Bicycle Urbanism


“Get up off the couch,” or “Leave the keys and grab a helmet,” or “if you think you can’t, you’re right!” linger along the trail of taking the road less active. Finding a way to motivate ourselves to do something, anything, that resists the steady force against our health and well being does not come naturally. Yet, setting a goal, even a small one can make a difference.

A friend brought a ride to my attention that occurs in my home town of Pittsburgh, PA called the “Dirty Dozen.” The approximately 45 mile ride encompassing 13 of the steepest of Pittsburgh’s streets, thus the name. The ride began in 1983 with three guys, one of whom had the bodacious goal of riding a million miles in his lifetime.Since then, two of the three have dropped out. The numbers of riders has grown and now is a staple of the rides around Pittsburgh. So, the challenge began. I started a weekly ride to build up my “hill” riding in August. That gives me about 15 training rides up one of the steeper hills near my home. Not really enough. So I started looking into what might also help. Swimming laps? Strength exercises? More rides? All of these would help in one way or another. The ultimate benefit comes form getting in better shape and feeling better. The best side effects one can ask for anytime!

“Are you crazy? I could never do something like that!” I am no Lance Armstrong when it comes to bicycling. Eccentric and adventurous, yet not a powerhouse by any means. What the ride means to me, besides having fun riding around the city I grew up in, is that it gets me going each week with a focus on getting a bit healthier.

I accomplished riding the length of the Mississippi River after a friend suggested I join him. We did it in a few segments to avoid riding in the extreme heat of the summer. The segment that we did in the fall, St. Louis to New Orleans arrived only six weeks after a hernia operation. I climbed out of the patient cellar, inching my way back to health when the date arrived to start our ride. Six weeks I cajoled my body in any way that I could to willfully get back into riding shape. I know of people trying to accomplish a similar goal after heart surgery, knee operations, and other physical calamities. It never ceases to amaze me what people bounce back from when they set their minds to it.

These are lofty goals? Sure. They dramatize the fact that wherever you are starting from, be it a hip replacement, a lengthy spell of inactivity due to work, family, or life, or other life challenge, set a goal, a mark, an event, or a destination. I want to ride until I am 93. Many people ask why 93? Mostly because it is out far enough in the future that I remind myself that it is good to get out and ride. Yes, so that I can stay healthy enough to get to 93. I might be riding an adult trike at that point, and that is just fine. Something about keep moving to stay alive fuels that ambition.

People go looking for a bike at a rummage sale because somewhere in the recesses of the mind they believe that getting on a bike and getting active will do them some good. Destinations help to remind us to get going in some form or fashion. A gentleman bought a used three speed to mount on a stationary trainer so that he could ride in the winter to help trim off some weight and help his knee heal. More people find that a daily bike ride helps improve their outlook, gets them around people, and feel a bit healthier. Riding bike to school with a young person, riding towpath a friend to coffee, or riding to run an errand all make for a bit healthier outlook. I met a young man who experiencing some medical and emotional challenges, got back on his back and lost almost 60 pounds. Now he rides most days to keep it off. He inspires me. Go ahead set a goal for yourself and do something to make it happen! Post it, take a photo and Facebook it, let others know. You will inspire others! 


March is National Women’s Month. Based partially on Women’s History, this came about in 1988. Reaching back to the turn of the century, women suffragettes- Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony attributed the bicycle to be the greatest influence on the emancipation of women.

Amelia Bloomer, the namesake of the 1800’s women’s pants that were often referred to as “Bloomers” made dress reform a major part of her work to move women from dresses and skirts to pants for bicycling.

Annie “Londenderry” Kopchovsky responded to a challenge by two men when they bet that no woman could encircle the globe on a bicycle while earning $5,000 along the way. She neither rode bike, nor was a advocate for women’s rights, yet she tackled this venture on a 42 lb. Columbia bicycle, taking 15 months to complete a round the globe trip starting and finishing in Boston, MA. Thus transformed, she became a spokesperson for both women’s rights and cycling. According to the New York World, she left an immeasurable impact on the attitudes about women.

Kittie Knox, a bi-racial seamstress, cyclist,  and card carrying member of the League of American Wheelmen, caused a real uproar in 1894 after the League declared a color bar. Knox responded by getting on her bike, entering the racially segregated social space, and forcing the issue to be addressed. She broke ground for both blacks and women, challenging perceptions of both blacks and women.

Maria Ward wrote the guide book, “Bicycling for Ladies” in 1896. Ward’s goal in writing the guide was to free women from reliance on men for maintaining their bicycles. The emancipation that she provided broadened the notion of the mechanical abilities of women. certainly someone who had mastered domestic mechanical skills such as sewing, could conquer the bike maintenance world, held distinctly by men at the time. Her opinion is summed up in the statement she made, ” I hold that any woman who is able to use a needle and scissors can use other tools equally well.”

In 1928, five women rode from New York to Washington, D.C. in three days! Marylou Jackson, Velma Jackson, Ethyl Miller, Leolya Nelson, and Constance White completed the 250 mile trek. While it is safe to assume that they had some time in the saddle, were physically in good shape, they confidently made their way. The first day they rode 110 miles to Philadelphia. The second they rode 40 miles to Wilmington< DE. The third day they rode 100 miles to Washington, D.C. How impressive is that!

During the first half of the 20th Century, Katherine Hepburn stood out as a dedicated cyclist. In her youth she rode around town regularly. She rode around the Warner Brothers lot, as well as pretty much everywhere she went. She rode most days after working a rigorous early portion of her day. Hepburn lived to be a healthy 96 yrs old due to her active lifestyle!

Joining the League of American Bicyclists in 1937, Phyllis Harmon as a member of the Evanston Bicycle Toruing Club. She published the league’s bulletin/newsletter. She became the first payed employee of the League in 1972 and the executive director until 1975. She has been indicted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. She is considered to be the Grand Dame of Chicago Cycling.

During World War II, Ellen Fletcher escaped Germany and worked in a factory in London. She biked to her job everyday. Moving on to Palo Alto, CA she became a tireless advocate for bicycle infrastructure improvements. She worked on the first bike lanes leading a fight to establish green lanes to connect schools, parks, and neighborhoods in the city. She pioneered the first bike boulevard in the U.S.in 1973 as chairperson for the Citizen’s Technical Advisory Committee on bicycling.

Since the late 1990’s, Deb Hubsmith came into the national spotlight as the founder and director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. She stepped into this role after losing her car in a crash. She swore she would never buy another. She went on to build the national partnership, starting in her hometown of Marin, CA.

Many other women have exacted influence on the social and physical fabric of our world. Hoping that with insights into what these women have done for cycling in the U.S., you may be inspired in some way.

Today, approximately 45 million women ride at least one or more times throughout the year, as compared to 59 million men. Twenty-nine million women ride strictly for recreation. About three million ride fro transportation. Fourteen and a half million ride for both recreation and transportation. More women ride that also have children, 32% versus 19% of women without children. Interestingly, fewer women than men have a working bicycle available to them at home. (55% of men versus 47% of women). Boys and girls start out riding equally as often at the age of 10, but by the time they reach 55, the gap really widens, women really falling off where riding is concerned. Overall, though, women ride way more than what might be more commonly perceived as compared with men. People for Bikes, 2015) Women now have taken over as the fastest growing segment of bicycle sales in many markets.

 

 

 


If you live, breathe, and ride a bicycle you have thought about keeping your bicycle and gear secure. Not enough can be said concerning this costly and intrusive problem.  Differing pockets of thievery exist, yet the overall statistic nationally shows bike theft dropping, at least according to the FBI.  The change that has the biggest impact on this problem comes with the price tag of the bikes being heisted. Yup, the average price tag over the past 10 years or so has risen from $499 to $714 in 2014. No matter the statistics, a bike theft always stinks!   What can be done? Lots!

-Think security and consider preventative medicine – three things:

  • Take a digital photo of your bicycle,
  • get it licensed-either locally or with the National Bike Registry. It usually costs next to zip to register your bike.
  • Lock, lock,lock it up! The rule of thumb here- add the cost of a bike locking system to the overall price tag of the bicycle. The price of security should be commensurate with the price tag of the bicycle. The standard security system now includes both a cable and U-Lock or Link Plate Lock.
  • Optional might be to add a GPS tracker to your bike. The SPOT and Helios Bar are two types out on the market today.

Two types of theft occur- opportunistic and professional. Deterring the snatching of your bike is the goal of your security system . When it comes to opportunistic theft, a person might be prowling or walking by a bike left in front of a store or home with the idea that the rider/owner might be running in for something. Bikes disappear in seconds, literally! I hear about thefts and it really happens quick.  One person just bought a new -to- them bicycle, parked it in front of their apartment, ran in to get a lock and came out to an empty space. Never saw the bicycle again. Professional thieves know how to prowl carefully. Keep this in mind- if you post your rides on social media, pros can watch where you end up a ride and go to that spot in search of a target bike. They scan neighborhoods for garage doors that are open to see where bikes might lurk for the taking. Avoid leaving your garage open when not in use. Lock your bicycle up in your garage.

Locks– remember they deter thefts, not necessarily prevent them.

  • A cable can work as a deterrent for the opportunistic theft, but will not do anything for a professional effort.
  • Double or triple locking methods prove to be most effective.
  • Keep in mind that you want to park bicycles near other bikes. Trees prove to be much less secure (and you can end up killing them) than metal racks.
  • How you lock up your bike makes a difference also. Maneuver the bike lock so as to give as little possible room for a bar to get in and snap a u-lock.
  • Use a u-lock for the rear wheel and frame and a cable to lock up the wheel to the u-lock.

Around the city of La Crosse, WI, Dr. James Longhurst advocates for better locking by using social media and photos to”grade” locking jobs. “I really want the people who rely on their bikes to get around to avoid getting their freedom and mobility taken from them. That means getting lots of good racks installed in places of work, setting good examples of locking, and more.”  Check out “Hal’s Grading on Locking Bikes” for further tips on locking your bike.

What types of locks to buy/use:  The On-Guard or Kryptonite U-lock is usually regarded as the more secure. Each lock should have a security rating on the package. The folding link plate lock is a bit  more compact and easier to carry and it  also comes with a slightly higher security rating than a u-lock. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-The U-lock also comes in narrower sizes, so pick one that will allow you to park a bike in a safe location. If your lock is too short and can not reach the parking rack, then leaving a bike out in the open with just a lock on it is close to not locking it at all.

-Another lock option is the NYC chain link lock. A pic is shown on the page. The lock and links are heavy duty and not too easy to cut. Heavy to lug around though. These do make for more accessible parking options as the chain can stretch a bit further.  So, be comprehensive when buying and using a bike security system.

The last item to consider might be a tracking device. Spot is a GPS tracking device that can be mounted on your bicycle. Alerts are generated if the bike moves at all. The other option might be a Helios Bar.  Bike NYC posted a pic of the Helios Bar. They include a GPS tracker also.

Bike theft takes ALL users to be more diligent.

  • Having licensing rallies,
  • getting the word out more,
  • getting thefts reported regardless if the victim considers it a waste of time are all actions we can take.
  • Remember that a license can be a deterrent, especially if parked next to a bike that is NOT licensed or locked.
  • When you walk or ride somewhere and find an unlocked or poorly locked bike, step up and admonish the owner to lock their bike.
  • Start a bike lock library at a local school. Make it a bit easier for students to secure their bikes, no matter the age.
  • Offer little education sessions at public events.
  • Advocate for better parking accommodations in your local jurisdiction.
  • Use social media to post stolen bikes.
  • Get a neighborhood watch going for bike thefts. Post signs as such.
  • Have local schools write PSA announcements and get the local radio stations to air them as a public service. The more publicity on this topic, the better we can start to stem the tide of thefts.

Let us all do our part to fight bike theft by doing our part – license, lock, and photograph each bike we own is a great start.

 


With Autumn comes shorter daylight hours and more people running, walking, and pedaling in the darker hours. Dusk in September happens to be one of the times with higher rates of statistical injuries for bicyclists and pedestrians. Part of this is due to students heading back to school, also, visibility changes as light diminishes and this is not to be taken “lightly.” (pun intended) You might stop reading here if you came only to find out about lighting for biking or walking/running. Being seen will make all the difference in your safety and the focus of this writing.

First, consider what visibility means. Visibility is the state of being seen or the ability to be seen. The distance that one can see or be seen, as in the airplane’s visibility is 2 miles. Other definitions pertaining to popularity will be left alone. When considering visibility at night for the physically active at that time, let us use the first two definitions. When low level energy lighting, such as street lights, flashlights, and car lights hit material that is reflective, the light goes in many directions, some of which come back to the person observing, as in the diagram, but not much.

On the other hand, reflective material called Retroreflectors bounce all the light back to the source. Retroreflectors are objects and materials designed to reflect. If you wear materials not designed to be reflective, the material absorbs the energy of the light or it sends it off in many directions away from the source of the light as in the diagram above which means that you become more visible.

 

Scientific American published Being Seen in the Dark, writing “Humans “see” when light that reflects off of objects reaches our eyes. Some colors send more light back so we see them better. For example, brightly colored objects reflect more light than dark-colored objects do. Fluorescent objects send out visible light when high-energy light shines onto them. Retro-reflective material—often referred to as reflective material, used on road signs and some safety gear, for example—bounces back almost all of the light that shines onto it.”

The main point is that being visible takes more than considerations for what you wear for colors. Black at night might be a cool design choice, a lot of runners and walkers really gravitate to black tights and workout clothes, it is not helping you be visible at all. Certainly brighter colors at night will help. Keep in mind that these will NOT make you visible from any real distance. The next step to take is wearing something that is RETROREFLECTIVE. Retroreflective differs greatly from being “Shiny.”  Retroreflectors are so much a part of everyday life that typically they don’t attract much attention. But they attract plenty of attention while driving at night, when they seem to be almost everywhere. They’re incorporated into the taillights of vehicles, safety barriers, traffic signs, and the painted stripes that separate lanes of traffic. (Learn more about how to make retroreflectors at MAKEZINE.com.  One type of material that is used for road signs and garments fall into the category of micro prisms. You can turn materials into retroreflectors by attaching fine glass beads ( sand like size) to material. The tiny glass beads become quite reflective.

Many options exist from small to large materials and add-ons. BEtabrand makes flashback Photobombed Hoodie coated with glass nano spheres and advertises how it transforms iPhone pictures. That may be a bit exotic. Several sources carry orange and day glow yellow clothing tape that can be stitched on to jackets, sleeves, and pant legs. . How about reflective vests and bands? A simple band that goes around shoulders and the waist. Women’s vests fit differently and cover more of the torso than the belts/bands. 

 

With the most brilliant being the RICO LED band.

 

 

This is a high visibility adjustable band with built in LED’s.

 Other options include DeFeet’s reflective touch gloves fro runners and bicyclists. These are a mid-weight knit glove that makes turning signals more visible. To top off the list consider adjustable bands for arms, ankles, legs, and wrists. Keeping lights on your bike and person can help you be seen as well as help you to be seen. Strobe lights can be great for this purpose, both at night and during the day. Some locations may have ordinances on strobe lights, but most places they remain legal.

Last, make being visible fun. Stop by a local department store/men’s mall for some battery operated holiday lights. Drape these over the frame of your bike. Commercially made bike lighting exists to add a little bedazzle to your ride. The Monkey Light M204 bike wheel light operates at 40 lumens, 4 LED’s, full color in 5 themes, is water proof, and can be seen in 360 degrees from your bike. Each light runs $25-30.00. Sunlite makes a similar option for 700c – 29″ wheels with 2 modes, water resistant design, and easy to install for a bit less at $15-20.00. Both setups use AA batteries that last up 40 hrs.

If you still have questions, check out your local running shop or bike shop for more ideas and answers. Stay off the injury statistics by taking plenty of precautions. Hard to over due it!


Whether walking or bicycling, Fall weather changes the game. I think of it as “options.” In other words, what apparel and equipment creates more options for me to walk or ride. The saying goes, “There is not bad weather, just bad clothing choices!” Take a light for instance. With the onset of daylight savings time, light becomes scarce. Purchasing a headlamp creates more options to ride. Getting a good enough light to see where you are going really makes a difference. Some of the best landscape scenes can be found in October and November. November sun sets take some planning as you need to make sure you beat it out of work to get to a decent location before the sun light disappears. November sunsets over water can not be beat for color and beauty. Deep satisfaction can be found when dressed appropriately, you can defy nature to stay warm and dry while being active out of doors!

Keep in mind that a good light is not just about seeing but BEING SEEN! It is not uncommon to see someone duct tape a flashlight to a bike or be carried while walking. These can work for seeing where you walk but do nothing to help you be seen.  According to Popular Mechanics’ article on Best Commuter Lights, “…whereas bike lights are designed to do both. Flashlights disperse light in long, narrow streams, from a source that is mostly stationary, in order to create a pinpoint of light. Headlights are made to illuminate a wider path to help you see and be seen. And they also have blinking patterns for better visibility. Some flashlights will have blinking modes, but they won’t have blink-and-illuminate modes that keep you visible and illuminating the road ahead. Ultimately, it’s possible that a flashlight could do a decent job of helping you see and making you visible, but a good bike light—particularly one that we recommend—absolutely will exceed in both respects.” You can read more on what makes for a good headlight in that same article.

Adding lights on your jacket, belt, backpack, will also help to keep you safer. Your apparel makes a difference. Purchase yourself a laminated vest, runners belt, or other high vis outer garment. The simplest one I found is like the old badge belts the student patrols wore who worked the intersections near school in fifth grade to help walkers navigate the streets when leaving school. These high vis belts can be worn for any activity at any time of day or night. Read more about running belts at “Visibility| Running belts.” The worst color to wear during the day is white and the worst at night is black. You can remedy avoiding a wardrobe rebuild by just purchasing a belt or vest to cover what you have chosen for your active wear.

With Fall weather, expect rain. While an umbrella can easily remedy an active walk, bicycling can prove a bit more of a challenge. I experienced this riding for 4.5 out of 5 days along a trek to traverse the Mississippi River a few years ago. I did pretty well, but my hands and feet were left out of being provided for and I vowed never again. I purchased a low cost helmet cover. They are worth the price. IF you google “cycling helmet covers” you can access a variety of brands and prices. Next I used a Showers Pass jacket. I have others over the years, but none as dry and durable as Showers Pass. Check out your local bike shop or check them out online at https://www.showerspass.com.  Ponchos can be very useful if you use a backpack to transport your “stuff” around. They work well with short trips. They can cut costs and help you create more options to ride.

Fenders not only help with rain and wet snow, but they also keep dirt and debris from kicking up off the road or trail. Basic fenders  such as Planet Bike Hardcore Fenders, that include a mudflap, work great. Made  from lightweight, durable Superflex polycarbonate  material that can take a good bit of abuse. You can also add steel or aluminum fenders. Longboard fenders reach further down to the road to keep more wet and debris from kicking up onto the rider. The only draw back for longboards that I am aware of comes when you ride in places with lots of loose leaves or twigs. They tend to kick up and get caught between the wheel and fender causing you to stop and pull them out. The other alternatives include mudflap type fenders that clip on to the seat post and hang out over the wheel to deflect mud and water. Portland Designs sells a metal fender that run closer to $100 or more. Velo Orange sells a stainless steel fender. You can go all out with fenders or get something basic. For the thrifty, take a regular poly fender with mudflap extensions using plastic placemats or cutting sheets that can be purchased cheaply at a local Goodwill and then cut to shape and size to be zip tied to the bottom of the fender and VOILA! longboards!

For versatility, rain pants really go a long way to help with commuting. Craft, Shows Pass, and others make acceptable quality rain pants. Be sure to include a clasp of some sort at the ankle that can cover enough so as not to allow water to run down into your socks or shoes. Rain pants can be worn four seasons. They work well in winter to cut down on snow, cold, and keep dress pants clean. I have ridden down to -15 F with just dress pants and rain pants over top for short commutes.

Gloves protect your hands from both cold and water/rain. Check out Gore fabric gloves. Keeping your hands clean, dry, and warm makes a huge difference in the commuting efforts.

Footwear opens up lots of options. You can use a quality boot such as Redwings from early Fall to early Spring. Use a good water proofing on the leather and you can withstand most conditions. Purchasing a boot for covering your bike shoes also works. Showers Pass makes a waterproof bootie. These are a little harder to find, as people tend more to opt out of rain commutes and thus the market is not to big. Yet, its about options right?! You can easily cover your work shoes, dress shoes, or cycling shoes and go, no matter the precipitation!

I recommend adding 100 polar fleece to your commuting gear. The material is lightweight, wicking, and thermal enough to help you stay comfortable in cool morning rides. Add one in the morning under a lightweight wind breaker and remove it for the armer afternoon commute home. Easy to pack, easy to maintain, and can even act as a “sweater” at work.

If you don’t have budget for quality rain pants, check out shops like TJ Max, Old Navy, or other department stores for wind pants. I use a $10 pair of wind pants form Old Navy for a few years now. Gear does not have to cost an arm and a log, you just have to pay your shopping dues to keep an eye out for possibilities.

Carrying your necessities on a bike poses a bit of a problem. I swear by a good waterproof pannier bag with a strong clipping mechanism for your rack, whether front or back. I definitely recommend Ortliebs. While expensive, they are workhorses. after wrestling with cheap[er bags that would consistently fall off during commutes when I hit bumps, I will not go back from Ortlieb’s great locking mechanism. They easily adjust to different rack sizes. They also have a locked, removable rack bag that is both waterproof and easy to carry with a shoulder strap. I used them to carry a six pack for a picnic, with ice they kept beverages cold for 3 hours in high summer temps!

Keep in mind that BEING VISIBLE is an important motto for commuting, whether walking or riding. It is all about OPTIONS to do what you would like when the weather and nature does not cooperate!