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September 19, 2009

More bikeblogging, and related subjects
Posted by Patrick at 06:29 PM * 180 comments

Since Abi photoblogged her daily bicycle commute, I’ve done the same for my own.

Not tangentially, I’ve recently been fascinated by the energetically polemical blog, which crackles with interesting and contentious assertions about the ways in which cycling has been gradually redefined, in most people’s minds, from a normal everyday activity to a dangerous “extreme sport.” Most recently they’ve been serializing a multi-part essay called “Fear of Cycling”—start here and follow the links to subsequent parts. If you aren’t shocked down to the soles of your feet by (for instance) the suggestion that there might be something to criticize about the movement to demand that cyclists always wear helmets, then you might find some of the other “articles of note” in the site’s sidebar interesting as well.

(What’s particularly interesting to me about the helmet argument is that it’s not another instantiation of the American nobody-tells-me-what-to-do personal rock opera. The argument is over what’s good social policy for everyone.)

I’m increasingly interested in examinations of the ways we’ve managed, in the last two or three decades, to convince ourselves that life is vastly more dangerous than it actually is. Of course, the trouble with discussions of this sort is that they tend to bring out people who want to abolish the Food and Drug Administration, or reinstitute public dueling. And yet it seems to me that one needn’t be the ranty libertarian in the con suite to suspect that, on some issues, a lot of people have completely lost perspective about what’s actually dangerous and what isn’t.

Comments on More bikeblogging, and related subjects:
#1 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 07:44 PM:

Marvelous! Now I need a working digital camera...for I must do this before the Bavarian weather turns hideous. I'm very interested in the idea that childhood (in America) has become pathologically dangerous. Around here, you see kids on the bus all the time, every day. Maybe this is a German thing. However, I seem to recall that I had to walk or bike to school when I was 9 and up. To be fair, it was only three miles, and if the weather was really bad, I could take the local bus...but that would eat into my comic & skiffy book money, and I couldn't be doing with that, frankly. I had a safe word, and knew not to go with a stranger unless he or she knew it. Perhaps I grew up in more idyllic times -

Were the Eighties idyllic?

#2 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 07:50 PM:

Were the Eighties idyllic?

Not the eighties specifically. It's analagous to the saying that the golden age of science fiction is 12.

#3 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 08:04 PM:

RE actually dangerous bicycling . . . look up zoobombing.

It's a Portland thing. A crazy, crazy Portland thing.

#4 ::: Kim ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 08:05 PM:

There's definitely a difference in safety and, erm, extremity-level between ordinary bike commuting for a couple of miles in each direction and the kind of thing you see around here on the weekends, people in very little spandex huffing their way up to the top of the hills and then bombing down them at 30+ mph. Likewise biking down a pretty country path and shooting down a mountain-bike trail rife with rocks and roots. The problem is anymore people don't do as much of the everyday type biking anymore.

On a different note, one of the things I liked about my old bike commute (I don't work there anymore and I'm not up to the hill climbing where I go now) is that after dark it felt safer than walking.

#5 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 08:25 PM:

Seems like President Obama would be all for a return to personal dueling.

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 10:09 PM:

"If ever you do challenge me to a duel, your safest bet will be battle axes in a very dark cellar. "
- Number Twelve to Number Six in The Schizoid Man

#7 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 10:16 PM:

Stefan Jones mentioned Portland's zoobombing @ 3 — here's the story with pictures.

Portland's MAX light rail line goes under the west hills in a tunnel. There's a stop part way through the tunnel that is the lowest (deepest?) subway or train stop in the world. You take the elevator up, and find yourself at the zoo, which is at a high spot on the hills. The zoo bombers take their bikes on the train, and then "bomb" down the steep streets back to the city, where they can hop on the train again for another ride.

They kept a pile of minibikes chained to a bike rack in front of the bar where they meet (photo in the linked story). A few months ago, I had noticed that the wad of bikes near the bar had gone missing, but hadn't thought much about it. I stopped at Whole Foods for a few things on the way home, and was waiting at a stop a few blocks away from my usual. A guy was also waiting nearby, when another man walked up and greeted him. They chatted a bit, and one asked the other if he was going to any Pedalpalooza events. He said that he'd ridden in the naked bike ride the night before, and it was great fun. About then, I noticed a tall, wavy pole with a little golden bicycle gleaming at the top. I wandered over and found a graceful little sculpture, with the zoobomber minibikes chained to it. It was quite a Portland Bike Culture moment.

As you'd imagine, the zoobombers ride without helmets, and without lights, at speeds too fast to stop safely. The people who live in the neighborhoods they ride through worry about accidentally hitting them while driving, and rather loathe them. Those of us who don't have them roaring through our streets mostly find them quite amusing, hence the public sculpture.

#8 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 11:04 PM:

You've conflated the name, slightly, of Peter Cooper Village-Stuyvesant Town. Also, it appears to be all rentals, not condos.

And there is no Manhattan Borough Hall; that big building just north of the Brooklyn Bridge is the Municipal Building (the office of the Manhattan Borough President is in fact situated there).

Otherwise this is very cool. (Next time you cross the Brooklyn Bridge, say hi to my mom, who lives on Adams near Tillary, in the housing complex to your left.)

#9 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 11:21 PM:

When I was a kid, we didn't have bike helmet laws in my state. Now we do for minors, though it definitely falls under the category of "more honored in the breach."

I personally started wearing a helmet after getting knocked off my bike into an intersection. At no point did my skull contact concrete, but there was something about sailing through the air that convinced me it was a good idea.

On the other hand, I look at the way most kids who do wear helmets have them on, and agree that they'd be safer without. If it's not fastened, and it's not snug, you're not helping yourself any.

And of further note, a large number of children suffer skull injuries in falls— from shopping carts. Yet people pop kids in place with nary a qualm, yet shudder in fear lest their kid take a bike out? How weird is that?

(N.B. I have not had a bike in years due to a lack of a place to store it. Now that I have a place, I can look for a bike again— and a kid trailer. There's some lovely trails hereabouts. Alas, I'm way too far from work. I was never in such good shape as when I rode my bike to high school.)

#10 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 11:46 PM:

It's not that not wearing a bicycle helmet is a bad idea... it's that wearing one is not a bad idea. It's probably far safer to ride a bike helmetless than on a cell phone while driving.

Mildly aside: I've just moved to lovely Setauket, NY. The bike commute to work is great, 5 miles, no hills -- but what do people do out here (aside from garage sales)?

#11 ::: Matthew Austern ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 11:58 PM:

The aggregate argument is pretty compelling. Wearing a bike helmet isn't a bad idea. On the other hand, if the choice is between cycling without a helmet and not cycling, then cycling without a helmet is probably better.

Nobody is actually in the position of consciously making that decision? Probably true. But that's where the question of aggregates comes in. It's very plausible that if we promote cycling as an activity that's so dangerous that it requires special safety equipment, some people will just decide it's not for them. If the tradeoff as a society really is a higher fraction of cyclists using helmets at the cost of fewer cyclists, then it may well not be worth it.

#12 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2009, 11:59 PM:

I rode a bike throughout childhood. No one had ever heard of bike helmets. I walked to school (with a friend) from the time I was oh, nine. (I'm guessing. I don't honestly remember.) I ran all over the neighborhood, and as long as I was in before dark, I got to do it again the next day. I played on the railroad tracks. When I was somewhat older, but still a minor, I rode the NY subway and buses alone.

I have friends in Palo Alto who will not let their only child play in their enclosed yard,with the gate shut, with mama home, because something bad might happen to him.

On the other hand, there are neighborhoods not all that far away from mine where children playing in their own yards are in danger of being shot.

Damned if I know what to make of it all.

#13 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 12:31 AM:

Matthew Austern, I'm kind of in that situation. I stopped riding my bike to class because I knew* people were judging me for not wearing a helmet, and why would I spend lots of time, money, and anxiety on buying a helmet, I never ride my bike anyway, circle of life.

*for weird internal values of 'know' that do not correlate to actual judgement by other people. I get yelled at more often for walking than I did for riding my bike, though it's more sexual harassment than helmet bugging.

#14 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 12:56 AM:

Re the link to the story about the one-way camera interview--it's not what Cory and the author make it out to be. The confidentiality issue is not tied to the author seeing the kids; it's the medium being used. Live appearances would be fine, and it's an issue of parent permissions for digital camera viewing. Not every parent approves of the use of their child's image whether it's pictures for a school promotional brochure or web page, and a zealous administrator might decide that includes webcam images in a Skype conversation.

Additionally, in some cases images are restricted due to custody issues. It's all about rights and permissions, not personal safety.

Helmets--that's another issue. I ski and ride horses, and have helmets for both sports. I also support helmets for bike riding, especially on anything other than the upright Amsterdam-type bikes. One of the factors has to do with actually working with brain-injured kids in the past, and hearing too many stories about skiers and riders who've had nasty falls. I don't skimp on quality for either sport. Given the level of riding I'm doing right now, I want a brain bucket on my head. Skiing--well, I've seen a head injury, and while it wasn't the worst injury, the oddest incidents can happen on the white stuff.

#15 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:05 AM:

I grew up in the helmet-less and seatbelt-less era. I had 3 concussions by the time I was 8, none of which apparently did any lasting damage. Each came from a different activity: a swing set, a bike, and a freak jump-rope accident (really).

I wear a helmet when I ride my bike, and use bright, blinking lights after dark. I feel a bit annoyed when I see cyclists doing neither, but I don't yell at them. My annoyance is that I also drive a car and it would be very upsetting to me if I killed somebody on a bike!

#16 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:12 AM:

My mother worked with brain-damaged kids for a while in her early twenties. Her mother and sister are both nurses. Not wearing a bike helmet was not an option. That said, the whole family biked, so there was no culture of fear, just of sane precautions.

I've come off my bike twice in the past ten-fifteen years, first time my (helmeted) head didn't touch anything; second time I hit frost on the road, the bike went sideways and I went over backwards.

Nice bruises on my shoulders, late to work, and that solid "Clunk!" sound as the back of my helmet hit the pavement is enough to turn anyone into a helmetophile.

If that had been my bare head, I'd quite likely have had worse issues than bruises and a phone call to work...

I agree with nearly every single one of the Copenhagenize article's points about the 'culture of fear' around cycling.

But anyone who bikes without a helmet is still a freakin' idiot.

#17 ::: Mike Booth ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:46 AM:

The "Fear of Cycling" essay reminds me of (and, indeed, may be about to refer to) the engineers who have successfully improved the safety of certain intersections and streets by removing the "safety" barriers between the pedestrians, the cyclists, and the cars and encouraging them to mix together.

The net effect is that everybody slows down and pays more careful attention.

Here's a handy link on the subject:

#18 ::: ejp ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 03:03 AM:

Mike Booth @16:
I actually felt more comfortable biking in Vietnam than I do at home in California. The almost entirely uncontrolled mix of 4-wheeled (and occasionally 4-legged), 2-wheeled (motorized or not) and foot traffic meant that nobody ever expected a clear path or the right of way. Throwing myself into the middle of that, knowing that navigating around constantly shifting obstacles of varying speeds was normal and expected, felt safer* than sharing with drivers who assume total domination of the road and for whom any incursion into their clearly marked space is an unwelcome intrusion**.

The system had some significant drawbacks, including making it impossible to get anywhere quickly, but it seemed to work fairly well despite the appearance of complete chaos.

*Once I got over the initial terror. It took me a few days just to learn to cross the street; I'm sure I provided some amusement to the people watching me circle the block.

**Not saying all drivers are like this, but judging by the number of times I've been honked at for minding my own business at the side of the road, it's not an uncommon attitude.

#19 ::: Bill ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 03:20 AM:

Linkmeister, BBC has the video version of that scene, where Obama's watching and joking with the Olympic fencers. The audio on it wasn't very good, so I can only speculate that what he was saying was that the reason he was smiling was that he's knows something they don't, that he's not actually left-handed.

#20 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 03:38 AM:

Mike Booth @ 16: Tom Vanderbilt's book, "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)" is very interesting. One section is about making the road seem less safe, which makes everyone more alert, and therefore safer.

The number of people riding bikes in Portland has grow rapidly in recent years, with the result that drivers are much more aware of them. The city also allows skateboarding in traffic. There have been some very sad car/bike accidents in the past year, but the number of injuries to cyclists has not gone up the way the amount of cycling has. The theory is that because our downtown is full of jaywalker, bikes, skateboards and Segways, drivers are hyper-alert to the madness. least the ones that aren't focused on their cell phones. That "Traffic" book has a chapter about the research which shows that talking on a phone, even a hands-free one, significantly reduces your ability to read the environment and drive safely. I will never drive and talk on the phone again.

#21 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 03:41 AM:

I'm a fan of bicycle helmets because our pediatrician, after a particularly bad experience with a kid who wasn't wearing one, saw me the next day and, um, vented. I'm also a fan of seat belts. Haven't stopped riding bicycles or driving cars, that I've noticed.

As you know, Bob, I am occasionally told that my stubborn insistence that my children, like, use public transportation without me in attendance (with an UZI and a large bodyguard named Rolf) is, like, child abuse. When I point out that having some experience in negotiating the place where they live actually breeds confidence, self-reliance, creative critical thinking, and allows me to get some work done, I am looked upon with horror. Granted, I worked up to all this license gradually; I didn't start forcing the kid to go to school on her own until she was in 5th grade. If I were really hard core I would have made her walk to kindergarten all alone, in the snow, uphill both ways.

You have a great commute, by the by.

#22 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 03:45 AM:

Helmets: I like them. I use them. I didn't grow up with them on bikes. I'm lucky, I had a couple of ugly accidents (too much speed, not enough cornering space = loss of traction = crash. Idiot in car shooting out of alley = rear wheel being hit = sudden lack of bicycle underneat one). I got myself a couple of concussions.

I wrote about the motorcycle wreck.

During my recent trip to Chicago.... oi! Illinois has no helme law. There are motorcycle rights activists who are thrilled at this, and want the rest of the world to follow suit. While I was there I was apalled to see something like 60-70 percent of the riders with no helmet at all. It got to the point I was thrilled to see someone with a "skid lid".

I live in East Palo Alto. It's considered a bad part of town (it might be the area Lizzy L refers to). There are more murders here, per capita, than there are in Berkeley. Mostly, if one isn't dealing drugs (and doing it in a less than straightforward fashion), it's not that bad.

On the flip side, there are more rapes per capita in Berkeley than there are here.

Here, I can see kids playing in the street (which is scary, these are not well planned streets). I feel, actually, a lot safer here than I do in nearby areas which are less, "run down". My neighbors know who is supposed to be about. The guy on the streecorner, selling bean pies, is clued in to who goes by, etc.

Risk, and the perception of same, is a funny thing.

#23 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 03:54 AM:

It's the comments on the bike-helmet question that are illuminating. I didn't even know that there are some designed only to take a single impact.

Though that should be pretty obvious when you think about the sort of prices they sell for.

And there was a mention of rotational forces. It seems to me that could be a bigger issue for children: a larger head in proportion to the neck. It seems possible that helmets do increase some risks.

Of course, one of the big things to remember, applying as much to military body armour as to bike helmets (and it showed up in WW1 when soldiers started wearing helmets), is that you will see more people in hospital with serious injuries, because the protection means they survive to get to the hospital.

Scare story time, since everyone seems to do scare stories: do you want your child to live the rest of their life with a broken neck?

#24 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 04:51 AM:

When I cycled in the US, I wore a helmet from the time that they were widely available (80's, IIRC). I would expect to wear a helmet any time I biked there. Local culture, and it is simply a more dangerous environment.

I also wore one the few times I cycled in the UK, before the frankly murderous traffic in Edinburgh put me off*. My kids wore them the few times that they tried, tentatively, to bike on the sidewalks near our house.

I don't wear a helmet here. No one does, not even the wee kiddies on the bike seats. The only people who do are tour parties and the Lycra-clad set who are training for something. And yet the death rates here are low enough that people muse on them in blogs.

There are an enormous number of reasons for this safety record, but the most substantial of them is that car drivers are aware of cyclists and care about them. Not checking for cyclists before opening the driver door of your car is an automatic fail on your driving test. And if a bike and a car are in collision, the fault is assumed to lie with the driver except in certain specific circumstances.

Basically, here (and especially in Amsterdam†), the cars don't own the road. Drivers don't think they do, and cyclists won't let them drift into that illusion. And since virtually every driver is also a cyclist, they really can't fall into the habit of treating bikes as Other the way that many American drivers do§.

* I had a taxi chase me in a rage after I shouted at him to read the Highway Code. Being crammed against the kerb and then cut off by a sudden decision to park makes me...cranky.
† Where to day is Car Free Sunday, and everyone turns out not just on bikes but also rollerblades‡
‡ for which people do wear helmets, along with full protective gear, because it's a Sport, not an ordinary means of transport.
§ "Red-light running bikers", particularly on the lips of habitual speeders, always sounds like "dirty hippies" to me.

#25 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 04:53 AM:

By the way, one thing that really caught my eye from the "Fear of Cycling" article Patrick links to:

Yet road safety education concentrates not on the drivers of vehicles, but on those who they have the capacity to kill. Dean saw how placing responsibility for road danger on those outside of motorised vehicles might lead, by stealth, to placing of culpability on those groups

It reminds me quite vividly of this, which I found on Tanya's LJ.

For a bit of background, it's useful to understand that road users in the UK* are generally represented by the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club, which are motorist interest groups. The cyclists' and pedestrians' lobbies are not nearly as powerful or well-known. They're also not nearly as well-funded, since they don't run roadside repair businesses on the side.

However, despite that, it is worth pointing out that there are notable adverts educating drivers about bike safety in the UK.
* The equivalent organization in the Netherlands, the ANWB, started as a cyclists' union and branched out into helping the drivers of those newfangled auto thingies that all the cool kids were raving about. They also serve the interests of horseback riders and people engaged in various off-road activities such as watersports and camping. We're members, for their roadside services.

#26 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 05:30 AM:

abi @24: your link "notable" is broken.

The argument against compulsory helmet laws is interesting. I note that some of it is the same as the arguments against compulsory car safety belt laws, and with enough experience of those now I think consensus is that they're a good idea, but the other argument, basically that they reduce the number of cyclists on the roads (which is a bad thing both from the point of view of reducing the number of cyclists and for increasing danger to those who remain) is interesting. I'd like to see more evidence supporting that, but it's kind-of hard to collect, which is unfortunate.

#27 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 05:31 AM:

And now it isn't. Fixed while I was reading the rest of the thread, I guess. :)

#28 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 06:40 AM:

Related to the Shared Space theory that if you remove barriers and markings then people are more careful, some recent work confirms that cycle lanes can actually encourage drivers to pass closer to cyclists: (as can wearing a helmet, as far as the limited research on the subject shows:

(And that ignores the sort of extreme stupidity in cycle lane design visible here or here.)

One common counter-argument is "that's just bad cycle lanes, good quality cycle lanes will still help". But in Cambridge, for example, with one of the highest proportion of cyclists in the UK and official "cycling town" status, not a single cycle lane meets the County Council's own recommendation for minimum width, and many are narrower that their standard's supposed absolute minimum width. And even full width lanes can increase conflict at junctions, putting cyclists where motorists aren't looking for them.

(Another depressingly common reaction, at least on one local newsgroup, is "I don't care how ineffective they are, my voters say they want cycle facilities, so we'll squeeze something in somehow".)

Dave Bell@22 - pretty much all helmets are designed to only take a single impact - they work by absorbing energy by crushing irreversibly. What's generally not so obvious from reading the box is that the design speed of that single impact is about 12 mph, and can be reached by falling off a stationary bicycle - the sort of impact the skull has evolved to handle on its own. Absorbing a fraction of the impact can still be helpful at higher speed, but a 30mph impact is more than six times over the design limit (energy varies with square of impact speed). (And, as you say, torsional injuries can even be made worse.)

#29 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 07:00 AM:

I don't wear a helmet here. No one does, not even the wee kiddies on the bike seats. The only people who do are tour parties and the Lycra-clad set who are training for something.

Yep. In Amsterdam, the only helmets you see are worn by Americans; elsewhere it's the Germans. When the kids bikes have little orange flags on them, they're definately German...

What the Netherlands have, that the UK and US, not even in bikefriendly cities, do not have is a culture that accepts bikes as a normal part of the traffic, as we never stopped using bikes as normal part of our commutes. And that's all bound up in culture, history and basic geography of course -- it helps to have a flat country.

#30 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 07:54 AM:

Joyce Reynolds-Ward, #13: "Re the link to the story about the one-way camera interview--it's not what Cory and the author make it out to be. The confidentiality issue is not tied to the author seeing the kids; it's the medium being used. Live appearances would be fine, and it's an issue of parent permissions for digital camera viewing. Not every parent approves of the use of their child's image whether it's pictures for a school promotional brochure or web page, and a zealous administrator might decide that includes webcam images in a Skype conversation. Additionally, in some cases images are restricted due to custody issues."

Actually, having just reread both the Free Range Kids post and the Boing Boing post that linked to it, I'm pretty sure that neither Cory nor YA author Eric Berlin "made it out to be" anything but what it is, which is to say, another piece of deranged overprotectiveness that actually protects nobody. All you've done is identify a possible bureaucratic rationale for the deranged overprotectiveness. It's still deranged. In the history of the world, exactly how many children have come to harm because they were visible to an author of middle-grade novels who engaged in a virtual visit to their classroom via Skype? I'm betting the answer is zero. And I'm further betting that "custody issues" don't actually constitute a grant of omniscient parental control over each and every instance of their child's image being encoded into bits. In the actual world, the one that children necessarily pass through no matter how many SUVs we swaddle them in, video images of us get made all the time--by security cameras, by passing tourists, by people working on projects irrelevant to us, by the kid across the room who's playing with the webcam built into their laptop lid. Short of a totalitarian initiative to confiscate video tools from everyone in society, parents can't possibly have this level of "approval" of "the use of their child's image," and you certainly wouldn't want to live in a society where they could.

In fact what's operating here is nothing more than terror, superstition, and stupidity. It's entirely true it might have been a "zealous administrator" rather than the teacher who was being terrified, superstitious, and stupid, and also that the problem might reside in crazypants laws or regulations that pretend to give parents an impossible level of "approval" over their child's image. None of which actually answers either Berlin or Doctorow's point, nor does it in any way repudiate my observation, which is that the incident is an excellent demonstration of a society that has, in fact, "completely lost perspective about what's actually dangerous and what isn't."

#31 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 08:01 AM:

As both a motorcycle and bycycle rider, I can attest that the riding world is divided into two populations -- those who have dropped the bike and those who haven't - yet.

From observation and experience, the overwhelming reason for people going over is lack of attention on the part of pedestrians or motorists.

One time I dropped the bike it was because some idiot decided that pushing her baby's stroller into the middle of the street from between parked cars was a good idea. When I was putting the bike upright again, she started yelling at me that, since I was on a ***** MOTORCYCLE instead of a car I should have been able to avoid her with no problem.

Another time I was rear-ended in a rotary ("Roundabout" for those on the Thacher side of the pond),and the motorist indignantly told the police officer taking the report that "I was in her way" and that "cars have the right-of-way over motorcycles." This proclamation was of particular interest to the officer, who had just pulled up on *his* on-duty Electra-Glide.

On the other hoof, here *are* plenty of fools and candidates for "Darwin awards" riding motorcycles as well.

That said, even if campaigns for compulsory helmet laws seem to make the activities more "dangerous" to the citizenry-at-large, I'm in favour of such campaigns -- because the targeted audience for the laws (the riders) have such a disparity of consequence of injury over those driving a car,SUV or truck. And *that* population seems really disinclined to *PAY ATTENTION.* And it *is* up to the cyclists and motorcyclists to take control by being as proactive for their own safety as is reasonable.

I shudder every time I cross from Massachusetts into Connecticut and see motorcycle riders pulling over on the side of the road to take their helmets off. I suppose I should count it as a plus that so few children are passengers on motorcycles, even in sidecars, because there would be (by act of G/d and biology) parents who would gleefully, in the name of "freedom" take *their* helmets off too, in protest against the "nanny state."

Alas -- as some in Abi's thread on cycling to work have noted, one of the problems with cycling in is that there are some of us who are pungent after exercise. And besides, it's over 40 miles by highway to my workplace (about 70 if I were to use "non-highway" routes.) so that mode of transport (like counting to the number "5") Is Right Out.

#32 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 08:18 AM:

Martin Wisse, #27: "It helps to have a flat country."

Possibly. On the other hand, your flat country has some pretty damn stiff winds. That first time I visited, in March 2008, Abi and I had a great time cycling around central Amsterdam as the weather staged an interleague exhibition game (Look! Sun! No, wait, rain! No, sun! No, heavy snow!). Then about halfway back to the village the Sutherlands live in, the wind turned against us and I really thought I wasn't going to make it.

Here's an interesting post addressing the idea that cycling can only flourish in flat places. They don't even mention the case of Portland, Oregon, a far-from-flat city which has the highest rate of personal cycling of any big city in the US. The next city down that list? San Francisco, California.

The Copenhagenize post argues that what really made the difference in Denmark and the Netherlands is that their cyclist's unions, organized in the 1890s just as they were practically everywhere else, managed to not get swept away by the advent of, first, sport cycling, and second, the motorcar. They stayed powerful and they stayed focused on the needs and priorities of normal, non-athletic people for whom using a bicycle was simply a part of everyday life.

#33 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 08:49 AM:

Craig R @31:
That said, even if campaigns for compulsory helmet laws seem to make the activities more "dangerous" to the citizenry-at-large, I'm in favour of such campaigns -- because the targeted audience for the laws (the riders) have such a disparity of consequence of injury over those driving a car,SUV or truck. And *that* population seems really disinclined to *PAY ATTENTION.* And it *is* up to the cyclists and motorcyclists to take control by being as proactive for their own safety as is reasonable.

So what if the effect of such campaigns is to make the activity seem so dangerous that fewer people do it? What if that causes the mass of people doing it to drop below critical, thus exposing the people who haven't been scared off the road to the consequences of their rarity?

In other words, what if helmet campaigns are making it more dangerous to cycle?

The way to make cycling safer is to have more people doing it. That way, cyclists become part of everyday driver experience, more drivers actually know cyclists and see them as human, and the justification for other safety features, such as bike lanes, grows.

There's a strong analogy with immunization here.

#34 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 08:54 AM:

PNH @32:

Ah, the winds. There is a reason the Dutch have so many windmills.

The prevailing wind in the mornings in my area is from the south to the north. Then, by evening, it's swung all the way round to blowing north to south.

I live north of my office. On windy days, my commute is actually uphill both ways.

#35 ::: pm215 ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 09:10 AM:

The trouble with opposing helmet laws is that this is opposing the conventional wisdom that says 'cycling dangerous; safety equipment good', often backed up with 'helmet saved my life' anecdotes. So it's a bit of an uphill struggle to get people to actually look at the statistics. John Adams' book _Risk_ (referenced in the essay) has more on risk compensation and why this kind of compulsion law doesn't always have the effect its supporters expect (including some interesting graphs about the lack-of-effect of motorcycle helmet laws). Worth reading, I think.

Craig R @ 31: on pungency after exercise: more workplaces providing shower facilities is another thing that would encourage more cycling. (My employer does, happily.)

#36 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 09:16 AM:

Incidentally, in case anyone is unclear, I cycle with a helmet. And I've taken spills onto pavement in traffic. I am well aware that I'm not immortal.

What I want to know, from all the people saying "See, I've had a head injury / seen a head injury / treated a head injury / dropped my bike / $ANECDOTE, and therefore anyone who rides without a helmet is an idiot" is: why don't you wear a helmet every time you get into an automobile?

Why aren't you out there advocating for mandatory helmets for motorists and all their passengers?

You let your ten-year-old ride in an automobile without a helmet? On the freeway? At 55 miles per hour? You're not fit to be a parent. We should take your kid away.

While we're at it, what kind of idiot walks down the sidewalk, just a few feet from cars and trucks going thirty miles per hour, without special head protection gear? Wait, I know the answer! An organ donor. Ha ha! Good one!

While you're being annoyed with me for the above, read this. This happens constantly: Cars and trucks kill law-abiding cyclists, and in response, local police departments crack down on cyclists. This is the residue of the long historical process being outlined in that "Fear of Cycling" series I linked to. Once you've fully established in people's minds that automobile use is the default state, and that cyclists are a weird fringe group asking for Special Privileges, when you're confronted with automobiles killing cyclists it makes perfect sense to "solve" the problem by further discouraging cyclists. Since obviously it's their fault.

(Note, incidentally, that this took place in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, capital of a country that's usually marginally more sensible than the US.)

There is no reasonable end to this, no "happy medium," because the process is an inherently irrational one that spins further and further into magical thinking. More irrationality is required in order to avoid dealing with the earlier layers of it. The right to careen around the landscape inside high-speed two-ton hunks of metal is the right to be free. Anyone questioning that is questioning the basic illusion at the heart of our civilization, and of course that needs to be punished. Should a small voice, in back of our heads, suggest that ultimately we're going to need to rethink the social and technological arrangements that privilege automobile operation over practically everything else we do, another voice can be relied upon to cut in: "That's too hard. With any luck we can live out our lives before it becomes inevitable. Let our kids suffer through it once we're dead."

#37 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 10:51 AM:

Making Light StreetView

#38 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 11:15 AM:

#12 ::: Lizzy L :::
I have friends in Palo Alto who will not let their only child play in their enclosed yard,with the gate shut, with mama home, because something bad might happen to him.

On the other hand, there are neighborhoods not all that far away from mine where children playing in their own yards are in danger of being shot.

I think that this shows an interesting attribute of the global village concept. Everywhere is next door to everywhere else. Therefore, that scary neighborhood in East Palo Alto is right next to your yard. Magnified by being beaten around the eyeballs by TV news which shows all the scary things happening far away as if it was local news. Meanwhile the US is actually much safer in general than when I was a kid. Crimes against children that were mostly hidden from view in the 50s/60s are prosecuted, people get incarcerated or treated, sexual offender registration does work* when well implemented.

* I live in Massachusetts, which behaves sanely about this. I am appalled by some of what happens elsewhere (a Mom having to register as a sex offender because she didn't do enough to keep her child from becoming sexually active, consensual sex between teenage peers being a criminal issue, threatening teenagers with being publicly labeled as pedophiles for pictures they took of themselves (using a law designed to protect children).

#39 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 11:19 AM:

This looks like a job for Bicycle Repairman!

#40 ::: Kirilaw ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 11:38 AM:

Patrick @ 36:

As someone who commutes by bike in downtown Ottawa*, that police campaign has been a source of significant irritation. It has not escaped the notice of the cycling community here that the reaction to a terrible accident affecting five cyclists who were, by all accounts, following all the rules, has been to remind cyclists to... follow all the rules. As if that will somehow help protect us against hostile and/or deliberately oblivious drivers.

(And this is a few days after a woman was killed by a bus while she rode her bike in the lane designated to be shared by bikes and busses)

*and is now inspired to photograph the commute one of these days

#41 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 11:39 AM:

Abi @34: On windy days, my commute is actually uphill both ways.

I don't suppose it's possible to tack about and beat to windward?

#42 ::: Bill Altreuter ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 11:47 AM:

I don't understand the argument against helmets, unless it's just "I don't wanna". In Erie County, where I live and ride my bicycle there is a local ordinance that requires all cyclists to wear a helmet, and I'll let you know the first time I see someone get cited for not doing so. As a practical mater the effect of the statute is to create a defense in mitigation of damages. If you sustain a head injury in an accident the burden shifts to you, the plaintiff, to show that a helmet would not have made a difference. Good luck finding a neurologist that'll take the stand for you.

Someone alluded to the WWI experience with head injuries vs. fatalities when helmets became commonplace, and that's good to think about, but really what it comes down to is that helmets diminish the risk of sustaining a head injury in the course of an activity where participants are at meaningful risk. It's not like driving when secured by a seatbelt, or walking down the street. On a bike you are exposed, and a simple, inexpensive precaution can protect you. Why not wear a helmet? This is not nanny-stateism, it's just sensible. The reason for helmet statutes is as much educational as anything else.

#43 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 11:56 AM:

Bill @42:
I don't understand the argument against helmets, unless it's just "I don't wanna".

Follow the Fear of Cycling link, then come back and discuss.

There is more in there. Go find out rather than making assumptions.

#44 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 12:08 PM:

"why don't you wear a helmet every time you get into an automobile?"

And here I thought it was because it's hard for seat-belted automobile travelers to fall on their head. Annoying to us corvids--we have to wait longer for our meals. On the other hand, left to your own devices, a majority of you hominids will quite happily conclude you will beat the odds. Could be worse.

#45 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 12:15 PM:

Hey, Bill. Please note that I am not "arguing against helmets." Did you miss the part where I said that I wear one?

I am, however, interested in the criteria we use, as a society, to determine who does and doesn't have to go to a lot of trouble, wear special clothing and protective gear, etc.

"It's not like driving when secured by a seatbelt, or walking down the street. On a bike you are exposed, and a simple, inexpensive precaution can protect you. Why not wear a helmet? This is not nanny-stateism, it's just sensible."

It's not obvious to me that it's all that different from "driving when secured by a seatbelt", particularly since, unlike cycling, "driving when secured by a seatbelt" frequently takes place at speeds well in excess of sixty miles per hour.

Nor does it seem obviously different from "walking down the street" just a few feet away from large metal vehicles hurtling down that street at high speeds, their trajectory entirely under the control of people who are frequently inattentive, distracted, or otherwise impaired. Indeed, the logic that "you are exposed, and a simple, inexpensive precaution can protect you" applies equally well to pedestrians on sidewalks adjacent to major suburban arteries.

I ask again why it is so obvious that cyclists need to wear special protective equipment but these other classes of equally "exposed" people do not. And I suggest that our belief in the alleged "obviousness" of these ideas reflects some unexamined assumptions that ought to be examined. None of which amounts to "arguing against helmets," as you certainly have the intelligence to readily discern.

As for "nanny-statism," if you think anything like that is remotely my concern, I can only conclude that you simply didn't read my original post, since I couldn't have been clearer on that subject if I'd trained a spotlight on it while setting off a police siren.

#46 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 12:22 PM:

Kirilaw, do photoblog your commute! Or, at least, do feel encouraged to. Ottawa's an interesting place.

#47 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 12:37 PM:

I don't like bike helmets because

1. They make me look more like a picto and less like a human being. I am safer when the rest of the street traffic (vehicular and otherwise) registers my existence as a human being.

2. They seriously impair my fellow primates' ability to read my body language and facial expressions.

3. They're designed to look a lot more effective than they actually are. I don't like having the rest of the street traffic unconsciously estimating that my helmet could protect me from a significant impact, when in fact it's just an unattractive styrofoam hat bonded to a very thin plastic shell.

#48 ::: Jim Lund ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 12:51 PM:

Being rather taller than the median public accommodations engineer, I can really get behind the helmets everywhere idea. Or at least Brin's Kelvar fedora. I can't count the bumps, bruises and gashes my head has collected.

Regarding helmets, the main practical arguments against them are 1) women get their hair messed up, 2) one more thing to carry, and 3) one more thing to buy. With standard accessories now including a lock, a helmet, and a night light the cost of biking is getting tall.

#49 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:04 PM:

Just for information: I live in San Pablo, CA; a blue-collar suburb right next to Richmond, CA. People get shot regularly in areas of Richmond, and with all those bullets flying, little kids sometimes get shot too. A couple of weekends ago, Richmond had five shootings over the course of two days. That's a lot for a city with a population of about 100,000.

In my little neighborhood, kids ride bikes all over the place. Mostly they don't wear helmets, BTW. But I don't think my neighbors worry about their children getting shot, judging by the numbers of kids and adults I see outdoors on hot days.

The Palo Alto neighborhood that my friends live in (see my comment #12 if you're confused) is in fact extremely safe, by my standards. Nothing like East Palo Alto. My neighborhood is reasonably safe, by my standards; the usual amount of break-ins, vandalism, and car thefts, but not much street crime. I walk my dog all over the place and am comfortable doing so.

I don't mean to criticize my friends in Palo Alto: merely to point out that their evaluation of risk for their son leads them to make certain kinds of decisions about what is or is not "safe." I am not sure what they fear -- abduction, perhaps? Certainly not flying bullets.

#50 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:19 PM:

Abi --
Anecdotally, I have not noticed a drop in bicycle use with the push for helmet use. But that could also be because I haven't been doing any conscious counting (I guess I missed seeing the moonwalking bear).

Patrick --
The referenced 5-person hit-and-run, I think, illustrates both yours and mine points -- this van driver, quite obviously, unless he was *targeting* cyclists (which activity I have also seen), was not *paying attention* to either the road (missing the presence of the bike lane) or its occupants (the 5 cyclists). And the police response is just one of those things that makes one ask for a brick wall to hit with one's head -- because it will feel better what you stop.

Teresa --
I'm afraid that for a sizable fraction of the car-driving public, the absence of a bike helmet will not make a lick of difference on recognition of you as a human person -- for all too many drivers, when they are behind the wheel, something on the road that is also not a steel box is just an obstacle and an "other." (and often the perceived price of the steel box can also make a difference in the perception of whether or not the Box is an "equal" on the road or just a different class of "other")

#51 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:22 PM:

I'm an enormous fan of bike helmets. I've gone over the handlebars twice in my life[1]. Both times, I walked away completely uninjured, and replaced the helmet. I also have a set of badly-abraded knee and wrist pads from my inline skating days. Again, no injuries whatsoever. So, based entirely on anecdotal evidence, I tend to assume that appropriate safety gear is a Good Thing. And if anybody has studies suggesting that wearing a helmet in a car or on the sidewalk is equivalently useful, I'm actually prepared to listen.[2] :-)

Now, anecdotal evidence doesn't justify PSAs with pictures of crushed skulls, or obnoxious public moralizing. And the article mentioned above does raise some interesting questions about helmet laws and the number of cyclists on the road. So I'm perfectly happy to listen to the evidence.

But there's no way that I'm giving up on any of my safety gear. It has served me well over the years, and—all other things being equal—I prefer to avoid unnecessary pain.

(On a political note, I wish Vermont would get even more serious about drunk drivers. And it wouldn't hurt to put 18" of paved shoulder on certain heavily-used roads. This would make me a lot more willing to cycle into town.)

[1] Once thanks to youthful stupidity (and a badly-parked car on a blind private drive), and once thanks to a rental mountain bike with a badly-tightened headset.

[2] Bike helmets seem to be most useful for low-speed head impacts, such as going over the handlebars.[3] Clearly, they're less useful if you're a pedestrian who has been hit from behind by a truck.

[3] According to this excellent article on helmet laws, standard helmets are designed for impacts at less than 12.5mph. Both of my "over the handlebars" incidents probably happened below this speed.

#52 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:25 PM:

The Raven @44: Are you under the impression that belted-in passengers never sustain head injuries? Think again. It's not uncommon. Heck, I've done it myself.

Simple test: Next time you're sitting in a car with your lap and shoulder belts fastened, see whether normal motion allows you to bring your head into contact with a window, the steering wheel, the seat in front of you, or a fellow passenger. If the answer is "yes," your head will most assuredly be able to hit it more and hit it harder in an accident.

Additional test: Make a list of every loose object inside the cabin of your car. Using an air cannon, fire those objects plus a double handful of broken safety glass at a head-sized piece of ballistic gel. How far do they penetrate?

When my beloved Honda Civic was done in by a hit-and-run driver -- fortunately, I wasn't in it at the time -- the backs of both seats and the front-seat headrests were thatched with innumerable fine glass needles, which had penetrated some distance into the upholstery.

Helmets would help protect passengers from collisions, flying debris, and having their scalps quilled with glass fragments. If you added the kind of face mask you see on football players, helmets would also help protect them from airbag-related injuries.

#53 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:30 PM:

Eric K., I have very loose joints. It's a thing in my family. I've always assumed that if I took a tumble and landed on my head, I'd break my neck, and there'd be the end of it.

#54 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:39 PM:

dlbowman #1: They are working on it. A friend lives in a wealthy exurb (in Bavaria), and her daughter is the only elementary school age girl allowed to leave the garden unsupervised. Parents expect the school to forbid kids to ride a scooter because said parents are unable to forbid their own 6yos to ride their scooter downhill onto a busy (for an exurb) road. Bicycling test is end of 4th grade, kids are not allowed to bicyle to school unless they took the test. Elementary school gets a new device on the playground and kids and parents have to sign a paper that the kids won't move fast on it or near it or attempt acrobatics. Unless they aim at teaching children to lie to authority with a straight face (useful skill, but most kids learn it on their own just fine), it's just insane.

It might not yet be that bad for teenagers, but give it time.

Nationality does not make much difference to the fears that people with too few problems and too little knowledge of statistics can dream up.

Maybe we had other worries in the 80s.

#55 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:45 PM:

Craig @50:

From the third section of the article that Patrick referenced:

There is evidence that cycling levels decline when helmets are promoted and collapse when they become compulsory (Liggett et al 2004, 12). Australia, the first country to make cycle helmets compulsory, witnessed a post-compulsion fall in levels of cycling of between 15 and 40 per cent (Adams 1995, 146). According to ‘the Mole’ (2004, 5), in Melbourne 'compulsion reduced the number of child cyclists by 42% and adults by 29%'.

I have no independently sourced evidence to offer, but the idea that emphasizing the dangers of an activity will discourage a certain proportion of people from doing it doesn't sound all that wildly improbable to me.

#56 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:46 PM:

Teresa, I'm not sure where the "fine glass needles" you report might have come from. It's not my experience of shattered auto glass.

One thing we can all do: be careful of what stuff might be casually tossed onto the back seat of your car. I don't know what fractured my spine, but I can think of something that could have been responsible.

#57 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:49 PM:

I lived in China for the last three years, in a city that unlike Beijing hasn't been completely redesigned with cars in mind. There were still loads of bicycles (and electric scooters) zooming about, and the traffic could be charitably described as crazy. Nonetheless, I felt safer walking through the weird four-lane, three-way-with-a-jog, broken-traffic-light intersection near my apartment than crossing most major roads here in the US. You could say that's because everyone paid more attention, but that's not precisely it--it was safer because everyone was driving slower, which allowed them to pay the attention they needed to pedestrians and bikes.

The payoff of having strict, regularized traffic patterns like in the US isn't just that people get to zone out and cruise, it's that they get to go a lot, LOT faster. I'd estimate the average flow of traffic in China was twenty-five, thirty miles an hour--on major, two-lane-each-way-with-a-separate-lane-for-bikes-and-scooters roads. On smaller roads with a lot of pedestrians, it was more like ten: American parking lot speeds. The way you make roads safe for pedestrians and bikes is by slowing everything down.

I bring this up not to suggest that there's something morally superior to going really fast. I just think that changing American cities to be friendlier to biking is going to take more than changing drivers' psychology--you're going to have to slow them down, and I really don't think they're going to like that.

#58 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:54 PM:

Another person who rode as a teenager in the 60s, without helmet or other safety equipment. When I tried riding down the very steep hill with a turn at the bottom, followed by a shallower downhill with another turn in the same direction, I wiped out at around 35 miles an hour regularly -- and never got seriously injured. The one time I went headfirst over the front of my bike, I scraped my lower back -- AFAICT, I rolled instinctively when I hit a pothole. For bicycle use, I don't like helmets; and I don't ride motorcycles. Or bikes, any more. It feels a lot less safe out there than it did when I was younger. Whether that's the rise of scare tactics or the change in drivers, I can't say.

#59 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 01:57 PM:

Safety belts... Early in the first X-men movie, when Wolverine's truck runs into a tree trunk, Wolverine, who wasn't wearing a safety belt, goes crashing thru the windshield, skids along the road for about one hundred feet, then lies there unconscious. Meanwhile, Rogue, who had her safety belt on, is still inside the truck, but a fire has started in the back, and she can't escape because the belt is jammed. She gets out of it only because Cyclops's eyebeams blast the belt buckle apart. I'm not sure what message young viewers are supposed to get about safety belts. Put them on only if you have eyebeams, and you can skip them if you have a very strong healing factor.

#60 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 02:16 PM:

Dave Bell, if I may ask, how bad was the break? Did something go through your car seat?

In my case, the needles can only have come from the rear windows of my car. I didn't leave stuff sitting on my car seats.

I know that along with its various polymerized coatings, tempered safety glass is engineered to crumble rather than shatter. However, I don't believe that property is consistent at all sizes and with all degrees of force. If you hit the stuff hard enough, you'll still get flying shards.

Come to think of it, almost anything that's solid will eject shards if you hit it fast enough and hard enough.

#61 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 02:20 PM:

Correction to my comment @ 52: The alleged 12.5mph impact speed for bike helmets was mentioned in the comment thread, not in the article. So I don't know if it's an accurate figure. However, I do recommend the article itself. It claims that (a) some studies suggest than bike helmets prevent up to 80% of head injuries, but that (b) helmet laws may nonetheless have a net negative effect on public health.

TNH @ 53: I'm not sure that I'd have the courage to cycle if I were similarly vulnerable to a fall. Once something crosses my physical risk threshold, I tend to stop suddenly, and for good. As for your comments about helmets and car accidents @ 52, I need to think about those for a while. Perhaps I really ought to start. :-)

#62 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 02:21 PM:

Serge, just imagine Wolverine visiting schools to deliver safety lectures. He could describe in detail what kind of injuries you get under what circumstances -- and he'd do it, too.

#63 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 02:30 PM:

"--and the neck can break under as little as 8 pounds of pressure! A child could do it. In fact, you! Come here. Yep, you. Now, twist like this--" *crack*


(Class: "Whoa!" "You killed Wolverine!")

"Yeeargh!" *stands up, popping neck* "And that's why you wear a neck brace at all times!"

#64 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 02:34 PM:

If I don't mind having a lot of gear, I'll take the motorbike. And going by the bike accidents I had as a kid, what I should be wearing is gloves. When falling from a bike, I always land on my hands.

In general, I never listen to doctors about the likeliness of illness or injury, to policemen about the likeliness of crime, or to Linux freaks about the faults of Windows.

janetl #15: and use bright, blinking lights after dark.

God, I hate those. Most bikers here bike with no light at all, but the blinking lights are more trouble when I go by car -- they make it nearly impossible to notice anything else (e.g. the unlit bikes) and trash night vision as badly as the BMW SUVs who have their blue headlights on the eye level of other drivers.

Re: Rotten bad bike paths. Don't get me started.

That bike path along the street which would be my shortest way to work is a nightmare. 80 cm wide at optimal conditions (no snow, no garbage cans, no leaves, freshly-cut greenery). Nowhere to go: Brambles and trees to the right, a 20 cm curb and a medium busy street to the left. Lots of tiny streets coming from the right. You never see what's coming out of the side streets because of the brambles, the path is 50yo 20*20cm square stones and so uneven that it's hard to control the bike if you go more than walking speed, and law requires that you overtake cars who want to turn right into one of the side streets on their right side. I prefer to drive on the street. You get yelled at, but no grooves between the stones grab at your front wheel, you see what's coming at you, and you can overtake on the left like any sane person in a right-side-driving country.

Last week there was a bad accident when some people were standing chatting on the bike path, and a biker saw them too late, overbreaked, swerved off the curb, fell and broke his bike and his leg. He was lucky that there was no car around.

#65 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 02:40 PM:

Eric, as near as I can tell, your two most effective safety measures are to not have loose kipple lying around in your car, and to insist that everyone else buckle up. Gruesome but true: in a serious accident, unsecured passengers turn into potentially lethal projectiles.

If you're interested, I recommend reading Jim Macdonald's post, Seatbelts Save Lives, and the epic thread that followed.

#66 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 02:43 PM:

Dave Bell: Most bike/horse helmets are one drop and replace.

Motorcycle helmets are, by default, to be assumed to need replacing after one hit. It happens that the nature of both the foam, and the impacts, are such that they may be usuable after a skid. The thing to do is get them x-rayed. My helmet was a moderately priced one; it cost $200. Getting it x-rayed will cost about $50, and a shop with an x-ray will usually pass that on as a discount if it shows you need to replae the helmet.

On the flip side, the evidence, despite the, "Biker's rights" groups trying to get all helmet laws repealed, is that wearing helmets in no way increases the risk of neck trauma.

In fact (I was doing some research on this) spinal injuries to the neck are reduced if on is wearing a helmet (just as Christopher Reeve's family). I took a header from a horse. No helmet, and I'd be typing this with my mouth. Really. I felt the top of my head, and then my shoulder pile drive into the ground. The helmet distributed the shock.

When I put the bike down my body rolled (the epaulet on my jacked is scraped... that normally sits on the top of my shoulder. The helmet has skid marks, on the side, just about eye level. I'd probably have been scraping my face. I'd also have had more angle when that happened (because the helmet is wider than my head, by about three inches on either side), so the strains on my neck would have been greater.

Since the plastics of the helmet are slicker than my face, I didn't get my neck as twisted.

Honestly, the rear-ender in July hurt my neck more than dragging my hemlet across the ground did.

Re cycle lanes: here (Palo Alto/Mountain View/Sunnyvale), I see some which are maintained to the left of the turning lane (right side). I think all in all, this is better, because the cars aren't being forced to share the space (which is problematic, because the people sharing it are doing two different things with it). On the flip side, it means the cars are passing through bike space.

I do know that the drivers up here (here being outside the city of San Francisco) seem more aware of two-wheeled tranport.

abi: I don't know that the argument is all that valid. Certainly not for motorcycles. Adding a couple of hundred dollars to a purchace of 1,200-20,000 bucks (and it was, by and large the folks on really expensive bikes in Chicago whom I saw without proective gear, and the same is true hear of the people who are wearing the inexpensive skid lids). I read all these arguments for not installing the latest bit of equipment into cars as well.

I got my most recent bike for 10 bucks. I spent 75 getting it tuned up. I spend 60 on a helmet. A new bike would have cost more than that. Bikes are pretty easy to come by, skulls aren't.

Patrick: 1: we have the equivalent of helmets in cars (air bags, seat belts, crumple zones; ,mandatory car seats/booster seats/child placement laws).

Two, the nature of the energy is such that, in a car the helmet makes things worse (was it Earnhardt who died because he was in a straight crash, and so his helmet's energy snapped his neck? I know that F-1 cars have a supplemental restraint system to pull the helmet back and prevent such an accident).

Three, given the nature of cars, the reduced mobility of the driver, and the reduced sightlines, helmets reduce the first line of defense when driving a car, in ways they don't when on a bike, visibility.

I don't think saying "Cyclists need to protect themselves" is the only answer. I do think the risks of no seatbelts, no airbags, no car seat are equivalent.

I don't think massive campaigns to terrify riders is the way to go. I think enforcing the laws on motorists who don't pay attention to cyclists is the way to do it. I don't know that removing the need for helmets is going to increase the visibility of cyclists to drivers.

I've been (to go for more anecdote) run off the road, precisely because I was on a bicycle (I say that because the guy who did it, told me so... yelling, "get off the road you stupid fuck" pretty much made it plain he'd moved into the bike lane on purpose). The people I know who are scared to ride are scared because the people in cars treat them as obstacles.

Because they see bikes being squeezed, and cut off, and honked at, and things thrown at them. Not being forced to wear a helmet won't change those.

The "bike posses" of Critical Mass help some, as do other groupd going out and being visible. I don't think the helmets are the issue. It's the drivers.

#67 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 03:02 PM:

Terry @66:
It might be useful, in this conversation, to distinguish between motorbikes and bicycles. Your comment seems to use overlapping terms. I think I know when you're talking about what, but I thought you slid a motorbike, not a bicycle.

Also, it wasn't I that made a price comment about helmets; it was Jim Lund.


My main irritation on this matter is that while we're chasing about making cyclists wear helmets, we're (a) putting people off cycling, which decreases critical mass and makes biking less safe, and (b) placing the responsibility of safety on the less powerful party, while letting the people whose behavior actually causes the problem off the hook*.

Much of the "common sense" arguments I hear about requiring bike helmets come down to the idea that it's simply not safe to cycle near cars, ever, under any circumstances. Indeed, it may not be safe to cycle at all, what with going over the handlebars and such.

And it is just not true, unless the laws of physics are somehow different in the Netherlands.

So something is wrong, either with the arguments or with my direct and personal experience. And I know which I believe.

* The analogy with rape, where we as a society do the same, may be one of my triggers here.

#68 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 03:26 PM:

Teresa #53: Eric K., I have very loose joints. It's a thing in my family. I've always assumed that if I took a tumble and landed on my head, I'd break my neck, and there'd be the end of it.

Don't bet on it.

I once picked up a mountain biker who'd played Lawn Dart with his head over the handlebars. He fractured C-1 and C-2, but thanks to wearing a helmet didn't have TBI. (And thanks to fast and efficient Emergency Medical Services, didn't pick up any neuro deficits afterwards.)

Broken necks aren't necessarily fatal, or even life-altering. But you do want to be careful anyway.

As far as laws go: I think everyone should wear helmets on bikes, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and four-wheelers, and seatbelts in cars. But I don't think there should be laws mandating either.

#69 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 03:46 PM:

I'd like to find something effective that could be done about the drivers who harass cyclists for fun. The blast on the horn as the car passes -- with the bellows of laughter showing that this has nothing to do with asserting ownership of the roadway except in the crudest sense. The egg lobbed at me from the passenger window as the car passed. (The police filed that one as "assault with a weapon".) Unfortunately, by the time I've safely regained control of the bike, the car is usually so far ahead of me that I can't get good details to report to the police.

And the two times I've caught up with the car and told off the driver have not gone very well. I don't do well in physical confrontations, and had I not been too enraged to think clearly, I should have merely got enough details for a complaint to police.

In general, Ottawa is a very good city for cycling. There are lots of bike paths and recreational routes; many streets have dedicated bike lanes. The city produces maps which show all of these, as well as recommended alternate routes, e.g. low-traffic regular streets that don't have a lot of stop signs or traffic signals. But we also have areas for which there just isn't any travel route that doesn't involve high-traffic streets with narrow-ish lanes, and some population of psychopathic drivers.

I lived in Kingston, Ontario, for about seven years. Many of the streets there are in poor shape, and pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers all tend to be careless and oblivious about each others' presence on the roads. I still biked there, but... carefully.

#70 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 03:56 PM:

Joel @69:
The blast on the horn as the car passes -- with the bellows of laughter showing that this has nothing to do with asserting ownership of the roadway except in the crudest sense. The egg lobbed at me from the passenger window as the car passed.

You do know what the technical term for that behavior is, don't you?


Don't know what to do about it, but let's name it for what it is.

#71 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 04:01 PM:

That 12 mph number is cited a lot in the Ski industry as well, and I know people who say since they go faster than 12 mph, the helmet is useless and therefore don't wear one. Subtracting 12 from the impact speed can make a difference, but in a 30 mph accident (ski or bike), your head is unlikely to hit the ground at your horizontal speed. Frequently your head hits as if you just fell over standing still, even though you're still traveling forward at 30mph. In this case the helmet's real advantage is minimizing abrasion injury to the face and head. Personally, I know that I take the helmet into account when I fall, and don't try as hard to keep the head from hitting the ground, since I'm not going to have my face scraped off by the snow, gravel, or ground.

Wearing a helmet didn't save me from a concussion in my last (and most major) bicycle accident, though. Even though it was one of those new-fangled Styrofoam ones with a very thin shell, it was barely damaged. My head hit the minivan a minor glancing blow, the concussion was apparently from the sheer deceleration when my shoulder was completely stopped by the vehicle (a year and 3 days ago, I was biking to the library on a major road in a leafy suburb during the morning commute. At the bottom of a hill, the woman pulled out to make a left hand turn even though there was no room in that lane. She was going to block traffic in my direction until a space opened up. The minivan blocked essentially the entire width of the lane. I failed in my bid to loop onto the side road she had come out of (I was also trying to avoid piledriving at the curb). The end result was loss-of-consciousness for about two minutes, ongoing memory issues for about 5 hours, and a left collarbone in several pieces. I was sent home from the trauma center that afternoon, while I was still very foggy)*.

* Why the attending physicians (it was seminar day) at a major trauma center in a teaching hospital sent home a patient who lived alone and was still showing significant memory and processing issues stuns shocks the ski-patroller in me. They also thought the bones would stay in place long enough to heal with only a sling for support. I doubt it lasted the first night. The shoulder didn't really hurt until the surgery a week and a half later, even though the bone was rubbing against the inside of the skin as it wandered around.

#72 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 04:11 PM:

TNH @ 65: [Y]our two most effective safety measures are to not have loose kipple lying around in your car, and to insist that everyone else buckle up.

Thank you. These are both excellent pieces of advice.

abi @ 67, referring to cycling safety arguments: Indeed, it may not be safe to cycle at all, what with going over the handlebars and such.

I certainly wouldn't make this case, despite having been over the handlebars a couple of times. For road-bikers, going over the handlebars is a pretty rare event unless you get doored or struck by car.[1] For mountain bikers, it's a bit more common. But the two times when I have gone over, a helmet was certainly a welcome companion on my journey.

A young, healthy human body seems to survive most falls when moving at or below running speed. But above running speed, the odds of serious injury increase beyond my personal comfort zone. So I use a little bit of supplemental padding (and common sense) to make up for my evolutionary limitations. :-) And I try to avoid traveling at speeds where the safety gear becomes completely ineffective. My maximum acceptable speed on a bicycle is somewhere under 30–35 mph, under absolutely optimal conditions. I've exceeded 40 mph twice, and hope to never do it again.

[1] One of my friends in Cambridge, MA ran into an illegally-turning car, did a somersault over the hood, and landed on his feet. The impact of the landing left him partially disabled for weeks, IIRC.

#73 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 04:12 PM:

Strangely enough, this thread is being played out in the letters pages of (at least one of) the papers here. Dublin introduced a minimal-cost bike rental scheme last week, and one of its sponsors - in an astonishing case of plain-speaking, which is usually bred out of politicians - said “Helmets put people off.” This sparked a sequence of letters involving an ER doctor, a sociologist, a cyclist, and a commuter. I'm sure it won't surprise anyone to note that the flow of conversation and information is much quicker online than in print, although the stances taken and cites used are very similar.

On an anecdotal level, I've been cycling in a city for at least 27 years, and had 4 crashes of any note over that time. Only the one at age 7, when travelling too fast on a Raleigh Chopper induced wheel wobble which resulted in a smash into a gatepost, involved hitting my head. Even the time I cycled over an empty can, which was exactly the right width to effectively Clamp my own wheel, didn't muss my hair. For reference, I'd break down those crashes as 3 cases of rider error, and 1 of driver error.

I don't wear a helmet, because I find, for me, in my experience, YMMV*, that I lose peripheral vision, a substantial amount of audio information, and an irritatingly large amount of comfort when I do. It's a level of risk I feel comfortable with, and I'm aware it's a risk. (This is all for paved road commuting, I guess I should say. Off-road, I'd be the first one to be strapped up with wrist braces and shin-guards as well as a helmet.)

On the broader topic of perceived vs actual risk, I think I agree with Patrick. Activities are perceived as more dangerous than they really are, for all the reasons mentioned upthread. I tried in vain to find a link to a newspaper article from a few years ago, which used a graphic showing the radius of activities of 10(?) year olds in three generations of the same family. Grandad roamed 16 miles, Dad got to 8, and today's kids were <1.

*: and so on, in a spiral of qualifying statements.

#74 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 04:35 PM:

As a driver and a pedestrian, I'll second the idea of slowing traffic down. The requirement that some areas have, to increase speed limits when a certain percentage of traffic exceeds the posted limit, is a recipe for disaster. (Not having protected left turns at intersections where both streets have at least four lanes is another.)

#75 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 04:53 PM:

Teresa @ 62... I like the idea, but something tells me that, after the kids go back home very queasy(*), parents might complain to the school principal about the methods of Professor Logan. ("We thought he taught Art.")

(*) "See, kids, I smoke a lot, these are my lungs. Any questions?"

#76 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 04:56 PM:

"Simple test: Next time you're sitting in a car with your lap and shoulder belts fastened, see whether normal motion allows you to bring your head into contact with a window, the steering wheel, the seat in front of you, or a fellow passenger. If the answer is "yes," your head will most assuredly be able to hit it more and hit it harder in an accident."

The seat belt inertia reel stops people from smashing into the windshield when quick deceleration takes place, as in a head-on collision. Seat belts have been made very convenient, and do not restrain people in normal motion. If we went back to the older inconvenient constraining style, people would be more aware of what the belt does, but probably would wear them less.

And yes, of course, head injuries are still possible in a car accident. But not with anything like the frequency or risk of a bicycle or motorcycle fall. I know a fair number of cyclists who are pretty sure that helmets have saved their heads--it's a common accident. A lot of the anti-helmet arguments I've heard--and yes, I include the ones cited--remind me unpleasantly of the "safety rules don't apply to me" arguments that can be heard around every machine shop. They're nonsense and get people retrained or even fired in a well-run shop.

That said, I think the issue of overcaution and protection against the wrong dangers are real. I just think bike helmet campaigns are a really poor example of them.

Although, the eating might be better if we corvids supported them...

#77 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 05:05 PM:

John@71: I'm not sure how comparable cycling (at least utility transport cycling) and skiing are. If a commuting cyclist has a 30mph impact, it's generally because a motor vehicle is involved, not because they were doing 30mph on a smooth slippery surface when they fell over.

#78 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 05:34 PM:

Alan, I didn't mean to equivalence the accidents, just the helmet protection number. I spent many years commuting by bicycle around Boston, MA, and one year did over 7,000 miles (that was the year with the six week bicycling vacation in Europe), even though I don't bicycle most of the winter.

I haven't skidded along the ground while biking very often (rolling is preferred), but enough to not like hearing a doctor use the word "debride" in relationship with my body.

I've had three significant bone breaks due to impact with moving automobiles (collarbones separately while biking, open tibia / oblique fibula while crossing in a cross walk).

I'm more familiar than I like with injuries caused by motor vehicles, not just my own but people I've provided emergency care to. Please wear your seatbelt.

#79 ::: affreca ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 05:59 PM:

Personally always ride with a helmet, and own a couple of spares to loan in case someone I loan a bike to doesn't have a helmet. I can be pretty strict about it. My father died of a brain injury from biking; my husband lived through a pretty serious accident because he had a helmet on. I'll admit I may be overemphasizing the risk, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

Around here (college town in the midwest), the people I know how bike a good amount wear helmets. I've noticed that bikers I see around who wear helmets are more likely to be predictable and follow traffic laws. I take helmets as a sign that the bicyclist rides enough to have thought through dangers.

#80 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 06:01 PM:

janetl @ 20:
Anecdotally, my experience in the west hills of Portland, where there aren't many bike lanes (and often no sidewalks or even shoulders), is that there's less careful interaction between drivers and cyclists that there is downtown. Where there are bike lanes, I almost always see cyclists riding on the dividing line of the lane rather than in it. Where there aren't, I often see drivers getting impatient with cyclists going uphill, and passing them on blind curves, sometimes trying to make up for the danger of hitting a car coming down the hill by getting too close to the cyclist.

Teresa @ 52:
Simple test: Next time you're sitting in a car with your lap and shoulder belts fastened, see whether normal motion allows you to bring your head into contact with a window, the steering wheel, the seat in front of you, or a fellow passenger.

One of the reasons my last 3 cars were designed by Swedes, who average considerably taller than the Japanese who designed my previous car, is that I tried that experiment by accident one day in the Japanese car. I hit a bump at higher speed than intended with my seat belt on, and the top of my head hit the roof of the car.

#81 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 06:16 PM:

abi @ 34: My sympathies. Your tale reminded me of the cartoon from my Cambridge days, showing the road up to Girton College (my college - about 2.5 miles outside Cambridge), with cyclists cycling into the wind in both directions at the same time - it really did feel like that sometimes. Nothing to stop the wind when it's blowing over the fens.

#82 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 06:47 PM:

The WashPost's travel section today is the biking issue.

#83 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 07:15 PM:

abi: You are right, I put too much into that comment; the skidding helmet was laying down a motorbike. I did it at 15-20 miles an hour. The total energy at impact was more than on a bike (300 lbs of scooter vs. 20 lbs of bike), so the persistent engery after impact was more.

I wasn't trying to conflate them, but rather to address Dave Bell's "scary question," because I've looked at that issue, in three different types of transportation.

As to the issue of, "Never safe" I look at the seatblet thread, and (IRRC) Teresa's comment about how she'd hate to have to face Jim if she decided, "just this once" she could move the car and not wear her seat belt.

I used to move cars in what we called, "the dance" as we shuffled four cars around to get them into the right order (it felt like arranging planes on a carrier). We got very good at it. It was balletic. And I always, even for those couple of moments (It took about 45 seconds, from start to finish), put the seatbelt on.

I know that a bicycle has less energy. I know that a low speed wreck, caused by me doing something silly, like overclamping the brakes on a downhill, isn't likely to do me serious harm.

I know this because I've done it. I also know that I can't depend on myself to be the only cause of accident. I also know that I might just get unlucky, and fetch the side of my head on the corner of the curb. So I wear a helmet.

When the speed/energy go up, I think others should wear helmets too. Barring conditions like Holland, where the social consensus is to be polit to cyclists, I can't see not wearing a helmet. Given the power disparity between cars and bicycles, I can't see not mandating them.

I don't go for the "organ donor" "jokes". But I don't like seeing people without helmets either. Perhaps I've internalised an unwarranted fear, as unwarranted fears go this would be an acceptable one, because it is something I can do something about.

I agree, the social mechanisms of shaming the rider are like those of shaming the assault victim. I don't see helmet laws as being quite the same. Helmets do reduce risk. Some helmets probably aren't well designed (esp. for bicycles, which have a lot more odd protusions. I wear simple helmet on a horse, no built in brim, and as close to that design as I can get on a bicycle helmet. I don't want torsion injuries), but making people wear them is quite saying it's the cyclists fault.

When a car cuts me off, and I hit it, as I'm trying to lay the bicycle down (happened once), there wasn't anything I could do to stop that. I'd probably not have been concussed if helmets were more widely available/affordable (this was in 1985).

It's not that it's never safe, it's that I can never know if this is one of the times it isn't.

#84 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 07:43 PM:

The Bell helmet company (probably others do to) offers a new bicycle helmet for some nominal fee if you return one (of their manufacture) that's been crashed. The time I rolled my bicycle and broke my left arm, the helmet had enough scuffing to merit this replacement. Besides, I wasn't riding much for the next six weeks.

The analysis showed the foam of the helmet was compressed, and so I also got a nice "Saved by the Bell" certificate. I think it's an excellent program, as it obtains real-world results for helmets, and gets cyclists a new helmet without a shopping trip.

#85 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 07:44 PM:

affreca@78: I take helmets as a sign that the bicyclist rides enough to have thought through dangers.

Yes. Likewise lights, especially good ones.

I've got two white strobes on the front of the bike, and two or three rear red flashers (three if I'm wearing my backpack). I want "But I didn't see him!" to be the least believable excuse in the world if some fuckwit runs me over one dark night. Ideally, I'd like not to be run over by fuckwits at all, of course...

On driver education, in the hopes of there being fewer fuckwits behind the wheel: the New Driver's Guide put out by the province's Motor Vehicle Branch 15 years ago when I learned to drive had squat on sharing the road with bikes, a very short section on motorbikes, and treated pedestrians as only worth noticing if they ran in front of your car.

I saw the most recent edition of that booklet a while ago - a co-worker's daughter was just starting driver's ed - and was pleased to see the whole section on road sharing was massively expanded. Motorbikes, bikes and pedestrians got more than just a passing mention, and were treated as more than just obstacles to the sacred car.

Speaking of automotive entitlement, driver rage, and similar stupidities, I'd forgotten an irritated blogpost I made just last month, on a murder-by-automobile that took place in Toronto: Automotive Entitlement (Again).

#86 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 08:21 PM:

Abi (#55) -- I saw that part of the article. I don't doubt that the statistics show that trend in some societal matrix (which raises the question of how you determine the level of ridership-- is it number of reported accidents? Number of bikes sold? self-selected questionnaire answer?) All I'm saying is that, personal observation of the limited sample set I have has not seen a drop in ridership -- but, as I mentioned, my observations are not a controlled study with a wide sample set. And quite obviously, the mileage varies.

#87 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 08:29 PM:

affreca@79: I take helmets as a sign that the bicyclist rides enough to have thought through dangers.

This is probably cultural.

I see helmets (especially when combined with fast bicycles and expensive gear in shrill colours) as a sign, "Here I come, hero of the road, manly man leaving all of you toads in the dust! Traffic laws are for weaklings! Red lights are for unimportant people! Catch me if you can!" It works, insofar as I do give them a very wide berth, whatever means of transport I'm using.

I feel that the 70yo grandmas who have been riding their bikes in this city for 60 years are the ones who usually know what they are doing. Even if they are not wearing helmets or spandex.

#88 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 08:40 PM:

Craig R: which raises the question of how you determine the level of ridership

That would be interesting.

I know that around here it's students with clipboards sitting on all relevant intersections for one day every one or two years, marking down every vehicle they see in the appropriate category.

There's actually a science on how to get the data with as little "noise" as possible.

#89 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 09:07 PM:

On the subject of fear of biking, othering, helmet selling that terrifies people right off their bikes, etc:

I grew up with this poster[0], it was in all my elementary schools. At the same time, I was biking 1.5km to school - and a few years later about 5km to school - all on streets, some major. Family bike trips of 15+ km were a common weekend activity. My grandparents belonged to a cycling club and biked regularly well into their 80s.[1]

My reaction to that poster was never "Oh Dog, never gonna bike again!" but "Yeah, that does make helmets look like a damn good idea..."

It helped to have a bike-positive family, obviously.

[0] Via
[1] My grandmother came off her bike about a year ago (hit a tree root) and injured her shoulder. She's barely biked since, and misses it terribly. She was incredibly happy to be able to get back on the bike a few years ago after her hip replacement, too.

#90 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 09:20 PM:

Lizzy L @ 19: 8 years ago, when my office moved, I decided that their proposed access route sucked -- partly because it involved 2 left turns in heavy traffic, and partly because it involved a half-mile of utterly-residential street: nice modest-size houses (one monster-over-teardown recently) with well-kept front lawns. I really didn't want to miss a child while I was mulling over a technical problem; I've since lost that worry because returning that way is much faster than the alternative and because I have seen just \one/ child (and that well-escorted) in the dozens of times I've been through there before dark (including mid-afternoon on weekends).

janetl@15: MA requires several kinds of illumination, almost all of it reflective and AFAIK none of it flashing (let alone strobing). Most of the bikes I see at night have little or none of it, which makes me start thinking about evolution in action when I consider local drivers (and local roads...).

wrt helmets (and especially abi's comment analogizing to ]rape prevention[), how many injuries come from cars and how many from the fact that a bicycle is not as stable as a car and moving a lot faster than a pedestrian? My one near-death accident involved hitting a pothole that snapped my front wheel 90 degrees ~instantly; if I hadn't been slowing for an intersection I would probably have hit my head (in a classic flip) instead of my knee.

#91 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 09:22 PM:

abi @ 34: I vividly recall my bike commute to school in Duinbergen, Belgium, just a few miles from the Netherlands. That area is perfectly flat, but as you and Patrick have pointed out, it still wasn't a lovely ride. That town is on the North Sea, and the wind was in my face both coming and going. That was annoying, but what I really hated was the section with cobblestones.

#92 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 09:39 PM:

re helmets and replacement:

Troxel (horseback riding) has a simple policy, take a spill, and send them the helmet. Explain the spill. Include a $15US payment. They will ship you a replacement.

It's how they do research on improvements. I've sent them two pieces of real world evidence.

Bell has been doing the similar things for at least thirty years. Friend of ours, ca. 1973 had a car clobber him while on a back road in Ohio. He woke with the sun, and a hideous headache. Noticed, when he got his helmet off, a large rock next to his head, it exactly matched the dent in the shell of the helmet.

He sent Bell a note, and they asked if he'd be willing to send it to them, and they'd replace it. When he got the replacement there was a note, asking if they could use his letter in an ad.

So Denny's helmet was seen, far and wide in national magazines. Some years later, when I was reading Playboy, I saw the ad. That was a big, pointy, rock.

Doesn't mean the helmet alone will save you. My dad is having a miraculous recovery (three years later) from a godwaful bicycle wreck. He'd opted not to wear a helmet, because my sister couldn't find hers, so he lent her his.

Car went blowing past them (residntial street, wide lines of sight), and they got pushed over to the side a bit, which was when he hit the mailbox on a post.

The helmet didn't do a thing to keep him from rupturing his spleen, cracking a couple of ribs and wrenching his shoulder. It would, probably, have prevented the MTBI, which cost him his sense of smell, and has made it hard for him to focus on things.

But I don't see anyone saying, helmets aren't good for that sort of thing. What they seem to be saying is... maybe when we wear them ought to be reconsidered/maybe it ought not be required.

I don't know. We require seatbelts.

What I'd like to see, honestly, is a required classrooom session in Driver's Ed be a requirement every 5-10 years when one goes to renew a license. It can be free, but it has to be mandated.

Embarrasing story. I am a good driver. Safe, attentive, give way for cyclists, watch out for motorcycles, slow when I see kids on the sidewalks, etc.

I have never been at fault in an automobile accident (the motorcycle wreck is debateable. Maybe I should have done things differently. At the same time everyone [to include the cops who were on the scene inside of five minutes] seems to think I didn't do anything wrong. I'll never know).

But when I got took the written exam for the motorcycle license I also had to take the automobile exam. I'd not studied for it. I failed. I missed four questions. Why? Because some of the laws had changed (we shan't go into the diagrams which show one set of conditions, and the answer which requires another).

Now, if I, with four moving violations in 21 years, can screw that up... what about the rest of us? I went over the traffic laws three years ago, when Maia was taking traffic school (online, how the world is change) for a bullshit ticket. Even with that, I boloed the exam.

We get complacent, and that is probably the single greatest thing to fight against. It would also make it easier to make drivers aware of bikes/motorcycles, etc (I see scooters, you know the "razor" type, with 5" wheels and a handle on a long stick, that have motors.... WTF? No license required and helmets seem optional. They come out of nowhere).

That's the real mandatory thing I'd like to change.

#93 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 09:43 PM:

A friend of mine went down in a motorcycle race, and someone ran right over his head -- and he was fine. He got a new helmet, but he kept the old one with the tire tread pattern for sentimental reasons.

#94 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 10:01 PM:

Bill Altreuter @42: In Erie County, where I live and ride my bicycle there is a local ordinance that requires all cyclists to wear a helmet, and I'll let you know the first time I see someone get cited for not doing so. As a practical mater the effect of the statute is to create a defense in mitigation of damages. If you sustain a head injury in an accident the burden shifts to you, the plaintiff, to show that a helmet would not have made a difference. Good luck finding a neurologist that'll take the stand for you.

This to me sounds like the best justification I've heard yet for not having mandatory helmet laws. My understanding is that most bicycle accidents are caused by car drivers failing to see a cyclist and disobeying the rules of the road, and shifting the burden of proof to the victim is severely counter-productive there.

Teresa @47: I don't like bike helmets because... [t]hey make me look more like a picto and less like a human being. I am safer when the rest of the street traffic (vehicular and otherwise) registers my existence as a human being.

I would amend your last sentence to "I am safer when the rest of the street traffic registers my existence, period." (With the caveat that I haven't encountered the active hostility to bikers that other commenters here discuss.) Most of the bike accidents I'm aware of have happened when the driver wasn't paying attention and failed to see the bicyclist, and the bicyclist's wearing or not wearing a helmet would not have made them more apparent to the driver.

#95 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 10:04 PM:

janetl: But things like that (racing) are a different set of rules/risks.

If I understand the real debate, it's not, "helmets good/helmets bad", it's, "When should helmets be worn?".

#96 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 10:31 PM:

Terry, I take the real debate to be "Why is so much of the burden of prevention and response put on probable victims rather than probable perpetrators, when it comes to driving? And what can we do to reduce the fear in actual and potential bicyclists (and pedestrians) and increase the concern felt by those most likely to be responsible for harm to others?"

#97 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 10:44 PM:

I'd like WireLizard to explain what part of coming from a "bike-positive family" explains and justifies calling Abi Sutherland, and everyone else in the Netherlands, an "idiot".

Abi was retrained in her response--so restrained that WireThingie appears to have totally failed to register it. At this point I'd really like to hear WireWhoozis explain why he or she shouldn't have his or her ass tossed out of here for gross abusiveness. Note: Saying "I'm sorry, I was accidentally a complete jerk" is always helpful.

#98 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 10:51 PM:

That was second warning, shot over the bow, right? And Abi did the very polite first one? I'm just trying to keep count.

#100 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 10:54 PM:

And so then calling people names became acceptable?

#101 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 11:07 PM:

It's not acceptable; that's the point.

#102 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 11:07 PM:

I did like Wirelizard's piece about automotive entitlement.

#103 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 11:09 PM:

Bruce Baugh: I think that's subthread, but it's not what Patrick asked about: I’m increasingly interested in examinations of the ways we’ve managed, in the last two or three decades, to convince ourselves that life is vastly more dangerous than it actually is. Of course, the trouble with discussions of this sort is that they tend to bring out people who want to abolish the Food and Drug Administration, or reinstitute public dueling. And yet it seems to me that one needn’t be the ranty libertarian in the con suite to suspect that, on some issues, a lot of people have completely lost perspective about what’s actually dangerous and what isn’t.

Which has been, for me, the guiding principle I'm trying to answer. How dangerous is cycling (and the attendent "helmet sports")?

Is there a happy medium to attain on things like helmet laws?

Me, on a motorcycle I can't imagine wearing nothing, and once I make that choice, I want a full-face. That's personal. I don't want the pavement to eat the face I've got. Some peoople like to look at it, I like to wear it.

I also don't want the wind in my eyes, and bugs in my cheeks.

But a smaller helmet (the, somewhat derisively termed, "skid lids", which look like an overgrown skullcap) are aequate to the task (reducing cranial trauma and brain injury. For the people who are comfortable wearing them, that's fine.

What about bicycles? Harder call. There is a lot less energy in the bicycle than there is in a motorcycle. They also travel in less dangeous areas (it's rare for a bicycle to be in the middle lane of a multi-lane highway).

So maybe the helmets aren't needed. On the flip side, the helmets are a lot lighter, and less cumbersome, so it seems some tradeoffs have been made.

#104 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 11:58 PM:

thank you for the Copenhagenize link, apart from bike considerations I've been fantasizing about visiting that city.

it's common knowledge that bicycles in the US are only for kids and Lycra-clad freaks. I found this amusing - the ITU held a triathlon in Washington DC, according to Simon Whitfield
"the official written warning we received from the race committee:

5a. drivers in the United States are NOT used to bicycles on the road. Please note you will be riding at your own risk.

Yes apparently these two wheeled fancy contraptions just made it to America. I hope it catches on."

A sidelight on the helmet wars: for solo racing, helmets are faster than no helmets. Like this. As a lycra-clad freak myself (my alter ego is a mild-mannered bike commuter), I own several helmets.

#105 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:01 AM:

Serge @75: Okay, you win. The lung demo squicked me.

Terry @83, you recall correctly. He'd never let me hear the end of it. Worse, he'd be grieved.

Car drivers can be complete idiots about bicyclists. But then, car drivers can be complete idiots about anything. I think we've gone way too far in the direction of "car as comfy personal space where you don't have to think or interact." Have you noticed how many car ads are filmed in a universe which only contains one car? They're selling the wrong state of mind.

Being a cyclist makes you acutely aware of your terrain and the other people around you. Maybe the mindset carries over. Maybe what keeps Amsterdam cyclists safe is that the drivers are cyclists too, only they happen to be driving a car at that moment. They don't think they've been given permission to turn off their brains for the duration of the trip, or view having to pay attention to those around them as a rude intrusion on their personal space.

#106 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:20 AM:

Oh and by the way -- I'd like to register a vote for the proposition to reinstitute (which my Spellchecker, damn its twitchy little bytes, doesn't think I've spelled properly unless I hyphenate it) personal dueling, as long as there's an amendment which disallows anyone from naming firearms as the weapons of choice. Yes, I know pistols are traditional. Tough. Swords, battle-axes, naginatas, clubs, whatever, I'm okay with those.

You say it's not on the California ballot this year? Too bad.


#107 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:49 AM:

TNH @154: I think we've gone way too far in the direction of "car as comfy personal space where you don't have to think or interact."

Are you familiar with the motorcyclists' slang term for car drivers? They call 'em "cagers".

#108 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:21 AM:

Returning to the subject...

"I’m increasingly interested in examinations of the ways we’ve managed, in the last two or three decades, to convince ourselves that life is vastly more dangerous than it actually is."

Is this new? Surely this is latest incarnation of "sin and the man-eating shark," as it were? Like some Onion headline, when we exhaust one fear, we seek another. Sometimes we even create another: picking a fight with the Islamic world has to rank among the great historical errors of foreign policy-making. And at the personal level, feeding alienation in US society is foolhardy.

The converse of creating fears is failing to take sensible precautions. Environmental policy is the big failure here: sensible policy would have the preservation of the planetary environment as the primary goal of every government for at least a century and, well, you can see. Hence remarks about food for corvids. But it is everywhere in our lives, to the smallest level, to the things we use and eat and do every day.

There's a whole vein in mystical literature about clear vision and understanding. I am thinking this is practical as well as mystical. We fight the wrong wars, and ignore the necessary self-care.

#109 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:38 AM:

I've dug up two interesting papers on bike helmets and traumatic brain injury.

  1. A review of early work by RS Thompson, FP Rivara, DC Thompson. These researchers are responsible for many widely-reported statistics about bicycle helmets, including the claim that helmets reduce head injuries by 88%. The problem: Several of their papers have been heavily criticized by other researchers, and one of their best known review papers may have never gone through peer review. I would strongly recommend reading the criticisms of their work before quoting the "88%" statistic.
  2. Impact of Mandatory Helmet Legislation on Bicycle-Related Head Injuries in Children: A Population-Based Study. This study is based on medical data from the Canadian health system, and it's designed to correct for factors such as decreased bicycling. The conclusion: Mandatory helmet laws do decrease head injury (relative to other types of cycling injury), but the effects were limited: "The bicycle-related head injury rate declined significantly (45% reduction) in provinces where legislation had been adopted compared with provinces and territories that did not adopt legislation (27% reduction)." That's a relative improvement of 18%. Note that this study tends to error on the side of caution, so the actual effect may be bigger.

In other words, mandatory helmet laws almost certainly cause some reduction in injuries to children. Obviously, this needs to be weighed against equally ambiguous studies which claim that helmets may (or may not) discourage cycling.

There's a lot of other studies at the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, a non-profit cyclists' organization which sits on several helmet-related standards committees. Unfortunately, flipping through these studies strongly suggests that there's little consensus in the field. In fact, many pro- and anti- helmet organizations may have been cherry-picking statistics which confirm their pre-existing beliefs.

#110 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:54 AM:

Lizzy L: Around about 1960 a U.K. citizen (whose name I can't remember clearly--it was something unusual like Kettledyke-Strange) referred to Sweden as "a piddling little country." A member of the Swedish mission got upset and challenged K-S to a duel. Since K-S was the challenged party he chose the weapons: "Motorcars in the Hyde Park Underpass." The challenge was dropped.

#111 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:44 AM:

I can do no better than to quote one of our hosts here:

Note: Saying "I'm sorry, I was accidentally a complete jerk" is always helpful.

I am sorry, I really was accidentally a complete and total jerk.

Being called out by Patrick and everyone above was a "Wait, what?" moment, followed by following his link and going, "Crap, I really did say that, didn't I? And these people notice words..."

So once again, I apologize to abi, Patrick, Teresa, and the rest of the thread. I should probably retire from these cycling threads for a day or two; this is an area close to my soul, and as the "Automotive Entitlement" piece on my blog shows, I do get intemperate when it comes up.

#112 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:35 AM:

Teresa @105: Maybe the mindset carries over. Maybe what keeps Amsterdam cyclists safe is that the drivers are cyclists too, only they happen to be driving a car at that moment...

If that were true, then surely we wouldn't have the myriad of drivers in New York City who are pedestrians on the same streets while not driving, yet utterly ignore the rights of pedestrians while they're behind the wheel. Not all drivers, surely; I like to think that I have learned precisely that lesson so that my treatment of pedestrians, as a driver, is what I'd want when I'm on foot. (And I'm not alone, by a long shot.) Also, many pedestrians bend and break rules to the point where they're beyond shameless and, in some cases at least, not quite criminal. Even so, there are enormous numbers of drivers about whom I find myself uttering my favorite road platitude ("I have no idea what you're doing -- and neither do you!")

#113 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:54 AM:

You know, I do actually wear a huge amount of protective gear when I drive on my commute. There's the seatbelt, which is moderately obvious, but there's also the metal frame I'm encased in, the variety of carefully designed crumply bits of that frame, and the huge heavy weight I'm guiding around in front of me called an engine block. I'm certain there are probably hundreds of design decisions I'm not even vaguely aware of that contribute to my ability to survive an accident.

Now, none of those features alert me to the idea that driving is dangerous; indeed, these features can even be prominently advertised as selling points of the car, together with images of the car (and crash test dummies acting as passengers) being subjected to all sorts of impacts.

However, this wasn't always so - the automobile industry in the US fought against introducing safety measures (like seatbelts) into cars based on the received marketing wisdom behind Ford's awful 1956 model year. That year, Ford had offered a relatively cheap add-on package called "Lifeguard" that added a few safety features to certain models. (Not including seatbelts, for some reason) The received marketing wisdom was that the advertisements for Lifeguard - which naturally did impolite things like point out that car accidents can kill you - caused customers walking into Ford dealerships to sour on the whole "buying a car" concept.

Now, was the received marketing wisdom wrong? Possibly, but even so: why don't car ads with smashed cars get people to drive less, or to drive more carefully? Aren't they promoting a fear of driving? What's different, psychologically, about the smashed car in the Volvo ad and the campaigns used to promote helmet use?

My gut instinct says that it's something to do with shame, in that there's no shame in being in a car wreck, but there is shame heaped on those "unsafe" bicyclists without helmets. Is there a way to manipulate this shame for good, I wonder? Could some local news stations have a successful "ambush obnoxiously bad local driver with reporter and videotaped evidence" series?

Conversely, is there a way to promote helmet use that's effective without invoking shame on people for cycling at all?

#114 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:02 AM:

Hey, CHip @90:
especially abi's comment analogizing to ]rape prevention[

I'm presuming the brackets are because you think I used an inappropriate analogy. Shall we look at what I said, precisely?

My main irritation on this matter is that while we're chasing about making cyclists wear helmets, we're (a) putting people off cycling, which decreases critical mass and makes biking less safe, and (b) placing the responsibility of safety on the less powerful party, while letting the people whose behavior *actually causes the problem* off the hook.[...]The analogy with rape, where we as a society do the same, may be one of my triggers here.

In other words, I was explaining why I find it upsetting that the relatively powerless cyclists are being made to carry the burden for their own safety while the more powerful drivers, who cause the vast majority of cyclist deaths, aren't held to account. I find it upsetting because I feel powerless in another, similar situation, where the victims are expected to do the work because the perpetrators have a privilege they (I) don't. The two things, which are similar in shape but not in size (since "cyclist" is a chosen status, while "woman" is not), resonate off of each other for me, magnifying the effect of the lesser one.

Is that an exaggeration, or just an explanation of how I feel, which explains how I argue here? Looking at this thread, do I seem to be unique in my discomfort about my complete powerlessness in the face of automotive indifference? Is it helpful to try to parse why we do react so strongly, so we can get through it to a solution?

how many injuries come from cars and how many from the fact that a bicycle is not as stable as a car and moving a lot faster than a pedestrian? My one near-death accident involved hitting a pothole that snapped my front wheel 90 degrees ~instantly; if I hadn't been slowing for an intersection I would probably have hit my head (in a classic flip) instead of my knee.

A little Googling brings up this interesting paper from 1998, which differentiates between "serious" (damage >$50) and "minor" accidents. It also cites three different surveys, which is why each value has three numbers with it.

For all crashes falls accounted for 59% [48%/41%] with running into a fixed object being the next most frequent at 14% [17%/'Other':11%]. Moving motor vehicles were involved in 11% [11%/18%] and another bicycle in 9% [13%/17%] of all crashes regardless of severity.[...]For serious crashes, falls remain the leading type at 38% with moving motor vehicles (24%) the next most frequent type while a fixed object and another bicycle each accounted for 13%.

I'm not surprised that car vs bike crashes were 11% of the overall crashes, but 24% of the serious ones. (Note that this study doesn't track fatalities. Want to bet that they're even more disproportionately the result of crashes with motor vehicles?)

#115 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:14 AM:

Teresa @60

Three fractured lumbar vertabrae, but the fractures were what the doctors called "stable", and so didn't need any heroic interventions.

No idea just how they happened, but there was one object which might have been flung forward.

End result: looks like I will be suffering intermittent back pain for the rest of my life.

#116 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 07:21 AM:

Wirelizard @111:

Well said. Accepted.

This is a hugely emotional subject, for reasons I'm still trying to tease out. (I think the bullying discussion we have been having is relevant, in that a power imbalance between bikes and cars is at the very least an accelerant.) It behooves us to tread as carefully as possible, and assume good faith and intelligence on all sides of the discussion.

#117 ::: Teemu Kalvas ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 07:22 AM:

Wirelizard@85: On bicycle lights: given that you already make the very sensible decision of using multiple lights, you might want to consider that while blinkies are best at attracting attention, a steady light is the best at giving a reference point for someone else to judge your exact location, heading, and speed (which would be useful in traffic). This argument only applies when it's actually dark, not in well-lit cities or twilight. However, it is best to remember that there is no clear-cut point when not actually dark becomes actually dark.

My personal standard procedure is to use just steady lights, which I turn on around five minutes before sunset, or maybe earlier if it's really cloudy and dark. I cannot say what I would do in America—reading the comments here it becomes obvious I have no clue at all what traffic there is like. Human night vision will be the same for all countries, however.

#118 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:20 AM:

More criticism of Thompson, Rivara, Thompson here:

On the bright side, if you believe the figures of Cook and Sheikh, it isn't actually necessary to wear a helmet to benefit from it - they found that helmets prevented 186% of injuries:

(Or, like Thompson, Rivara, Thompson, the authors are choosing to ignore confounding factors.)

#119 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 10:07 AM:

The irritation with cyclists that some car drivers have may be a combination of a poor sample of data, and a rush of adrenaline. (not to discount automotive entitlement)

Today, I drive and bike. When I only drove, I thought that a surprisingly high proportion of cyclists rode too dangerously. When I began biking, and found my way to the quiet streets that are best for biking, I found that 95%+ of cyclists ride perfectly sensibly, and that the small proportion of ones that are risk-takers are on the major roads where the cars are moving fast. This may explain some of those drivers who rant that all cyclists are nuts with a death-wish — the drivers are only on roads where riding a bike is more dangerous, and therefore only see risk-taking cyclists.

When I drive at dusk or after dark, and a bike without lights appears suddenly in my headlights, it scares me silly. There's a rush of adrenaline and fear — I'm terrified of hitting someone, and I feel a surge of anger at the un-lit cyclist. Note that this is an emotional response, rather than a rational one.

When I ride after dark, my bike and I resemble Las Vegas — thank heavens for the invention of the bright, low-power LED!

#120 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:12 AM:

I wear a helmet when I ride my bike, and use bright, blinking lights after dark. I feel a bit annoyed when I see cyclists doing neither...

A few months ago I was in the car headed home one night, going through a city area that is not well-lit because it's got a park on one side and a huge monolithic office building on the other. There was a guy on a bike--no front or rear lights, no reflective patches, dark clothes (and no helmet, but that doesn't affect visibility). I didn't see him till I was 20 feet behind him, and that only because I happened to catch a flash off the built-in shiny bit on one pedal.

A few hundred feet later, he pulled into a parking lot (after running a red light), and I was scared enough that I followed him*. I opened with "I bike myself," but apparently that wasn't nonjudgemental enough; he told me that if I hit him, it'd be my fault.

I said, "Yes, but you'd still be the one who got hurt," and left, because I didn't really feel like arguing with a mindset that refuses to take basic, easy precautions on the assumption that bad results will be someone else's fault. All I can say is, I feel sorry for the person who eventually kills or paralyzes him, because that person will feel unnecessarily guilty for the rest of hir life...

*: Not the cleverest thing ever, I know; I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't been so rattled. I do recall deciding I wouldn't be scaring him because I'm a girl. *sigh*

#121 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:18 AM:

I agree on blinky lights vs steady lights. I bought some, but never actually used them-- had very little reason to go out at night. When I see blinky lights, either as a pedestrian or a driver, my first thought is always, "Fence? Trees?" and it kind of screws up my perception of where the light is and what kind of barrier keeps me from seeing it.

I think part of the reason people react emotionally to this topic is that many people have had the discussion before. They may be trying to convince the 'other side' so hard that the 'other side' from previous arguments is convinced. It would be my motivation, at least.

#122 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:54 AM:

I always put my lights on steady rather than flash; I picked that up from the British Highway Code.

There's no rule about what your lights do here in NL, but you have to have a white one at the front (on the bike or on you) and a red one at the rear (again, location-independent). You also have to have a red reflector on the back.

On the sides, you must have either a reflective strip woven through the spokes of both wheels, reflectors on the spokes, or reflective stripes just outside the rim on your tires. Having stood by the side of the road one dark night and watched the ghostly white circles go by, I can tell you that the last are startlingly effective.

And you must have an operable bell.

The police do roadside checks and issue on the spot fines if your bike isn't in compliance (they only check the lights after dark).

In addition to the legal requirements, I also wear armbands about each wrist when I commute after dark. That way, drivers can see me signal to turn. (The fact that I do signal marks me out as a foreigner, or some hopelessly stodgy person, or someone just in from an outlying village—or, in my case, all three.)

#123 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:11 PM:

I have been unable to pull up the actual articles on cycling levels and helmet laws. How fast of a decline was this? In a month, a year, five years? Did traffic or development patterns change in this time, or was the only variable helmet laws or helmet campaigns? What were cycling rates like before the helmet laws?

I think it's probably likely helmets don't do a whole lot of good in terms of making cycling safer. Changing traffic patterns probably helps a lot more. Roads around here are clearly designed and engineered for car-sized things that go at least 45 mph. Few people cycle.

I have very strong doubts that ceasing to require bike helmets would do anything to change this state of affairs, even though I also doubt requiring them does much good.

#124 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:17 PM:

Not Getting Into Helmet Debate.

All I'm going to say about wrecks is that the paramedics react really strongly when there's blood running out your ear, even if it got there from the cut over your eye.

I just ran across this on David Byrne's site and thought it appropriate. Also, his book Bicycle Diaries looks interesting, in a much more portable format.

#125 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:52 PM:

#104 - The Canadian census enumerated commuting on the long form (20% of population) and the results are here. A grand total of 195,515 employed Canadians said they commuted by bicycle, that's 1.3%. Oh, the shame, oh, the embarassement. I die [of morbid obesity?], all die...

#106 on dueling - I think holmgang rules would make some sense. Of course, you really need the underlying culture of honour to make sense out of any such. But as a traffic offense settlement, for some people, perceived right of way violations seem to come very close to the Norse way of thinking.

#126 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:07 PM:

Crud: I lost a comment in getting off to class this morning (fighting with an instructor who is trying to be helpful, but making things harder to actually get done; and in several ways).

I didn't learn to drive a car until I was 21. I like to think I have some empiric evidence of being a decent driver. In the 21 years since I've been in one accident; as a driver, I was rear ended. I've receieved four moving violations, and driven not less than 250,000 miles.

From 16-21 my only means of personal transportation was a bicycle. My daily commute was 10 miles, each way. Errands, etc. upped the total. So an average week was probably about 125 miles.

I think it made me a much better driver. I give lots of following space. I analyse traffic patterns. I look for ways to bail out of trouble. I am prepared for various minor disasters (the nail which ran straight through the rim was a pretty amazing flat on the bike. The right front tire which blew in the car was a lot easier to respond to.

So when I was told I had to take the written exam for a car, as part of the requirement to get a motorcycle license, I was horrified to fail it the first time out.

I wasn't, you see, planning to take it, and so I didn't re-read the manual. In the three years since the last time I'd read the regulations (Maia got a bullshit ticket with the horse trailer, and did traffic school online), they'd changed some (others, like how long after one paints a car one has to notify the DMV aren't really relevant to driving just to owning a car, but I digress).

So I'd like to see a slight increase in the licensing fee, and a mandatory class (paid for from the fee), every 5 years. Continuting education. That would be the place to add some bits on bicycles.

Because there will be cyclists. Getting them to talk about it would personalise the relationship some. That would be a nice first step in making the culture more accepting of bikes.

#127 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:17 PM:

Steady lights vs blinking lights: as a driver, I don't care--as long as you've got lights in the front as well as the rear. The lights are not there for the bicyclist to be able to see stuff in front of him; they are there so that the drivers in front of him can see him.

There's way too many cyclists in this town who seem to think that just because they can see what's coming, it will mystically avoid them.

#128 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:33 PM:

Lights - flashing versus steady: When I'm driving, I notice the flashing lights better than the non-flashing ones. In the UK, many of the small lights are labelled as legal if flashing and not if used in steady mode as the only light, presumably for that reason. However, the Highway Code recomends that at a steady front light should be used on unlit streets. Often I'll have one steady and one or two flashing, both front and rear. Plus reflective bands on wrists and ankles, and reflectors on the wheels and pedals. If possible, I want the driver to see me. If they don't, I certainly don't want to give them the excuse that I wasn't easily visible.

Re. helmets: I wear one (and gloves, even on hot days in summer) because I am aware that (a) I'm on two wheels, often with a heavy weight on my back, and with a not-insignificant chance that at some time I'll go over sideways (for example when trying to avoid the idiot pedestrian who has just walked out in front of me, while texting, on a major road in Central London); (b) careful though I am, watching out for pedestrians, cars, lorries etc. and stopping for red lights and for pedestrians on zebra crossings, I'm aware that not all drivers are either careful or attentive. I cannot make them more attentive, but I can try to improve my chances of surviving in the event of a collision.

Re. compulsorary helmets: This one is complex. The main argument against appears to be not that helmets won't help in the event of an accident, but that making them compulsorary has the unwanted side effect of discouraging cycling, which results in fewer cyclists, therefore car/lorry etc. drivers being less "cycle aware", therefore more vehicle-cycle accidents. Not sure what the solution is; better driver education? Compulsory "cycle aware" courses for drivers? I would love to be cycling in a situation (e.g. the Netherlands) where the chances of an accident were minimal and I could feel happy riding without a helmet.

#129 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:45 PM:

abi @ 70: Yes, it's bullying, part of that odd subset where the victim is a total stranger to the bully. Most of the bullying I've encountered has been more within a social group (for some definition thereof).

Re: steady lights vs. blinking: I set my rear light (5 red LEDs in a horizontal line) on a very rapid back-and-forth flash sequence. I feel that that little bit of motion helps to get the attention of drivers behind me, without causing any confusion about location or any other distraction. My front light is steady and shielded as much as possible from my own view; otherwise it would be messing up my own night vision (which is acute).

Depending on brightness of moonlight, amount of city light reflected from cloud cover, nature of lighting in my immediate area, etc., I can often see my surroundings and route more clearly at night without a bike light than with one. Regardless, I always use it at night so that other people can see me.

#130 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 02:02 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 101: "It's not acceptable; that's the point."

So WireThingie and WireWhoozis are terms of endearment?

#131 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 02:03 PM:

Speaking of helmets...

I've been thinking of adding reflective/sparkly things to my helmet--little plastic jewels and the like, glued on. Would doing that make the helmet less protective? Like dcb, I don't want any driver to claim I wasn't visible, but I'd also prefer not to compromise whatever protection the helmet provides.

#132 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 02:54 PM:

I'm not at all sure the bike posses of 'Critical Mass' help. All the talk I've heard about them is car drivers getting near-road-rage levels of adrenaline associated with hating bicyclists. Possibly that still helps, in the long run (and nobody has said to me they would ever try to deliberately hit a bicyclist in any case). (Note the "to me" in that last parenthetical!)

Bicycles and cars are alike in a lot of ways. In both cases, there's work to be done both in avoiding accidents, and in mitigating the consequences of accidents (because it's clearly true that avoiding accidents by itself isn't a sufficient solution). It seems absurd to me to suggest that encouraging bike helmets is putting the burden on the less-powerful in the relationship (with cars). There's nothing you can do to a car that's vaguely equivalent (in safety) to putting a helmet on the bicyclist. The helmet helps with potholes, gratings, train tracks, and slippery roads, even if no car is present. On the other hand, putting a helmet on the cyclist is nothing like the END of the bicycle safety issue, and educating car drivers is certainly useful, as is improving road layouts and such.

It seems like we didn't get protective features in cars until the government insisted (seat belts, crumple zones, engine redirectors, padded dashes, air bags, etc.). Those things are also cheaper when they're a basic part of all designs, rather than add-ons to a few designs. I'm leery of government mandates in such areas; but it really looks like the car companies weren't going to get there on their own, and they resisted the mandate fairly strenuously.

Helmets are simpler, in that they don't have to be integrated with the rest of the vehicle design (outside F1 cars!). I'm not sure I favor mandating helmet use. I'm reasonably sure that the only reason for not wearing a helmet for things like motorcycle riding, bicycling, horseback riding, skydiving, and a bunch of other stuff) is that there's very little worth protecting inside your head.

My father almost certainly benefited greatly from his bike helmet in his last bike accident (he probably fell over for other reasons, and his helmeted head bounced on the pavement).

#133 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 02:57 PM:

Depending on brightness of moonlight, amount of city light reflected from cloud cover, nature of lighting in my immediate area, etc., I can often see my surroundings and route more clearly at night without a bike light than with one. Regardless, I always use it at night so that other people can see me.

I'm torn. There are many off-street, creek-side bike paths in Boulder which are utterly unlit, and a light to let people know I'm coming would be wise. However, this same steady white headlight, which isn't made to let me see but to let me be seen, totally kills my night vision for anything that falls outside of the tiny moving pool of light it casts. Such that I can no longer confidently make out the edge of the bike path. Such that I'm much more likely to go right off the edge when it curves and land three to five feet down in moving water and among sharp rocks.

I don't entirely know what to do about this dilemma.

You get a real mix, in Boulder. Many, many bikers here know what they're doing, and they know that they should not be on the sidewalk running down pedestrians. So they will, on principal, ride in the street going south on 30th between Pearl and Arapahoe, where there is no room for a bike and the western sidewalk has been widened and unambiguously designated a bikeway. I have also gotten yelled at by a driver who blew through the whole "left turn yields to oncoming traffic" thing for being on that bikeway: "Bikes don't belong on the sidewalk, idiot!"

(Getting yelled at by drivers whose response to nearly killing me through their traffic violations is to displace blame. Infuriating. Another one that still makes my teeth grind: The woman who blew her stop sign in Seattle, almost hitting me at full speed, and then sweetly told me when we coincided at the next stoplight that I really should be wearing my helmet--as though my helmetless appearance somehow meant her stop sign had become optional.)

On the same day, I'll see parents leading their youngsters in bike rides down the sidewalk on 30th Street north of Pearl where there are designated bike lanes in each direction.

And I'll often see young, college-aged pedestrians scanning both ways for cars before jaywalking right in the path of my oncoming bike. In full daylight. One of the bastids even made eye contact with me and grinned as I had to swerve.

A mix, really. A lot of bikers, a lot of awareness and ignorance to be found on all sides, and a real feeling of animosity in some quarters. Colorado recently passed a law requiring that cars keep 3 feet away from bikes at all times. The Boulder County Sheriff protested, saying bikes would "take unfair advantage" of this law. I think he's afraid the spandex-and-corp-advert-covered sport bicyclists will consider the law free reign to ride four-abreast and stop traffic or something.

#134 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:05 PM:

DDB @132:
I'm reasonably sure that the only reason for not wearing a helmet for things like [...] bicycling [...] is that there's very little worth protecting inside your head.

Teresa @47, I, the entire nation of the Netherlands, and most of the city of Copenhagen would like to thank you for your considered judgment.

#135 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:41 PM:

Nicole (#133)
"..The Boulder County Sheriff protested, saying bikes would "take unfair advantage" of this law..."

As opposed to the car, SUV and trucks that ignore the law and cut-off cyclists?

And how does one "take unfair advantage" of a law like this one?

There are (I'm sure) already laws on the books regarding "obstructing traffic" and "mopery"

Enforcement of those would still make the sheriff happy in his apparent quest to stick it to those terrible people on bicycles.

It reminds me of the police dilemma now in Massachusetts, where marijuana possession of small amounts has been decriminalized. It's as if allowing people to smoke pot without slamming them in the pokey is going to make some police officer's head explode, or such. (the War On (Most) Drugs is an aburdist boondoggle approached only by the security theater of The War On (Their) Terror)

It's as if the legislators are being purposely mean by taking away tools for selective enforcement.

(why yes, I'm cranky today, why do you ask?)

#136 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:50 PM:

Nicole @ 133: I have a similar issue when walking the dogs late at night, and have solved it to my satisfaction by using a multi-lens headlight that includes a red light. When I need to see a spot or be seen by drivers, I have the bright white spotlight on; when I'm walking in a dark section and need better night vision, I have the red light on. It may be an option worth trying.

Various posters:

Re headgear: we make our son wear a helmet when riding his skateboard or riding a bike because he doesn't have the sense I would like him to demonstrate in public while riding a wheeled object. Other than that, I have no issues with helmets vs non-helmets.

#137 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:52 PM:

I'm not in favor of Critical Mass. I've been on half of one of the rides back when I did bike commuting, and it was not for me. IMNSHO, I'd rather they got a couple hundred bikes scrupulously following the rules. It would piss off the cars just as much, but they'd be in a much better position when the police eventually showed up. Hell, if you want to piss of drivers, even following the rules in a car will do it.

FWIW, the one time I was ever hassled by the police for being where I should be on the pavement was that day, after I gave up on the ride and rode over to bumbershoot. Not sure that they're connected, but...

#138 ::: Malaclypse ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:15 PM:

Car drivers can be complete idiots about bicyclists. But then, car drivers can be complete idiots about anything. I think we've gone way too far in the direction of "car as comfy personal space where you don't have to think or interact."

I would add this as a difference between the US and Europe, and speculate that the root lies with the automatic transmission. US automobiles (including "foreign" autos intended for US sale) are designed to create the illusion one is in one's living room. You can't have that if you need to pay attention to shifting. Paying attention to engine RPM forces one to pay attention to many other things.

#139 ::: pm215 ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:55 PM:

dcb@128: I would not recommend making the assumption that UK law on bicycle lights is the way it is for any good reason at all. For instance, for a long time LED lights were technically illegal because the law referenced a specific obsolete version of a British Standard document which explicitly required filament bulbs (rather than something sane like a required brightness range).

In this case, the reason for claiming that the lights are only legal in flashing mode is that flashing lights were permitted by a Statutory Instrument that simply permitted all flashing lights within certain brightness and flash frequency limits. This is quite easy to conform to. Steady lights still have to be approved according to a British Standard or equivalent EU standard (and labelled as such). The law now specifies a newer version of the BS that allows LEDs, but still obtaining standards approval is harder work and more expensive, which is why many LED light manufacturers don't bother. Technically they're telling porkies, in fact, since if the light has a steady mode then it has to be BS conformant, so "only legal in flashing mode" isn't correct for dual-mode lights, even if the light would have been legal had it had only a flashing mode.


All this is of course armchair lawyering; a decent light to front and rear (steady or flashing as you please; personally I like steady lights) is the only real world requirement.

#140 ::: ejp ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:28 PM:

Malaclypse @ 138:
As someone who was once on less than friendly terms with manual transmissions, I would say that having to pay closer attention to the mechanics of operating the vehicle leaves me with less attention to spare for other things, like watching where I'm going. The only time I ever came close to causing an accident, I was driving an unfamiliar car and was momentarily distracted by a fussy gear shifter not doing what I expected.

re: bicycle lighting, I was pretty impressed by these at Maker Faire, but I think they might cross the line between "yes, I see you" and "what the hell is that?!"

#141 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 06:16 PM:

Ginger @ 136: The Ontario Highway Traffic Act specifies that a bike must have a steady white light on the front and a red rear light or reflector if one is riding between half an hour before sunset and half an hour after sunrise, or at any other time the bicycle can't be seen at a distance of 150 metres or less. Or at least that's what's printed in the City of Ottawa's cycling maps; I can't find such a description in the act. I do see sections which prohibit a red light shining forwards except for a few designated cases. It's probably unwise to confuse a driver as to whether a vehicle ahead is coming or going, even if it's being overtaken in either case.

#142 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 06:28 PM:

pm215 @ 139: Thanks for that - and the link. It's one of those things I'd thought I ought to look up some day (because it did sound a bit silly) but had never got around to.

#143 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 08:56 PM:

eric #124:
All I'm going to say about wrecks is that the paramedics react really strongly when there's blood running out your ear, even if it got there from the cut over your eye.

And they did a quick blot test to see if there was clear fluid with the blood. Cerebral Spinal Fluid is a body fluid that should never be visible on a patient.

#144 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 10:37 PM:

I don't know why Japan doesn't get more hype for bicycle-friendliness. You know those enormous multi-story parking lots that they have at malls in America? There are lots like that, for bicycles, in Tokyo; I have seen them stuffed full far over capacity. I have seen three of them at one train station, so that you don't have to ride all the way around the station to park your bike. All completely full. It's the same all over Japan.

In Tokyo bicyclists are considered pedestrians, obliged to ride on the sidewalk where there are sidewalks (more usually, and better for everyone in my opinion, pedestrians and cars share the same road), and I think I've seen one bicycle helmet in three years, though I have seen plenty of people riding with a toddler sitting on a seat on the handlebars and a baby sitting in a seat on the back. Based only on my own observations, I've thought for a long time that helmet laws (or official encouragements) were a barrier to more people riding. But I've never had anything to back it up until now, so thanks for the link, Patrick.

This thread reminds me of watching Jackass for the first time. We were all howling with laughter, not because anything very funny was going on, but because the world was changing inside our heads. Despite living pretty rough-and-tumble in my childhood, I'd been hearing a steady drumbeat of Wear safety equipment to do anything because humans are incredibly fragile for so long, seeing some guy jump out of a second-story window into a bush and emerge just fine was a revelation.

#145 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 10:37 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @133: My helmet came with a plastic snap-on visor, which I superglued to the helmet. It shields my eyes from sunlight, modest amounts of rain, and the glare of oncoming headlights when I'm riding at night. I also have one of those headstrap LED lights, which I've set with the strap wrapped around the visor and the helmet so the light is mounted over the visor. It illuminates in front of me very well, and the light is shielded from my eyes.

I've done a lot of late night trail riding, and used to have the problem you're describing*; this was a good solution.

As the last set of lights I had mounted on my handlebars were stolen earlier this summer (as well as the rear lights, bicycle seat, post, and clamp), this has also proven to be a solution to that sort of casual theft, too.

* I've had accidents and near-accidents with other bicyclists riding along unilluminated trails at night without lights. One gave a startled 'whoa' in front of me; I hit the brakes and skidded out and fell on the gravel path. To his credit, he stopped to make sure I was alright. He told me he had been riding home from work along that trail every night that week, and I was the first person he had come across.

"Good thing you had lights on."

"Yeah. Run out tomorrow and get yours."

If at the time I had been using the helmet light contrivance I described, I might have seen him before he saw me.

#146 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:06 PM:

For what it's worth, the California DMV page on bikes, and the relevant code on bicycle equipment.

(I could, and might sometime, write about the less-bright things I've seen bicyclists do, but they hardly beat some of the stupid things I've seen drivers and pedestrians do.)

#147 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 12:42 AM:

All of my lights are multi-mode (steady, blinking, variations on the theme of blinking in some cases) and with the white strobes in front I often put one on steady - so I can see where I'm going - and leave the other on strobing - so others can see me.

Very dark paths I put both on steady; they're bright as strobes but lack something as actual headlights. OTOH, serious bikelights cost serious money, little white strobes cost about $10 each, and 90% of my riding is on roads, playing in traffic. Being seen is usually more important than me seeing.

"Ninja" cyclists - those running dark, with no lights, no reflectors and often dark clothing - bug the hell out of me as a cyclist, and scare the hell out of me as a driver (and pedestrian, come to that). A basic set of two lights - white front and red rear - can be had for $10-15. Skip Starbucks for two days and get some lights!

#148 ::: Teemu Kalvas ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 03:26 AM:

Serious bike lighting has become a lot cheaper with the advent of cheap, mass-produced high-power led technology. I see a $20 130 lumen headlamp and a $80 900 lumen one on DealExtreme right now. Two years ago you would have been paying $100 and $1000 for something like those.

#149 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 03:42 AM:

I occasionally rode with Critical Mass back when I was working in San Francisco. It actually caused more trouble to have everybody following the rules than to have the police escorting us through intersections, because it takes much longer for a bunch of bikes on each block to start and stop. (Which one got done depended mostly on how well Critical Mass's non-leaders, the police, and the mayor were getting along; Willie Brown occasionally felt he had to Do Something, resulting in traffic enforcement replacing traffic management.) During the years I did that, usually the relationships were pretty cheerful, and before that my dealings with CM were being amused to encounter them when I was in a car. And there were some really special rides, particularly the end-of-June trip across the Golden Gate Bridge (on the bike lane, not the car lane). It took a while to get everybody up the hill and to the bridge, and many people rode down to Sausalito on the other side and took the ferry back. And then there was biking down the crooked part of Lombard Street.

I've had times that I've been assaulted by cars while biking in the city; if I'd been more patient with bureaucracy and less of an anarchist I'd have probably gone to the police on one of those. I can understand why a lot of the Critical Mass riders were bike messenger types, who spend their work time cranked up on adrenaline and occasionally decide that bike locks are a useful way to remind cars about right-of-way laws.

Bike Helmets - A $15 Snell-rated helmet is adequate for safety, and after that you're paying for comfort, which can be worth paying for. Lights: On the other hand, my choice of blinking vs. steady is usually driven by which lights have working batteries today; I usually do steady headlights and fast-chase-blinky taillights, and anything else is random luck. Some years I've also got lights on my helmets, but always at least reflective tape.

#150 ::: pm215 ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 05:32 AM:

individualfrog@144: actually I believe that in Japan sidewalk cycling is only permitted, not obligatory. Sure, almost every cyclist will be on the sidewalk where one exists, but it's not a requirement and until a few years back it was actually illegal. (Coming from the UK I find this kind of weird, but it seems to work OK.)

The other thing about cycling in Japan that would never work in the UK is the way it's completely safe to just lock your bike without locking it *to* something. So all those station cycle parking areas are just marked-out bits of concrete, no stands or securing points...

#151 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 08:53 AM:

Interestingly enough, the helmet debate has revived in several equestrian forums. A recent meme? Actually, it seems to have been inspired by an observation of a recent Big Name Clinician.

Basic summary: many hunter/jumper riders are aghast at the idea of riding without helmets; just as many Western and many dressage riders don't ride with helmets. If you look over at my LJ (joycemocha), you'll see a recent set of pics of me on my horse, and you'll see where I fall on the debate. Also perhaps gain a clue as to why I feel that way...though those movements are simple reining spins, nothing too complex, you do get a good image of some very powerful hindquarters on The Mare.

#152 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:11 AM:

Steady lights vs blinking lights: as a driver, I don't care--as long as you've got lights in the front as well as the rear. The lights are not there for the bicyclist to be able to see stuff in front of him; they are there so that the drivers in front of him can see him.

You may not care, but epileptics and those of us who are made nauseous by flashing lights certainly do. Flashing lights work quite well on most people of normal brain chemistry, but the side effects are not acceptable to me. So having just a flasher, particularly a fast flasher, is a hazard. In all the states I've lived in, the vehicle code agrees with me.

And in practical terms, my bike light is not intended for me to be seen. It's intended for me to ride safely over the frost heaves and potholes and railroad tracks on my usual bike routes. Nice bright halogen bulb, aimed well ahead, and with a car-like scatter pattern. Because it is bright enough for actual use, it is also bright enough to work as a "be seen" light. (it is emphatically not suitable for off road night riding, but I don't do that) Madison has a lot of bike paths, and at night they are not lit. It is very unsafe to use them without good lighting. Bright by itself isn't good, as mentioned up-thread... a lot of LED lights have a scatter pattern that makes it hard to see the road. I went to a lot of trouble to get a Busch and Mueller light set, because theirs does work so well.

If I did more night riding, I'd add an LED headlamp and LED tail-light to my helmet. Having two lights in front and two in the rear gives other people very useful anchoring in figuring out how close an object is and how fast it is moving at night. I don't like it when other people are confused on the road, because confusion leads to mistakes.

My lights go on any time I'd think about doing the same in a car. Generator systems are *lovely* for that.

Hell, if you want to piss of drivers, even following the rules in a car will do it.

So true. So very very true. These days when I drive, I tend to piss other drivers off quite a lot. Riding a bike so much has made me more aware of my speed, and more aware of the actual limits of what I can respond to. So I leave a lot more space, am fussier about stop signs, and am slow. The responses are very much like the ones I get on my bike.

re: helmets...

I do wear one, largely because I have been clumsy all my life. I've got a real knack for tripping myself or having arthritis pain that causes me to collapse in a heap. Since I like my brain and want to keep it, using a helmet is prudent. So far, I haven't had a single bike accident where a car was involved... just me being clumsy. So far, I've never hit my head either, but I've had many more full body falls than I do when walking. I'd probably be better off coming up with a way to get myself leg armor. (this makes me very typical for a cyclist... leg injuries have a slight lead over head and arm injuries, with extremities being the lion's share of all biking injuries) Changing my bike around so it was a style well suited to my abilities has dramatically reduced my fall rate... but not enough that I'm comfortable going helmetless yet.

I don't think laws mandating helmets are helpful. Some people are clumsy or reckless (I can be pretty prone to that one too...) and ought to seriously consider a helmet. Others are prone to thinking of helmets as magical protective hats. If you think a helmet is a magic hat, it's a pretty harmful thing and it ought not be encouraged.

I do think the Netherlands' law about the car driver automatically being held at fault in a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist is sensible. It's not *fair*, but it is in line with how good and responsible drivers think. So fair isn't always a good measure of a law... sometimes it's a good idea to look at how people will think about their behavior.

#153 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:51 AM:

pm215@150, I was told by a police officer in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to ride in the street where there was a sidewalk. I suspect it varies depending on location, or maybe by police officer, ha.

It's true you don't usually lock your bike to anything. Considering the number of bikes it would be impossible to do so. But then a mamachari costs like 6000 yen at the supermarket, so it's not that big a deal. If you lock the wheel you can't ride, and why would anybody steal a bike except to ride it home when they're drunk? The parts are worthless.

#154 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 01:41 PM:

> Having two lights in front and two in the rear gives other people very useful anchoring in figuring out how close an object is and how fast it is moving at night.

Up to a point. There's anecdotal evidence of pairs of bike lights being mistaken for more powerful further apart car lights which are further away.
Mounting lights vertically separated, like your suggested addition of a helmet light, avoids that risk.

#155 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:17 PM:

abi@114: short form: you misread me. I don't have the time or energy to try to sort through this.

#156 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 12:01 PM:

Coming to this late, but here's another perspective on why drivers are unprepared for or outright hostile to cyclists: outside cities, they're rare to nonexistent.

Where I grew up in rural NC (US), no one rode a bike as an adult because things were simply too far away. When the nearest grocery store is 15 miles and your workplace is 30 miles from your house, not in the same direction, and all that's in between is long stretches of high-speed, no-shoulder, two-lane rural roads, it's just not worth it. The people who do ride generally find offroad places to do it. When I took driver's ed at 15 and the exam at 16, there was no mention of bikes (or pedestrians) whatsoever.

Here in semi-urban/suburban northern VA, it's a combination of those two-lane "rural" roads*, miles upon miles of subdivisions with no stores, and dangerous high-speed highways. Kids ride in their neighborhoods, and everyone else just drives.

In both places, it's incredibly rare to even see a cyclist. It's no wonder people don't know how to deal with them.

It's true that people think of their cars as an extension of their living space. Especially here, where people have longer commutes than anywhere else in the US except Los Angeles.

*The road my Manassas subdivision is on looks just like a rural road: two lanes, no real shoulder, woods and houses on each side. Yet during rush hour, which runs from 6:30-9:30 am and 4:30-7 pm, the corresponding lane is so full of cars it barely moves. This place was a real culture shock.

#157 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 01:30 PM:

Carrie S. @ 131: IANASE (I am not a safety engineer), but I think part of what helmets are supposed to do is slide unimpeded along the ground if you have a crash. If you have additional things on the helmet, they're likely to catch instead of sliding and it could lead to a neck injury (if your body is sliding more freely than the helmet). But I repeat, IANASE.

#158 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 02:58 PM:

Nota bene:

I have released Mike McHugh's comment @73 from Purgatory* and renumbered comments since.

If I missed any, say. And if your comment gets held for moderation, please do post one immediately afterward so I have a number spare and don't have to manually edit everyone's up-references.

* It turned out to be wearing a scapular

#159 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 03:10 PM:

Mike #73:

Playing off your and Patrick's comments on perceived risk, here's a question that has been bugging me for a couple of weeks, ever since the NYT (magazine?) ran an article about parenting and risks.

When us Old Farts were kids, the greater proportion of kids' books involved independent kids out doing their own thing. In some of the more extreme cases, such as Elizabeth Enright's Melendy and Gone-Away Lake books, and Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, the kids went all to hell and gone, on their own or in company, on bikes, on trains, in subways and in boats, meeting all sorts of people and taking any number of risks. Parents seemed to exist mainly to keep out of the kids' way.

So: does anybody have any sort of reading (pun not intended) on whether these books have been given the Good Parenting Seal of Disapproval in these modern times, whether anyone even reads them any more, and whether anyone is writing the modern-day equivalents, and if so, what their reception might be?

#160 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 03:32 PM:

Thanks, Abi!

A side-effect of the delay: I managed to find that article I mentioned (serendipity now works through RSS - who knew?). It's a Daily Mail one, so adjust the sensationalism to taste.

#161 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 08:43 PM:

joann @159: In 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', I was always struck how insignificant and ineffectual parents were. I think we saw Willow and Zander's parents once in the run of the series. We saw Buffy's mom a few more times, but apparently her opinions how she thought her daughter should be spending her time didn't count for much.

Which I imagine was part of the appeal of the series. Vampires, demons, and the supernatural were all real; parents did not exist.

#162 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 10:26 PM:

Rob @161, the "Family" episode of BtVS said some strong things about family – pertinent to a current Family thread here, too.

#163 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 05:28 PM:

CHip @155:

Well, then, I apologize for being so defensive. If you find yourself with more energy, I'd be interested in hearing what you meant.

#164 ::: Rob T. ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 07:23 PM:

Touching on points made by Malaclypse @138 and caffeine @156 (not necessarily in that order):

I got into distance biking as a teenager in rural southwest Missouri in the late 1970's. The roads there are mostly narrow, usually steep, but largely devoid of serious traffic; this being the days before mountain bikes were popular, I had to dismount and drag my bike uphill a lot.

(One non-narrow, heavier-traffic road I frequented was I-65 going south into Branson, shoulders only of course, but the memory of that experience resonates with the discussion of what parents used to let their kids get up to back in the day.)

I sometimes joke that I distance-biked as a teen because I needed some way to visit my girlfriend without having my parents give me a lift, but a lot of my biking had nothing to do with my love life, such as it was. Looking back, I think I biked because I just wanted the freedom to get around and do stuff, freedom that I missed as a transplanted city kid.

Most teenagers want that kind of freedom and autonomy, and almost always associate it with learning to drive and getting their first car. I was and am very much an exception. While I'm not sure exactly why, it may be because I got tired of spending so much time in the family car or on the school bus (20 miles every school day for the latter) and never really absorbed the positive associations of driving.

Finally getting to Malaclypse's point, I learned to drive in a cumbersome old Ford pickup with the gearshift lever on the steering column, and almost all the motor vehicles I've driving regularly since then have been manual shift. With enough practice the process of shifting gears becomes second-nature, but it takes longer than it does for automatic shifting. It also requires sensitivity to one's vehicle in unusual driving situations (riding on packed snow, for instance). Whether this makes drivers in general more or less aware of bikers, pedestrians and other objects outside the vehicle, I can't really say from experience.

Incidentally, I recently began commuting to work on bike after my truck's head gasket cracked. So far, I've been lucky not to encounter any unpleasantness with motor vehicles aside from juvenile harassment once in a great while. I mostly take neighborhood roads, put on the lights at night (I usually get off work at 11 pm give or take an hour), and wear a helmet (though I have no problems with those who don't, and follow their arguments with interest). Hope to put up my own pictures as soon as I can get a camera!

#165 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 04:25 AM:

Rob T. @ 164: Most teenagers want that kind of freedom and autonomy, and almost always associate it with learning to drive and getting their first car. Wow. That's a very American statement. Over here (UK) most teenagers don't get a car. You use feet, a bicycle, moped, motorbike or public transport (depending on e.g. financial circumstances, where you live, family aversions to motorbikes etc.). I took up the cycling habit as my primary form of transport in the year before I went to university and cemeted it by studying in Cambridge (UK) for six years, based at a collge 2.5 miles out from the centre. A few years ago, while living in London, I dislocated my shoulder, couldn't cycle for six months (or drive for about 8 weeks) and was dependent on buses. I hated the loss of autonomy (not to mention the 40 minute waits for an every-10-minutes bus). Getting to read while the bus took me from A to B was nice, but didn't make up for the bad points.

#166 ::: Rob T. ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 10:55 AM:

dcb@165: Oops. Sorry for letting my naked provinciality show, and please consider that one statement to begin "Most American teenagers". (I do set myself up as an exception to that characterization, which probably means my view is even more skewed than it is just from spending most of my life in the middle US.)

#167 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 11:44 AM:

Rob T. @ 166: No apology necessary. I made a point about it because I thought it a fascinating example of assumptions and of differences between cultures. In fact, it set me to musing, while on a six mile run (I'm in training for a half-marathon) on the differences in ages at which you can start driving, expectations regarding early car ownership, differences in driving versus drinking age and all sorts of other age-at-which-adulthood-is-assumed topics...

#168 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 11:59 AM:

I live in a rural area. We're 5 miles from the nearest place that will take your money for anything. (Other than eggs by the side of the road) One of my friends, when she says that she'll run over and pick something up, means it literally. She's training for some triathalon, and does 15+ mile runs on a regular basis. So 5 miles to go pick up the car at the garage is nothing.

#169 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 12:56 PM:

eric @ 168 I'm not at that stage yet - I still get on the bicycle to go somewhere, rather than run (running is exercise/training while cycling is for getting somewhere, in my mind), although I've been doing 4 mile runs several times a week all summer and my training schedule has already had me up to 12.5 mile runs on Sundays. Of course the folding bike is useful if it's for something like picking up the car. Also, I try to do most of my running off-road, preferably on grass, to save my knees.

#170 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 01:56 PM:

Biking and freedom in children:

I've just ridden the boundaries of her free-to-roam turf with the 5 year old. Most of the borders are determined by traffic: "You can't cross that busy road, that traffic stream, that intersection." Some is convenience: "Don't cross that bridge; stay on this side of that canal so you're in coherent borders."

It's an area maybe a quarter of a mile wide and half that tall, with quiet streets and lanes, two play parks and two bridges over canals.

Then she wanted to go out to the play park she hasn't been able to go to alone before. It was kind of frightening watching her ride off, perfectly balanced and comfortable on her bike. She came back about half an hour later because the society at the play park didn't interest her much. And it doesn't have swings.

But she loves the freedom to roam.

Next stop: a watch, and timekeeping.

#171 ::: Beige ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 09:53 PM:

As we see, people live in different kinds of places and thus have different ideas of normal. Me, I live in the USA, right inside city limits, not way out in an exurb, and so I'm pretty close to work, only 14 km. Easy to cycle. If I stop at the grocery shop on the way home, that only adds a couple km. The center of the city is just 20 km away. Sure, there are places 4 or 5 km away that, in theory, I could go to, but in practice nothing so close I actually do want to go to. So to me a normal, everyday, short trip is 14 km, one-way. So, naturally I dress like I'm going to exercise for roughly 40 minutes when I'm going to work. Because I am. It would be silly not to wear clothes comfortable for the task. And of course I'm going to clean up and change into normal clothes when I get there. So the helmet is not exactly some sort of extra nuisance. I'm completely changing clothes anyway.

Now, if I lived in Denmark and was regularly making trips of 3 or 4 km on beautifully maintained roads with no craters and swept clean of loose slippery debris, then the fancy bike, the special bike shoes, the athletic clothing and the helmet would probably seem like silly overkill.

#172 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 05:27 PM:

#117, Teemu Kalvas: "You might want to consider that while blinkies are best at attracting attention, a steady light is the best at giving a reference point for someone else to judge your exact location, heading, and speed (which would be useful in traffic). This argument only applies when it's actually dark, not in well-lit cities or twilight." This is a very good point which I'm going to think about. I tend to use a blinking red light because most other night-time cyclists in NYC do so, but this is a compelling argument.

#130, heresiarch: Oh, I see what you mean; good point. I feel dumb for not getting what you were saying in the first place.

#173 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 06:39 PM:

Patrick #172:

Are you saying you use a blinking red light in front as well as in the rear, or am I misreading? Because if it's in the front, that has the possibility of seriously misleading those of us who have been raised to believe that "red = taillight = I'm behind him rather than in front of him". It raises all sorts of horridnesses I'd never considered.

#174 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 08:14 PM:

Torrilin @ 155:

Thanks for bringing up that strobes are actively dangerous for some people, and make others of us physically uncomfortable.

Yes, most people will prioritize their own safety over that of others, especially over the safety of strangers. That's a large part of what people are talking about throughout this thread. But sometimes they only think they're making themselves safer, and they really are making things more difficult and/or dangerous for other people. (And that connects back to what Patrick was saying about perceived risk.)

I don't have numbers here, I just know that it's more than zero. I don't even know how you'd collect good numbers. Ask people with seizure disorders whether they've given up bicycling at night because of strobes, maybe. But for that you need both a good database of people for whom it's an issue, and a statistically significant number within that group who had ever bicycled at night, or since being diagnosed with the problem.

#175 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 08:52 PM:

I have a strobing option for the light on my bike. I think I used it. But it's red leds, and they aren't focused to "beam" at any one.

I know there are people for whom that sort of thing (and I don't know the cycle rate of the lights) is a problem. I also know that, with only one light, it's a hard call to reduce the advantage movment has, especially when the odds are I am a low-visibility object as it is.

#176 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 07:55 PM:

WashPost article about using "fixie" bikes in the city.

#177 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2009, 10:41 AM:

Anecdotally, SUVs cause a disproportionately high proportion of accidents -- especially those involving cyclists -- relative to the number of them on the road. Are there reliable statistics about this?

I've had a certain amount of criticism of a filk song I wrote, inspired by an "interaction" I had a couple of days ago with a particularly clueless driver.

#178 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2009, 02:50 PM:

Joel: I'd probably argue it's the greater hieght/further back problem; intensified by the more efficient soundprofing/climate control making them much more insulative from the effects of the road, added to the larger blindspots caused by them being taller, with a more set-back cab.

#179 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2009, 05:56 PM:

Terry: It's easy to find reasons for it. But is it true? -- do SUVs really cause "more than their share" of accidents?

"Hey, what's that thumping noise from up front?"

"Dunno, it does that sometimes when I change into the right-hand lane."

#180 ::: janetl sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2010, 02:27 AM:

It's link spam

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