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!


  1. It was nice riding with you at the KanBikeWalk ride in November, and I'm glad to have found your blog!

    I'm another cyclist who sees the value in reflectivity on the bike. I run with a reflective safety triangle hanging off the seat bag, as well as reflective tape in various places on the bike frame. My next set of tires will have a reflective sidewall.

    I wanted to pass along a couple of links.

    The first is to a study out of Australia, that says it's more important to have reflectivity on your moving parts (ankles, wrists for signalling turns) than on static parts (your torso or the bike itself): http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1079188/Studies/Cyclist%20visiblity%20at%20night.pdf

    The second is to Vik at The Lazy Randonneur, who's done a great recent series on lighting and reflectivity: http://thelazyrando.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/you-dont-need-more-lights/

  2. Again your words are very creative and discriptive but some pictures posted would do good for us visual people that sometimes just don't get it...


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