Friday Musings

Friday Musing – know your local bike law?

Last Friday a post about an obscure traffic law that punishes cyclists graced the Streetsblog Chicago site.

The debate continued offline during a friendly chat I had with a local Chicago attorney who represents cyclists involved in crashes. The question is to what degree are cyclists held to the true letter of the law – and in this case – are bikes not allowed to pass cars on the right???

Of course – there have been differing interpretations of this particular law – including a lawyer who says yes, bicyclists may pass on the right.

The specific law in question regards the following:

Section 11-704(b) of the Illinois Vehicle Code, which reads in part:

The driver of a 2 wheeled vehicle may not pass upon the right of any other vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the unobstructed pavement to the right of the vehicle being passed is of a width of not less than 8 feet.

Our resident Ghost Rider points out that with any traffic law there’s no blanket “right way” – it’s a state-by-state, municipality-by-municipality issue. What’s legal in CA is wholeheartedly illegal another state, and vice versa.

As noted in this Streetsblog post –

In 2010, California’s legislature revised their passing-on-right statute to fix its ambiguity, and now Illinois advocacy groups are gearing up to push for a similar change at home.

So what can we do? Always “check your own local laws” first. In Chicago, the city has a web page dedicated to its local bike laws. The state advocacy group in Illinois – the League of Illinois Bicyclists – also has a pdf available on its site of the IL state bike laws.

So do a check with your local city/state laws. If nothing else, such stories are an excellent reminder for all commuters (cyclists and motorists alike) to become familiar with the laws that govern their actions in their areas.

Anyone have any oddball law examples to share from your own state and/or your travels around other countries?

We came across a few oddball examples we found to share with you this Friday:

* In Georgia no bicycle shall be equipped, modified, or altered in such a way as to cause the pedal in its lowermost position to be more than 12 inches above the ground, nor shall any bicycle be operated if so equipped. (see weird law #8)

* Bicycles are not allowed in the tennis courts in the state of Idaho

* Ontario, Canada, has several bikes laws with hefty fines (up to $85CAD), including a bike must have a bell or horn in good working order and must signal their turns.
(Jack’s written about a similar bike bell law in Tampa, FL)

* In Fort Scott, KS, “everyone, whether a resident of Fort Scott, or a visitor to town, is required to register their bicycle.”

* And in Sun Prairie, WI, No rider of a bicycle shall remove both hands from the handlebars or practice any trick or fancy riding in any street in the city nor shall any bicycle rider carry or ride any other person so that two persons are on the bicycle at one time, unless a seat is provided for a second person.

We covered bike laws 5 years ago right here on BikeCommuters.comHow long will it take for some of these crazy (out-of-date) laws to change?

Winter riding – suicidal? Just bring on the mittens and snow goggles!

We’ve hardly had much “winter riding” lately in Chicago. Just this Monday and Tuesday, temps hovered in the 50s and 60s! But the rollercoaster, topsy turvy weather ride has plunged us back down to real winter temps and now our Chicago temps only hover at or below 0-degrees with windchill… bringing back the need to properly layer for the daily bike commute.

For me – the cold, sub-zero windchills mean it’s a snow goggles and mittens kind of “BRRRR!” (BRRR as in BRRRRING IT ON!)

No skin exposed on the “BRRR”-est of days

My body is cozy – covered in layers of a wool base layer and a thick cashmere or wool turtleneck sweater. My legs also get a nice wool base layer and then just khakis (sometimes I add a wind pants layer – especially in wet/messy condition) and thick wool hiking socks under my BOGS boots. My head = no skin exposed; I use a double-layer balaclava system (one thinner one pulled up over my nose), plus goggles, plus helmet on top! Over all that is my hi-vis yellow commuter jacket to block the wind. Wool gloves covered by big primaloft mitts and I’m ready to roll.

I’m more bundled than the average pedestrian, plus I’m generating body heat – more than the mere walker.. and I’m definitely warmer than the person just standing there waiting for the bus or train.

So – when I saw a post by “He Who Knows” on local Chicago suburban social site entitled “Bicyclists are insane riding in winter’s deep freeze!” and claiming that winter riding is suicidal, I had to chuckle. Seriously? He Who Knows certainly doesn’t know much about cold weather activity outdoors. On the other hand, we who know layer appropriately and reap the benefits of year-round cycling in any weather.

Should we be surprised by such a general posting by someone who is clearly not a cyclist? Isn’t this what happens when anyone and everyone can post their opinion online? “He Who Knows” likely has no authority on the topic. Though I do find his take humorous… since it is just so ridiculous! But just to clarify and set the record straight for would-be winter bike commuters, do not take his statements seriously… Based on this guy’s opinion, I would have killed myself cycling through winter years ago.

Take it from this guy in New York who bikes (even in winter) 40 miles to work in Manhattan!

I’m alive and well to let you know that – even on the harshest of days – cycling brings me sanity.

Ride on…

Friday Musings: My Bikeless Butt in Buenos Aires

Happy Friday, Bike Commuters! A short, but wonderful WTF weirdness update from the world of Mir.I.Am: live from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Rental Bikes - Buenos Aires - Argentina

Bike Envy: my bikeless butt covets the yellow bikes of Buenos Aires. By pepsiline on flickr.

It’s perpetual travel time nowadays, which means I am bikeless in Buenos Aires. The last bike standing – my orange vintage ride – woefully collects dust in the faraway land of San Francisco, at my sister’s apartment. After a shameful three months of hoofing it through Costa Rica and Dramamine-induced bus rides… I think I’ve come down with a case of Bikeless Butt Envy! Everywhere I look, I see happy Argentines riding yellow cruisers, and my butt gets jealous like too-short teenagers in a roller coaster park. These fits of jealousy spark an inner dialogue between my butt and me that goes like this:

Bikeless Butt Post-It

“Get your limp body up on a saddle!” – my butt taunts as Cycle Ladies breeze by in summer dresses and platform sandals in Buenos Aires. I must be losing it – my butt is talking to me. Did my butt just leave me a post-it on the front door?

“I’m sick of this shiz, smother me into some strange-ass public bike share saddle, Mejor en Bici style,” chirps my bum.

“Quit your nagging, Flatness Everdeen, I’m on a tight travel budgie since Costa Rica… And, let’s be honest, you weren’t ready to crank me up Volcano Mountain in humid rainstorms without clips and some spandoise!” I retort.

“Get over it, Chinita Loca… There are ZERO hills in this city. Booty-up and do your paperwork so we can see the city via two wheels!” The butt makes a good point, and I’m out of excuses.

Time to muster up my Castellano courage and dive into some paper bureaucracy – the only thing I need is proof of address in Buenos Aires and identification. Check out those baskets and clown horns, amigos!

And so, the excursion begins this week – I’m on this like tweens on Twilight. It’s time to listen to my butt and get back on a bike. With 28 Mejor en Bici stations, the bike share possibilities are as prolific as puddled potholes in the sidewalk around this town. And there is a large network of car-free lanes (marked in yellow in the map below) where bikes can avoid the notoriously heinous driving of the local Porteños… Drool in awe:

Cross your fingers, Bike Commuters, for a successful sign-up to get my butt back on a bike. It’s been far too long, and I’ve gone off the deep end. I’ll think of all the velomonsters out there this weekend, as I live vicariously through your bike commutes.

Bike Pin Up Girl

Bike Envy! From my butt, to yours.


Friday Musings: Skunk Stripe

skunk stripe

The common variety of this bike commuter species is known as a "Skunk Stripe"

Buenos días de Costa Rica once again lindisimos Bike Commuters! In honor of Friday and my stream of consciousness blog-barfing, I decided to muse on the unusual phenomenon that is the Skunk Stripe – prevalent throughout the downhill aguacero commutes of Turrialbeños.  As I am (gasp!) shamefully still bikeless for over a month now, I’ve been forced to commute by foot.  However, I’ve turned each bout of foot commuting into an opportunity to practice my new hobby… Similar to the popular hobby of bird watching (a.k.a. “birding” for short), I like to call my newfound sidewalk speculation bike watching (a.k.a. “biking”).

bike watching

Bike Watching - on the lookout for Skunk Stripes!

In my biking adventures here Ive spotted a resurgence of skunk stripe bikes in this rainy season! It seems that fenders here area luxury not afforded by most Turrialbeños… Other varieties of skunk stripes can be seen migrating through the Central Valley this winter such as the yellow-tail poncho, and the umbrella crest.

Bike rider in yellow raincoat

Costa Rican Yellow-tail poncho bike spotted by flostof.

Bike and Umbrella, Costa Rica

And the Umbrella Crest variety captured by gimblett.

We’ve reviewed quite a few different types of fenders on our site, (see herehere, and even here for rooster tails).  So let’s put together a basic breakdown of all things fender fantastic for any rookie winter riders – ticos or otherwise- who want to say adios to the skunk stripe.  Let the winter bike commuting begin!
Screen shot 2012-11-30 at 10.16.32 AM

DIY Fenders – for the third world countryman in you!

For those of us with more time than dimes, check out Ghost Rider’s DIY po-boy Fender project here.  DIY Fenders can be customized to fit your needs and can washed away that skunk stripe with some bent aluminum, corrugated plastic, a can of spray paint.  This tutorial is a great option for some road bikes that don’t come with fender mounts built into the frame.

Ghost Rider's DIY po boy fender

Ghost Rider's DIY po boy fender

Clip-on Fenders – great for muddy commutes

Clip-on fenders could be a good option for muddy commutes or bikes without fender mounts build into the frame.  The idea is to protect the rider from the water or mud from the top of the bike: front fender can mount via the steer tube and rear fender can mount via the seat tube.  Since there is plenty of clearance between a clip-on fender and the wheel, you won’t have a problem with mud jamming up underneath.  Prices can range between $20 -$50 for a set.  They also make removable clip-ons like these in case you’d like to groom your fender plume regularly.  To do away with the skunk stripe on your roadie, take a look at this article for other clip-on options.

clip-on fenders

rendoza's commuter clip-on fender setup

Full-Coverage Fenders – staying high and dry

Full coverage fenders get the best coverage for any rider who is encountering lots of rain this season.  They mount onto fender stays that are usually built in to the frame of touring, hybrid, or bike frames targeted towards utility cycling.  I used to commuter on my Kona Dew with a pair of yellow planet bike full fenders.  They kept me dry through the Seattle winter and I was never caught with a skunk stripe like those tricksy hipsterses on fenderless fixies…  The only problem with full fenders is they can require frequent adjustments to keep from rubbing on the wheel – if you will be cramming your bike into car trunks or cinching the front wheel on a bus rack, you may be better off with the clip-ons and wet legs.

Raiyn Storms fender setup

Raiyn Storm's full-on fender setup

So, dear Bike Commuters, do you rock the skunk or do you skip the stripe with a pair of fenders?  Why or why not?  Post to the comments box if you have any DIY tips for readers, or other fender ideas to share…!  Muse on and enjoy your weekend!

Friday Musings: Your thoughts on “sharrows”?

Many of my bike buddies have heard me go on and on about sharrows for a few years now. I’m sure our Facebook followers have heard me mention my concerns about sharrows from time to time, too.

For those of you who may have missed it, here are some of my thoughts on them: while I think they can be a useful tool in the arsenal of bike-friendly infrastructure, I am very concerned that many cyclists and motorists both don’t really understand what they represent. Neither group is particularly good about “sharing” the road (the operative part of “sharrow”) at times. I’ve seen cyclists treat road with sharrows as a full-width “bike lane”, despite cars backing up behind them. I’ve also seen motorists crowd riders against parked cars when sharrows are present. Further, I’m afraid that some cities use sharrows as a quick pacifier; slap some down on the pavement and then tell cyclists, “yeah, we’re building bike infrastructure…what more do you want?”


It’s my belief that when a city chooses to add sharrows to a road surface, that MUST come with an advertising campaign or some other method to get the word out to road users — so that everyone knows what those mysterious chevrons represent and to remind folks that yes, we must all actually share the road. We all know that there is far more to bicycle infrastructure than simply putting up some signs, or spreading some paint onto the roadway…a lot of planning, logistics and study must come with it in order for all that effort to be of value to road users.

So, I was a bit surprised to read the following article, which appeared in the Edmonton Journal the other day:

A new study out of British Columbia suggests the use of shared bike-car lanes on major roads doesn’t actually increase safety for cyclists and may pose a greater risk if they add confusion to the streets…

…The shared bike-car lanes, called sharrows, are seen as a simple solution when the city, neighbourhood residents or local businesses don’t want to remove parking or a lane currently used for vehicle traffic. They consist of a painted bike with arrows on the pavement, and signs along the side of the road.

When researchers at the University of British Columbia looked at 690 cyclist collisions serious enough to land a cyclist in the hospital, they found the only bike infrastructure that significantly reduces risk is having a separate route for bikes.

Please read the rest of this enlightening article by visiting the Edmonton Journal page.

I’d love to hear our readers thoughts on sharrows: do you love them? Hate them? Are you indifferent to them? Do you find them effective and well-placed, or see them as an “easy out” for cities who don’t want to spend much on improved bicycle infrastructure? Please leave your comments below.