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Bike to work month 2017 edition

Hello Bike Commuters! May is here and you know what this means: It is bike to work month! Funny thing is, some bike commuters don’t give a shit because “every month is bike to work month”. Party poopers.

Anyhow, I have “bike to work month/week/day” to thank for trying bike commuting over 10 years ago. In fact, thanks to “B2WM”, CommutebyBike.com was born and after we were unceremoniously kicked out from CBB, BikeCommuters.com was created for your reading pleasure.

I like B2WM because all of the free stuff we can get, for example, Metrolink (the train service I use) is giving us FREE rides from May 15 to May 19. You can also find lots of freebies on Facebook, just make sure you follow your area’s bicycle organizations.

B2WM also promotes more bicycle advocacy, I like that. So party poopers, celebrate bike to work month! After all, mother’s day, father’s day or Christmas is only ONE day.

To ride or not to ride

Hello Bike Commuters! I am back after a couple of weeks of water polo, swimming, doctor’s appointments and drumline performances. No, I didn’t do all of that stuff, I have two teenage daughters that keep me quite busy.

It is because of my daughters that I started to think about not bike commuting anymore, if you follow us on Facebook, we posted about Alan Snel being rear ended by a fucktard that was “driving” while being distracted. What is so fucked up is that the driver wasn’t even cited for hitting Alan because Vero Beach’s law does not favor cyclists at all. California is a little different, we do have laws against distracted drivers but most don’t give a shit and still use their phone for calling, texting, facetiming and Netflix binge watching. I am not kidding you, I’ve seen shithead drivers with their phones on their windshields watching Netflix. What.The.Fuck.

We have also seen a rash of hit and run “accidents” in Southern California, although most victims are pedestrians, a good number of them are also cyclists. So that had me thinking if riding my bike to work was really worth it. I am not really saving money in gas because of the cheap gas prices, I am not saving any time but I do it because I love riding and I’m not stuck in shitty traffic. I know that when it is time for us to go, it is time to go, I just don’t want to go at the hands of some shithead driver watching “Stranger Things” (Great show by the way).

As I was ready to throw in the towel and stop bike commuting, Governor Jerry Brown made some back room deals and the legislature passed a 52 Billion dollar plan to “fix the roads”. The bill will increase gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, even electric car drivers got screwed with an annual $100 fee. Guess who did not get screwed: Bike commuters and multi-modal bike commuters! The plan will allocate $7.5 billion for public transportation and $1 billion for walking and biking trails. So yes, if you ride your bike to work in California you will not be paying for the gas tax AND our transportation and bike trails will be also be improved! If you are one of those pissed off about the tax increase, just ride your bike to work and give the middle finger to our legislature!

Yup, this is one more reason for me to keep riding.

The story behind Veloloop

Sometimes, as bike commuters, we meet the most interesting people at stoplights. Maybe it’s because we’re not ensconced in metal-and-glass shells, so we seem more accessible. I’ve met my share of folks at stoplights; just ask my friend Gordon R, who sometimes posts here as “The Other GR”. We met at a stoplight in Tampa and became fast friends.

A few weeks ago, I was out riding at an unusual hour (for me), trying to get some night shots of a dynamo light I am testing. At a stoplight, another cyclist rolled up behind me and asked me about the light. We got to talking, and he mentioned that he is the inventor of the technology behind Veloloop.

Have you seen this thing? Veloloop uses radio signals to communicate with the induction loops that control stoplights, and triggers them in a way that bicycles sometimes cannot on their own. Turns out the inventor lives a block away from me, and holds a variety of patents. He wishes to remain anonymous for the time being, but was gracious enough to answer a few questions for Bikecommuters.com. Veloloop has already received favorable press in a number of news outlets, including Outside Magazine and Bike Radar.

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A couple of weekends ago, my neighbor and I met and he demonstrated how Veloloop works. I hung back to watch so as not to inadvertently trigger any stoplights. I can say that the device really works — my friend would roll over the induction loop, the light on the Veloloop device would blink for a bit and then go steady, and the crosswalk countdown timer would start ticking away. Seconds later, we had a green light to proceed!

BC: How did you come up with the idea?

Many years ago a co-worker asked if it would be possible to do something like this. There are other approaches in the patent literature, but I found them to all be a little less than elegant. I’ve done a fair amount of radio design, and I had studied how to make radios that transmitted while they received, and eventually I realized how to apply that knowledge to this problem.

How long have you been working on Veloloop?

I spent a significant amount of time over the 1999-2008 timeframe learning how traffic sensors work and exploring various ways to electronically activate them. Then about two years ago Nat Collins approached me because he wanted to do something similar and had seen my patents. So, we cooperated and developed a practical version.

How does Veloloop work?

First, you have to understand how the loop sensors work. They are really just big metal detectors. They transmit a high frequency signal into a loop of wire beneath the road surface. That loop has an electrical property called “inductance”. Inductance is a measure of how much magnetic field is creted by a current. When a car drives over the loop, the inductance changes. It actually goes down. This is because the metal in the car intercepts some of that magnetic field. The sensor detects this sudden change in inductance.

There are several ways to do this, but usually the sensor’s own frequency depends on the inductance, so it can notice a sudden change in frequency to indicate vehicle presence. The key thing here is that it’s a high frequency signal, and the inductance changes when a vehicle is present.

The Veloloop has a transmitter. Once it figures out what frequency the loop is using, it sends back a signal at *almost* the same frequency. In fact, the signal it sends back deliberately varies its frequency, a little high, then a
little low, etc., just to be sure all bases are covered. It is able to keep listening while it transmits to make sure it is still over a sensor and near the right frequency. This transmitted signal gets picked up by the loop in the ground and looks to the detector like a sudden change in inductance. Voila, the bicycle gets detected.

How prevalent are inductive loop traffic sensors in the U.S.? Are there other technologies to detect cars and bicycles at intersections?

They appear to be going away in some areas, and are being replaced by vision systems. Vision systems are often unable to detect bicycles and have trouble with accumulation of dirt. Inductive sensors are still common in many places and there are several well-established companies making them and coming out with new models. I expect them to be around for a long time.

What is some of the backlash you’ve seen regarding press coverage of the Veloloop in news sources? Any persistent myths that bicyclists repeat?

Much of the backlash comes from the fact that often proper placement of the bicycle over the sensitive part of the sensor is adequate to generate detections. So, there is a perceived lack of need for an active device. There is also the stupid idea that if you don’t get detected, it may be permissible to run the light.

In reality, there are many detectors that are just unable to detect bicycles regardless of placement, and many situations where it would just be a whole lot safer, faster, and more convenient to get detected. This is where the Veloloop can help. It also takes a burden off of traffic departments who often have trouble fiddling with sensitivity.

Oh, and then there’s the “magnet myth”. This is the urban legend that says that putting magnets on your shoes will somehow trigger the sensors (Editor’s note: I was guilty of believing in this myth — had a hard-drive magnet glued to the bottom of my cycling shoes back in Florida). As I pointed out, the sensors use a high frequency signal while a magnet produces a static field. They are not the same. This old idea is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of electromagnetics and has been disproven many times. What probably happens is that someone glues a magnet to their shoe or frame, and then proceeds to place their bike over the sensitive part of a cooperative loop, and gets a detection. They think it was due to the magnet, but in reality it was the placement (or the car that came by in the opposite direction). Enough people have done the scientific test with just a magnet without a bicycle at a deserted intersection, to debunk this one.

Anything else we should know? Any improvements in the works, or other details to share?

We’ve looked at eliminating the loop and using the bicycle frame as an antenna. That would involve some big up-front costs to make a special transformer, so we didn’t start there. We are also looking into the motorcycle market. We’ve have a lot of inquiries there. Neither of us (the Veloloop developers) are motorcycle owners, so we don’t have first-hand knowledge of the requirements.

Recently, the VP of engineering at a major induction loop manufacturer contacted us to test one of the Veloloop devices. He can tell us just what effect the unit is having on their sensors (trigger, error condition, etc.).

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Editor’s note: The Veloloop’s Kickstarter campaign is struggling a bit — so there’s still time to contribute if you’re interested. We’d like to thank the developer for taking time to demonstrate the device and for answering our questions. We’ll have a followup once the induction loop manufacturer submits his report, too.

A doctoral student needs our help!

A doctoral student at SUNY Downstate School of Public Health in Brooklyn, New York named Mark Hoglund reached out to us a while back to gauge our interest in an online survey. The survey aims to collect bicycle commuter data — here, let me have Mark explain it better:

A RESEARCH STUDY ABOUT BICYCLING AND SAFETY

DEAR FELLOW BICYCLE RIDERS,

IF YOU ARE 18 OR OLDER, please take part in an anonymous survey for a research study about bicycling practices and bicycling accidents. The survey will take only about 15-20 minutes to fill out.

IT DOES NOT MATTER WHETHER OR NOT YOU HAVE HAD AN ACCIDENT RIDING YOUR BICYCLE. Your answers will help researchers find out how to make bicycling safer. YOU WILL NOT BE ASKED FOR YOUR NAME.

No one will find out how you answered the questions.

TO GO TO THE SURVEY, please use this link: http://survey.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_eXRDaDI9sn3TrrT

THANK YOU! If you have any questions, please feel free to call me. (I won’t ask you to tell me your name.)
Mark W. Hoglund
Doctoral Student
School of Public Health
SUNY Downstate Medical Center
450 Clarkson Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11203

Again, you can access the survey online by clicking here. Please fill it out and share it as much as you can with other bicyclists — the more responses, the better the data! Thanks from all of us here at Bikecommuters.com.

Ever heard of an Audax?

I was talking to a friend of mine from the UK who works for an online bicycle shop called Fat Birds. We got to talking about “commuter bikes” and what that all means to someone in the UK. Well he brought up the word “AUDAX.” Truthfully, I’ve never heard of such a term. Apparently Audax is basically a word that best describes a commuter bike. Here’s a definition on their website:

A Sportive or Audax bike is a bicycle that allows for mudguards and in most cases a rear rack it is lighter than a touring bike and the geometry is more racey (yet slightly more relaxed than a road racer). A Touring bike is a frame designed to handle bicycle touring, with mudguards and front and rear pannier racks (not all come with front racks as this is dependent on the fork).
Special features of a touring bike may include a long wheelbase (for ride comfort and to avoid pedal-to-luggage conflicts), frame materials that favor flexibility over rigidity (for ride comfort), heavy duty wheels (for load capacity), and multiple mounting points (for luggage racks, fenders, and bottle cages).

Oh yeah, did you notice the other word in there? “SPORTIVE.” In the US market, or at least in a few bike shops that I’ve been to, they have dubbed what our UK friends call a Sportive as a “fitness bike.” Basically it’s a bike that isn’t quite a sporty road bike, not as burly as a touring bike, but a bike you could use to commute with or take for a 15-20 mile bike rides and still be comfortable.

So are you wondering what a Sportive/Audax bike looks like? Well check out this beauty…”Kinesis Racelight 4S Audax Road Bike Silver; The versatile Racelight TK3 frameset gets a makeover and has a new name Racelight 4S (meaning Four Seasons).”
audax

Not bad right? I’m almost positive that the US Market will start to use those terms in the near future to introduce new commuter bikes to make them sound fancier.

Way to go, Philadelphia!

Based on U.S. Census data, Philadelphia now has the highest percentage of bike commuters out of the 10 most-populous U.S. cities:

The Bike PHL Facts report looks at bicycling trends in Philadelphia between 2008 and 2013 and, using the data from the U.S. Census Bureau, compares the Philly’s stats to other cities to see how we stack up. Along with coming in first in big-city bike commuting (2.3 percent of our city’s commuters get to work by bike, compared to just 1.6 in Chicago, the second place city), Philly also has two neighborhoods ranked in the nation’s top 25 for the highest percentage of bike commuters: Center City and South Philly.

Read the rest of the article by visiting the Philadelphia Magazine page.

Nice work, Philly!

Politics and Cycling

Here’s another one for you: a poll conducted recently by Pew Research and reported by/built upon by the Huffington Post (yeah, I know) shows “lifestyle polarization” based on political party affiliation. No real surprise there. The Huffington Post part focused on bicycles, bike commuting, and bike infrastructure:

We were inspired to ask these questions by the bike lane wars we had seen erupting in communities, including in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.

In theory, most respondents to a HuffPost/YouGov poll tended to agree with the concept of bikes and cars sharing the road. Three-fourths of voters agree that roads should accommodate both cars and bikes, while a minority (18%) thinks roads should be for cars only.

The article (click here) goes on to show some disparities between Democrat and Republican respondents. Some of the percentages may surprise you a bit, and that’s why it is important to remember that bike commuters are a diverse lot, with differing party affiliations, work histories, economic statuses, and more. We can’t all be painted with the same broad brush.

Low-income commuters and bicycles

The following article came out about a month ago, but it’s worth a read. It’s about a preliminary study conducted in the Washington D.C. metro area, where low-income commuters were asked a series of survey questions about “mobility barriers” and how cycling fit into the overall picture:

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau offers encouraging news for cyclists: Nationally, bicycle commuting increased 61 percent between the 2000 Census and a 2008-2012 survey. But there’s considerable work to do before we bike ride into the sunset. Our research shows that in some places, the people who ride are mostly wealthy and white.

Take Washington, D.C., for example. American Community Survey data show that D.C. bicycle commuting increased an astounding 208 percent between 2000 and 2012. Yet biking to work is far less common in the lower-income areas east of the Anacostia River. Despite the recent additions of substantial cycling infrastructure, many mobility challenges remain.

The highlights are pretty interesting, even if not much of a surprise to many of the article’s commenters or anyone who follows transportation policy. Take a look at the full article by clicking here.

I have long had real concerns about the development of bike infrastructure in many cities, and have seen firsthand that a lot of new bike lanes, bike racks, and other bike-friendly amenities tend to pop up in more affluent areas and business centers. That same infrastructure rarely penetrates into lower-income neighborhoods. Despite Tampa, Florida’s poor track record with bicycle fatalities and a general disregard for two-wheeled travelers, some of the city’s main cycling thoroughfares (laned roads and ample signage) serve low-income neighborhoods within the “urban corridor”, and this was part of the design all along, not just a coincidence. This is a positive development, obviously, and I have seen similar initiatives in neighborhoods closer to where I live (suburban DC metro area). Still, the focus on developing bike infrastructure tends to be on areas that are more affluent.

Also, as the article points out, the car is still a powerful status symbol in American culture. The dream of owning a private automobile is strong among lower-income populations, and that’s a harder problem to address. So, it’s not as simple as just building bike lanes and saying, “ok, now get on your bikes and ride”. Along with that infrastructure must come tailored programs to educate people on the benefits of bicycles-as-transportation…something to break the car-centric stranglehold.

Your thoughts on this? We’d love to hear them — just hit us up in the comments below.

Growing pains in our nation’s capital

We’ve written about “bicycle backlash” before here on Bikecommuters.com — the continued friction between motorists and the growing ranks of cyclists on city streets. Some of this is happening in cities that have seen recent surges in bike infrastructure and the people using that infrastructure, including our own Washington D.C.

Over the past couple of weeks, there’s been an acrimonious back-and-forth in the Washington Post consisting of editorial columns, one of which resulting in a two-wheeled protest in front of the newspaper’s offices. Here’s a good roundup from another WP columnist so you can catch up on all the action:

The great bicyclist-driver clash of Washington is so on.

Bottom line: Everyone is right. And wrong. Too many cyclists ride the streets and sidewalks like they’re above the law and own the place. Too many drivers haul around town in a ton of metal, oblivious that a careless right turn can kill someone.
As Rodney King once asked: Can we all get along?

Apparently not.

Read the rest by visiting the Washington Post page here.