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Tag Archive: bicycle safety

Night Riding: personal observations and experiences

From a Darwinian standpoint, it may be that fear of the dark is an inherited trait, passed down since the beginning of time by those humans prudent and afraid enough of the dark to avoid being eaten by nocturnal predators.

Lamppost, Gateshead Request for condition reports on street lighting. One of these is on every lamppost. Photo borrowed from http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1199747

Lamppost, Gateshead
Request for condition reports on street lighting. One of these is on every lamppost. Photo borrowed from http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1199747

There is definite wisdom in being wary of traveling in the dark. However, humans are able to learn and adapt, and riding in the dark is no exception. Having made some errors and sustained injuries during night riding, I have kept some strategies for riding at night that have helped me avoid major trouble thus far (knock on wood).

RL had posted an article a while back about riding at night and below are the comments taken from that article. I have them summarized below:

Be safe, first and foremost: wear a helmet; find a route that keeps you away from the major streets…even if it means extra miles or time…it’s worth it to find a quiet back street with little or no traffic; wear clear or amber sunglass lenses after dark; put in a little extra thought…use your own super tuned senses and hyper alert riding habits to keep yourself aware of any other moving objects, as well as upcoming potential hazards.

See and be seen: reflective vests; orange reflective triangle pinned to your back, blinkies, DOT reflective tape, reflective stripes; the goal is to light up like a Christmas tree…better a geek with a heartbeat than a macho fixie rider without one; run two headlights (one steady, one blinking); helmet-mounted light to shine into the eyes of oncoming drivers; consider a product made for motorcycles called the “halo helmet band”;  have a good back up light.

Be prepared: may get flats at night…so carry a head lamp to make bike repairs a lot easier.

One way to get noticed and seen.

One way to get noticed and seen.

Below are some of my own tips for night riding, some of which echo the advice given above:

1. Slow down. The less you can see, the less time you have to react, so the higher likelihood of crashing if you go at your normal daytime speed.

2. A key distinction with bike lights is being seen versus seeing. Both are equally important. When cars see you, they avoid you. But if you don’t see your surroundings, you risk the chance of an accident.

Example: my blinkies did not help me see a piece of car tire in the middle of my bike lane late one night. It got caught in my spokes when I rode over it, and my bike stopped dead in its tracks, and I catapulted forward. I was also going pretty fast that night.

I use a yellow reflective strip, a white reflective plate, and a red blinker (Blackburn Flea)

I use a yellow reflective strip, a white reflective plate, and a red blinker (Blackburn Flea)

Solution

– As stated above, you can run more than 1 headlight on your bicycle, one flashing to be seen, one steady to see.

– There are a wide range of powerful bike lights, like a 4000+ lumen lamp for a pretty penny.

– Try slowing down just a tad; if I had ridden just a little more slowly, I feel that the severity my accident would have been reduced.

– If all else fails, and you just cannot make out the road ahead of you, try what I call “vicarious lighting.” This technique basically takes advantage of cars’ bright headlights as they pass you or drive towards you from the lane of opposing traffic. By looking at the road as illuminated by these headlights as the car drives ahead or towards you, you can gauge if there are any major debris or potholes lying ahead for the next 10 meters or even further, depending on the circumstances of the car, the curviness of the road, etc. You just have to train your eyes to track the area of the road illuminated by the car and estimate when your bike will reach any area of potential concern or danger. However, use this technique with caution because in the few seconds when the road is not illuminated, you cannot guarantee that a cat, for example, has not scurried in front of your bike.

Using a car's headlights to help illuminate the road ahead.

Using a car’s headlights to help illuminate the road ahead.

3. Usually, I bring only one pair of lights (front and rear) and have a USB charger to charge them up at work. But sometimes, I have picked up a riding buddy on the way home who doesn’t have any lights. Or, I am biking in a group and one person’s lights have died. In this situation, I “split” the one set of lights between two people: put the front light on the front cyclist and the rear light on the rear cyclist. Of course, the pair now has to be much more careful about keeping a safe distance from each other.

How I use a pair of bike lights for 2 bicycles.

How I use a pair of bike lights for 2 bicycles.

4. Dooring sucks during the day time, and I’m sure it sucks even more at night. To reduce my chances of dooring at night, I slow down. I also keep a distance from the parked cars on the side of the road and am especially vigilant when a parked car’s lights are on or if I see any movement inside of the car.

5. Last, but probably the most important, in my opinion, is planning. If I am thinking of biking a new route and know I will likely be riding at night, I try to drive the route before biking it. Sometimes, I even drive the route at night if I feel it necessary to scrutinize the surroundings before committing.

Questions I consider while driving and surveying the route:

– Do other people bike this route? If there are and I can safely drive by them, do they seem very cramped for space?

– How fast do cars drive on this route?

– Does it seem safe in the surrounding areas at night? Is it a busy street at night and well lit, or is it desolate and scary?

– What is the quality of the road? If I can feel lots of bumps while driving, it will probably be about 500 times worse on a bicycle. And you run a greater risk of pinch flats, among other bad things.

Thinking about these sorts of issues is critical to preventing major trouble during a commute, especially at night when bad can get worse very quickly if you are not prepared. If any of these questions cause concern, time to look for another route.

If you have any other tips about biking at night, feel free to comment. Do good and ride well.

Bike safety to the extreme: Laser lights, vibrating handlebars and more

This morning I was zipping down a six block descent on my way to work, eyeing a sporty black car that was creeping suspiciously down the hill. As a good defensive bicyclist, I slowed my roll, covering the brakes as I gained on the car and an approaching intersection. The light was green; I was headed straight through the intersection and so was the car until it made an unexpected, unsignaled right turn, cutting me off. Luckily, I had slowed significantly and changed my trajectory, turning right alongside the car. Not sure if the driver even noticed me.

I was lucky. Sometimes defensive biking isn’t enough to avoid a collision.

This was not my first near miss, not even the first one of the week, so when a friend told me about the BLAZE Laserlight, my first thought was, “I could definitely use a little green bicycle fairy.” Because that’s what the BLAZE light is: a high-powered LED that projects a green bicycle shape onto the roadway about 16 feet in front of a cyclist, warning drivers of an approaching rider. Hopefully, the green bike will alert space-cadet drivers and make cyclists less vulnerable to blind spots and other potential dangers.

A little green friend.

It’s true, BLAZE Laserlight is just the newest iteration of an idea that’s been around for several years—check out these laser beam bike buffers—but I have yet to see this concept in action on the street. Maybe it seems like overkill to have little green bikes (or laser beams) announcing a cyclist’s every turn.

On the other hand, maybe laser beams are just the beginning. A group of engineering students at Northeastern have taken bike safety to the extreme, creating the Interactive Bicyclist Accident Prevention System (iBAPS). The “smart bike” prototype incorporates a plethora of safety features.

Extreme safety measures.

Smarter than your average cyclist? The iBAPS features:

  • Sensors to detect cars impinging on a cyclists space
  • Laser beams (of course) that project a 3-foot wide virtual bike lane
  • If a car comes too close, the bike “emits a loud message, telling drivers to move further away.” (I think we’re all wondering the same thing, what is this message and is it customizable?)
  • When approaching an intersection at high speed, the handlebars vibrate as a warning to slow down. (Frightening.)
  • Using Bluetooth tech, the bike can sync up with a rider’s smartphone leading to all kinds of excessive data extrapolation. Like tracking riding trends to inform the biker how likely it is that their riding behavior will lead to a crash.
  • With the smartphone GPS, the bike can vibrate the handlebars, alerting the rider to make the correct turns to reach a destination. (I just can’t get over the vibrating thing. It would scare the crap outta me.)
  • As cars get smarter too, eventually the bike will be able to communicate with vehicles on the road. (Where’s  my self-riding bicycle, Google?)

Read more about the iBAPS smart bike from the Boston.com.

All these features make my measly helmet & flashing lights seem antiquated. I’m all for bike safety measures and, although some of these seem a bit extreme, to ensure I arrive to my destination unscathed, nothing may be too extreme.

How far would you go to ensure your safety while bike commuting? Is it possible that the iBAPS is missing any features?

 

Guest article: Bike Safety

Editor’s note: the following is a guest article submitted by our contacts at UK’s Claims4Negligence. Some good information on basic safety tips for new commuters:

Bike Safety

There are so many advantages to riding a bicycle on the road that it can be easy to overlook the risks entirely. Cycling is good for the environment, it keeps the individuals concerned fit and healthy and, in these difficult economic times it is less expensive than most other forms of transport. The downside, however, is that there’s no getting away from the fact that riding a bicycle on the roads can be extremely dangerous. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of taking a bike out onto the road is the fact that your safety isn’t entirely in your own hands. No matter how diligent and careful you are, accidents can still happen, and the statistics show that the vast majority of injuries suffered by cyclists come about as the result of negligence on the part of other road users. For finding out more about how much compensation could be received for injuries on the body visit Claims4Negligence. Its best, of course, if you can avoid being hurt in this manner altogether, especially since cyclists involved in accidents are far more likely than drivers to suffer more serious injuries, but it should be remembered that if you are hurt in this manner you always have the option of claiming compensation; not to cash in, not as a punishment, but as a means of helping you get back on your feet (and on two wheels) as quickly as possible.

Although most accidents tend to be caused by the drivers of cars, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing the average cyclist can do to protect themselves. The right clothing, the right equipment and correct cycling tactics can all add up to a safer road experience by lowering the chances of accidents happening in the first place, and then, if the worst should befall you, minimizing the negative effects and the extent of any injuries caused.

Despite the dangers inherent in riding a bicycle, the vast majority of people cycling round the roads of the UK have probably never had a single cycling lesson in their life. People tend to just get on the bike and learn as they go along. Imagine, however, the chaos that would ensue if drivers adopted the same lassez faire attitude. There are basic rules of the road, and of riding a bicycle, which should be drilled into novice cyclists of any age, and there are courses available throughout the UK which can lay down this foundation of knowledge and create the good habits which will stand a cyclist in good stead throughout their life.

Over and above any formal training, however, there are certain tips and tricks which any cyclist can usefully adopt, of which the following are probably the simplest and most effective:

–Make sure you maintain eye contact with other road users, establishing it as clearly as possible. Put simply, if a driver looks you in the eye, then you can be one hundred per cent certain that he’s seen you, and visibility is a massive part of cycling safety.

–Bearing the above in mind you should go to the greatest possible lengths to maximize your visibility, at all times of the day and night. This means utilizing the likes of fluorescent clothing and lights, both on your bike and your person.

–Ensure that you take up your rightful position on the road. When trying to stay safe, the temptation may be to stay as close to the gutter, and thus the pavement, as possible. This tactic renders you less noticeable to other road users, however, as well as leaving you with little room to manoeuvre in the event of an emergency and leaving you more vulnerable to riding over debris. Try to think of yourself as taking up the amount of room a car would take up in the same circumstances, as this will lead other cars to treat you with much more respect.

–There’s no getting away from the fact that some cyclists give the rest a bad name by flouting things such as red lights and stop signs and skipping on and off the pavement. This is dangerous for both the cyclist concerned and all the others out on the road, since it helps to inculcate the notion that cyclists are reckless and basically ‘asking for trouble’.

–Use hand signals clearly and emphatically so that other road users are in no doubt as to what your next move is going to be.

–Of all the safety gear you can buy, a helmet is, without a doubt, the most important; even a fairly trivial fall can become very serious indeed if it involves your head coming into contact with a hard concrete surface. A helmet should fit well but not too tightly, with the pads in contact with the head at all points and it should be stored safely and inspected for signs of wear or damage on a regular basis.

It’s impossible, of course, to completely eliminate the risk from cycling on the road, but taking the steps listed above will help to keep you safer than you would otherwise be. Always remember that your ultimate safety doesn’t depend on how careful you’re going to be, but, sadly, how careless somebody else might end up being.

Review: QRide Advanced Emergency ID

Being safe out on the roads is a pretty big deal for most bike commuters. Many of us wear helmets, brighten up the night with blinkies and headlights, wrap ourselves in reflectives, etc. One other safety item folks may overlook, though, is some means of communicating emergency contact or medical information to first responders in case of a crash.

There are a number of products on the market, from bracelets to shoelace tags. A new one is the QR Code-based QRide Advanced Emergency ID. Warren Schimizzi, president of QRide, Inc., graciously offered to send us a trial pack of the QRide’s “QStick” Mini Helmet Stickers for review.

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Basically, the QStick minis are a pair of thick reflective stickers with a unique QR code printed on them. On the back of the packaging is an eight-character identifying code.

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Once the QRide stickers are purchased, the user simply navigates to the QRide user submission form (on their website) and completes the fields. QRide sends a verification email and then you’re on your way! It’s really simple and takes no more than a couple minutes to activate the account.

myqride_form

Why a sticker instead of a bracelet or something? Well, those of us who have emergency ID bracelets don’t always wear them. I almost never forget my helmet, however…in fact, I can only think of one time in the past decade that I forgot my helmet before getting on the bike. A helmet sticker is perfect for me! And, since the stickers come packaged as a pair, the other one can be added to something else you aren’t likely to forget. In my case, I adhered the second sticker to my Jersey Bin, which always travels with me in a jersey pocket.

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How well do they work? I scanned the stickers with the excellent QR Droid as well as Ebay’s “Red Laser” scanning utility. The QRide code scanned quickly and easily with both apps, and directed me to my personal information page instantly.

I asked Warren about concerns with information security and with HIPAA .

Jack: I want to ask how user information is secured…since it has medical info, do HIPAA concerns have any effect on what QRide does to secure the information?

Warren: Good question. The user is completely responsible for the information that is included on his or her QRide profile. We’ve placed a disclaimer at the top of the online form where this information is gathered that states all info submitted can be viewed when scanned by a smart phone and is essentially “public”. If the user is comfortable putting a certain pre-existing condition or medication (or anything else for that matter) on there they are free to do so, but none of the medical info fields on the form are required.

On the online front; we do not have an online database of users that could be compromised. Each user’s record is an individual URL. We use a large, well-established web host and have every confidence in their security protocols and firewalls. They are protected from hackers and DDoS attack (UDP flood). Their servers are fully PCI compliant to protect user’s credit card information for online purchases as well.

QRide’s QStick Minis retail for $19.95, which includes a year’s subscription to the online information record. Renewals are an additional $19.95 per year. I’d say that’s reasonably comparable to the prices other such emergency IDs charge. Where the QRide might really shine is for folks who travel a lot or relocate frequently (such as myself — with my wife in the USAF, we go where they tell us to). Buying a new bracelet every year or two with revised addresses gets expensive quickly; meanwhile, with the QRide, all you have to do is log into your account and update your info. Easy peasy.

Overall, I am quite impressed with the simplicity and ease of use of the QRide system. I hope I never have to test them FOR REAL…if you know what I mean…but if I do, I’ll be glad that first responders will have quick access to my innermost details.

QRide offers other sizes/formats of stickers. Visit their website for more details.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

What drivers (and cyclists) should know about sharing the road

The article linked to below has received a ton of traffic on other bike-friendly sites, and it’s definitely worth a read. Appearing in the Washington Post and written by Ashley Halsey III (a professional cycling coach), this stuff should be required reading for anyone, two wheels or four, who intends to use our nation’s roadways:

What drivers should know about sharing the road with bicyclists (and vice versa)

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