Category Archives: Bikes

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Pronto First Look

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“Pronto,” Seattle’s bike share system, launched today, with some 500 bikes spread across 50 stations. A couple of those stations are mere blocks from my office, so I took one of the shiny green things for a quick shakedown cruise.

The system operates similar to those found in other cities – insert your key fob (if you’re a member) or use the kiosk to buy a pass (if you’re a visitor), press a button to unlock a bike, adjust the seat height if needed, and off you go.

Unlike the 3-speed bike share bikes I’ve ridden in flat places like D.C., Denver and Columbus (yeah, freaking Columbus freaking Ohio got bike share before Seattle!), the Pronto bikes have a 7-speed internal hub. The shifting mechanism works well, but as you’d expect with heavy bikes that need to cater to a wide swath of people, the gearing is set pretty low. These things aren’t built for speed, and those accustomed to riding single speed are rarely going to need to shift out of gears 6 and 7, even climbing Pine Street.

It remains to be seen how well the helmet system will work. Right now it’s on the honor system, with the dreaded helmet vending machines expected sometime next year. I really hope the system proves popular, and the stations expand around town. It’s a great addition to Seattle’s transportation infrastructure, particularly for quick point-to-point trips around downtown and Capitol Hill. I’m excited to use it more in the months to come.

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Pronto

Seattle Bike Share Almost Here

Despite some website difficulties (and my skepticism about the program’s success, given Seattle’s nanny-statish helmet law), I signed up for a membership with “Pronto,” Seattle’s new bikeshare service.  It’s scheduled to launch in mid-October.  Although the nearest initial station is a mile from my house, I figure it will give me yet another option for closing shorter distances downtown and on Capitol Hill.  And I want to support the program, of course.

One system that doesn’t need any additional support?  Any bike share system in China.  Vox reports today that China has over 400,000 bike share bikes – and growing, very, very rapidly.

Bicycle Overdesign

So, this “Seattle” bike won some sort of bike contest for the “Ultimate Urban Bike” and is going into production.  While it’s vaguely cool looking, at least in a “Breaking Away” meets “Aliens” sort of way, it’s just another piece of evidence showing that bicycle design reached its evolutionary limits in the 1960’s.

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Sure, there are performance improvements and useful add-ons to make.  But when you starting compromising the handlebars by having them double as a lock, and replacing perfectly adequate fenders with some sort of crazy brush system that you KNOW is going to underperform and get clogged with junk, and adding another inverted triangle to the headtube geometry just because you can, you’ve gone beyond expanding the vernacular into design for design’s sake.

And I bet that headlight is WAY too bright for riding in the city.

Harrumph.

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Takes One to Know One

This excellent piece by Carl Alviani, titled “Why Bikes Make Smart People Say Dumb Things,” tackles the cognitive dissonance at work when people spew vitriol at the occasional scofflaw cyclist (or worse, tar all cyclists with that brush) while blithely accepting the carnage and lawlessness committed all around them by drivers.

As Alviani notes, the vast majority of people don’t ride bicycles, particularly in urban settings, leading to:

The social psychology term for this bias is “fundamental attribution error”: the tendency to attribute the actions of others to their inherent nature rather than their situation, and the less we sympathize with their situation, the greater the bias. A 2002 study from the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory found that it plays a starring role in our perceptions of traffic behavior, with drivers far more likely to see a cyclist’s infraction as stemming from ineptitude or recklessness than an identical one committed by another driver. 

This lack of sympathy for cyclists is also related to the failure of drivers to understand why someone on a bicycle might do something – even if that “something” is breaking the law.  A driver might understand and sympathize with another driver who cuts off a pedestrian in a crosswalk, but is aghast at the cyclist who rolls through a red light.

It also probably explains why I always feel safer riding on Capitol Hill. You see, it’s not only the relatively lower traffic speeds, but also the fact that so many of the drivers are bike-sympathetic riders who just happen to be driving at the moment.

Thanks, hipsters!

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Cycling Columbus

My travel schedule has been nutty of late, so even fewer posts than usual. But here’s one: about my trip last week to Columbus, Ohio, a city I visited for the first time.

I was impressed with Columbus.  What I’d pictured as a rust belt city was in fact a thriving town that seems to be rapidly reinventing itself.  The “Short North” neighborhood between downtown and Ohio State University campus is a rapidly-gentrifying area full of bars and restaurants, most of which look like they’ve just opened in the last five years (not unlike Market Street in Ballard, in that respect).  There’s all sorts of construction along the river, with a newly built esplanade along the downtown bank.  And to top it off, Columbus has some of my favorite transportation options: Uber, Car2Go, and a bike share system – “COGo,” which I used to see all that I could around town.  

I’ve lauded bike share here before, and I try to use it whenever I come across a new system.  Because of the vagaries of getting between Seattle and Columbus, I had more time than I usually do when traveling on business this time.  Instead of using the bike share to make a single trip or two to meet people, I was able to use it for an afternoon to play tourist.  And it’s the best way, hands-down, to see a town.  It helps, too, that Columbus is very flat, and has wide, empty sidewalks (the streets are highly suboptimal for riding, I learned). It may be a different story when the weather gets oppressive, but on a 62 degree day it was darn near ideal.

The flatness also encourages a lot of single-speed and fixed gear riding; I saw these bikes everywhere.

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Purple single speed in the Short North, near one of the arches from which Columbus draws its “Arch City” nickname.

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Cyclist Obey!

Bike Snob (of course) nails it far better than I could in addressing the “you cyclists should just follow the rules and send the right message” crowd:

It’s impossible, and in fact downright stupid, to “obey the letter of the law” on your bicycle when you find yourself in a situation where the streets and the laws are designed specifically for cars, which describes most of the United States.  Moreover, it’s gone way, way past the point where cyclists should need to prove to the very people who are fucking us (that’s drivers and police officers) that we “deserve respect.”  We deserve respect for being human, and it ends there.  Yet we’re supposed to be good little boy scouts and girl scouts–even when it’s more dangerous for us to do so–to prove we’re deserving of not being killed?  That’s just stupid and insulting.

Seriously, read the whole thing.  Hilarious, and right on.

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Bike Notes – October 2013

  • I walked around downtown Louisville at the beginning of the month and was stunned to see that the city has beaten Seattle to the punch with bike share – and no silly bike helmet vending machines (and +1 for being the heartland of bourbon).

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Unfortunately, Louisville also has some Angry Birds.

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The definition of a New Yorker is not “when walking, ignores lights.”  It’s “when walking, knows what’s up.”  It’s not ignoring the lights, it’s knowing that you know better than the lights.

Truer words, etc.  It’s knowing that you know better than the lights – which is how you have to ride in the city, if you want to stay safe.  It’s also how you should walk, but most Seattle pedestrians take after Delia Ephron and blithely wander about and then look around slackjawed when they almost get run down.

And that’s not when they’re minding the lights.  Nobody jaywalks here – or at least you’d think so from the amount of stinkeye I get whenever I do it.  I think the aggressive obeying-of-street-lights may contribute to the pedestrian ineptness.  It’s as if the requirement to obey the lights frees the peds up from critical thinking, so they go when the light is green, stop when the light is red, and walk out into any crosswalk without looking first because it’s their right to walk there.

  • The first segment of the Broadway Bikeway – Capitol Hill’s first – is now open.  It’s not on my regular commute route, but I checked it out on the ride yesterday.  Nice ride, complete with bright green paint on driveways, some spots with actual curb separation, and bike lights at the intersection.  This is what real bike infrastructure is all about.  Or will be, as soon as drivers learn to not park in it.

 

 

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Denver Bike Share

Today, on a gloriously sunny afternoon, I finally got a chance to try out Denver’s B-cycle bike share system. I was visiting Denver three years ago on the day the system launched, but the weather didn’t cooperate: thunder, lightening, rain spitting sideways – it was the full gamut of what you can expect on the eastern slope of the Rockies.

Today was far different. I rode through the sunshine around downtown, tried out Denver’s bike lanes (just slightly more removed from the door zone than Seattle’s) and finally ended up south of town at the Buckhorn Exchange for dinner.

Where, as it turns out, there was a B-cycle station right across the street.

The beauty of bike share is the ubiquity of the system. In the core areas, you’re never more than a few blocks from a station. It makes it easy – and fun – to move about town. Simply park the bike in the nearest station and move on. As with most (all?) systems in the US, Denver’s operates on a subscription basis that includes all rides under 30 minutes. Given the ubiquity of the stations (and the fact that the ponderous 3-speed bikes don’t lend themselves to extended rides), it’s hard to imagine getting into extended time.

In Denver, the tourist subscription is available in 24 hour increments for $8.00. You simply show up at any station, swipe your credit card, accept a few click wrap limitations of liability, and you’re off.

Definitely a better way to get around than a cab – provided it isn’t pissing rain.

And no helmet required! Hear that, Seattle?

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Lukewarm on Seattle Bike Share

Hub and Bespoke blog wrote the other day about Seattle bike share, with some nice links to posts about how great these systems are in other cities. And they are great; I love the systems I’ve used when traveling (like Capitol Bike Share in DC). When done right, urban bike share is a revelation: easy to use, super convenient, a whole new and freeing way to move about and experience a city, whether you are a resident or a tourist.

But I’m worried that Seattle’s system will turn out more like Melbourne’s – tepid and underused due to the requirement that all riders wear helmets. And it’s our own fault, for not seriously entertaining the possibility, that maybe – just maybe – we could get out of our nanny-state mentality and question whether Seattle really needs a mandatory bike helmet law.

Or whether the bike share system could have an exemption from the law.

Instead, we’re going to “solve” the problem with helmet vending machines.

Much as I’d like this to work, and as much as helmet vending machines are great for those choosing to wear a helmet, I fully expect that Seattle’s system is going to be a pale shadow of what it could be until and unless the mandatory helmet law is lifted.