Category Archives: safety

Mixed Messages

One of the most heated debates in the cycling community is over whether to wear a helmet. It’s so intense that even the mile-long bike lane I ride in every day changes its mind every few yards or so.

In one direction, in a Goofus-and-Gallant like opposition*, stand two figures. The first logo shows a bicycle rider who’s helmetless and free, separated from traffic, legs posed at a jaunty angle (might want to do something about that front wheel, though).

Helmetless and free

Helmetless and free

But just a few feet ahead, I encounter a more cautious rider, one who knows a door could be opened in front of her any second, or perhaps is simply attempting to set a good example for the students at the university she’s stationed in front of.

Look at the wheels on that baby!

Look at the wheels on that baby!

(Interesting how the helmeted rider is poised to enter traffic, while the one without the helmet is heading toward the sidewalk.)

Still, both of these images are fairly neutral, and the fact that they are both on the same side of the street gives a sense that the city is not taking sides, just presenting the options and letting the responsible cyclist decide which suits her circumstances best (just like our blog!).

Not so on my way home, where I can only assume that the appearance of this logo after a parade of helmetless rider logos is meant to send a clear message:

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3 Feet Please

I really want this shirt (see at link). Also, this related news clip is definitely worth watching. The best local news story I’ve ever seen on bikes, except a bit spoiled at the end with the whole “dead right” angle. I need one of those camcorders on my bike. Drivers very rarely pass me so closely, though. Is this type of dangerous driving more common outside of cities, where drivers are not used to seeing cyclists?

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Bike Theft Paranoia

I might be suffering from post-traumatic bike-theft stress syndrome. Every work day I park my bike at the McDonald’s Cycle Center, a city bike garage complete with showers, lockers, maintenance, and secure parking. I pay $25 a month for use of the entire facility, but there’s also free secure parking in the basement. (That’s where I parked while on the wait list for membership last summer.)

Bike Garage in Foreground / Office Building in Background

Bike Garage in Foreground / Office Building in Background

Yesterday, I was running late for a meeting and did not have time to park my bike in the Cycle Center. Instead, I chained Oma to a bike rack in front of my building. I can see that particular rack from my 20th floor window, so figured I could keep an eye on her. My meeting lasted 2 hours and as soon as I returned to my office, I looked out the window. It was getting dark and I couldn’t see much. I climbed on top of my desk and mushed my face against the glass to get a closer look. I still couldn’t see Oma. Then I thought I saw a dark figure loitering and messing around in the spot where she was parked.

Immediately, I grabbed my helmet, bag, and coat and ran out of my office. I left without shutting my computer down or rinsing out my coffee cup – all the usual routine tasks. By the time I got through the elevator bank and past security to outside, my heart was thumping, only to find nothing amiss. Oma was standing exactly as I left her, no funny business. I felt absolutely silly and a little unbalanced. I had planned to stay at work a couple more hours, but after going through all the trouble of fleeing the building, I got on Oma and headed home.

Thank goodness I have secure bike parking at the office! There’s no way I could leave Oma chained up outside for 11 hours every day in downtown Chicago. Not with any peace of mind, even with my $135 Abus lock (yes, I really paid that much!). There’s also bike parking in my building’s garage, but I’d have to travel through the dark underworld (see Dark Knight) of Chicago to get there, so I never use it. Do most bike commuters have secure parking at work? If not, what do you do? I guess most cities aren’t as bad for bike theft as Chicago!

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A Note About Neon Safety

"Bike Commuter Kit"

"Bike Commuter Kit"

I recently saw this Bike Commuter Kit at Fleet Feet.  Contents: reflective ankle strap, reflective vest, reflective stickers, blinky lights, body wipes.  Okay, there’s nothing wrong with this kit if that’s what you’re into.  Certainly, wearing a reflective vest does no harm.  I never wear them because I do not see value in them in the well-lit city.  I’m sure others would disagree and that’s fine.  But wearing this stuff does not mean you will be safe.  Neon yellow is not a magic safety bubble.  Twice in one day this week I saw cyclists almost get creamed by entering intersections when their lights were red.  Both of these men were covered with neon. 

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Midnight Riders

Since I posted on Tuesday about riding in the dark, I have seen three cyclists out and about in Nashville riding on the street without a light or any reflective gear. Brave or suicidal? I guess a little bit of both! It does make me feel a little bit safer knowing these people have managed to survive. ;)

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Chicago Bike Police

Chicago Bike Police

Chicago Bike Police

I took this picture of Chicago Bike Police pulling over a car last weekend. This happened downtown on the busiest part of Michigan Avenue. Interesting how they did it, placing one bike directly in front of the car to prevent it from driving off and placing two bikes behind the car. The driver of the BMW was not pleased to see me taking his picture, which of course made me happy. Take him down a few notches, Chicago Bike Police!!

The bike police seem to have an office at the oddly name (money talks) McDonald’s Cycling Center downtown, where I park my bike during the work week. The officers have always been very polite – one night during a thunderstorm they asked if I was going to ride home in it and, after I said yes, wished me a safe ride and reminded me to be extra careful.

Despite their status as cyclists most likely to ride the wrong way on a one-way street or on the sidewalk, I’m a fan! In a city where both direct contact with citizens and maneuverability are important for the police, the bike cops seem a better investment than the mayor’s recent contract to replace almost the entire fleet of squad cars with Chevy Tahoes by 2011 – that’s 2,000 SUVs and a lot of gas!

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