Monday, September 30, 2013

Kickstarter - Not a (Bike) Store. Really??

I once saw one of the founders of Kickstarter speak at a conference. He was quite charismatic, in a laid-back hipster kind of way. But then I'm old.

About a year ago I noticed that Yancey and some of his other Kickstarterizing colleagues had a blog post to make absolutely positively clear that Kickstarter is not a store!!! "It's hard to know how many people feel like they're shopping at a store when they're backing projects on Kickstarter, but we want to make sure that it's no one."

Well, maybe. But in less than two minutes I found evidence otherwise. Searching for projects using the simple keyword "bicycle."

First off, we have "Fortified" that will kickstart a company to sell bike lights that last forever. Actually, they already kickstarted a theft-resistant bike light that I blogged about, which was a success (apparently) but now they are ready to move from theft resistant lighting to lasts-forever lighting - as an anti-capitalist attempt to keep big companies from selling us cyclists more crappy lighting (and other stuff - but they are starting with lights).

Fortified - kick in some $tarter money and you'll get some lights - but remember, it's not a store!

Mostly I have no problem with this product per se - in particular, the idea of fighting big corporations that sell people crap (so that they can sell it to us again later, again) is appealing. I am somewhat surprised that it is apparently appealing to others since this Kickstarter is over-subscribed by four-to-one and still has time to go. Wow!

But keep in mind, my comment today is that Kickstarter claims it is not a store. But here, other than nine people who signed up for a T-shirt, all the backers of this Kickstarter (and there are 845 of these supporters as of today) are backing at levels that insure (in theory) they got some of the early lights produced. Isn't signing up early to buy stuff something you can do at a store? (Like Amazon.)

My counter example is of a project that has effectively zero support because (I think) it isn't selling anything that anyone wants.

This is a good idea for developing world cyclists, but not so popular with Kickstarter "shoppers" (or however we are to refer to them)

In fact integrated shift-brake units are annoying and increase repair costs. My 1982 road bike with separate shifters on the down tube that are mechanically not much more complicated than what she is suggesting are very low maintenance, particularly compared to the combined Shimano 6700 Ultegra "brifters" (combined brake-shift units) that regularly eat shift cables and one stopped working altogether on one bike, requiring replacement. Ugh!

This simple easy to manufacturer, one-size-fits-all shift unit would be great for developing countries.

So, how much support for this project that could easily simplify life for thousands of Africans, how much support is there? Well, as of today, she has reached two (2) percent of her $10,000 goal with 31 days to go. She has four friends (one assumes) who have signed up at a funding level that would give them a "collectible bike shift lever" but . . . it just isn't as exciting an opportunity, apparently, as buying dramatic lighting systems for one's own bike.

Arguably regardless of what Kickstarter's principals wrote on this topic, it appears there could be some confusion among visitors of the Kickstarter site and some relate to it as a store.


Sidebar comment about "last forever" bike lighting - bicycle lighting in this country is getting better steadily - a little slowly in some respects (I think) but the problem with saying a light would "last forever" is that it suggests that in a couple of years you won't want something else simply because better stuff has come on the market. I myself am in this situation, although I am trying to not be wasteful and buy some new thing when the old one works OK - but still, I have a 100 lumen light that has a rather substantial separate battery that was typical four years ago and now the whole thing could be the size of the light unit. And twice as powerful - but I'm not sure I even want that much light.

The "Fortified" lights are fine for lumens and battery power (I suppose) but I suspect that they are typical for how narrow and focused the light beam is - which is, not very. This is incredibly annoying as more and more cyclists trundle along trails at each other seeing who can blind whom first. The Fortified 300 lumen headlight, as the company itself puts it, "lights up the whole road" - well, great, but actually that isn't what is wanted. In Germany I'm told they have standards for such things - anyway, it is hard to imagine that we have reached bicycle headlight nirvana today and that whatever I buy today, at any price, I would want forever.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Russian Boy Madly Cycling, 1977

On my Flickr account where I keep images of cycling from various public domain sources I also have been uploading digitized photos from when I was in Russia, in Leningrad mostly, in the 1970s.

I only seem to have a few that involve bicycles, and all are of children on bikes.

Russian child on bike
Taken when I was living in then-Leningrad in spring, 1977

This little boy probably wasn't happy that I was taking his picture, so perhaps that explains his rush. This generation of urban Russians probably included many who didn't learn how to ride a bicycle - Russia is a much smaller market for purchase of bicycles than the U.S., even today - something like 4 million bicycles sold in 2012 versus close to 19 million in the U.S. (including kids' bikes). While at first glance it looks like a reasonable little bike, it is actually rather sad - I don't think those can be inflatable tires but are rather solid rubber (or something) so it would be a fairly rough ride. Everything about it looks under-built. On the plus side, it cannot have been particularly heavy, which is the downfall of most modern kids' cheap bikes - overbuilt of cheap heavy metal so that a kid's bike weighs as much as an adult's bike

Leninskii Subotnik
For Lenin's birthday, Soviets would do a public spring cleaning on one weekend in April

This photo, also taken in 1977, shows two children with what appears to be better bicycles - small wheels but with inflatable tires, at least. (The second one is towards the middle and facing away from the camera.) So perhaps for some "upper middle class Soviet urban folks" (or whatever one would describe them as) of that period, having a bicycle for one's (usually only) child was not unusual.

Friday, September 27, 2013

How Not to Drive a Bus

It has been more than two years since I had a blog post about crummy bus driving from Dillon's Bus Co., the folks who in my view provide the best (or worst) examples of how not to operate a transit vehicle in the District of Columbia.

Having cut me off, the bus ends up occupying two lanes

Here is my email sent to Dillon's yesterday after I encountered the bus shown above on my commute home:

Complaint: Your bus, I believe 9167 but the license plate is clearly visible in the attached, was following me on my bicycle on Independence Ave SW heading west around 4:30 pm. Between 3rd and 4th he moved to the left lane, to pass me on my bicycle. Moving at around 20 mph. However a passenger was waiting for him at 4th so he then moved back into the right lane, cutting me off.

I will grant he signaled his lane change. I could see the person who was waving him down, so it was no surprise to me that he was going to try to move into my lane.

This left his bus, as shown in the photo, with the back end occupying almost all of the second lane out and the front end occupying the curb lane, blocking traffic at the light (before it changed). I rode around him to take this photo.

* If you have a bus stop in the next block, is it really wise to try to pass a road bike? I am legally entitled to my lane.

* Isn't blocking two lanes while stopping to pick up passengers frowned on by Dillon's? It should be. If the driver had stayed in his lane behind me he would have arrived at the stop approximately 2 seconds later than he did and been completely in the curb lane where he and his bus belong.

Thanks for your attention.

Yes, I have written before. I am aware that people who complain more than once are often ignored as "serial complainers" - fine. Have it your way, if that's your way.

I added the last part because after my first email Dillon's stopped answering - but I only write like once a year, so this is hardly that often. If their drivers drove buses safely I wouldn't have to write at all.

I was a city bus driver for 12 years, although this was quite a while ago. Still, I know poor driving when I see it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dear Abby, Cyclists, and the Law

In a recent column titled "Bicyclists need to follow the laws, too," the syndicated advice maven Abigail Van Buren (who it turns out is her daughter, who owns the rights to being Dear Abby, per Wikipedia) answers a typical complaint of the "those lawbreaker cyclists!" type.

The thing is copyrighted, so I can't reproduce it here. The Chicago Times has it here if you want to read it.

The main point of the writer is, "Bicyclists are supposed to abide by the vehicle codes, too, but they rarely do — and that includes not wearing protective gear." The writer then list some illegal acts of cyclists, such as texting while riding and failing to stop at stop signs. So what is her question to Abby? "How many lives must be destroyed or lost before the police start enforcing penalties for the danger these people cause to others?"

Abby doesn't offer a guess as the number. Of lives that will be lost. Or offer anything of use or related to reality. On this planet, anyway.

In the typical meme of contemporary journalism (of a sort) she suggests that perhaps the lack of enforcement is a conspiracy - that police are instructed to go out and fail to enforce traffic laws for cyclists. She asks for law enforcement officials reading the column to comment on that aspect.

I guess one should give Abby credit for possibly being concerned about the lives of the cyclists, since she seems to think many of them are suicidal for wearing dark clothing when riding and even riding after dark! Apparently typical state laws concerning bicycle lighting requirements are unknown to Abby. She more or less ignores the danger that the writer is referring to, which is to those others than the cyclists.

Cyclist middle of 14th
Due to a law non-enforcement conspiracy, this scofflaw cyclist is not being ticketed for crossing against the light - but it's OK with Dear Abby; he has protective gear and a high visibility vest on.

As cyclists who ride a lot know, often enough the way law enforcement works is to have goal-oriented projects, which can and do include, "go out and write X many tickets for cyclists at location Y." I myself got a $50 ticket on Hains Point for running a particular stop sign. (Which was fine - we don't have an Idaho bicycle stop law here.) The Park Police officer told me, "my boss told me to go out and write tickets for cyclists failing to stop at this stop sign so I can't give you a warning." He thanked me for not complaining but didn't stop writing the ticket.

So there is some good and some bad to Abby's response - she doesn't appear to buy into the "scofflaw cyclists are a huge threat to others" point that the writer makes (that's good) but then appears to open a new subject, which is that cyclists who get into accidents may well bring it upon themselves by not wearing the right color clothing (which is absurd). And she suggests that the police are under orders not to ticket cyclists (presumably out of some kind of political correctness?) which is hilarious.


Tuesday Congressional Bike Ride

During the summer, several times on my commute to work on Tuesday mornings I would see groups like this of riders escorted by U.S. Capitol Police on their mountain bikes escorting folks who are presumably members of Congress and staff members (or other guests). The numbers varied. This was on Tuesday September 10.

Terrible cell phone photo

On this occasion they and I were sitting on opposite sites of the street waiting for the light. Apparently this is a good weather Tuesday morning regular thing for those who are interested. In this case, you have three riders escorted (accompanied?) by five police on bikes. The Suburban SUV behind them is apparently their SAG wagon.

Alvey Adee of Dept of State Riding Bicycle to Work(1914)
A high level U.S. diplomat commuting to work in 1914

It isn't clear to me when members of Congress might have taken an interest in cycling - that would require some research, I suppose. I do know of this fellow (shown above), Alvey Adee, was one of the highest government officials of the early 20th century who was known for his cycling prowess, riding to and from work into his 70s. He also took trips to Europe where the purpose was to cycle through France and the like.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cycling & the Law, 1890s

I was reminded that JSTOR now makes available U.S. journal articles published before 1923 that are in the public domain -- I searched on "bicycle." I was very surprised by the number of articles retrieved in legal journals about bicycle cases. I also found a review of the book The Road Rights and Liabilities of Wheelmen, (by George B. Clementson, of the Wisconsin Bar. Price 5o cents. Chicago: Callaghan & Co., 1895). The review states, "The bicycle as a means of locomotion has evidently come to stay. This essay is therefore opportunely published to define the status of the wheel and to give information to riders of their rights and duties in respect to the public highway. Mr. Clementson has made a successful and exhaustive collection and digest of the decided cases and where there are none upon important points he has ably reasoned from analogy. We commend the book to every wheelman."

"Tweed Ride" - 1896
This bucolic view of cycling doesn't represent all the potential legal ramifications . . .

It is possible to see the full book that has been digitized from the University of Michigan in Hathitrust.

The road rights and liabilities of wheelmen, with table of contents and list of cases.

Preface - The bicycle as a practical vehicle is comparatively recent. Only within the last decade has this means of locomotion and travel assumed an importance which justifies the statement that it is to-day one of the principal agents of passenger transportation. Its comparative novelty of course precludes the wheel from very extensive notice, as yet, by the courts. Yet bicycle law is not lacking, and is constantly receiving accessions. Many important questions in regard to the rights and liabilities of bicyclers are daily arising, and a solution of these is frequently sought by resort to the judicial tribunals. Few of these suits ever reach the courts of last resort; and in consequence the reported cases are not rich in bicycle law, though they contain enough upon the subject to pretty clearly define the status of the wheelman.
Notwithstanding the absence of much case law, the book runs on for 200 pages. The amount of discussion of which roads are available to riders and why alone makes one feel like perhaps the problems we have now aren't so bad.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Human Powered Flying Glider-Bicycle

Aviette Contest - France  (LOC)
Pre-WWI French "Aviette", from the Library of Congress

It can be amusing to look through the Flickr Commons doing searches for keywords (like bicycle!) to see what is available. People often add more searchable tags so that photos with bicycles in the background will be part of the search result that otherwise would be missed.

Born to Run
Photo in Flickr Commons identified as having a bicycle in it - but pretty hard to find!

Monday, September 2, 2013

What to Avoid in Cycling - 1895 Article

An 1895 article concludes regular cyclists may suffer from a general vibratory condition which is mischievous and may develop an intoxication of movement among other problems. . .

The usually fee-based JSTOR has articles that are in the public domain loaded in the Internet Archive text section which is nice but they aren't particularly searchable, other than minimal metadata such as journal title, article title and author.

For example, I bumped into the article "What to avoid in cycling" from the North American Review, published in 1895. For whatever reason, the Internet Archive only gives the volume number (161) that tells you this was published in the 161st year that this journal was published, but not what year that was - then I realized you can go to the same article in JSTOR where there is better metadata.

The author Richardson is a medical doctor but his observations are a little broader than what one might expect. He also uses a somewhat extreme version of the kind of prose you meet if you read much from this time period.
From the first my impressions have been always in favor of cycling, and, to some extent, the expression of that favor on certain public occasions has, I think, helped to popularize the movement. I believe the exercise has been of the greatest service to large numbers of people. It has made them use their limbs; it has called out good mental qualities, and it has taken away from close rooms, courts and streets, hundreds of thousands of persons who would otherwise never have had the opportunity of getting into the fresh air and seeing the verdant fields and woods, the lakes and rivers, and the splendid scenery that adorn our land.
So far so good, assuming one can live with this sort of writing style. He soon transitions from positive comments about cycling, however . . .
There are dangers from cycling. The first is the danger of teaching the practice to subjects who are too young. Properly, cycling should not be carried on with any ardor while the body is undergoing its development — while the skeleton, that is to say, is as yet imperfectly developed. The skeleton is not completely matured until twenty-one years of life have been given to it.
. . . . .
We see these errors particularly well marked in the young, now that the cross-bar system of the cycle has come so generally into use. The tendency in riding is for the body to bend forward so as to bring itself almost into the curve of the front wheel, and in this position many riders hold themselves for hours, and the spine more or less permanently assumes the bent position. In plain words, the column becomes distorted, and through the whole life affects the movements of the body.

Female "scorcher"
This rider from the 1890s looks like she could be exposing herself to health risks of various kinds, according to Dr. Richardson

But wait! It gets better - I particularly like this . . .
There is often developed in the cyclist a general vibratory condition of the body which is mischievous and is shown in various acts of movement and thought. There are certain unconscious or semi-unconscious movements of the body which become sensible to the subject himself at particular moments when great steadiness is called for, as, for instance, when sitting for a photograph. There is also shown an over desire for rapidity of motion, as if it were necessary at every moment to overcome time and curtail distance by labor of an extreme degree. Lastly, there is developed a kind of intoxication of movement which grows on the mind by what it feeds on and keeps the heart under the impression that it is always requiring the stimulation of the exercise.