BikeCommuters.com

Basic Commuter Skills

My conversation with a Cop about bikes, traffic and safety tips

The other day I was having coffee with one of my friends who happens to be an Officer with a very large metropolitan police department. We’ll call him “Officer Ben.”I had some questions for him regarding laws that apply to bicyclists as well as safety tips. I figured he’d be a great source for this info since he’s on the streets. Some of the items listed below are things you might get a ticket for or suggestions on keeping you safe while riding.

1. Don’t ride the opposite direction of traffic.


2. Front head light.
This must be at least 300 feet visible. Rear red light that is visible at 500 feet.
-Reflectors are not sufficient
-Wear reflective clothing or high-visibility vests/shirts. Don’t wear dark clothing when riding at night.
-Pedals must have yellow, wheels/spokes with white, rear red and white front reflectors.
-Officer Ben recommends blinking lights to make you more visible to cars on the road.

3. Brakes
-All bicycles MUST have some sort of braking system. Fixie riders, if a cop pulls you over and your bike does not have some sort of brake setup, you will get a ticket. The argument that you can stop the bike with your legs or skip stopping will not fly.

4. Tall Bikes-As a bicyclist, you must be able to come to a stop and put one foot down.

5. Cell phone
-Remember, a bicycle is considered a “vehicle” and if you’re caught on your phone, it will yield the same fees as if you were driving a car while on the phone.

6. Traffic violations
-If you don’t stop at red lights, stop signs, erratic lane changes or any thing that shows you broke a law, a cop will pull you over.

7. Hand signals
-Remember to use your hand signals. A cop can pull you over if you aren’t using them. I may add that if you’re riding your bike, you make a lane change or turn and you don’t use the signals, which causes a car to swerve from hitting you, you could be cited.

8. Stereo
-If you’re one of those riders that like to blast their stereo while riding a bike and the noise volume can be heard 50 feet away, you can be cited.

9. Riding on the sidewalk without “due care.”
In California a law recently passed where it is permissible for a bicyclist to ride on the sidewalk with due care. This means if conditions on the street is unsafe to ride a bike, the person can use the sidewalk, but they have to be careful and be mindful of the people on it. You can’t be doing sprints on the sidewalk while there are hundreds of people walking on it.

10. Hands-You have to at least have ONE HAND on the handlebar at all times.


11. If a cop sees you’ve got a gun, you will be pulled over.


12. Look suspicious
-If you or your bike fits a description of a crime, you will be stopped.

13. Record your bike’s serial numbers.


14. Have pictures of you with your bike on your cell phone.
Have serial number(s) of your bikes on your phone.

15. Carry pepper spray on you or on your bike…you never know!


16. Have the number to PD’s Dispatch Department for each city you are commuting through on your cell phone.


17. Headphones
-If you have both ear buds in, you will get stopped. Best thing to do is either not ride with it or just have one ear bud on. It’s important that you hear emergency vehicles approaching.

18. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Be cautious.


19. Don’t start fights. It’s not worth it.


20. Don’t do anything stupid.

Well there you have it a list of 20 different things to help you avoid getting tickets and keeping you safe. I’d like to thank Officer Ben for taking the time to talk with us. Keep in mind, quite a bit of the things we mentioned has much to do with the individual Officer that pulls you over. Your attitude will also make a difference. I also have to mention, laws in each city and state are different. Some of the things I mentioned here could be totally legal in your city/state and vice versa. It pays to become familiar with the applicable laws in your locale — most are available online through your city’s/state’s government website. Be safe out there!

New Striping in the Bike Lane: friend or foe?

Construction season nears its end, and I’m noticing some new bike / ped lane striping going on in Chicago — along my commuting route! It’s awesome to see fresh new white lines and newly painted bike images in the bike lane.

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I took a photo of the crew painting the new bike markers in my lane during my morning commute; they were happy to pose for a photo op.
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The bright white stripe of demarcation is so much more visible at night and I have noticed that motorists do not encroach as much on my designated road space – at least they seem to notice the bike lane. Of course, that doesn’t keep me from moving beyond my narrow lane; if road conditions in the bike lane are hazardous or if a car is double-parked or there’s a threat of dooring, then I reserve my right to ride outside of the bike lane and to take the lane of motor vehicle traffic for my own safety.

I’ve heard the comments from some bicyclists who see striping as a concession to “the man” putting bikes in their place. I, however, welcome the simple white lane “buffer”. As Jack “Ghostrider” commented to me in our discussions of this post, “Yeah, I sort of like them myself…a bit of psychological buffer (“yay, my own private lane!” — and in Tampa, that was so true).” I do the same mental happy dance when I see this fresh paint – a fresh indication – to at least designate a lane and a place for bicycles on the road. Here in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has actually promised that 100-miles of protected bike lanes will be installed over the next four years – a project termed the Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign and “wants to make Chicago the most bike-friendly place in the United States.”

The new bike lane installation is already underway. Miriam and I explored the first stretch of protected bike lanes on Kinzie during her visit to Chicago. Most recently, the city’s resurfacing project on Jackson has led to a second protected bike lane being installed on Jackson Boulevard from Western Avenue to Halsted Street. The city is evaluating road projects already in the works and has been able to more quickly and affordably get these first protected bike lanes in place in a fairly efficient fashion.

Jackson Bike Lane:
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Motorists are already grumbling. But what about cyclists? The “go-fast crowd” may not like the new lanes since they restrict them behind slower bike riders. Likewise, stripes are known to be slippery when wet (all riders should take caution when riding on / crossing the stripes) and road furniture has been attributed to many crashes in big cycling race events (including this the 2010 Giro d’Italia)

I still celebrate the bike infrastructure! 🙂

Earlier this month I attended the community Bikeways (both the 101 and 201) sessions about all that goes into the engineering and planning of such bike lane infrastructure. And there will be much planning in the coming months!
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In the meantime, I’ll continue to get excited over better bike lane demarcations clearly outlining “my entitled space” on the roadway. Every little bit helps. It’s like I’m telling the motorists — “you just stay on your side of that line!” And for the most part, they are and giving me more room. 🙂 On my ride home I couldn’t help but think how seeing these new solid lines to mark off road use kind of reminds me of that scene from the movie Dirty Dancing – “this is your dance space, this is my dance space” until the lines end and we all shuffle around and do our little “dance” together at and through the intersections…

See how the bike lane ends as it approaches the intersection….
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As the city continues to plan out the new Bikeways, let’s hope that such dead zones of infrastructure get addressed. The best way to see the bike infrastructure installed how and where you want is to get involved and attend the future community meetings.

The city’s resolve to make Chicago a more bike and pedestrian friendly place has to start somewhere. I like seeing the smiling workers striping pedestrian crosswalks and bike lanes — a small though noticeable sign to motorists that the streets are not ALL theirs.
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Layering: as easy as 1, 2, or 3

I tend to over-think things a lot! This quality of mine can be both good and bad. What I like about fall/winter riding is that dressing for it really is easy – you just need to know the purpose of each layer and best fabric for that task. Aside from those days when I start pondering other gear, layering is really quite easy – and leaves me feeling always prepared.

From fall through springtime in Chicago I either always carry with me in my commuting arsenal (water resistant pannier) OR am already wearing on my body (esp on the colder winter days) the following items: extra glove liners + extra gloves or mitts, wool knee warmers, a Warmfront, extra wool socks (in case one pair gets wet), rain or wind pants to block wind and keep the road spray off my clothes, silk or wool long underwear for top and bottom (I especially like SmartWool and L.L. Bean wool), beanie cap that covers my ears, Hedz headwear, and wool/fleece balaclava – topped off by my most visible layer…. a hi-vis wind- and waterproof jacket. I rarely have a need for any more than 3 layers worth of clothing – base, mid and outer suffice in any weather; so while our skin may consist of 7 layers, for me, the gear only needs to be 3 layers deep at most … most of the time. (If you live in a much warmer or colder climate, I realize your needs for layering may vary; please adjust your technique accordingly and share with us what works for you in the comments.)

When I first started to bike through the colder, yuckier weather months in Chicago, I did a lot of my own research for what to wear and soon learned about the fine art of layering. (My go-to resource at that time was a blog authored by a woman in Alaska living a bike adventure life and recording it in her blog – I think it was called Up In Alaska; she has since moved and renamed the blog to Jill Outside.) A few of her posts detailed her layering technique and gear. Another site that has also helped me over the years is the Icebike website, brimming with strategies and gear designed to keep you warm (without overheating) while out bike riding or enjoying other winter activities for long periods of time. Last, but not least in deserving credit, is Chicago’s Bike Winter — a grass roots effort that has supplied me with how-to knowledge and an awesome DIY fleece balaclava designed to keep as many Chicago cyclists pedaling through the winter as possible.

If Jill could make it work for rides in Alaska and these Icebikers and fellow Bike Winter-ers could do it, I knew I could apply the layering strategy to my Chicago commutes; below I provide you with the layering technique that works for my urban bike commutes and the importance of each layer.

Chicago’s recent bout with chilly, windy and damp fall days reminds me that I really do have all I need already in my wardrobe (even though I’m always thinking of the next best gear or tip most of my winter “gear” is not really cycling specific gear). Take a photo gallery tour of these layers I recently wore during a damp fall commute (temps in the high 40s/low 50-degrees):
Base layer: long sleeve microfiber shirt (easily substituted for wool or silk on chillier days). A good base layer will wick the sweat away from your skin so that you don’t overheat OR get chilled from damp skin. Wool and silk are also naturally odor-resistant = bonus! I’ve learned to avoid cotton next to my skin at all costs, since it tends to keep the perspiration close to your skin.
Mid layer: vest (or wool or cashmere sweater in winter). A mid-layer helps insulate. This layer continues to challenge me during the fluctuating temperatures we get during the spring and fall, but in winter I usually turn to a cashmere or wool turtleneck sweater. During warmer months, I may forego this layer or opt for just a vest or stick to a cardigan sweater that can be zipped or unzipped as needed.
Bottom: REI cargo pants (with long underwear when the mercury dips below freezing). Depending on the level of chill in the air, I adjust my wardrobe – from jeans to lighter weight khakis to stretchier fitness style pants. As a female, I also have opted for wool tights and a skirt – and have found this combo to be just as warm as pants. I also keep a pair of wool knee warmers (or leg warmers in you prefer) around just in case I need a little more buffer.
Feet: midweight wicking socks (I live in wool hiking socks come winter), Vasque waterproof hiking shoes (and NEOS overshoes in the worst of it!). Just the other day I wore mid-calf Bogs boots with a neoprene liner. Once it’s freezing and below, my feet prefer the thicker socks and waterproof shoe. For commuting I don’t usually ride with clipless pedals, and in the chill I prefer the added warmth of regular hiking/winter boots – just make sure they allow your foot/ankle enough mobility for pedaling. You may even want to ride on wider BMX-style pedals to accommodate the clunkier footwear.
Hands: Gore bike gloves (new this year!); Headsweats lobster shell gloves (mittens and hand warmers on standby for temps below freezing). Up til this year I used a pair of wool gloves I acquired at the Army-Navy Surplus store and paired those with the shell gloves or with a pair of REI mittens. Mittens keep my hands warmest on the sub-freezing days. Hand warmers helps when it drops below zero.
Outer layer: Loeka (or other waterproof) commuter jacket with pit zips, Marmot rain pants. A jacket -even on the coldest of days – need not be thick and heavy. The best outer layer provides maximum wind resistance so as not to allow the chill in and is also waterproof; a sports-oriented jacket will have pit zips to allow added ventilation and help prevent your body from overheating. Given the lack of daylight during winter, I stick with hi-vis and reflective jackets to keep me as visible as possible to fellow road users.
Head: HAD microfiber tube to cover my neck, REI Novara cap (new to my arsenal this year… and I wonder how I lived without it all these years!) to cover my head and ears, helmet. In winter my layer below the helmet is a wool/fleece balaclava; sometimes I use the microfiber tube like a neck gaiter beneath the balaclava and will pull it up over my nose so I’m not breathing in the bitter cold air. My mom always stressed keeping my head warm; to this day, I cannot argue with my mom’s advice. For me, if my head and neck are warm, the rest of my body seems to naturally be warmer.
And last but not least Eyewear: Sunglasses with an amber tint in daylight AND clear or yellow tint glasses in darkness suffice for me most of the time (all my sunglasses have come from Solar Eyes (an online retailer)); in the winter I switch to ski goggles (rose tint works day and night even navigating the well-lit urban roads at night).

As I mentioned above, as a female I love having the option to wear wool tights and flashy rubber boots to spice up my winter cycling wardrobe, too, when I feel so inclined.
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One final note: it’s best to feel slightly chilled during the first few minutes on your bike. If you start out already warm, you could easily overheat. I find that less is more to avoid overheating. Folks at work think I must be so cold given my thin layers, but I assure them that by the time I reach the bus stop at the corner, I’m already warm from generating my own body heat; those folks waiting for the bus are the ones who look so cold just standing there. Rather than overdress, it’s best to carry an extra layer, so you can always stop and put it on if you need it or if it turns chillier for the bike commute home later that day. My commute is about a half hour each way and in the stop-and-go traffic of the city, so I’ve adjusted my layering accordingly. Those of you with a shorter or much longer commute may have other tips and tricks to share. Noah shared a few of his tips last year, including starting a log of weather conditions and your clothing choices.

Since my gear – most of it not cycle specific – seems to be accounted for, it gives me time to ponder getting a bike with disc brakes this upcoming bad weather season…. to at least improve my stopping power in the dampness. Then again…. I could finally try adding a more full coverage helmet (like a Nutcase or Bern)… options….

DJ on the Bike – More Tickets?

Caught in Amsterdam by the Prudent Cyclist on flickr

As a follow up to Elizabeth’s article on TWB (Texting While Biking) I have always wondered about Biking With Headphones (BWH)!  There are several methods of executing the BWH for bike commuters.  Some wear equipment that would be impossible to wear with a helmet (perhaps they are commuting to their job as jackhammer/leafblower testing facility), some use tiny earbuds, and there’s always the one-in and one-out set up.  I’ve tried commuting before with one-in and one-out earbud shenanigans with my crappy ibroke, but I usually ended up shoving it in a side pocket and singing out loud instead.  Like acapella karaoke commuting.

But Holy Moly Me Oh My, Montreal police have taken steps towards “enforcing” the no BWH laws as described by this article from July 2011, titled Cyclists Warned that Headphones Illegal in Quebec. The article cited that in 2010, the police ticketed 296 cyclists for this infraction.  At a price of $52 (Canadian) per ticket, that’s a whole lotta cash for poutine!

At least the cops are on their bikes, right?

Quebec’s highway safety code prohibits riding a bicycle while wearing a personal stereo headset or earphones. It’s the only Canadian jurisdiction where it’s illegal to ride while listening to headphones.

In the U.S., Florida and Rhode Island have made it illegal to use headsets while cycling. California, Maryland and Delaware also regulate use of headphones or earbuds. In those states, cyclists must leave one ear uncovered while riding.

…Police will continue to warn cyclists about the hazards of riding with earphones in July and expect to start handing out more tickets in August…Police said Wednesday that headphones make it more difficult for a cyclist to be aware of their surroundings as they move through traffic and pedestrians.

Oregon attempted to pass a similar bill HB 2602 that would fine cyclists using headphones a whopping $90!  No dice in passing the bill just yet according to BikePortland.org.

Then there’s the California Legislation where riding with one headphone is okay, but two will put you in the hole for $189 according to the Davis Wiki Bicycling Tips. Or there’s this girl who’s found a loophole:

Anyway bike commuters, whaddya think?  People drive cars and listen to their stereos all the time while stuck in traffic.  Plus cycling to music can be some good old fashioned fun.   Are headphones in the same “danger zone” as texting while cycling?  And, if so, does it warrant $189 fine?  I know the state is broke and all, but that’s a lot of In-n-Out cash right there.

An Essay on Zen and Bicycle Commuting

The following article popped up on my daily Google Alerts bike roundup…a very well-written, heartfelt, and enjoyable article by Jenn Lindsay about the changing attitudes of one cyclist on the mean streets of Boston:

Bike commuting is like a very high-risk video game. Not only are the motorists and pedestrians complete space cadets, but bike commuting has evoked a level of rage and recklessless in me that I never imagined was there. But it’s there. Right at the surface: raw, poised to attack, and loud. Foul-mouthed, selfish, entitled, impulsive, and sweaty.

In short, not my best side.

Some of the language is a little spicy, but it fits with the tone of the essay. Please visit State of Formation for the rest of the article, and let us know if YOU’VE had a “sea change” in attitude as you became a bike commuter. We’ve talked a bit about this topic here in the past, and we’re always thrilled to hear from other readers how they handle the troubling things they encounter on their routes. Drop your comments below, and I hope you enjoy Ms. Lindsay’s essay as much as I did.