Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bicycle Safety 101: Riding in the Rain

It's cold and wet today. Not the kind of day that inspires bike riding. To help focus some gloomy weekend weather blues, I've got a few tips about riding in wet weather. Rain doesn't deter the hard-core riders, and, with a little preparation, it doesn't have to stop you, too. There are some key things to remember:
  1. Be smart. Sometimes it's just too dang wet to ride. Ever come to a sliding stop on wet pavement? Brakes don't work the same way when it's wet out. It's better to be safe than sorry, so, sometimes it's best to put the bike up for another day. If you're stuck, phone a friend, catch a bus, hail a taxi, walk or use an emergency ride home program that your employer might have available to you.
  2. Use your lights. In previous posts, I've talked about the importance of front and rear lights to be seen. Especially when riding in mixed-traffic in poor weather, lights are used to be seen and not as much as to see. Wearing reflective material is another way to increase your visibility to others on the road in adverse weather. When rain, snow, fog or other weather conditions hit, flip on those lights!
  3. Have rain gear. Usually I'm not all about having "gear" to ride, but having a rain jacket will keep you dry. Bring an extra pair of shoes and socks if you'll be at your destination for a while. If you're really committed to all-weather riding, rain pants are also a good investment. With a little foresight, arriving to your destination drenched can be avoided.
  4. Have plastic bags on hand. Plastic bags are versatile, easy to keep on hand and are a cyclists best friend in keeping things dry. Putting a plastic bag over a bike seat will keep it dry even in the hardest of downpours. Reusing the grocery store plastic bags have been a life saver for me! They can also be used to cover electronics, clothes and other things you might stash in a bag and bring with you while you're out and about. Think about keeping a few of these on hand in a desk, jacket or bag.
Over the years, I have ridden to work in the rain, but not always. I keep an eye on the weather, and have a flexible attitude toward my decision to ride. These tips can help you be better prepared to handle wet weather and bike riding. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Do safety vests make bike riding normal?

I've been riding my bike to work since 2006, and since 2010 in the Upstate. That's seven years of bike riding on a daily basis.

In previous posts, I talked about riding my bike experiences in Madison, Wisconsin. Bike lanes, shared roadways and paths galore. Not to mention many good places to lock your bike. Bike riding there, especially in downtown, was common, understood and even perceived as expected in some crowds. The role and place of bike was a growing part of the local community culture and landscape.

Riding 'round here, the wearing of my "super nerd" safety vest has come and gone in fits and starts. It's a love/hate relationship. I want to ride my bike (for a variety of reasons), but the route I ride on isn't the safest. Since I want to feel comfortable and relaxed, I think about sporting the neon, reflecting safety vest. I may feel safe, but wearing the safety vest with front and back lights going does nothing for my desire to feel and make bike riding normal. Nothing says "I-know-I-might-be-the-only-cyclist-on-the-road-but-I'm-here-so-please-don't-hit-me.-I'm-doing-my-best-to-be-visible" like a safety vest. Increased visibility to be safer, One. Normal bike riding experience, Zero.

I recently went back to riding in a pair of older khaki pants and ditched the spandex, for the sake of appearing more normal when I ride. I have taken to wearing a nice coat (and not a racing jacket) when I bike to meetings for my job. I'm making personal decisions that demonstrate that folks can get on a bike without the need to invest in a new wardrobe. So, does infrastructure influence the ability for biking to become normal, safe and an every day activity?

I think so. In Madison, I didn't need my super nerd vest in many places because there were places to ride that were safe and comfortable. All kinds of people wore every day clothing and took to the streets daily. In the Upstate, I bring my vest wherever I bring my bike in case I feel like I need that extra layer of "protection." (What I really feel like I need in some cases is bubble wrap!) How many people would like to ride but don't feel safe enough? If there's a need to wear lots of bright, reflective material for even short bike rides, I would argue that we're not (yet) doing enough to serve the needs of the biking community.

I can't wait for the day that I can put away my super nerd safety vest and feel comfortable wherever, whenever I ride.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Biking in Action

Over the last week, there have been several opportunities to talk about how bikes can play a role in our local communities. It has been pretty exciting to present these ideas to different groups and have a series of dialogues that will continue to influence how folks experience moving around the Upstate. Since it's been so much fun, I wanted to share these experiences.

There's been an increase in demand for parking in downtown Central, SC. On Monday, I briefly spoke to the Town of Central's Town Council about how bike racks can help alleviate that (great!) problem. Bike racks are a cost-effective way to establish a downtown (or any business, school or place) as a destination. One of the biggest barriers to having folks use their bike is the lack of safe, secure parking at either end of the trip. Install bike racks, and one major barrier is removed. Communities can continue to drive folks downtown by increasing accessibility beyond just having parking spaces for cars. Why not include parking spaces for bikes, too? Bike racks can compliment parking.

Earlier that same day I gave an informal presentation about how bikes are influencing the urban landscape to an architecture class at Clemson University. Talking about how putting in bike lanes, paths and bike racks create opportunities for more people to get out and have fun on a bike with a group of students was fun. The students had some engaging questions and shared a lot of good thoughts and ideas.

On Wednesday I gave a presentation on the bike plan at Clemson during the semester's first Sustainability Cafe'. There was some good discussion about what else is going on related to bikes on campus. Folks wanted to know if bike share was being considered, where are the preferred and not-so-appropriate places to park bikes and shared their experiences of bike riding. The Cafe' is a good place in academia for a cross-pollination of ideas. It provides exposure to ideas across disciplines. 

Later this month Clemson University will host a Sustainability Week. Please check out the website for more information. There will be opportunities related to bikes during the fair. Watch out for or check into the possibilities of a bike ride, bike tune ups and a 'bike' table at the Sustainability Fair on Friday from 11a - 2p.

It's been a fun to talk to the different groups, and I always look forward to talking about bikes with others. Look for ways and places to become a part of the conversation. Take part in whatever ways you can and put biking into action.