…Here’s the reference.

TL:DR – The way we talk about crashes is changing. There are few accidents but many crashes.

“What’s the difference?” you may ask. The word “accident” has a certain connotation. When we hear that word, we believe that it “just happened,” that nothing could have been done to prevent it. The reality is that there are VERY FEW “accidents.” There are literally MILLIONS of crashes every year in the United States alone. In virtually all of them, one (or more) of the operators involved could have done something to avoid the crash. And there’s been research to show that the way we talk/hear/write about a crash has a dramatic impact on our perception of the event.

We read about the bicyclist who was run over by a truck making a right turn in front of a bicyclist…and the article says that the bicyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet. Yes, let’s pretend that a helmet would have prevented the death of a person who was run over by a vehicle weighing up to 80,000 pounds. Let’s forget that the truck driver unsafely turned right in front of a bicyclist legally traveling in a bike lane. The bicyclist WASN’T WEARING A HELMET. As if that would have made a difference!

But that statement changes our perception of the crash…blame is shifted to the bicyclist instead of the truck driver who failed to yield to the bicyclist; who did not merge into the bike lane prior to turning; who did not adequately check for traffic around the vehicle perimeter. No, the bicyclist shouldn’t have been there.

Or how about the motorist/pedestrian crash where the pedestrian is crossing the street in a crosswalk. And the reporter says that traffic is snarled in the whole area while the investigation continues. Subtly, we process that as though the pedestrian was the cause of all the tie-ups. The reality is that the pedestrian had the right-of-way, and the motorist ignored the law (and the person in front!) or “didn’t see the pedestrian” (were you looking…really looking?). But it sounds like all the motorists are being inconvenienced because the darn pedestrian went and got himself run over…

And then there is the official spokesperson for the law enforcement agency, who almost always makes sure to include that bicyclists should always wear helmets and conspicuous clothing…but never mentions either the rights of the pedestrians and bicyclists or the responsibilities of the motorist to be aware of his/her surroundings.

I have one request…and then I will end my semi-rant. Please pay attention to language when you read (or hear or write) reports of crashes. Be sure that the report accurately represents what happened. Try your best to approach it with an unbiased eye/ear. And be sure that the language does not force you to accept a view of the event that may be inaccurate.

This is changing, but very slowly. Crash investigators I have talked to seem to be more aware of the issue; they typically don’t call incidents “accidents.” They call them crashes. But there’s a lot of noise out there. We see road signs (even on some automated signs from state highway departments!) talking about accidents. News reporters talk about traffic accidents. Insurance companies and trial lawyers do the same. We need to do better.

I’ve talked about crashes in other posts. If you’d like to read on, try these: “Losing my balance…and finding my calling,” “GET OFF THE ROAD!,” “No. NO!,” “It was a crash…it was no accident,” “I just crashed! (hypothetically)

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