Why advocates should wear helmets

At the risk of starting a helmet war…I want to make my position about helmets and their use by advocates very clear.

Recently one of the top bicycle advocates in our community rode in a community ride without a helmet. This ride was with city officials and was broadcast on two or three news channels. This article is in response to those actions and represents my thoughts on a controversial subject.

Advocates and Helmets

So why should bicycle advocates wear helmets?

Advocates tend to be mostly accomplished cyclists who are well able to avoid crashes. They represent all types of cyclists, including those who wear helmets and those who don’t. So why am I so adamant about advocates wearing helmets.

Because the people who make a difference expect it.

Whether we like it or not, advocates are role models, not just to the cyclists we represent, but we in fact do represent those cyclists to a broader public, including elected officials, law enforcement and the general public.

I believe we lose creditability when we don’t wear helmets; especially when we are in our advocacy mode talking to people who count and presenting our story in the media.

Just as I wear a suit to the capitol to visit my legislators, I believe it is important to wear a helmet when being an advocate.

I’m not saying that it is right or good or proper that people judge us by whether we wear a helmet or not. But I do believe that we are judged and lose some of our power when we present ourselves in public as advocates without the helmet.

My view on Bicycle Helmets

I wear a helmet every time I get on a bicycle…unless I get distracted as I did recently and started to do a trial ride on an electric bicycle with no helmet. I have fallen at least four times when my helmet cracked and likely reduced the injuries I sustained.

I recognize that helmets are designed to provide protection in a low speed crash and don’t offer a significant amount of protection if I get hit by a motor vehicle at high speeds. However, I also know that most bicyclist crashes that result in injuries requiring medical treatment are, in fact, slow speed crashes that don’t involve a motor vehicle.

I also know that there are numerous studies that show the health benefits of regular physical activity and more specifically the benefits of riding a bicycle daily.

In fact the health benefits out weigh the risks of riding without a helmet by a large margin.

I have ridden in Amsterdam and the countryside of the Netherlands. I was one of the few people riding with a helmet. I believe the biggest cultural difference that makes the crash rate in those countries one-tenth of that in the US is that almost every driver is a cyclist and every child is given traffic safety lessons from first to sixth grade. I am not sure that is a good reason not to wear a helmet but it works for them.

For adults, who can comprehend the complexity of traffic situations, I normally argue against mandatory helmet legislation (MHL). I can teach an adult to avoid most crashes.

I would rather see an adult riding without a helmet than not riding.

For children, who are unable to deal with the complexities of traffic situations, I normally speak up for MHL. I can rationalize requiring parents to put a helmet on a child because they are not capable of making good decisions in traffic. I believe the risk of not wearing a helmet in our traffic situation is higher for a child but

I would rather see a child riding without a helmet than not riding. But, I would rather see a child riding with a helmet.

Preston Tyree

cycleSMARTER

Posted in Advocacy, Austin, Education, Equipment | Tagged | 1 Comment

Sometimes you have to ride in the dark…

My name is Preston and I am a bike light addict. One time my wife pointed out the three headlights and four tail lights scattered around my bike and body and suggested that I had more money in lights then in my bike. She was right. My excuse/rationale is that I really want to be seen when riding at night.

At the end of this blog is a review of a new lighting product from Magnus Innovation.

I have some strong opinions about lighting and reflective materials as a means of making cyclists visible, at night to other road users. Most of my opinions have been formed by riding a lot of miles in the dark but also by taking groups out to evaluate lights and reflective materials in over 50 LCI Seminars.

Head Lights

There are two types of head light,

  • one so a cyclist can be seen by other road users, primarily those turning left across the path of the cyclist and those turning into a roadway in front of a cyclist, and
  • one so a cyclist can see the road and hazards ahead.

Be Seen

A be seen light can be relatively low power, about 50 lumens will meet the legal standard in most states. Riding in urban areas generally makes the be seen light critical and normally doesn’t need a see light as the ambient light is high enough to be able to see most hazards. In my opinion a head light brighter than 200 lumens is overkill in an urban setting and can be aggravating for other road users. In this case brighter isn’t necessarily better.

Most modern LED lights meet the minimum standard for being seen. However, many of the smallest, simplest head lights use non-rechargable watch batteries (those little silver discs) which can be pricy. While many organizations give away cheap lights, after the initial battery dies I suspect very few of those lights ever get used again.

See

A see light is a different animal. It is hard to have too many lumens riding in suburban or rural areas or on off road trails. Over the years I’ve tried lots of lights and find that something over 600 lumens is good. I have hit a deer riding on a winding downhill in a suburban area. It came off the curb and was in the road before I saw it. With more light and a broader beam it is likely that I would have seen the deer in time to avoid it. A see light should start at 200 lumens and go up. Some modern lights are in the 800 lumen range. I believe this is too much to use in an urban area but works well out side of downtown.

The technology of lights and batteries has evolved to the point that most are LED of some form with lithium ion batteries. The older tungsten bulbs and HID use too much power and have been almost completely supplanted by LED with superior brightness and lower power draw. Many of the newer lights are also rechargeable using a USB cable.

The move to LED and USB recharging is making more and more lights available to people who need to ride to earn a living but who cannot afford the old technology and having to purchase and replace batteries frequently.This is a case where technology is supporting equity.

Reflective material on the front of the bike or the rider has some use, but like reflective materials on the sides, it generally is not effective in allowing a motorist or other road user to detect and recognize a cyclist at a safe distance. Lights in the front are crucial.

Tail Lights

Tail lights have one purpose; someone coming up from behind can see the cyclist and recognize that it is a cyclist in time to avoid a collision. Tail lights don’t have to be bright but they do have to be placed where they convey the proper information. Two similar red light placed side by side gives the wrong information. It looks like a car a long way away.

Stack your tail lights. Place one low on the frame, one under the seat, one on the rider at the waist and one on the helmet. Have at least one of your lights blinking but most of them solid.

Reflective material on the back of the bike or the rider is very effective in allowing a motorist or other road user to detect and recognize a cyclist at a safe distance. But, all reflective material is “retro-reflective” which means it only bounces light directly back to the light source. If a motor vehicle is behind you then the reflective material should work. But if the road is curvy or hilly, the reflective material is not nearly effective.

Most people who go through the night ride on an LCI Seminar ride away planning to get more light but lots more reflective materials.

Blue Lights

Many states allow the use of blue lights on the back of the bike. Blue lights are generally three times as visible as a red light of the same power which is the reason they are frequently used on emergency and law enforcement vehicles. In states where blue lights are legal they are a good option on the back of a bike.

Full disclosure: I have a financial interest in a company that sells blue lights.

Product Review

Magnus Innovation Vision II

When a start up company in Austin presented a new light I was pretty ho hum about looking at something “new”. But I agreed to review the light and talk about it, the good, the bad and the ugly. Full disclosure, the company presented me with the first example of their new light for review. I didn’t purchase it.

The company is Magnus Innovation and the light set that will be available later in 2015 is marketed as Vision II. And it is a light set. In the good looking box is lots of fun stuff. A head light with mount, an extra battery for the headlight, two tail lights with unusual mounting systems, a converter and micro USB cable with dual outlets. One other nice touch is a wrist strap that can be attached to the back of the head light if it is used as a hand light.

Here is the technical part. All this information is from specs on the Web site.

  • Head Light: 5 Modes: High Beam (860 Lumens up to 1.5 hours), Medium Beam (400 Lumens up to 2.5 hours) Low Beam (180 Lumens up to 7 hours), Breathing Flash (90 Lumens up to 16 hours), and S.O.S. Flashing (Hold for 3 seconds)
  • Tail Light(s): Aircraft Aluminum Rear LED Tail Lights with Built-In USB Rechargeable Port (25 Lumens, 3 Modes: Fast Strobe, Slow Strobe, Steady)

Now the results of usage.

Mounts:

The head light has a good mount that is widely adjustable. It consists of a long threaded strap and a circular piece that tightens it. This offers a great “quick” adjustment as the circular piece can be removed, the strap tightened and the circular piece replaced and screwed tight. It also offers a downside. If you lose the circular piece you can’t tighten the mount. The mount allows the headlight to move side to side about 45 degrees. It is also easy to push the light into the mount and to pull it back out and once in it is held solidly.

The tail lights have a dual mount. One mount is a simple clip so the light can be used on a backpack or belt. In the box is a couple of flexible straps that can be slipped into the clip and then wrapped around a seat post or other tube. The outside of the clips is sculpted so that when its wrapped around a seat post it can be positioned to point straight back. The downside of this sculpting is that mounting on a horizontal bar means the light doesn’t point directly to the rear.

Recharge:

The recharge port on the headlight is a micro USB on the opposite side from the power switch and is covered well by a flap that is well anchored to the headlight. The headlight has a single removable, lithium ion battery. The battery is a 18650 2600mAh at 3.7 volts and a second one is provided in the box with the light. This battery is available on-line for about $10.00. There are higher capacity 18650 batteries on the market but I haven’t tried any of them. I’ll ask Magnus Innovation if higher capacity gives more life.

The on/off button has a ring that lights blue when it is charging and goes out when it is fully charged. Nice touch.

The tail lights screw apart from the mount to expose a USB recharge port. This port is a micro USB. It doesn’t appear that the battery can be replaced in the tail lights. Tail lights glow red under charge and go out when fully charged.

Cases:

The cases for the headlight and the tail lights are all black aircraft aluminum. All of the threaded pieces have a rubber O-ring to insure that the seal is tight when screwed together.

Usage:

The four main modes on the headlight are sequenced well for urban riding. Low beam, one click to a medium beam, one click to a high beam and finally a click to the “breathing” mode. The breathing mode is a nice version of a flashing mode with a bright light and then a duller light pulsing or “breathing” which overcomes the problems with traditional flashing lights.

Turning the light on or off requires holding the button down momentarily. The button has a blue lit ring around it when it is on so it is easy to see to change the modes.

To turn the light to “SOS” requires holding the button down for about three seconds. This mode would get my attention if I was looking for you.

I ride routes in Austin that go from well lit to pitch black (trail) and the ability to switch easily from 180 Lumens to 860 Lumens in my headlight with a double click means I don’t need to invest in and carry multiple lights. Add in the fact that I can easily remove the light and use as a hand light or put it in my backpack to keep it safe and I am ready to buy one of these sets.

The two tail lights are really bonus items but add a lot to the value of the light set.

Conclusions:

Magnus Innovation has nailed it. They tell me that the box will retail in the $104 to $135 range on amazon when it is available. With all the parts and pieces in the box the price is going to be very competitive.

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When is running a Red Light OK?

I’ve been enjoying my time downtown but also have been much closer to the action when it comes to cyclist behavior. I have put up a short (minute and a half) video with a couple of red light running situations I saw in the last week. I admit one set was in the car but the last one was waiting for a bus.

Your mission if you choose to accept it is to complete the poll at the end. Here is the set up.

The video shows a trio of intersection with two riders who both technically run the red light not once but twice. Neither rider ran the middle light so I fast forwarded through that one. The last rider technically ran a light on his own. As an aside the rider with the yoga pad is riding a single speed or fixed gear. A slightly lower gear ratio would really make starting simpler, particularly up hill. Lane position is not bad in most cases. Austin has some unique striping and the intersection at San Jacinto and 6th Steet is one of the weird ones. Two right turn only lanes and a sign in the left most right turn only lane says “Except Bicycles”.

So, you are a law enforcement office who observes these actions and you have three options:

A, you’ve got better things to do so ignore it,

B, stop the cyclists and give a warning or

C, stop the cyclists and give a citation.

Here is the video with music by the Bee Gees titled Staying Alive, which incidentally is the proper beat to do compressions if you are having to resuscitate some one.

So here is the poll:

Respond with a number (1, 2, 3) for the three different cases of running the light and a letter (a, b, c) for what you as a law enforcement office would do. By the way, if you are really a LEO let us know that as well. So here is what it might look like…not to bias you in any way.

1 – c

2 – a

3 – b

Not sure I would actually vote that way so you do what you think is best.

I’ll let the poll run for a week and then report back on the results.

Finally, was any of the technically illegal acts portrayed in this video dangerous?

Posted in Advocacy, Austin, Courts, Training | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Railroad Tracks need to be crossed at right angles

We recently looked at some crossings on the Cap Metro Red Line Metro Rail with the intent of determining which ones needed work to make them safe for cyclists. When rails cross perpendicular (at a right angle, square) to the line of travel it is relatively easy for a cyclist to traverse them safely. However, as the angle begins to change then a cyclist crossing the tracks has to begin to take some precautions. This is particularly true when the tracks and road are wet. Turns out the Metro Rail line is a good case study with some widely varying angles. There are two ways to deal with angled crossing; the first is to have the cyclist veer into traffic before or after squaring up to make the crossing, while the second is to add pavement to the side of the crossing so the rider can make the crossing square to the tracks but use the pavement to either set up the crossing or to recover after the crossing depending on the angle. I know that is confusing. Take a look at the diagram and you can see that a simple addition of pavement makes the crossing much safer for the bike rider and less harrowing for the motorists as well. RailRoad Crossings

The two photos show Rosewood Avenue as it is crossed by Metro Rail. Steep angle suggesting that a bike rider may want to swerve out into traffic to cross back to the right. It would be easy to place a small patch of pavement on the right side after the tracks so a rider could turn to the right, cross the track and still have pavement to turn back into the roadway. This is a route that many children take to get to the parks in the area. (Thanks to Christopher Stanton for pointing out this crossing.) Photos courtesy of Google Maps.

Screenshot 2015-07-03 10.53.32     Screenshot 2015-07-03 10.54.03

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Trails, Urban Trails and Roads.

As a skilled and experienced cyclist I am capable of riding on pretty much any road. I’ve got video of riding in high speed traffic and the motorists doing just what we teach, waiting or moving to the other lane. But sometimes I like to get out of traffic and ride the trails particularly when they shortcut the trip.

Austin has both Trails (partially paved and primarily designed for recreation) and also Urban Trails (10-12 feet wide concrete and designed to connect other facilities like roads). I am living downtown and find myself using my cargo bike for most trips. With 20 inch by 38 tires, this bike is comfortable on most surfaces. It works a lot better than a skinny tired road bike on trails where water creates gullies and piles of loose gravel.

Two good examples of “useful” trails have saved me miles in traffic recently.

Pleasant Valley Road theoretically provides a great north – south route across  the East side of Austin  Unfortunately, it has a few discontinuities where a section deadens into a green space or the road changes its name. For motorists, the dead end can be a problem but the City has pushed an urban trail through as a connector as can be seen below. Other urban trails in Austin are beginning to make a significant difference in the commuting habits of people coming into town from the eastern and western suburbs. The final connections are not complete but we’re working on them as well.

Screenshot 2015-06-30 09.54.27

During a social ride for Bike Austin we finished at a real Texas honky tonk bar (Buzzkill, and after a few beers and a big plate of BBQ chicken I was feeling pretty good. Had my cargo bike and it was getting dark but I had some decent lights. Decided not to take the arterial which has lots of traffic and some of those drivers may have been drinking too so I jumped on the trail leading to the boardwalk in Lady Bird Lake. As you can see by the Google Maps rendering, the trail was the shortest in both time and distance and crossed under every bridge that crossed the lake. The boardwalk at night is beautiful and presented a great view of Austin and took me out over the water for a good portion of the trip. Good surface. The rest of the trail is primarily decomposed granite and after the recent rains was a little carved up but passable. Had to stop and walk as I went under the Congress Avenue bridge where people were congregating to watch the famous Austin bats come out. As you can see, in 3 miles I had a 36 foot elevation gain. Most of that was climbing out of the river to get back on the streets.

 

 

Screenshot 2015-06-30 10.12.04Screenshot 2015-06-30 10.12.19So the answer is, as in most things having to do with traffic and bicycles, it depends. Urban Trails and even natural surface trails can be an important part of the urban transportation grid. It depends on how they connect and how a person riding a bike uses them.

 

 

 

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Dangerous, redux

After someone asked about the front view I rode into town on the same route with a short detour to have lunch with Miller Nuttle of Bike Austin. Here is the front view of riding in Austin at 11:00 Tuesday morning.

Couple of questionable turns by cars and buses and an EMS truck had us pulling over but on the whole, pretty simple.

Remember, this is at four times the normal rate so the pedestrians look like Keystone Kops. If you don’t get the reference, you’re young enough to Google it.

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Downtown is dangerous

When people find out I ride downtown they generally look at me funny and then tell me they would never ride downtown because it is too dangerous. Just to see if it really was true I put my trusty GoPro camera on the back of my cargo bike and rode from my apartment to the Bike Austin office. This video begins at the bridge over Shoal Creek and then traverses in order,

Third Street, San Antonio, Fourth Street and finally Congress to the alley between 10th and 11th streets. I sped it up 4 times because it was really boring. Boring traffic is good traffic but it makes for really terrible viewing. I stopped at the Post Office between 8th and 9th and moved over to let a taxi driver turn right. He was duly appreciative.

So, I’d love to hear comments on how dangerous and terrifying you find this video.

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