Sunday, July 31, 2011

Is Cycling Safe? The Product Development View

Since I ride a bike more than a 100 miles a week on average, I think about bike safety a bit. Mostly I ride on bike paths or bike trails (or whatever they are properly called) although of course they are used by pedestrians, runners, etc - but not motor vehicles! And it is the motor vehicles that represent the significant safety problem for cyclists.

In the Seattle area, supposedly a very bike friendly region, two middle-aged cyclists were recently killed within a period of less than two weeks, one by a truck that went onto the shoulder where the cyclist was riding and another when an SUV made a left turn once oncoming car traffic had cleared, but not the oncoming cyclist. (In the second case, the driver got out, ascertained there was an accident, then drove away - hit and run.) Even though I read about cyclists getting killed all the time, for some reason these two events bother me.

At a conference recently (that had nothing to do with cycling) I heard a presentation by someone from Kickstarter, an organization (well, it's a commmercial company, actually) that provides a vehicle for getting start-up funding for various kinds of endeavors through their web site. Many are small cultural projects but others are efforts to start sales of products of one sort or another.

As it happens, Mr. Bikesnob NYC had a recent blog entry about a Kickstarter project for a bike turn signal system that is built into a left cycling glove. Kickstarter seeks solicitation primarily through videos; the "you turn" fundraiser video is below.

Mr. Bikesnob has lots of fun spoofing this Kickstarter video in various ways, although he leaves aside the main question I had (at first) which is whether the fellow is serious - the circuitry in the glove detects whether the cyclist points his hand up (for a right turn) or out to the left (for a left turn) and activates one of two LED arrows built into the glove. Yes, but . . . we inherited the "left hand straight up = right turn" thing from people driving cars (from when turn signals for cars were not always present!) and most cyclists now use their right arms to signal right turns. Since the left brake lever is for the front brake (also known as the brake that works best) I never signal right turns with my left hand - common sense dictates using my right hand to signal, stuck out to the right, and keeping my left hand on that brake lever. So if you wanted LED turn signals combined with gloves, it would be simplest to put a single arrow on each glove - assuming you think it makes sense to have such digital signals at all.

But I digress.

The real question I have is whether attempts to buttress cyclists' safety through developing new products to buy and use is a good approach. That it is an American approach, that much is obvious, but is it going to make it safer for cyclists?

Frankly I'm doubtful. The two things I believe that are needed to improve the safety of people on bicycles (vis a vis cars, trucks, etc.) is more people on bicycles, which inevitably leads to a lower accident rate for the cyclists; and, in tandem with that, a change in our transportation culture such that the "complete streets" concept makes sense to more and more people.

Of course, common sense says that cyclists are safer when they are visible to motorists if they use roads. (And of course there are laws requiring reflectors, lights, etc. for certain conditions.) This product, however, seems to contribute more to making cyclists more car-like, which doesn't seem particularly helpful. An LED turn signal system for bicycles contributes mostly to making cycling seem more dangerous and more complicated than it should be. The more safety equipment we pile onto cyclists, the less appealing it becomes, thus defeating the "more cyclists = fewer accidents" strategy.

Kickstarter has another cycling funding project - a bicycle brake light system.

It is suggested that having a brake light like a car's (that comes on when the brakes are applied) "has the potential to save many lives." As with the glove-signal system, it seems more to add to the complexity of cycling and to the impression that it is dangerous. Having a light or lights and a reflector to make a cyclist visible when it is dark and to take other measures to increase one's visibility to motorists makes good common sense but "I failed to realize the bicycle was stopping and therefore ran into it" isn't the problem I read about with cyclists hit by cars from the rear, it's the "I wasn't expecting a cyclist at that location, I didn't see him/her, and . . . " situations that are the problem. As the number of cyclists increases, the motorists get used to them, and expect to interact with them in their daily drives (and stop running into them so much). Also, eventually (a la Amsterdam) more and more drivers will be sometimes-cyclists, which can only help.

Now I'll get off my soapbox, such as it is. I'll put forth my thinking on bicycle helmets another time . . .

PS I asked a fellow from the Netherlands recently if he commuted by bike to work on Capitol Hill - his answer? "No, so many here talk about friends they know who got killed riding their bikes. No one in the Netherlands is ever killed riding their bike! It seems too dangerous."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ideas for Bicycle Saddles (1896)

Google presents zillions of digitized patent applications - in the 1890s there were so many patent applications related to cycling that there was magazine, Cycling Monthly, that was nothing but patent and trademark applications related to bicycles. Not surprisingly it is more entertaining to page through that (if one works in a large library where there are some issues) and then bring up the Google versions rather than try to find 1890s patent applications for bicycle stuff directly in Google.

One quickly realizes that then as now, there is a sense that there must be a better bicycle saddle. The following examples are all from 1896 ~

Patent for Bike Saddle 554337
Patent number 554,337

The notion in the above "invention" is that really you just want to sit on a couple of springs.

Patent for Bike Saddle 556250
Patent number 556,250

Above is something like the opposite view to the previous patent - no, what you really want to do is sit on a shaped piece of wood! Oh, with a slit in the middle.

Patent for Bike Saddle 557238
Patent number 557,238

Above, the well-known view even today (perhaps even more so today) that a wider base of support is key.

Patent for Bike Saddle 558917
Patent number 558,917

A rather complex contoured approach . . .

Patent for Bike Saddle 562919
Patent number 562,919

The last example here (but hardly the last patent application for bicycle saddles from 1896) is an "add on" to an existing saddle the would provide inflatable cushions held in place by their invention.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bicycle "Body Shield" (Patent, 1896)

Patent from Google that demonstrates that while the basic bicycle design hasn't changed much, ideas for how to improve cycling have had their ups and downs.

Bicycle Body Shield Patent, 1896
Has every crazy idea been patented?

The object of the invention is to provide a new and improved body-shield more especially designed for use by bicyclists,boatmen, or other persons exposed to the force of the wind, the shield being arranged to not only break the force of the wind against the body of a bicycle-rider, but also to protect the throat, breast, face, and ears of the rider and at the same time permit the rider to easily get on or off the bicycle.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pleasing 1896 Overman Bicycle Poster

Victor Bicycles Poster,1896
Victor Bicycles, Overman Wheel Co.

Poster advertisement for Overman Wheel Company's Victor bicycles, showing a woman watching another woman riding a bicycle. Includes art nouveau style flowers.

From the Library of Congress.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Plastic Bike Design

Recycled plastic bicycle design - this seems pretty clever but I have my doubts as to how pleasant it would be to ride.

None of the comments seem to have been made by anyone who knows much about bicycle design.

The first thing I see is that the steering tube is quite upright, which might be fine for a racing bike but for something like this, it would make it twitchy and requiring more attention to control. It doesn't help that the handlebars are so short.

Can this really not have any metal in it? It would be pretty amazing if you could have crank arms (that connect the drive system to the pedals) that are just made out of plastic that would support an adults weight and transfer power reliably.

It appears that the pedals are relatively spread apart - usually there isn't much variance in the distance left and right of center that the pedals are. A larger distance ("Q factor") is apparently less efficient.

Is the height of the seat adjustable? Doesn't seem like it. That's probably the biggest problem.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Park Service "Waters" Bikers, Joggers

Sprinklers at Hains Point
The roadway is wet, the bikers and joggers are wet

The National Park Service runs a pipe along the roadway of Hains Point and uses pumps to pull river water into a large scale sprinkler system - in their effort to water both sides of the roadway, they blast the water across the roadway, too. From time to time one gets a blast in the face - it's a little strange. Since it's hot, it has its positive aspects, but on balance I would rather not have this experience too often.

Sprinklers at Hains Point
Putting his head down to avoid getting a direct blast from a sprinkler

Generally I'm pretty comfortable for anything under 30-40 miles on my road bike, but apparently due to an unusual amount of squirming as I tried to avoid the sprinklers, after a lap or so I wasn't and this was only a 25 mile ride.

The Park Service puts up a sign that notes that the river water is not potable - so we won't try to drink from the sprinklers, I guess. But is it suitable for showering?

Of course, if they feel that the grass on Hains Point needs to be green, I guess it makes sense to use the river water.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Best Bike Parking - for Some

Police Bike Parking
Four spots set aside for three police bikes

In my office building on Capitol Hill, we are protected by federal police. This parking lot has 24 slots for bicycle parking, half in the center and half at one end of the garage. Through some sort of unspoken tradition, the bicycle commuters know who parks where. This has been upset by the police taking four of the 12 spots near the center in order (at least for now) to park three bikes. (One of the bikes is made by "Smith & Wesson" - well known for making bikes! Stop or I'll shoot you with my bike!) This has completely upset the bicycle commuter ecology right in the middle of the prime riding season. (Well, ok with the heat wave, maybe not entirely prime in the usual sense.) So the police have three bikes on the four closest most convenient slots and the staff who are bike commuters have crammed ten, eleven, etc bikes into eight slots to see how much paint they can scrape off each others' bikes.

These police bikes are locked up with the most absurd chains and padlocks - you would think they were locking them up in some high crime area and not in a garage guarded like a fort.

PS - I thought perhaps this gift of parking places to the police might put us out of compliance with the DC "for every ten spots for cars, one for bikes" law but they count the slots on bike racks in front of the building. 95 percent of the car parking is in a garage and 75 percent of the bike parking is outdoors. Oh well.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cyclist-Diplomat Endorses U.S. Tobacco (1917)

The connection to cycling is a bit tenuous, but Alvey Adee of the Department of State was known to take long cycling vacations in France, so here he is said to draw on that experience to endorse American tobacco for U.S. soldiers serving in France over the French (or European) product.

Diplomat & Cyclist & U.S. Tobacco
This seems to be an endorsement of a way that The Times supported the war effort (during World War I)

Alvey A. Adee Says Boys Need U. S. Tobacco

Alvey A. Adee, Second Assistant Secretary of State, is a diplomat. Mr. Adee is generally given credit for the unusually diplomatic language in which the United States couches its communications to foreign governments. Mr. Adee has been in France several times, riding through the beautiful roads of that country, on his bicycle. Mr. Adee knows the French tobacco. But -- Mr. Adee is a diplomat.

So here is is how he sums up the smoke situation for the boys in France:

Times Smoke Fund,
Washington, D. C.
My experience with foreign tobacco during my bicycle trips over what is now the Battlefield of Europe, makes me very sympathetic to your plans for furnishing our soldiers with the tobacco to which they are accustomed. It is a very splendid idea. Very cordially,
Alvey A. Adee

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nice Steel Track Bikes for a Sunday

Fellow had these two bikes on his truck for riding at Hains Point (in Washington, DC).

Steel track bike
Old school drilled holes in rims to lighten - and enhance appearance

Abel Borne track bike
French 1960s Abel Borne track bike - weighs only 13 pounds

Steel is real! But can be light.

Fellow said this was one of only 26 such track bikes produced.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Diplomats Need Cycling Exercise (1912)

Article in the Washington Herald from 1912 describes cycling tour in France of socialites, accompanied by an assistant secretary of state, Alvey Adee, who was noted for his cycling and cycling tours in Europe.

US Diplomat on Cycle Tour
From the society page of the paper

Gen. Thackary believes that the whole consular corps should take a holiday on wheels for the improvement of the diplomatic service. For it would counteract the bad results of a life necessarily sedentary.

Alvey Adee of Dept of State & Bicycle
Alvey Adee at age 72 and his bike in Washington, 1914
Photo from the Library of Congress

More information about Adee.

Alvey Adee of Dept of State riding Bicycle
Adee riding in Washington
Photo from the Library of Congress

Description of Adee's diplomatic career in "Washington close-ups" By Edward George Lowery, 1921.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Unusual Bike Commuter Hazard - a Black Bear

Newspaper article reports that a Florida man was removed from his bike by a black bear, managing however not to suffer any serious injuries.

Black Bear
Something that might be more frightening than an angry motorist

Monday, July 11, 2011

Police Ticketing Sunday Bikers, Haines Point

View Larger Map

Sunday morning at 9 am I took off to Haines Point in Washington DC to do some laps of the trianguler peninsula along the Potomac River. I have seen U.S. Park Police writing tickets at this same location, the junction of Buckeye Drive and Ohio Drive, before on a weekday afternoon but not on a weekend. Anyway, every time I went past on my laps, they had someone different (sometimes groups) stopped. I don't know if they were giving tickets or just warnings, but I suspect they were writing at least some tickets. It can be a $50 ticket if they write one. On my last time through, a bit after 10 am, there were two Park Police vehicles parked up on the median strip in plain sight and they were still pulling cyclists over.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Weight of Cycles (1890s' View)

Cycle Weight
A discussion of the all-important bicycle weight question

A prevalent notion regarding the weight of cycles seems to be that the lighter a machine is, the easier it must run. While for race tracks this is practically true, such conditions as are met with in average road riding alter the case considerably. Lightness is certainly a most desirable and important quality to secure in a cycle; but the moment it is obtained at the expense of rigidity, or at the expense of generous tires, it does not make the machine any better as a whole. Lack of rigidity means waste of power, and small tires mean more vibration; and both these are detrimental to ease of running, especially at any distance. Should lightness be further obtained at the expense of a well-stayed frame, or use of insufficient metal, durability is largely sacrificed. It does not follow from this that a machine need be heavy; for a properly proportioned one of medium weight and first-class quality is just as strong; but it does follow that extraordinarily light machines are not suitable for road work, and are not as durable as those of medium weight.
A reasonable point of view! The author goes on to offer further analysis~
Since 1892 the advance that has been made in building light bicycles has been absolutely extraordinary, and in less than three years the weight of road machines has been reduced from forty-five to twenty-two or twenty-three pounds. No man, however heavy, need ride a modern wheel of over thirty pounds' weight; very few need ride over twenty-five pound wheels, while the majority of good riders can be safely fitted with wheels that weigh but twenty-two or twenty-three pounds. Of course a good many wheels at even less weight than this will be used on the road, but it should be done with extreme caution. Track racers run from fifteen to eighteen pounds.
A modern carbon fiber racing bike that weighed around fifteen pounds would be a costly item, but the track bike described for the 1890s would not have any gears or brakes, which do add weight even on a modern bike. And to save weight, the wheels of an 1890s track bike might well have been made of wood.

Still, one wonders at how quickly steel cycle builders of the 19th century managed to make lightweight track cycles that rival those of a hundred years later in certain measures.

Cycling Life, Dec 3 1896 issue
Typical single speed cycle from 1897

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Team Rwanda Article - New Yorker

The New Yorker magazine has a long article about Team Rwanda, a professional cycling team coached by an American. (Unfortunately the link is only to a summary; the article is not available online for free.)

Nathan and Obed
Two of Team Rwanda's riders, from the Team Rwanda set of Cyclazzi on Flickr

There is New Yorker blog entry that has more photos, although unfortunately not as many as one might hope for.

The coach is Jock Boyer, the first American to ride in the Tour de France.

Team Rwanda has a web site that includes photos and Jock Boyer's blog (although there aren't too many entries). There is a good video of the team on the home page. You can buy a Team Rwanda cycling jersey!

The New Yorker article describes the development of the team as part of cycling entrepreneur Tom Ritchey's Bikes to Rwanda initiative that has not been as successful as the team because shipping costs for the "cargo bikes" to Rwanda turned out to be extremely high (according to the New Yorker).

Presumably the timing of this article about road racing is connected to this being "Tour de France" month for Americans, the one time of the year when many are aware of professional cycle racing at all (and soon to be forgotten until next July). Or perhaps not. At any rate, a detailed description of this sub-Saharan professional cycling team is an interesting lense for looking at that part of Africa.

Friday, July 8, 2011

More Accurate Video of Dutch Cyclists

One of the blogs I follow was the source for a video that ended up having zillions of page views, apparently because so many outside of the Netherlands found its depiction of cycling so confounding, according to a recent post. I used it in a earlier post myself.

The speeded-up version of Dutch commuters that received so much attention

The speeded up version does reduce the "boredom factor" and makes it clear more quickly how many cyclists are moving to and fro in such a business-like way.

Now however the blogger has released a real-time version, which I think makes the same points just as nicely.

Real-time video of same intersection

At about 45 seconds, a father (presumably) takes off from a stop with his son on a bike to his right (and daughter riding in a seat and behind him), putting his hand on his back to help get him up to speed. Don't see much of that here.

The mix of bikes is interesting, too, and easier to observe at the slower speed. Bikes in the Netherlands are obviously more about urban transportation and (much)less about sport - I saw only one or two drop handle road bikes among all these. Of course, part of that may well be that cycles are required to have a headlight and tail light and most of these bikes, used daily, have fenders (with the tail light built into the rear fender).

I find it interesting how practically everyone seems to be following the rules (or laws, I suppose). There are the occasional riders who don't stop for the light, but they are very few. And of course the sheer volume, even in real-time, makes an impression compared to the Washington DC area. Even in real time, the left turns by some of the cyclists seem almost choreographed. Of course, the real-time version takes five minutes and the speeded-up version takes only two. . .

Monday, July 4, 2011

Rights of Cyclists on the Road (1895)

From page of Cycling for Health and Pleasure, published in 1895:

Rights of Cyclists on the Road. — The right of the cycle on the road is the same as that of other vehicles, — neither more nor less, — and is so held by the courts. Wheelmen have, in some places, been put to considerable labor and expense to establish this fact; but have done so with uniform success, chiefly through the efforts of the League. Of course, when the cycle makes its first appearance in new regions, the blind conservatism which seems to be inherent in human nature is apt to breed prejudice against it; but moderation and experience, with firm prosecution of any case of infringement of rights, will soon put things on a right basis.
Rights of Cyclists on the Road
The more things change, the more they stay the same

Keeping in mind that this was before there were cars on these "highways" mentioned, it goes on to say:
In many localities wheelmen have been accorded advantages much in excess of their rights. They have been granted the privilege of using side paths and even paved walks; no objection has been made to their coasting on crowded hills, and forcing other vehicles from their track; and they have been permitted to ride at racing speed, even on crowded highways. Such concessions have had the effect of making many wheelmen very careless of the rights of pedestrians, and of those of drivers of wagons and carriages, while asserting their own rights and privileges to the full. By so doing they have intensified the prejudice already existing in some quarters against the sport, and have aroused the prejudice of others whose rights have been infringed by being rudely driven from their path, or portion of the road, by the necessity of giving ample space to some reckless rider. It is not only bad form and worse manners to act in this way, but it is most wretched policy, for it injures the whole body of wheelmen in the eyes of the public.

Where roads are bad and wheelmen are permitted to use side paths, they ought to reciprocate the privilege accorded them by extending every possible courtesy to pedestrians, never warning them off the path by bell or whistle, but rather, by riding slowly and requesting the pedestrians to kindly allow their passage, and thanking them when they have done so. There are many cyclists who are thoughtless in these matters, and there are others who pretend to believe that it is pusillanimous to extend such courtesies ; but they ought to remember that they are on a path
only by courtesy, and are bound, in common decency, to return that courtesy.
In summary, cyclists have equal rights, but they should behave reasonably towards others. And if they have been accorded special rights, courtesy is to be expected.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

An 1890s View On Safety

Title page
Title page of the popular 1890s book, "Cycling for Health and Pleasure

The view on crashes between two bikes would probably not meet with the approval of modern litigators. From page 67 of Cycling for Health and Pleasure, published in 1895:
Riders ought to observe all the rules of the road, and not court disaster or engender ill feeling by disregarding them. It is very common for a number of wheelmen to divide, both on meeting and passing vehicles, and in so doing increase the chance of frightening horses, and make collisions far more probable. In the case of collision between two bicycles, it should be remembered that the aggressor will receive the less damage if the machines are of equal strength, so that if a collision is actually unavoidable, it is worth while to become the aggressor if possible, or at least to endeavor to give as much shock as you receive.
"In case of collision between two bikes"

"Cycling for Health and Pleasure" was apparently popular - the Library of Congress has editions from 1890, 1895 and 1896. The 1890 version was published by the small "Wheelman Press" while the later editions were published by the large commercial publisher Mead, Dodd.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Wheels & Bikes at Shirlington

In front of Shirlington Library
Bike rack in front of the Shirlington public library

So, why the locked up "extra" wheels at this bike rack? How did this happen? (These photos taken early Saturday morning before they are obscured by other parked bikes.)

Bike rack in the Harris Teeter parking garage at Shirlington

100 yards/meters or so away, we have this sad Mongoose that has lost its wheels - perhaps they are locked in front of the library!