Archive for the ‘Commute’ Category

Vehicle Detection for Bikes at Signalized Intersections

Cycling around the older neighborhoods of Mobile is relatively easy because the area is set up on a gridded street system making for multiple ways to get somewhere.   But this also means there are many intersections to get through and some of them have stoplights.  Most of the stoplights have a vehicle detection system embedded in the roadway to detect when a vehicle is waiting to pass.  Most of these systems that are in use today are based on magnetism, though some newer methods incorporate cameras.  When one of these magnetic detection devices is tuned properly it should be able to detect bicycles made of steel and aluminum.  I don’t know if aluminum gets picked up and I’m pretty sure carbon fiber does not.  But a good old steel bike works at many intersections but you just need to know how to use them.  Aluminum and steel rims on a bike should get picked up by a well tuned device if those rims are sitting right on top of the detectors.  Here’s a picture of my front tire riding on top of one of the lines in the road that are from a detector.  It’s important for a bike (since it’s small) to be right on top of these lines.  Go ahead and try it out.  It will make getting around more convenient and faster.

Lines marking vehicle detection equipment at the intersection of Canal and Broad St. This one works very well for bikes

Attitudes and Perceptions

I actually never would have guessed even seven months ago that I would ride a bicycle every day. I had a mountain bike that I purchased to actually ride on trails. I rode it on trails. But riding on the road — especially around here — was far too dangerous. Bicycles were sporting equipment.

One day, though, I rode my bicycle to work. It was just so that I could get to a lunch a mile away. I was not going to have time to walk. I was absolutely hooked and have not driven or walked to work since. Well, I walked once — the day Paula arrived.

At first, I rode on the “safer” sidewalk. At least I did not salmon. I resigned myself to change my wardrobe to bike-friendly clothes. No more skirts. No Fluevog shoes. One cycling-friendly change that I made — getting my hair cut very short — I do not regret at all. But I’m having a bad hair life anyway. I slowly learned more about bicycle safety and learned that I could actually ride in most “normal” clothes. I have not tried heels yet. I don’t wear them often anyway.

But this post is about a serious impediment to riding: attitudes and perceptions. It has been discussed at length. The discussion will continue for a very long time. Cycling is far too dangerous. It is inconvenient. You need special clothes. You get too sweaty. It’s hard. You get wet. Snow is impossible to ride a bike in. Being in a car is more comfortable when it is cold.

People see my choice  to ride a bicycle as a threat. This shocks me. It’s as though I am one of those smug hybrid driving South Park characters smelling my own farts and inhaling deeply. One of my relatives was so offended by my choice to all but stop driving that he harassed me to the point that I had to cut off all communication. WTF? The insistence that I relent and concede that cars were better became an obsession. I’m not sure how I was hurting him by riding a bicycle.

I consider the threat that I will be hit by a car to be nothing but a way to bully me into participating in the car culture. I must spend a large portion of my income on a large gasoline powered machine lest I be killed by one. It will be my own fault if this happens. The car that hit me will not be what killed me — it will be the fact that I had chosen NOT to be in a car at the same time. The car is the safer machine, you see. Interesting logic.

I must wear a helmet at all times. Actually, I do this. I’ve become more aware of the actual helmet debate. In many places where bicycles are primary transportation no one wears a helmet. I can’t quite conquer the psychology of this one yet. I feel naked and vulnerable without a helmet. I dream of riding in a woolly hand crocheted beret. Yet, I have lighting on my helmet, so it serves an important safety and convenience role in that respect, too. With more than one bicycle, you can just get on one and ride, knowing that if you need lights (and I definitely say that you NEED LIGHTS), you will have them.

People tell me that they admire my dedication or my commitment to fitness. I only ride a mile each way to work and I ride quite slowly. It’s a flat ride. An asthmatic 70 year old with arthritis could probably handle it. It really is not a difficult commute. I ride an entire TWO miles each way to the grocery store. Again, it’s flat and I ride slowly. It takes about 5 minutes longer than it does to get there by automobile. I used to have folding grocery baskets on my bicycle, but now I make do with one bag at a time. I can always go back tomorrow evening.

Those who choose bicycles as transportation are often seen as having no other choice or possibly even being dangerous criminals. You are riding because you are a public menace whose driving license is suspended due driving while intoxicated. Perhaps you are simply too poor to own an automobile. The stigma of poverty really hits home for me. I grew up poor. Automobile society contributes greatly to financial struggles. There is real discrimination toward anyone who rides a bicycle to work. Many employers don’t consider a bicycle “reliable transportation” and won’t hire a person without a car — even for minimum wage jobs. Yet a bicycle is far less expensive to buy and maintain, and seldom needs an urgent $1200 repair. How on earth do you look down on a person using a bicycle to get to a minimum wage job? Is that person not being self-reliant?

My choices work for me. It is a little painful that they paint me as a weirdo but I have lived with that label most of my life. I’ve never been able to do anything just because everyone else did. It had to make some sort of logical sense to me. Cycling does make logical sense to me. I can afford a car but I can afford a really nice imported bicycle. I’d rather be on the bike. I am not forcing my choice on you.

Wald Folding Grocery Baskets

I’ve been promising Nik this review for a month now. What can I say? I’ve been too busy riding.

I tried using a large messenger bag for grocery shopping. It was possible but not much fun. So I ordered the Wald folding baskets. Here are the baskets open:

Wald folding baskets, rear

The baskets folded:

One open, one folded:

I have fresh eggs from the farmer’s market in the open basket:

On the way to the market, baskets folded:

The baskets are very sturdy and very well-made. The mounting hardware that comes with them is absolute crap. Do yourself a favor and buy some p-clamps and locking nuts for a couple of dollars to mount them. I mounted mine with two p-clamps to the rack rails, and used zip ties to stabilize them. You will probably want to mount them a couple of inches back on the rack. If you don’t your heels may hit them when you are pedaling. And for the sake of mentioning it: you do need some sort of rack to mount these to. I’m using a Topeak Super Tourist on this bicycle.

The baskets fold down to about an inch thick and do not rattle. Sometimes there is a little rattling when they are open, but it is not annoying. Once you get the hang of opening and closing them it’s a snap. And they hold a lot of weight.

The down side is the weight. Two of them will add about five pounds to your bike. That may not sound like much, but eventually it becomes wearying. I have removed them for the time being and put a medium Wald basket on the porteur rack on my other bike. I just make do with one-bag shopping trips for now. I have a new bicycle on the way and I have other plans for hauling the shopping.

Overall, these are a great deal and highly recommended. They will wind up living on one of my bicycles, perhaps my Raleigh Sports.

A Little Extra Add-On to That Commute

The weather has been so great here on the Gulf Coast for the last month.  Virtually no rain, mild temps and not-to-bad humidity.  Today I decided to take a little bit longer to get home.  I just went around a couple extra city blocks, enjoyed the breeze, waved to some folks on their porch, and took the extra time to daydream a little.  What is it about a nice bike ride that is so relaxing and pleasant.  I wonder if it is some kind of perfect balance between being active, being outside, and feeling like a kid.  While my body is working at a very nice pace, my mind is able to concentrate on the physical aspects and I have enough brainpower left for musing about my wife, kids, work, the day’s happenings, etc.  Maybe there is balance not only physically, but also mentally when taking a casual bike ride.  That has got to be good for you!

Yes, You Can Ride a Diamond Frame Bike in a Skirt

I’m doing it today. Just drop the bicycle to one side and step over it.

Step over the frame.

Raise the bike and you’re ready to go.