Doors make better windows

A commonly shared fear of the cyclist in the city is the ubiquitous driver’s side car door. My recent run-in (literally) with one such door indicates that my fear is not unfounded in New West.

City cyclists share a common fear of being 'doored' (accidentally crashing into an open car door). Photo: Wikimedia Commons
City cyclists share a common fear of being 'doored' (accidentally crashing into an open car door). Photo: Wikimedia Commons

From a cyclist’s perspective, the car door is an unpredictable hazard—every parked car we pass may contain a driver (or passenger) with one hand on the latch and the other grabbing keys, parking meter change, wallet, purse, badminton birdie, etc. In that crucial moment our safety rests in the hand on the latch, depending on a message from a pair of eyes that shoulder check, or at least check mirrors, before giving the all clear to swing an anchored, edgy steel object into our narrow path of travel.

There are measures bike riders can take to protect themselves. Visibility probably has the most impact (in preventing the most impacts). Bright, flashing, headlights work well at night, as does reflective and brightly coloured clothing. Bikesense.bc advises: ride in a straight line, stay alert and ride no closer that one metre from parked cars.

Section 203 of the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act states: A person must not open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so.” This information has value to drivers, who may not know that the law is not likely to favor their decision to open a door that in turn meets a conveyance. I compare this to a rear-ender: generally, the courts will rule that a vehicle that rear-ends a vehicle in front is 100 per cent at fault. In our scenario, the door is the rear-ender.

My collision resulted in some scrapes and bruises and the cost of a new bike wheel. If I had been moving faster it could have been much worse. What I’ve taken from this is that a degree of my safety lies in the hands of my fellow citizen, and that I can only control my own actions. I wanted to raise this discussion with drivers, not because I blame drivers for being irresponsible or inconsiderate of cyclists, but because cyclists rely on you to take that extra effort and time to check. I wanted to remind cyclists that caution is your best defence and that drivers are human. I’m sure few of us cyclists who are also drivers can guarantee we made a full shoulder check before opening every door in our driving history.

Both parties benefit from considering of the situation of the other, so next time your hand is on the latch, please remember the cyclist. When biking: stay alert and visible, use the one metre rule, slow down when passing parked cars, take the lane when needed (there is less risk of collision and injury if you signal and move safely into the car lane, than riding too close to the parked car because the street is narrow) and be aware that the law may protect our rights, but cannot remove the risk of injury.

Travis is a bicycle mechanic for New West Cycle and an advocate for bike riding as exercise, green transportation, and fun.

New West bike n’ dine

New Westminster can be a tough customer for a cyclist! There’s a reason they call it uptown. So how can the average rider find a comfortable route from downtown to uptown? Frequent rest stops for snacks and beverages at the local eateries, of course!

Photo: communitywalk.com
Photo: communitywalk.com

Begin by trundling your faithful two-wheeled friend to Theresa Mae’s for a hearty slice of toasted fresh baked bread with all day breakfast or soup and sandwich. Heading east, our attention turns to coffee— nature’s ally to the uphill challenged. Staying on Carnarvon, The Hide Out Cafe is a short push up at #716.

Nourished and energized, you’re off to take a chunk out of that hill, and your carbs. Continue on Carnarvon to 6th street, turn left and head up to Clancy’s, to responsibly enjoy a Dead Frog while trivializing, then back to the ride.

Fed, caffeinated, and slightly numbed, you are ready to take on the longest segment of your route, from #140 to 620 6th Street. The sting of hill-climbing will subside with the rising view of The Orange Room on your left, across from the Legion.

You’ve arrived! From old downtown to less-old uptown, your final reward of The Orange Room’s tasty tapas will surely make the arduous climb worth the effort.

From here the choice is yours, but I recommend the same in reverse. Well, ok, not everyone enjoys riding backwards, but the downhill route is just as tasty!

‘Seamless’ integration of bicycles with transit – when?

One of the strategies resulting from the Translink Regional Cycling Strategy Stakeholder Workshop Summary held April 6, 2009, was to “make bicycle-transit interaction convenient, seamless and intuitive.” Good strategy, but what is being done to realize it?

services_bike_lightrail
Light rail cars in The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) can carry six bikes. Photo: VTA.org

I don’t mind carrying my bike up and down stairs or using the elevator, but if there is a more convenient way, I support it! Seamless, well that is a worthy goal! Wouldn’t it be cool to ride your bike right onto the train? I admit that’s overkill, but seamless … I like the sound of that.

Intuitive … hmmm … I intuit riding to the station, dismounting, following the bicycle symbols down a ramp to the platform and boarding the car that is marked with bicycle symbols, where I hang my front wheel from a hook where a dozen or so other bikes are hanging. I then join fellow cyclists seated at the front of the car to chat about the freedom from the stress, cost, and general lack of well-being (for the earth and its beings) generated when commuting by car.

Results do not always align with strategy. Some of the best laid plans reach unimagined destinations. This is reasonable and sometimes unavoidable. My question to TransLink is: what are you doing to implement your strategy?

Since the workshop mentioned earlier, I have witnessed two occurrences of the suspension of the policy of allowing bikes on trains. One was the closure of the Patullo Bridge, and the other was the Olympics. I understand and even support them both (personally I never considered going near a SkyTrain station during the Olympics, and the bridge was an unplanned emergency. Ideal or not, some decisions must be made hastily).

(Note: If accused of misdirecting my question, I confess my guilt. In my defence, I have posed it on three occasions through the Regional Cycling Strategy Public Consultation page, once on January 20, 2010 and twice since.)

On April 6, 2009, TransLink established a forward-thinking strategy to welcome a form of supplemental transportation that has so much to offer. It is now the anniversary of that occasion, and whether the Patullo Bridge closure and the Olympics were valid reasons to suspend that welcome, my unchanged question is: what is being done to transform the “strategy” into reality?

Cycling with the dog

Riding with a dog can be fun and easy, providing you are confident with your riding skills, but there are unique challenges. For instance, how do you keep an excitable 60lb American Staffordshire Terrier from pulling you a) into traffic b) off your bike c) into a lamp post, or d) with him after the nearest squirrel? These are good questions, and what follows should provide some useful tips, or a forum for you to share your own bike-with-dog experiences.

Cycling with the dog
Cycling with the dog. Photo: Travis Fehr

First, any dog/human activity depends on the type of training or guidance you practice. The methods I use are based on working with my dog to build a relationship based on trust, not obedience or dominance. I recommend visiting the Custom Canine site for further information on this type dog guidance. The specific recommendations below are the result of my own experience riding with my dog.

  1. Start slow. Find a place to practice that is flat, with no or very little traffic. An empty parking lot or ball park works well.
  2. Choose the right bike. Without control of your bike, you cannot protect the safety of yourself, your dog, or anyone else. Mountain bikes are designed for control in technical terrain, and may be the best option.
  3. Choose the right harness or collar. A face collar, or Halti, provides the most dog control in any situation, which is a safety necessity if your dog’s self control is temporarily absent.
  4. Choose the right leash. The leash should be short enough so that you can reel your dog in beside you at a moment’s notice, but not so short that it interferes with your steering or pedaling.
  5. Fasten the leash around your waist. With a Halti, the dog cannot use his full strength to pull. Even a strong puller like my Amstaff causes no more interference with my steering than a mild gust of wind, when the leash is attached to my waist.
  6. Stop. When things seem out of control, too fast, or at all sketchy, brake.
  7. Be visible. The usual visibility rules apply: reflective strips, vests, headlights, and taillights. Adding reflective material is just as effective with your dog.
  8. Call out turns and stops. I let my dog know that I plan to turn by saying “left turn”, “right turn”. I use “whoa” for stops. He can tell when I’m slowing down or when the front wheel starts to veer around a bend, but the oral cues give him some advance warning. His understanding of the cues develops with repetition.
  9. Anticipate problems. If your dog has a tendency to lunge, keep a lookout for the usual targets, i.e.; other dogs, cats, etc. At these times I wrap the leash around my forearm to shorten it and bring the dog close alongside the bike, while firming my hold of the grips with two fingers on each brake, staying focused on steering.

These practices work for my rides with my dog, allowing us to exercise together regularly. They are not meant to be a complete guide to cycling with a dog, but if you want to give it a try, they should at least give you the chance to determine whether it is right for you and your canine companion.

Travis Fehr works at New West Cycle, New West’s newest bike shop. New West Cycle is a community-oriented co-op specializing in reviving neglected and vintage bicycles.

Fixed gear—fad or for real?

Photo: Geoffrey Badner
Photo: Geoffrey Badner

Certain bicycle enthusiasts heartwarmingly espouse the merits of riding fixed gear. They speak of purity, simplicity, fun, fitness, and oneness with the bike and the road. Their followers sometimes ask me if I can convert an older road bike into a fixed gear. My answer is: yes, but have you considered single speed? Often their reply is “single speed?, yeah, that’s what I want, a fixie”.

To briefly outline, fixed gear refers to the original incarnation of bicycle pedal power. The pedals never stop moving, and neither do your legs. Whether powering up 1st street or sailing down 7th ave, your feet will be rotating along with the crankarms. As you can imagine, effort will be exerted not only when climbing, but also when descending. That’s okay, though, because effort is what bike riding is about, right? I mean, what is biking without physical exertion? Motorcycling? Perhaps the distinction between bicycle and motorcycle is the subject of a future post. For this post, my question is: why pedal madly down a hill, when a freewheel/hub/cassette provides a carefree coast?

After commuting through a couple of wet winters in New West, I was annoyed with the maintenance requirements of my gearing (okay, I was too lazy to clean the gunk off once a week), and decided to exchange the ease of hill climbing and speed on flats and descents, for the simple commitment of riding in the same gear, up, down, wet, or windy. My conversion was simple. Retaining the existing freehub, I shortened the chain to fit from the middle front ring to the third smallest rear cog, ditched both deraillers, shifters, and all their cables. My ride was cleansed! My sore knees soon coaxed me to get off my butt on the ascents, where previously I would have sat back with ol’ granny (the easy gear) for a spell. Feeling “less than Lance” on the flat stretch of Marine Way to Market Crossing, I discovered the peacefully tranquil ride through the countryside between 22nd st. station and Byrne Road. Overall, it’s been a happy transition.

I have not experienced oneness with the bike and the road, and my lack of experience riding a fixed gear may be the reason. I just can’t swallow the absence of coasting! Earned by pushing through tough climbs, heavy winds, and sprinting to make a green light, coasting is my reward. My primary ride (The Beast), is a single speed, and I truly appreciate the simplicity of riding without the need to shift gears. Until you’ve tried it, you cannot know the relief of never needing to gear down to prepare for an ascent, trim your friction lever, or deal with a chain falling off. My single speed is one gear that my body is used to, and it gets me from downtown to uptown and cruises at scenery-enjoying speed along Columbia Street.

So it seems I am a hypocrite (the case more often as I age—I happily accomodate conflicting viewpoints, as long as they support my needs). I claim that single speed can only be appreciated once you’ve tried it, but reject fixed gear out of hand. I promote single speed to those who are frustrated with the distracting maintainence and attention required by gears, yet I resist the true purist’s ride: fixed gear. I suppose I owe it to myself to resist my resistance, and expand my pedal prowess. For now, I’ll just coast.

Though spattered with ‘essence of bike,’ smile on

This is a guest post by Travis Fehr from New West Cycle, New West’s newest bike shop. New West Cycle is a community-oriented co-op specializing in reviving neglected and vintage bicycles.

Photo: Bernat Casero
Photo: Bernat Casero

As a home and part time bicycle mechanic, bicycle enthusiast, bike commuter, and believer in all things pedal-powered, I have come to rely on some practical and social practices that make my ride safer and more enjoyable.

One that I would particularly like to share is this: be nice.

Bike riders are a rugged, lonely, and sometimes maligned minority. The sideline is often where we ride, and so it follows that our presence can seem sidelined. One positive way to make your presence known is to think of yourself as an ambassador to the community of cyclists. For example, when a driver stops to let you cross the street, after the five previous have driven through your crossing without a glance, give a friendly nod, smile, wave, or some similar courteous gesture. The message will go to everyone within viewing distance that you are there and are friendly. Believe it or not, we can be intimidating with our chiseled quads and fiercely determined grimace, spattered with “essence of bike”.

There are of course different approaches to making our presence known, accepted, and respected. I am not dissuading bicyclists from using other methods, or claiming that this one will achieve the best results. I am suggesting this as a way to shed a positive light on our image, and I think you’ll find, like I have, that smiling while riding is not only a good way to make friends, but helps remind you of what you love about bike riding.

Besides, the bugs in your teeth nourish you with energizing protein!