Saturday, June 6, 2015

We All Need To Relax Out There!

I went for a drive on Friday.  It’s not like I never drive… most weeks find me behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle for at least a short trip with my wife.  I don’t often get on the Beltway or interstate though.  

I drive within the law.  I drove the speed limit, left safe distance between vehicles, chose the correct lane for the speed which I was traveling,  signaled my turns and lane changes and came to complete, legal stops. 

Here’s what I noticed:  Other drivers treated me EXACTLY the way aggressive drivers treat bicycles.  They honked, yelled, threatened me and tried to run me off the road.   

I did the same thing in the car as I do with the bike.  I smiled and wished people a good day.  When I had the chance to talk to someone at a stop light, I wished them well.  It was a nice day, so that happened a few times during the drive.  

When I arrived at my destinations, I was relaxed and mellow in spite of the craziness that was going on around me.  I know being a PAL (Predictable, Alert, Lawful) isn’t easy.  It is the only way that I’ve found that gets me to where I’m going relatively safely and in a positive mood.

For more information on the PAL Ambassador Program, stop by this web site:  Sign up.  Participate.  Your world will be safer and happier as a result.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Negatives into Positives: A PAL Story

Preface:  I lead a wonderful group called the PAL Ambassadors.  PAL stands for Predictable, Alert, Lawful.  It is a cooperative program between Washington Area Bicyclist Association and BikeArlington to promote street safety and responsible behavior, while building a fun, volunteer-based community of ambassadors.  It is fun and EXTREMELY effective at making the region more safe.  You should join us!

At our monthly PAL Outreach Block Party we were talking pedestrian and cyclist safety issues at one of the more dangerous intersections in Arlington County… Lee Highway and Lynn Street in Rosslyn.  It is an event in conjunction with Arlington County’s Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety Initiative.  

Now to my story:

A woman who works nearby and walks to and from work daily was quite angry and a little bit confrontational about how cyclists behave around pedestrians.  Often times people expect me to reply to aggressive comments “with attitude”, so they open up with confrontational words and hands on their hips.  She is more afraid of cyclists than she is of cars in that intersection.  This fear and anger had built up over years!  Now she’s got someone to point it at…. ME! 

Over the years I’ve developed a very good technique for making this kind of interaction positive.  Listen —> Find common ground —> Share the solution —> Enlist their help = WIN!  

Here’s how it went:  

Listen: Pretty easy.  Be attentive.  Make eye contact.  Listen… I mean really listen.  Don’t interrupt.  Just listen!  She talked for almost a minute non-stop.  It seemed like a lot longer.  It always does.  I just listened and waited for her to relax a little and breathe.  She felt MUCH better when she got to the end of her talk.  I could see her visibly relax.

Find common ground:  I totally agreed with her, so common ground was easy to find.  Many cyclists behave badly in and around that intersection.  I slipped in a little comment that many of us in that intersection could behave a lot better. I was helped by a pedestrian that ran out into busy traffic and a motorist that ran the red light.  SHE brought up that pedestrians are horrible there too.  We have common ground and she helped find it!

Share the solution:  I gave a 15 second pitch for the PAL Ambassador program.  I had 6 amazing volunteers talking the talk and walking the walk all around me.  She could see people talking to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.  She liked it!

Enlist her help:  I handed her a Kind Bar that had a PAL Ambassador sticker on it with all the info she needed to get involved.  She got a snack and the ball is in her court to become a force for good!

WIN!  I got a smile, a sincere handshake and a new force for good in the PAL Ambassador program.  I hope she follows through.  

Everyone wins!


Monday, March 23, 2015

PAL — Predictable, Alert, Lawful: A Practical Application

I’m Pete and I was hit by a car last week.  It wasn’t a bad accident.  I walked away from it.  Like most accidents, it could have been avoided.  

Quick background on me: I work for Washington Area Bicyclist Association running a program with BikeArlington called the PAL Ambassadors. I work with volunteers to improve street safety by giving life to the message of being Predictable, Alert and Lawful.

What happened?  Basically the driver drove his car out of the driveway, drove around the corner, cutting it close to the left curb and was looking down.   He didn’t see that I was coming to a stop at the intersection.  He was 50’ from his house when he ran into me head-on.  

Why did it happen and what did we learn?  

First:  Morning routines can be bad!  We all do things in the morning that maximize our time to sleep and help us remember what we need for the day.  We sometimes shortcut things, multi-task, and even start moving before we’re really ready.  

Solution — Be Predictable:  This man’s morning routine made his behavior erratic and unpredictable.  What made sense to him inside his car made it impossible for him to drive safely and for me to predict where he was going or what he was doing.

Second —  Some activities require your full attention:  We all take shortcuts and multi-task to save time and make life easier.  That’s okay if you’re making toast.  It isn’t okay if you’re walking, riding or driving down the street.  Each of those tasks requires your full attention.

Solution — Be Alert:  An attentive driver would have seen the cyclist in reflective clothing with a bright headlight even though conditions were not great.  If it is dark and/or weather makes visibility challenging, it requires MORE focus, not less.

Third:  Don’t break the law for the sake of convenience.  We all pick and choose which laws we obey and which ones we ignore for the sake of convenience or expedience.  This driver broke 6 or 7 traffic laws in the first 50 feet of his commute and they combined to cause an accident.  None of the laws he broke were really a big deal.  It was how they combined together that put a cyclist on the hood of his car.

Solution — Be Lawful:  Rules of the road are there for a reason.  They save lives.  That message isn’t just for drivers, but for pedestrians and cyclists too.  

What did I learn from this?

Good people sometimes do foolish, careless things.  The guy that hit me wasn’t a jerk.  He wasn’t aggressive or rude.  He just made a few mistakes and was a little careless.  We all do things like that, though I’d hope not while driving.  

Patience, understanding and respect make bad situations much easier to deal with.  I wasn’t always mellow, polite and respectful after accidents like this.  I’ve tried every other way to behave in bad situations and being calm and kind is the only one that protects my safety and livelihood in the long run. 

This driver was amazed at how mellow I was and had no problem at all with doing what was right in the aftermath of the accident.  If I was angry and yelling, things would have gone much differently.  

Being a PAL helps, but it can’t prevent every accident.  We all need to work together to make streets safer.  I did everything right on my morning commute.  I still got hit by a careless driver.  

RESOURCES:  WABA has a great “What To Do After A Crash” Page.  Study it, learn it and make it yours BEFORE you have a crash. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tell me more about studded bicycle tires.

Studded tires come in many different sizes and shapes.  I’m not so much going to talk about tire sizes, because you need to get the tires that fit your bike, but I will talk about the different shapes because they define the purpose of the tire.  

1) Ice tires:  These are relatively narrow and have relatively little tread, but quite a few studs.  They are designed to roll pretty quickly on pavement and work well on ice, but do not have enough tread to really deal with snow… either soft packed or fluffy.  

Kenda Klondike:    These have some tread, but not enough for deeper snow.  

Suomi purchased Nokian’s bike tire division a while back.  The W106 is their ice tire.  They also make the Ice Speed, which is their commuter tire.  These are arguably the best tires of this kind available.

2) Snow Tires:  These are often a little wider (35-45mm wide), have lots of studs and also a lot of tread lugs for dealing with loose snow.  These work GREAT in bad conditions, but are heavier and don’t roll as fast on pavement.  

Suomi purchased Nokian’s bike tire division a year or two back.  The W240 is their snow tire.  These are arguably the best available and are priced accordingly.

45Nrth Gravdal is their snow/ice tire.  Looks awesome.  I haven’t used it, but their reputation is good.  These are often difficult to get ahold of.

Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires are somewhere between Snow and Ice tires.  They’re arguably the best made and most durable studded tires ever.

3) Mountain bike tires: These are fat.  They’re 2-4” wide at least and they have plenty of tread as well plenty of studs.  Like the snow tires, they’re great in loose snow, hard pack and ice, but they’re also GREAT on rutted ice.  They’re also good for going mountain biking, if there are icy trails.  

Suomi purchased Nokian’s bike tire division a few years ago.  The Gazza Extreme 294 is as good as it gets in this type of tire.

45Nrth Dillinger 5 fat tire:  This is it if you’ve got a fat bike.  I used one last year and it was flawless.  It weighs a ton. 

45Nrth Nicotine is the 29er studded tire.  It is 2.35” wide and awesome.


Can I install my own studs?  Yes and no.  Yes you can.  There is a tool and you can buy studs.  Some folks have made studded tires out of wood screws.  They don’t last.  

Which is best for me?  I always choose the Snow or MTB tires.  They work well in slush, loose snow, ice and hardback.  I don’t care that they’re slower on pavement than the pure ice tires.  If you never ride in loose snow or bumpy ice, then the ice tires will work well for you.  In the DC suburbs, the ice never stays smooth for long.  Go with something that can handle snow, ice and bumps.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ice Riding with Studded Tires 101

Riding a bicycle in ice and snow can be a daunting task.  Hopefully this blog post and a good set of studded tires will help.  Bicycle tires equipped with carbide studs have been around for many decades.  For people new to snow and ice riding, they make it possible.  The techniques that you learn when riding with studded tires will help you be a better bicycle rider in all conditions.

Here's a short list of things that will help.  It is not, by any means, exhaustive.  Please add to it if you'd like!!!

1) Relax.  Chill.  Everything is gonna be alright.  Ice and gravity want to make things happen quickly.  You need to resist the temptation to act quickly.  Sudden, quick movements will break even studded tires free on the ice and then gravity takes over.  If you relax and move slowly, you’re much more likely to stay upright and let the bike do its work.  The bike wants to roll straight and upright.  Let it do its work.

2) Studded tires do not instantly make you a superhero.  I know that this sounds like a complete contradiction to item #1, but it really isn’t.  Studded tires give you SOME traction where there isn’t much to conventional tires.  They are not, however, infallible.  You need to use them as a tool to guide the bike.  Proper technique is what makes the bike go where you want it to more than studded tires do.  Studded tires just keep you upright long enough to learn good technique.

3) Avoid the ruts:  Melt and freeze cycles mean that ice will get grooves and ruts in it.  If you drop a tire into a rut, the groove in the ice will guide where your bike goes regardless of where you try to steer.  This can cause a problem when the rut takes your bike one direction and your weight goes a different direction.  If your wheel goes into a rut, that’s not the end of the world.  You’ll learn to deal with it.  Remember #1 (Relax!  Chill!)  and #6 (Weight Control will get you out of the rut.)  

4) Momentum is your friend:  There will be a time when you start to feel comfortable on your bike with studded tires.  You’ll get #1 and #6 down to a science.  This is the point where you figure out that riding a little faster makes it easier for the bike to do its job.  

5) Brakes only slow you down:  When traction is high (on pavement and dirt) the brakes become a security blanket.  When in doubt, hit the brakes because they’ll fix a lot of problems.  When traction is hard to find (on ice and snow) the brakes cause many more problems than they solve.  Grabbing a fist full of brake is something that causes the kind of quick action that gets rid of #1 and #6.  You don’t relax and you are no longer in control of where your weight is taking you.  

6) Weight Control:  Steering on ice and snow is more about how you weight your handlebars than how you turn your handlebars.  When traction is hard to find, the best way to steer to the left is to put more weight on your left hand on your handlebars.  This puts the studs on the left side of the tire on edge and starts your turn to the left.  It doesn’t happen quickly, but remember item #1:  Relax.  Chill.  Everything is gonna be alright.  

7) Learn somewhere safe:  Multi-use trails are great for learning how to ride on ice and snow.  They’re not always plowed. When they’re icy, you’re more likely to be the only one out on the trail.  You’ve often got plenty of escape routes.  When in doubt, ride into the soft snow off the side of the trail.  You’ll get a little more traction and also have a soft place to land if the worst happens and you crash.  The important thing is to plan ahead and know where your escape routes are.  Keep an eye on the trail ahead and to the side.  

8) Have fun!