March 19, 2008

Visibility, safety - the seasonal reminders

The season is coming on fast now, and there is NO REASON to have it begin with any tragic headlines of bicyclists down, etc. PREVENTING THIS STARTS WITH THE INDIVIDUAL:

Visibility is always something that is key during brevet rides & commutes. Sometimes, however, the weekend warrior, even the randonnuer, can forget some of the basics - or feel like they need to "look pro" and ignore some of the stuff altogether. I BEG you not to be one of these people.

Let me be perfectly straight here: I'm a DORK on the bike. Now, this is in direct relation to how people NORMALLY dress OFF the bike. Compared to OTHER cyclists, however, I don't consider anything I'm doing to be unusual for ANY cyclist. Compared to people in regular clothes, yes: but, let's face it: even if you are dressed in something you consider "cool", like a full Jittery Joes kit, or similar (insert favorite team here) -- yeah, it's cool, but compared to people in street clothes, you're still a DORK. JUST LIKE ME. EVEN messengers, people that DON'T wear cycling "gear", baggies, old cycling caps, ratty Misfits or Free Tibet t-shirts: ok, there are pockets of culture in urban areas where it's just as cool to wear this stuff on AND off the bike, and you get that edgy, hard-core, slave-to-no-one vibe going - but, compared to the rest of the planet? Sorry: DORK. Business types that wear an ankle strap to keep pants out of the chain, or tuck them into their socks on the way to work - ok, you're not in a USPS kit, and you don't look like a London traffic warden -- but still, sorry, you're on a bike? DORK.

Only exceptions: San Fran, NYC, Dubai, LA, Boston, Chicago: REAL, WORKING, MESSENGERS get a pass. Even if dressed in a full-body reflective suit with 150 watt safety strobes, and you can still get killed at ANY time by traffic, trucks, busses, back-hoes, potholes, bridge-joints, angry pedestrians, muggers, thieves, druggies, aggressive doormen, pissed-off mailroom clerks, cops, bad street-vendor burritos, and other messengers. In this case, it truly makes no difference what you wear or do, reinforced by the notion that your lock is worth even more than your bike so you don't have to buy a new bike after every job, if someone doesn't see you, swing your lock at 'em. Props to the workers, you don't have to read any more of this. Carry on.

Additional passes for: off-road: not dealing with traffic. Downhill: traffic should be afraid. Trials riders: everyone is afraid of you guys. Carry on.

For the rest of ya, let's get past all the fashionista crap, and focus on staying alive, since we're ALL gonna look like dorks ANY-ways, deal?

Ok -- I have the RUSA sash and RUSA ankle bands, which are GREAT in the dark AND in the daytime, and turns out are actually reflective WHEN WET, which was unexpected. Most fabric submilated reflective material is not reflective anymore when it gets wet, but this stuff is.
Very cool -- and quite a good deal, money-wise.

Second issue with the fashionista thing with regards to cycling - there is this nortion that taillights and stuff are "dorky", too. Refer to above notes. It's a bicycle - gear is cool, remember? - so get a cool taillight, too. Ok, point made there --- couple other things:

1) Make sure they are aimed right.
2) Make sure the batteries are fresh - use rechargable AA and AAA cells for best results if you can, to ensure this, but still save money.
3) Have some model of taillight that has a red rear reflector built in, and/or slather the back of the bike with reflective tape.
3a) worried about the finish? Stick black electrical tape to the bike, and then stick the reflective tape to the surface of the electrical tape. Works GREAT, peels right off - no mess.
3b) red reflectors: one of the first things you remove after getting your new ride home from the bike store, right? Leeave it on, or put it on for the brevet. Brighter than reflective tape. Unmistakably makes your bicycle a VEHICLE from the rear to drivers. Catches light during the DAY, too, and aids in marking your position on the road even if it's broad daylight -- cars with daytime running lights will see you sooner during the day, too, when some cyclists can blend with the foreground of a driver's sight-line, depending on the terrain. Sometimes we ride, and when seen from behind we are sillouhetted against the sky at hte top of a hill, perfectly visible. OTHER times, we are on a dim, tree-lined and shadowed street with mailboxes, parked cars, trash bins, etc. The reflective nature of the red rear reflector combined with the ankle bands and sash helps with this.
3c) from a RUSA perspective, many RPCs and RBAs are leniant with this is other safety features exist, like lights and the other reflective gear - but it IS in the RUSA rules to have a red rear reflector. Keeping in mind you are riding thru a lot of rural counties, many with different interpretations of State DOT laws, its FAR BETTER to be covered, legally, than to be told to get off the roads if you aren't by a stingy county sherriff. It's happened.
3d) taillights themselves: Don't use flashing mode unless the weather is horrible, or it's daytime. It confuses drivers and completely kills depth perception and ability to track a target while they are in motion in a car approaching you from the rear. Sometimes, that WIDE berth drivers give you doesn't mean neccessarily that they saw your very-effective taillight and are being respectful: sometimes it means they have been staring at it for 1/2 a mile, have a little purple-blur, camera flash syndrome ridopsyn blockage in their eyesight, and really aren't sure where you are. Sometimes it can mean both things. BUT: consider if the light is burning solidly, your position is easily trackable, there is no strobe effect to confuse or mesmerize anyone - fellow riders included - and you are again following local legal laws: after all, the ONLY thing on the road that should have a flashing red anything is an emergency vehicle. Flashing AMBER? You find one, and I'll use the heck out of it!

Exceptions: reaction time is everything in nasty weather -- I find that this is the exception to the flashing rule, and I personally use a Dinotte HEADlight, mounted on the rear rack, pointing backwards and angled slightly down towards the pavement in a steady flash mode. This creates a VERY distinct WHITE blob of extremely bright "HEY -- DON'T HIT THIS" scenario. This last Saturday, in the driving sleet, it WORKED. During the day on US-69 highway, it WORKED: drivers passing me were in the far center-median lane, instead of the right lane, even though I was on the far right shoulder. So, as a daytime take-notice light, the Dinotte is TERRIFIC - the only thing better would be the amber version, but I can't afford two of them, so my headlight version does double duty, and if the Schymidt generator light ever fails I have a fully redundant backup headlight system with me. Not the cheapest option, I know, but I know a lot of you guys out there have the Dinotte headlights now, and for brevets - especially solo events - they are great daytime markers for that narrow shoulderless highway. Turn em off, or take the back of the paceline if you run it, tho, when riding with friends. For those Dinotte users, I have the included helmet mount zip-tied to the top of the rear rack - works perfectly.

I think this covers it. The other obvious stuff like staying off the sidewalk, taking the lane with respect, staying to the right, breaking up the 16-wide echelon when someone yells car back the EIGHTH time, doing AT LEAST the RAAM-Legal stop at stop-signs and lights (I never said you had to put a darn foot down, people -- just TRY to look like you are obeying SOMEthing, and if there is a question about the right of way, the heavier vehicle wins unless they wave you through - after all, if neither of you slowed down, they'd win anyways so why make an issue of it?)
Idealism... yeah, it's a grand concept, but some of you freaks just AREN'T gonna stop. Hey, if your kharma is paid up and you're good with it, more power to ya -- but don't give me ANY lip if you've been sucking my wheel for 15 minutes and I decide to obey a stop sign. I'll warn you once.

Ok, we're covered. It's warm. You are, too. Ride smart, stay alive. Get out there!


Anonymous said...

Came across this lightweight safety triangle (, bought one, and velcro'd it to the back of my trunk bag. Other cyclists tell me it shows up very well from the rear. At only $5 with free shipping, it seemed like a pretty sweet deal.

Noah said...

Remember when I was on The Front Page Photo (for like... 6 months?!).

I looked like that this morning.

Reflective panniers. Reflective Lime Vest. No ankle strap, though, I just used my socks. You can't see my ankles through the panniers anyways. Steady tail on my rack. Blinking tail with blinking side-facers on my helmet. DiNotte 200L Blinking wildly up front (high/low strobe, not relentless disco strobe) with another 300 lumens of halogen photons for good measure. Black-into-white relfective tabs on my rims with DOT spoke-clingers to boot. Boy howdy, was I lit up this morning.

I agree. Anyone on a bike looks like a freaking dork to anyone that's NOT on a bike. Why not just go ahead and dork it up some more?

O. T. said...

My goal is to look Christmas Tree-ish..

Anonymous said...

so, you're saying that my commute this morning in the rain, with one hand on the handlebar, and the other holding a black umbrella, in my 3 piece black suit, and riding my black bike ... was a bad idea?