Thursday, April 18, 2013

Guardian Bike Blog on Children Biking to School

We found a short piece on children biking to school in the UK on the always interesting Guardian Bike Blog. The author asks why parents won't ride with their children to school, but he hasn't yet got any personal experience riding with his children  on their own bikes to school.

The post notes that the parents surveyed wish for separated infrastructure that would allow their children to use their bikes for transportation, but the cycling advocates quoted argue that these parents just need to get used to using the streets as they are. The parents, including one who rides her child on a cargo bike, argue that the roads are not safe enough for school age children to ride alone, but the more vocal cyclists fail to see the same dangers.

My question is: when will planners and advocates stop asking parents to love the roads and safety odds we currently live with, both here and in the UK, and just start building those separated non-car permeable lanes that we need to get our kids safely to school and back? How can we get more parents to allow their kids to ride to school? Build the safe infrastructure for them to be able to do it, that's how.

Why must "advocates" tell other parents they don't know what they need?

Check out the post on the Guardian's blog from the link and see what you think.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Look for a Kid's Bike Built for Transportation this Spring

Spring has come again and it's time to look for new bikes! 

Kids who need to ride around a city like Chicago to get to school or somewhere deserve a bike that is well lighted and reflectored so they can ride day or night, that won't splash them or the rider behind them so it can be used in any weather, that offers a place for their baggage so they don't have to balance it on their backs and swerve when it moves, that changes gears and brakes effectively, and that offers a sensible upright riding posture. 

This year, instead of buying a new department store (equals low quality) bike from a checkout guy, why not drop by your favorite local bike store and look at what they have? They are mechanics who won't sell you something crummy and they'll be able to fix it up just the way you want it. 
If the small bike store option is too much money even despite the quality differences, why not check out one of the recycled bike nonprofits in your area? In Chicago, as usual, we suggest Working Bikes, the Recyclery, and West Town Bikes. Used bike shops like A Nearly New Shop are worth a look as well. Prices often beat the big box stores and the you can find a gem like we did yesterday. Look at our posts about buying a new kid's bike, kid's bike lights, and others...
If you go to a flea market bring your morality with you and don't buy anything that could possibly be stolen — one seller last weekend had wheels for sale with 3 or 4 spokes missing where the locks were clipped out; bet all his bikes were stolen, too. If they don't have the sales receipt to show you, think twice.

So we went shopping at the used bike store yesterday for a new bike to fit the 8 year old. His old one, a marvelous 1980s 20 inch Raleigh Mountie, found a new home with a smaller friend, and the bike-in-waiting, a 26 inch Raleigh Colt, was too large to ride comfortably. They didn't have a Raleigh Space Rider, the 24 inch model, so we were stuck looking at lots of current and former bike styles. There have been a lot of bikes made for 8 year olds over the years — practical ones like the Raleighs, silly ones like 35 pound shock-absorbed department store downhill mountain bikes, banana seat Schwinns, lightweight and not-so-lightweight racing bikes... We really prefer the upright style bikes like the old Raleighs, and so do our kids. They are comfortable and easy to ride in the city in all conditions. Unfortunately they were all sold out. 

We settled on a purple mountain style bike for about $150, called a Jumpmaster Flash, because, surprisingly, it had already been set up with nearly all of the things we like on our kids' bikes. Fenders, rack, lights, bell, chain guard - everything was there. It's unusual to find a kid's bike with everything already on it. It even has an internal hub!  We only had to change the hard-to-pedal knobby tires.

The bike was built for the German market in the early 90's when mountain bikes were The Cool Thing, but it was intended more for routine daily transportation than for mountain trails. Like nearly all bikes sold in Germany it fulfilled the legal requirements for use on public streets, the StVZO. I guess someone brought it over to Chicago and outgrew it. (This was considered a lowish end bike in Germany at the time.)

Finding this bike gives us a good excuse to compare. What makes the Jumpmaster a bike for transportation? In other words, what are the things you will need to add to your own bikes to make them good for city riding?

Recent Trek Mountain Track 200
with cool spoke decorations (seat too low)
We compare it to a typical American bike in roughly the same class, the Trek Mountain Track 200. We found one from a year or two ago with nearly no wear (all the gears still silver and shiny!) for about $75 ($300 new) and took it home to fix up for another friend. The Trek is a good quality model in the low-to-mid range of Trek's lineup and comes with only a kickstand and basic reflectors included.

The Jumpmaster has dynamo
lighting front and back,
and full metal fenders.
The Trek needs these added.
You can ride a bike with fenders and lights more safely and comfortably on city streets and bikeways, remaining visible and not splashing the person behind you. Dynamo lights are always ready to use. New German bikes mostly come with hub dynamos these days. Note also the reflectors everywhere. More about lighting kids' bikes on our other posts.

The Jumpmaster has a bell standard -
again, nothing on the Trek
You can use a bell instead of shouting "on your left!" to pedestrians, or warn people getting out of their cars that you are there. It's a cheap accessory but it comes with the bike in Germany. Our kids use theirs all the time.

While the Trek features a
 multi-speed derailer system...
"21 speeds" really means about 11 different speeds and a bunch of duplicates. It can be hard for a new rider to use all the speeds effectively and many people just limit themselves to one shifter or the other. Derailer gears can be nice but may be more than needed in the city, and using a derailer in the winter is hard since it ices up and stops working. They are easy and relatively cheap to replace.

the Jumpmaster boasts a Shimano
7 speed internal hub with coaster
brake in addition to the cantilever
brakes on each wheel.

This Inter-7 hub has a wide range for city riding, an 8 year old can easily find an appropriate gear, and it adds another brake that works in any weather. Internal hubs don't ice up and rarely need maintenance. They remain expensive in the US though. Our luck is generally good with them.

Looks like this Jumpmaster was brought
to be safety inspected in 1995. The func-
tional but low end rack is visible here too.

The Trek has nicer aluminum V-brake copies; the Jumpmaster makes do with plasticky cantilevers and levers. Both feature similar aluminum rims and silly thick knobby tires unsuited to road riding. We'll start improving both bikes by putting on smoother reflective sidewall tires like Kenda Kwests or similar. The Trek frame is better made, but the rough frame on the Jumpmaster is still working after nearly 20 years and it's a little lighter (though both are heavier than any 8 year old deserves to have to lift).

We'll be souping up the $75 bike in a future post if we get around to it.

StVZO? German Bicycle Requirements Make Sense

Click the image to go to the ADFC, General German Bicycle Club, website (in German)

In Germany, the road traffic permit regulations, Stra├čenverkehrszulassungsordnung (abbreviated StVZO) dictate the requirements for bicycles. Every bike on public ways, for kids or grownups, is supposed to fulfill these rules, and most bikes are sold with the required accessories already in place. You can buy a bike without everything, and some people ride bikes that don't conform, but in the event of an accident they are likely to be found at least partly responsible. This can get to be very expensive. Most people just follow the rules.

But in addition to the legal aspects of it, the StVZO makes sense. It regulates bicycles as traffic participants, not as pedestrians, and makes bicycling safer for everyone. (The latest StVZO just went into effect April 1, 2013 and declares for the first time that bicycles should follow vehicular traffic rules and lights, not pedestrian ones).  By standardizing these features of bikes, pedestrians and drivers know what to look for and cyclists are assured some safety features on every bike. Here are the technical requirements listed in the image above (sources include ADFC and Wikipedia):
  • Brakes  Bikes must have two brakes that are independent from one another. (Switzerland requires them to be one on the front wheel, one on the back).
  • Bell Bikes must be provided with at least one brightly toned bell. Other devices to alert others with sound, like horns or bike wheel bells that spin on the tire, Radlaufglocken, are not permitted. If you hear a bike bell you know without looking that it is a bike. (Austria permits horns and, like Switzerland, makes an exception for lightweight racing bikes)
  • Lighting  A white headlight and a red rear light are required and must be ready for use at any time. The headlight and rear light must be turned on with a single switch. They must be able to be powered by a dynamo backup, though they can use batteries in addition (as a standlight for example). One additional battery powered rear light may be added at the most; further battery powered lamps are not permitted, including blinking ones or ones on the helmet or body. Racing bikes (in Switzerland 700c x 23 or thinner) up to 11 kg weight (24.25 lbs or 12 kg/26.45 lbs in Austria and Switzerland) are not required to have the dynamo lighting, but may use removable battery powered lights. These lights must be carried at all times. All lighting needs an approval stamp from the German department of transportation in Flensburg - see the image at top or your own B&M LED lamps. Incidentally, the lights that are permitted don't have a setting for blinking. All lights stay on when switched on so that other traffic participants can judge distances well, something that is harder with a blinking light.
  • Reflectors  A red reflector not higher than 600 mm above the roadway at its highest point and a large rear reflector marked with a "Z" must be mounted on the rear. A white reflector must be mounted facing forward, and yellow reflectors must be mounted on the pedals and on the spokes. The yellow spoke reflectors, 2 per wheel, may be replaced by tires spokes or rims with sidewall reflectors. Why the "Z?" I guess it is the approval symbol for this kind of reflector. The rear light and one reflector can be built into the same thing; the other one is separate. 
  • Carrying Capacity  According to DIN EN 14764 bikes must be built to hold 100 kg, including the weight of the bike itself, clothing and luggage, and weight of the rider, but many bikes are made stronger than required. Riders weighing over 80 kg are therefore encouraged to seek a bike explicitly marked with a higher maximum capacity. 
  • Fenders, Chainguard, a Lock, and a Rack  These are not actually required by the StVZO but have become expected on most bikes. Switzerland does require some of these. Standlights, the dynamo lights that stay lit for a while after you stop at an intersection, were going to be added to the 2013 requirements but didn't make the cut. I expect they will be required soon, and perhaps hub dynamos will completely replace tire dynamos in the regulations as well due to their better wet weather reliability.  The ADFC bicycle club, when rating bicycles, takes a point off for cafe locks (wheel locks).
Have a look at the StVZO compliant children's bike we just found at the used bike store.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bikes and Peds Vs. Cars - Data from New York

The New York Times just ran a story this morning about a study of traffic related injuries done at NYU Langone Medical Center, Vulnerable roadway users struck by motor vehicles at the center of the safest, large US city, Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery: April 2013 - Volume 74 - Issue 4 - p 1138–1145. 

NYT article link: Study Details Injuries To Pedestrians And Cyclists In New York City  

Though it is behind the NYT paywall, the whole article is worth a look, as is the photo of a taxi picking up a passenger in the painted bike lane while a cyclist has to circle out into busy traffic to avoid it. That happens all the time.

They found that 40 percent of cyclists injured between December 2008 and June 2011 were hit by taxis, and over 80% of those injured were riding with traffic flow properly. The times of day when food delivery bicycles are underway were the most dangerous for cyclists. In our experience, the food delivery electric moped bikes in New York often ride haphazardly, they are frequently poorly lit, and they are everywhere — but not only traffic scofflaws were injured.

Most pedestrians injured on the street were crossing correctly at a crosswalk with their signal, and 6% were actually on the sidewalk! 

New York's transportation planners are apparently working to incorporate the findings of the new study into future traffic designs, including pedestrian plazas, bicycle lanes and traffic calming measures. Infrastructure there will be designed to separate and protect more vulnerable road users. 

There is no similar study we are aware of in Chicago, but taxi drivers here don't seem to be any more careful than their counterparts in the Big Apple, and traffic related injuries remain common here, too.

We also read this week that schoolchildren did a 'Bikeability Assessment' in Springfield MA which will be used to help design better traffic infrastructure there. 

Are there similar efforts underway in Chicago? What information could help designers make Chicago's streets safer?