Nuts at Nutella

I’ve posted before about trademark bullying. It’s a classic example of letting legal process take precedence over good business judgment – and it illustrates starkly why it’s often a bad idea for a company to give their lawyers too much leeway.

The latest entrant in the trademark bullying hall of shame? Nutella, whose lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to a Boston smoothie joint for having the temerity to note on their menu that a certain smoothie contained the delicious chocolate-and-hazelnut concoction.

Which they’d been selling for 14 years, no doubt buying thousands of dollars’ worth of Nutella over that period, and driving free viral marketing for the brand.

So yes, by all means let’s make them stop that.

The Case for Multiple Bikes

So I was running a little late this morning, considering I planned a pre-work trip to the SODO Home Depot. Hopped on my daily ride, and got halfway down the block when I felt a wobble in the right pedal. I’ve experienced this once before, and it’s not good. Best case, the bike shop will be able to “shoot a coil” in the crank arm that will allow me to re-thread the pedal. Worst case means a new crankset. Whatever the case, I wasn’t getting to work on THAT bike.

OK, so out comes the rain bike. Hmmm – tires look really low. Well, it’s been really sunny in Seattle; I haven’t ridden it in weeks, maybe months. Except that as I pump I hear the hiss that tells me all is not well with my rear tire. And there’s a glassy piece of road debris, sticking out proudly. Damn. Changing the tire is a 15-20 minute process because (a) it involves removing the rear fender stays and (b) I’m slooow when it comes to bike repairs. Fixing the flat will mean shitcanning my morning plans.

So good thing I’ve recently acquired a third bike! Jumped on my coaster-brake equipped single-speed SE Draft for the trip. A bit dodgy dealing with SODO traffic on a bike better suited for laying down skids in the alley and tooling around the neighborhood, but hey – at least I got my ride in.

Helmets and Bike Share

As this excellent NYT article notes, one of the vexing challenges that urban bike share systems face in some cities (including Seattle) is how to comply with mandatory helmet laws – and how to get people to actually use the systems when helmets are required. And really, when you’re forced to contemplate “sanitized helmet dispensers,” it’s way past time to ask whether these laws need to be revisited.

This isn’t to say that riding with a helmet isn’t a good idea. It’s usually a wise choice, particularly for those of us who ride daily in traffic. The question is whether it should be mandated.

I’m a big believer in the accountability of regulation. Unless a law can “deliver the goods” in a meaningful way, it shouldn’t be on the books. To date, helmet requirements have skated along by being relatively minor impositions of the nanny state, the fact that large numbers of riders choose to wear helmets anyway, and lax enforcement. But once they start preventing – or imposing large costs or inconveniences on – bike share systems, it’s time to weigh what benefits these laws offer.

And despite the predictable “helmets r good!” arguments, there’s plenty of evidence that mandatory helmet laws are actually counter-productive. Such laws add little on the safety side of the equation, as cycling in general is not that dangerous, helmets are not proof against serious injury or death and most of those who ride frequently, at high speeds or in traffic are likely to wear a helmet anyway. On the cost side, they add friction by creating an impediment to riding and making cycling seem like a more inherently dangerous activity than it actually is. Add to that the actual costs imposed on bike share systems – and the lost opportunities in such systems not being able to work efficiently within such regulations – and helmet laws are sure to fail the test of good regulation.

So here’s a modest proposal: Instead of monkeying around with helmet vending machines and such, let’s take this opportunity to excise a well-meaning but misguided law.