Monday, January 31, 2011

Sobering Numbers

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Traffic Safety Facts 2009 divides traffic fatalities into three categories: occupants, motorcyclists, and non-occupants. For 2009 in the USA, 24,747 occupants were killed and over 2 million injured. For motorcyclists the number is 4,462 killed and 90,000 injured.

While the numbers show cars and motorcycles being much more of a danger to themselves and each other, there were also 4,872 non-occupants killed and 116,000 injured.

Cyclists made up 630 of the dead and 51,000 of the injured.

I don't know what to say about these numbers. Certainly 30,000 families morning their dead seems a high cost. I did find that around 60% of the cycling incidents involve riding at night without lights. So just that one simple change greatly decreases your chance of being a number in a future report.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Blinking versus steady lights

Lights on your bicycle perform two functions.

  1. Making it easier for people to see you
  2. Making it easier for you to see where you are going
Most people seem to use LED lights on flash for being seen. LED lights work well on flash. Some other technologies really shorten the bulb life when you run them on flash. LEDs do not have this problem and actually use less power while in flash mode. To help cars and others notice me on my commute I use a Planet Bike 1 Blaze Watt in flash mode on the front of my bike and a rear facing Planet Bike Superflash on my seat post. But I have read that a flashing light makes it hard to judge how close you are, so I also run a steady red light on the back of my rack, a Trek Flare 7. Along with various reflective clothing and reflective sidewall tires, this makes me stand out pretty well.

My route often requires enough light for me to see where I am going. I am using a MagicShine 900. It is not as bright as a car headlight but it is close. A charge lasts about 3 hours. At this time of year I need it about 2 hours a day, so I charge it every night. When the days are longer I can get by several days or even all week.

Speaking of batteries, I use rechargeable AA or AAA as appropriate in the Planet Bike lights. The Trek light puts out good light with rechargeable  AAAs but the electronics don't work right. So I am having to use alkalines in it. Still they last for months, so that is not too bad.

So I have two lights on the front and two on the back. That also gives me redundancy, so that if I have a battery issue, I at least have something to finish the ride.

What are your favorite lights and how do you use them?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tweaking Your Commuting Route

I think one of the most important part of having a good bicycle commute is having a good route. I am always learning things and sometimes try some alternatives to see if there is a better way. For a long time in the middle part of my commute I thought I had a good route. I was on Park Street and turned on Ryan Rd. When I crossed Walnut Street, a fairly busy street, I continued on Tanglewood Drive, made a short way on Cornwall Road and turned on Ellynn Drive to continue my commute. This was not a bad stretch. While I was on Ryan there was usually a car or two that came by one direction or the other. Crossing Walnut was a mixed bag. I crossed just a 100 feet from a light, so you sometimes had to wait but then it was mostly clear.All this was before Google maps added the bicycle layer, but you might notice in the picture to the right that while on Park I was on a bike route. This is a Cary bike route named Park Central. It is a signed route but really I always thought they just wanted to wander around and make a loop in the central part of Cary. But I ignored the bike route sign and kept going on Park past the turn for the Park Central bike route and traveled down Ryan instead.

Then I decided to give it a try one day. So I checked Google and saw where I would end up if I followed the Park Central bike route until passed Ellynn which is also signed as a bike route, but an unnamed route in this case. This is now my regular route. I discovered that the people who designated particular streets as bike routes may have known what they were doing. I probably encountered 2 or 3 cars a week on this route instead of daily on Ryan. This change has allowed me to rack up many mornings with zero cars in the same lane as me on a 12.5 mile commute. Crossing Walnut much farther from any lights turns out to be easier. I often only need a rolling stop and then I can move on across Walnut.

But it is good to have alternatives. I still take Ryan sometimes because it goes right by a shopping center that has the Cary Performance Bicycle shop. It makes an easy way to pick up some brake pads or other small parts. Once I even picked up a repair stand I had ordered. I strapped it to my rack and let it stick out behind me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Getting Ready

Rolling out regularly on an early morning commute requires preparation, at least for me. I pack my panniers the night before at least mostly. Both panniers are waterproof and that allows me a lot of flexibility. The panniers are Novara brand from REI that I picked up a while back on closeout. They no longer offer them. They are similar to these Ortlieb panniers.

One pannier has the things I need in the gym to shower and change and the other requires the things I need in the office. I have the luxury of leaving the pannier I don't need on the bike. Security has not been an issue at work. I don't lock my bike while I am in the gym and I even leave a bag with a laptop and iPad on the bike while I shower.

The night before I fold my pants in half, fold a shirt so it is the width of the pants and roll them up with the shirt in the middle. I place that in a camping stuff sack that has my security badge and two leg bands in the bottom. Then I add socks and underwear to the top and cinch it closed. It goes in the gym pannier on top of two spare tubes and a repair bag. Most days I place some shoes to wear during the day on top of that. While this does allow me to wear fairly nice clothes if I want, I actually wear jeans, a casual shirt/sweater and sneakers most days. This bag can be completely packed at night although I usually wait to zip it closed until morning.

The office bag is only partially packed at night. Usually I am either charging the iPad or using it to read a book at bed time. So it is added to the pannier in the morning. But the laptop is shutdown, in a sleeve and in the pannier when I go to bed. I use a small zippered bag that came with a laptop backpack to hold pill bottles, glasses case, wallet, nail clippers, USB drives, etc. That is mostly packed but I often add my glasses in the morning, zip it close and drop it in the office pannier.

My cycling clothes are also laid out at night. What I wear depends on the weather of course. This morning was 41 degrees and drizzly. I wore:

  • bike underwear, 
  • Novara Headwind pants (currently I can only find the women's model), 
  • a Layers brand (they may not exist anymore) long sleeve base layer shirt, 
  • my Pearl Izumi Slice rain jacket (similar to the current Quest Barrier), 
  • Sock Guy 2 Mile Challenge crew socks,  
  • SmartWool hiking socks
  • GoreTex hiking boots
  • long finger cycling gloves 
  • a close fitting fleece cap. 
Occasionally I bring a short sleeve shirt to wear riding home or an extra top layer for the morning.

Getting all ready at night helps me ride in the morning and cuts down on how long it takes. What kind of routine do other people have?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How Close Is Too Close?

No, I am not talking about giving your child room on the back of your bike:

but about laws regarding vehicles passing bicycles. 

Various states have a law defining safe passing. Many of these are vague like at a safe distance while some are more specific. The most common specific distance is 3 feet which most cyclist seem to like. There are similar laws outside the USA, but I did not research them, yet. One in Nova Scotia, Canada gives you a little more room since it is 1 meter instead of 3 feet.

How does your state handle it? Here is a map summarizing the laws regarding passing a bicycle.

Alaska, the District of Columbia and Georgia seems to have no law about safe passing. Most states (Alabama, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming) just state you must pass at a safe distance without specifying what is considered safe.

North Carolina and Virginia define safe as 2 feet while Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin all define 3 feet as a safe distance. My favorite is the New Hampshire law which specifies a 3 feet minimum increasing as the speed of the car increases. Oregon defines safe distance as room for the cyclist to fall into the driver's path.

You can find a more detailed summary with links to the laws at

Some form of a 3 foot passing law seems to be catching on. If you get a chance, I would suggest advocating for the 3 foot minimum that increases as the speed of the overtaking vehicle increases.

The 3 foot passing idea has caught on enough for to offer jerseys for states with a law and without a law. They even offer a 1 meter version for Canada.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bicycle Commuter News For January 24, 2011

I have not posted here in quite a while, but I am going to start back to blogging here. I also have a blog on VeloReviews which often gets the same posts as here plus some little things that fit there.

I will report on news, laws, bikes, equipment, clothes, techniques and tips for bicycle commuters.

To get started, I will start with a story I first heard about on the Fred Cast.I love to ride for transportations whether it is commuting or running errands. But Susie Weber ran an errand that few people would consider. She became a legend at the local hospital when she road her bike to the hospital for her baby to be born. When Susie found she was pregnant she decided to ride her bike to all her prenatal appointments including the delivery.  The day she started having contractions the weather was good and she and her husband biked to the hospital together. This was in October and now Susie has a blog entry to help answer the questions many women have asked about staying fit during pregnancy.