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!

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