Thursday, January 27, 2011

Roads almost clear

The roads have almost cleared entirely of the snow and ice. Just a few patches near my home remain sketchy, but they're likely to have melted with today's sun while I was in the classroom.

I've been reading many other bicycle commuter blogs and I have it easy compared to some of them. I know I need to wipe my bike down in order to make the most of my awesome reflective tape design job. I will likely wait until slightly warmer weather to do an overhaul on my bike: grease the bottom bracket, true the wheels, de-muck the chain (though it doesn't look too bad), new brake pads, grease/lube cables, etc.

I'm thinking the next things I need to get if I'm to continue riding in among traffic regularly like I've been doing is more reflective bands. I can see their value on my ankles, and possibly near my knees or thighs. The moving parts of my body.

Well, I guess I'm not in the writing mood today, so you all get off lucky. Get out there and put 10 or so miles on your bike this weekend!

Keep on commuting by bike!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Light at the . . start of the day

Things must be looking up. The roads are clear of ice and snow on almost the entire route I ride to school. The worst stretch is on my own street coming out of my driveway. Another promising sign: slight blue/purple light growing in the east when I leave from the house, instead of bitter black dark. Before too long I'll be leaving for school in near full-on sunlight. Of course, I still have the entire month of February to make it through. February can be the worst month for cold temperatures. The cold temperatures have not dissuaded me from riding my bike, though.

I'm fortunate that my route to ride does not take me into isolation. I could see my bicycle commute being a far more dangerous proposition were I required to ride on a two lane county road from the country into town. I know these county roads are not well patrolled and speeding, sometimes exorbitantly above the posted limit, is a common practice among drivers. These county roads often have no shoulder for a cyclist. Very often they are not striped with center or side lines. Often they are quite bumpy and less than ideal driving surfaces.

Speeding drivers are treacherous to cyclists because the speeding driver has less time to react to things they encounter suddenly on the road, like cyclists. A road without centerline stripes or sidelines can be dangerous for a driver as it does not provide easily recognizable boundaries in low light situations. This makes it more difficult for a driver to establish a frame of reference to judge their own position. If two vehicle meet traveling in opposite directions at roughly the same point a cyclist is traveling, the vehicle driver approaching the cyclist from the rear may find more difficulty knowing where he or she is in relation to the head-on approaching vehicle and the slower moving cyclist on the right hand third of the lane. This is especially true if it is a low light situation like a winter morning. Add to that danger the fact that these drivers are probably not expecting to see a cyclist out riding in the dark of a winter morning.

Finally, when low light, no striping, and excessive speeds are combined with rough, bumpy surfaces, this combination produces a very hard to control vehicle. An out of control vehicle is lethal to a cyclist.

As I said, I'm fortunate I don't have this danger on my daily commute. About one third of my commute is on a paved rail trail.  I wonder at how dedicated I'd be to this if I lived five mile out of town on a county road. An easy commute makes it easy to commit to commuting by bike. A "hairy" commute would take considerable more commitment, determination and just plain guts.

I've had only two occasions when my bike has gone out from under me. Both were on ice. Both were fairly slow speed. Neither time did I lose my own footing and fall myself. Both times I was able to land myself from falling, only the bicycle went all the way down. It's during these icy road commutes I consider investing in some appropriate tires. I just can't justify the expense when the need genuinely arises so few times during the year. At any rate, I'm not sure if my fenders and frame would allow for tires any wider than the ones already installed. In that case, I'm faced with getting a dedicated "ice bike". Perhaps I could rethink it and label it my "winter" bike.

On a positive note, many students comment how they see me riding before and after school at various locations. This is good because, for one thing, they SAW me. Visibility is a big concern for me. It's also good because, they SAW me. Being seen riding a bike often works to increase drivers' familiarity and respect for bicycles on the street, and helps to grow acceptance of the bicycle as a viable transportation choice. I like to think of myself as a good role model. If people see me doing it, I'm hopeful they may think to themselves, "Hey, I can do that!"

Keep on commuting by bike!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bike commuter dangers on ice

We who ride our bikes in extreme weather (if you can label northeast Kansas weather in early-mid January "extreme"- extreme might be a liberal term; perhaps "cold and uncomfortable" would be more to the liking of Minnesota folk, and "warm and spring-like" may be more accurate for the resident of Alaska) could be said to take extreme risk(s). Once cold weather and snow arrives around here (in northeast Kansas) the bicycles all but disappear. That means cars aren't expecting bicycles on the road, and if they don't expect a bicycle, they don't look for a bicycle in their vehicle operations. Snow also brings decreased visibility so a cyclists is also more difficult to see, even if the vehicle operator is genuinely watching for bicycles. Snow on the road also spells danger for the cyclists in the form of increased stopping distance, and decreased stopping power for vehicles.

The danger I've been most concerned with over this winter riding season has been ice clods. Roads receive vehicle traffic which shape partially melted snow into different ruts and debris with their passing. Then, temperatures drop and those ruts and splashes of partially melted snow become frozen. This has proven to be the biggest obstacle to my safe riding.

The smooth snow and ice, packed down by traffic, didn't pose much of a problem to me. I seemed to retain my balance pretty well. But, this morning I had difficulty maintaining control on some sections of the road. The rough clods of frozen snow/ice jarred me violently and almost caused me to upset onto the road surface. It was dark out too. I was using my flashing three L.E.D. light up front, but it still was not enough to help me much with seeing a clear pathway. The front flashing light I use is more for vehicles to see me, rather than for me to see where I'm going.

So, be careful out there. Slowing my speed helped a great deal. Searching for clear paths as best as can be managed helps, too. For my own experience, the worst sections were on off streets. The main roads were pretty clear, as they no doubt received more treatment from city crews to keep them clear. My pulse increases just thinking about what it would have been like flying down off a hill in front of traffic and hitting a section of that rough stuff. I certainly would have fallen with the bike shaken out from under me. I learned a lesson this morning: luckily I learned without crashing.

Keep on commuting by bike!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Look alive!

It's Friday! You know what that mean. It means you're thinking about taking that two wheeler off the daily commute path and pedaling it down a rail trail, or to a local pub, or just around the town or neighborhood without any discernible purpose.After all, Saturday comes right after Friday, and Saturday is the weekend when most of us don't report in to our jobs, and instead we ride our bikes for pleasure; another kind of riding that's not considered "commuting".

Well, I don't have much to add except, get out there and do it! Even if pleasure is one of the biggest benefits we enjoy from commuting anyway, it's nice to purposefully seek out some time to spend just pedaling around and looking at what's in peoples' yards, looking in through their house windows as we roll by, looking at the neighborhoods and the people who live in them; that sort of thing.

While you're out there, be sure to ride defensively. Assume cars don't see you. Establish eye contact. Use a rear view mirror. Be predictable and try to communicate your intentions to drivers. Obey the traffic laws. Wear reflective clothing. Enjoy the ride!

Keep on commuting by bike!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wishing you a new year of safe, joyous rides

My goal when I began this blog a short time ago, was to commute by bicycle everyday to my job as an English teacher at a small town high school in a northeast Kansas town. I concede that for me to commute to work "everyday" is deceiving. As a teacher I enjoy a privileged schedule which includes generous breaks away from the classroom in the winter, spring, and of course the summer; and if you ask my dad, around virtually every corner. So, it could be argued for me to ride my bicycle to work each work day will be a significantly easier task than it might prove to be for someone else who, all other things being equal, is employed in a non-educational capacity.

All "that" being said, I have successfully managed to ride my bicycle to work each day since school began last fall. I am on track, at the halfway point, to accomplishing my goal. Even though my schedule didn't require me to ride several less days than the working world, I still feel proud to have completed the first semester.

I've answered multiple scores of questions from students, teachers, parents, and other adults alike, about riding my bike each day. I'd like to think I'm forcing a little bit of bicycle commuting exposure upon them, without them being aware. I consider a student or adult asking questions about it (even if the questions are clearly intended to ridicule me) to be an opportunity to demonstrate that I'm making a sound decision based upon logic, and that it is a feat which can be accomplished by the majority of the students and adults with which I interact. I feel like when people see me commuting by bicycle, I'm promoting a healthy, smart decision. I'm also trying to show that "normal" people commute by bike, and that commuting by bike can be a "normal" decision.

Here's to a new year of promoting the bicycle.

Now, on to my latest exploits. As you may have noticed, I've not updated this blog in close to three weeks. I found occasion to get out and ride some over my holiday break from school, but it wasn't daily. The trips I took on the bicycle over break though, were generally longer than my commute to school.

While on break, I took advantage of the relaxed wake-up schedule by staying up late. Staying up late, I should clarify, now means past eleven o'clock. I stayed up late one night to watch The Fellowship of the Ring while I applied reflective tape to my commuter bike.

I've become somewhat infatuated with reflective tape. I'm always trying to increase my visibility and I've looked on the internet at a lot of different examples of reflective tape and reflectors on bicycles. I've been somewhat dissatisfied with how the reflective tape is applied to the bicycles. None that I've seen really works to identify that it's a bicycle the observer is looking upon. The tape reflects very well; that's not the issue. The issue is that the random placing of big strips of reflective tape reflect light in such a way that they simply look like rectangle reflectors easily confused with driveway markers, sign posts, etc. They don't immediately say "I'm a bicycle!"

So, in order to attempt a reflective tape design on my commuter bike which does identify itself as a bicycle when reflecting light back to the observer, I chose to take a different approach to applying the reflective tape. Instead of applying big strips of the reflective tape, I cut the tape into eighth inch (or so) strips and placed them along the stays, diamond frame, and fenders. Some of the design was done with the strips placed parallel to the tubing they were applied to; alternating above and below the horizontal centerline of the tubing as the bike sits upright. This effect resembled the black and yellow designs seen on crash tests. In the places where I didn't follow this pattern, I placed the strips perpendicular to the tubing at roughly one inch increments, again alternating above and below the horizontal centerline of the tubing as the bike sits upright. This latter design, I postulate, will increase the surface area of the reflective areas giving more chances for light to bounce off it and back to observers. That's what I postulate anyway.

I chose to use very small bits of the reflective tape on the crank, crank arms, pedals, and some diagonal strips on one half of each wheel. I read somewhere this works to show the observer a flashing "on-off" effect as the bicycle is moving.

My thought process was that very small strips of reflective tape applied all over the bike would make the reflective tape less conspicuous in the daytime, yet more conspicuous in the dark, under lights. I hope with the tape applied all over the bike, when a light source hits it, it will show the easily recognizable shape of a bicycle.

I need to take a picture of it to see how it looks under a flash. I might add also the strips and check pattern I applied to the bike made it look just that much more sporty. I should also add that my commuter bike is an old one and I felt no reservations about placing that much tape on the paint job. Since it's my commuter, it might add to the "anti-theft" system I've got going, which is to make the bicycle look so "uncool" that even a desperate person wouldn't want to be seen on it. If nothing else, the reflective tape gives it character and I've yet to see another one like it.

Thanks for reading. Keep on commuting by bike!