Sunday, February 22, 2009

Good Cop / Bad Cop [Redux]

This New York Times article gives a recent update on the NYC cop who brutally shoved a cyclist at a Critical Mass night ride on July 25, 2008. He's Gone! This is good news, and actually done in a pretty timely fashion (you may not agree with this, but the wheels of justice do turn slowly.)

Pogan was indicted on December 16, 2008 for this incident. The NYPD said he was fired about February 9, 2009. (There was no press release on this. It's a little understandable that the NYPD doesn't care to shine a light on its most questionable officers, but on the other hand, it's also a clear PR opportunity missed.) The press accounts say that charges have been dismissed, and that a "spokesman" for Pogan (do 23-yr old cops get spokesmen now?) said that Pogan resigned, and was not fired. In any case, the dropping of charges was no doubt a quid pro quo for getting rid of this bad apple, and the NYPD just wanted it done.

I first reported on this last August. You can see a video of the incident here (my original YouTube link has gone stale).

I feel pretty strongly about this (in case you hadn't guessed) as I'm sure others do. I guess this is because I think most police understand their job is to protect cyclists (along with everyone else). Riding to work this week on a cold morning, I was breezing by two Howard County police officers engaged in drivers-side-window conversation. The one facing the road who could see me gave me a wave as I went by. It was respectful, possibly because she (the cop) was a cyclist and it was below freezing that morning. There are good cops out there who appreciate cyclists (particularly ones who practice safety). What a great world it would be if we could count on all cops to respect cyclists this way!

A second rather obvious thought on this. Since the seminal amateur videotaping of the beating of Rodney King, video cameras are now everywhere. There may be one in your pocket right now. The world has changed, and while pictures can be altered electronically, the ubiquitous vid-cap still serves as a vital witness that didn't exist even five years ago. I've given some thought to mounting one of those Flip Mino camcorders on my seatpost, just to record cars overtaking (and their license plates). It's overkill, but it's an idea to consider. Maybe for a future topic on "Your Bike's Data Network".

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Tall Cyclist's Shortlist

I'm a pretty tall guy (6 feet 6 inches, 200 pounds, 38" inseam, size 14 shoes) and finding clothes and equipment has always been a challenge. My custom touring bike is a 26.5" seat tube (that's old style, with a horizontal top tube) and I've always used old TA "Cyclo-Touriste" cranksets because they were available with 185mm crank-arms when I built the bike. (This style of TA crankset is sadly no longer made.) And clothes are always a problem.

In addition, most "road" bikes are engineered for racers, who (one G. Hincapie excepted) are pretty diminutive and lightweight people. If you're over about 6'3" and 210 lbs, it's doubtful that you should be riding a modern all-carbon frame. They're just not engineered for you. And the frame is just the tip of the iceberg. Equipment, shoes, clothing, it's all a bit of a struggle for us "Clydesdales" (male) or "Athenas" (female). (I don't know the origins of these terms, but if you know or are willing to speculate, please comment!)

The main Internet / mail order bike guys, Performance / Nashbar, tend to be places that say, "If we've got it, it's in stock!" This means that finding outsized clothing or shoes is usually a big time-waster. Nashbar used to have a great feature on their website that would display only shoes in the size you specified, but for some reason they've given that up.

I thought I'd use a posting to share some of my finds with other tall and/or big folks. So this post will be about some vendors who deal in clothing and equipment for tall persons:

REI: This venerable outdoor gear purveyor sells a decent collection of tall sizes active wear and outerwear. The cold-weather tunic I now use comes from them. They don't however stock large-size cycling shoes. Just search for "tall" on their site to see what they've got. Check out their "outlet store", too.

LL Bean: Similar to REI, a good source for tall sizes in outerwear and general purpose clothing. Like REI, they sell cycles and cycling gear, but nothing particularly geared to the tall cyclist. Again, search for "tall" on their site. Lifetime moneyback guarantee.

Aerotech Designs: Aerotech is a good source for tall jerseys and cycling tights. Reasonably priced. Solid colors only, as far as I can tell.

Peter White Cycles: PWC is a vendor of specialized cycling equipment, particularly French cranksets by TA (which are still available in 185mm crankarm lengths), lighting systems, and custom-built wheels. Peter will build you a bulletproof set of wheels for your bike, and guarantees them against spoke breakage. These are really a good value if you know what you are looking for.

Brands Cycles: Brands is another online cycle vendor. They seem to have a good selection of large-size shoes.

Center for Appropriate Transport: I've mentioned these guys before in my Cargo Bikes article. They make custom rain capes, which I think is a great idea for tall (and not so tall) cyclists. I'm going to order one for the warmer months.

Zinns: I suppose I've really saved the best for last. Zinn's claims that their "average" customer is 6'-7" and 250 lbs. They have large shoes (size 47 and above only!), large jerseys (although their selection is more limited than Aerotech), large custom frames, heavy-duty wheels, and, perhaps the piece-de-resistance, custom machined cranksets, in sizes from 180mm to 220mm. Yow! This is not stuff you'll find at a discount, but it's also not stuff you'll find anywhere else. If you're an NBA basketball player and like to ride bikes, this site should be among your bookmarks.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hazards 1: Traffic Calming: Chicanes

Anyone who's done cycling in an urban environment has encountered traffic calming devices. On my modest 9-mile commute in Columbia, MD, I experience speed bumps, rumble strips, chicanes, and traffic circles. Sometimes these devices don't work entirely as intended; they can be abused by drivers, or can be confusing to drivers who don't know how to manage multiple inputs (Bicyclist ahead! Traffic calming ahead!) in a way that reconciles everything.

Sometimes, as a Practical Cyclist, you've got to help that driver Do The Right Thing.

Today we'll talk about chicanes, "pinch points" that are intended to slow down traffic. A two-way chicane is illustrated at right. Notice that I've illustrated a chicane that preserves the shoulder / bike lane. Not all of them do.

So, what's the problem here? Well, the simple problem is that most drivers dislike (sometimes intensely) traffic calming and therefore feel entitled to "cheat" it. ("Let's see if I can get through this chicane without slowing down. Wheee!") And sometimes they tend to ignore little things like, oh say, that cyclist up ahead. I've heard other city cyclists complain about this bitterly, and yet I've not had a bad problem with this. Maybe 1 in 100 times, I'll have a jerk motorist squeeze by me, but it's rare.

What's my secret? The magic of Eye Contact. I'll be the first to say that I don't know why eye contact works, but it definitely does. What I do is, when I'm approaching a chicane and I hear a motorist behind me, I'll turn and fix an eyeball on him when he's about 3 or so car-lengths back. In (as I say) 99 out of 100 cases, it works like a charm, and that hundredth case, well, I take evasive action (and usually holler something.)

Try this the next time you come upon a pinch point (and 3-way traffic circles are analogous to chicanes in this context). You'll be surprised how effective it is.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

David Lega: Motivation, Invention, Inspiration

My posts have been a little off this week, as I've been in Europe (Munich / Basel) at a series of management meetings for my job with Nemetschek North America, makers of the CAD product Vectorworks. (This product placement is done for the benefit of the GoogleSearch gurus in our marketing department. You know who you are :)

I attended, late last week, a remarkable motivation-type keynote talk by a world champion Paralympic athlete from Sweden named David Lega. David was born with massive physical disabilities as a result of a virus his mother contracted while pregnant. I won't go into detail on either his disabilities nor his many notable accomplishments, but rather direct you to his website so you can learn more. I will say that if you represent a company in need of a motivational speaker, David will provide an unforgettable talk. David is an athlete, an inventor, a writer, an entrepreneur, a force of nature.

What I want to focus on here is the vehicle that you see David using in the picture. It's a tricycle of unusual design. It is of David's invention (he said it was either the fourth or fifth generation, I don't remember exactly) and it's unique in the world. It's unique because of the unusual nature of David's disabilities. He has virtually no arm or hand function, so a conventional wheelchair (even an electric one with a hand control) is not useful. He's an active and accomplished athlete, so an electric chair with say a mouth control is not interesting nor attractive, because he wants to use the muscles he has (his legs have a limited range of motion).

Take a close look at it and you'll see it's a tricycle of (somewhat) standard layout, but lacking any sort of handlebar. This means that steering and propulsion are both accomplished with foot action. You push a little more with the right foot at just the right moment in the cycle to turn left, and vice versa to turn right. David has developed spectacular and perhaps unique capabilities with his feet, and watching him smoothly navigate this wheelchair around a room is quite remarkable. I wonder if all the people in the room appreciated the skills involved.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bicycle Lights are "Fashion", sez the NY Times

OK, the venerable Gray Lady has an online review about, of all things, bicycle lights. I say "bicycle lights" instead of "bicycle lighting systems" because all the lights (and they choose front-rear pairs) cost less than $60 total and have regular battery cells contained. None of that high-tech, rechargeable, exterior battery pack stuff (costing $150 and up) that is intended to either blind oncoming motorists or light up the Black Forest so you can find your way home without being waylaid by an evil witch who wants to put you in a puff pastry.

What bemuses me about this whole thing is where the review shows up online. Not in the Technology section next to David Pogue (who had a wonderful article about Twitter recently) but in the "Fashion and Style" section! The reviewer is this hunky young bike courier (pictured) named Hugo Giron (love that name!) I think this says a number of things:
  1. Bicycling in urban settings is considered hip. Take heart, those of you (of us) out in unwashed suburbia, and remember that when you get a chance to move to the big city, you will be part of the elite.
  2. There are a lot of young, good-looking kids out there cycling these days, and this invariably leads to thoughts of "fashion". The NYT is by no means alone on this. Look at London Cycle Chic, which is on my blogroll at right, or Copenhagen Cycle Chic. (Note: some images on these sites may be NSFW.)
  3. The NYT is a quality tome, no matter what. The content of the reviews is really pretty good. I like the criteria the guy uses, and tend to agree with his ratings.
  4. Nonetheless, I find it hard to consider bicycle night lighting "fashion", and therefore feel this review is misclassified. I would never have come across it if I hadn't seen a link in another blog. Which leads me to my conclusion:
I think it's time for the NYT to create a "Transportation" section for their media, where they can conglomerate articles about automobiles (also mislocated in the Sports section of the print edition), mass transit, air travel (they can keep the "Travel" section for "Destinations" (which I think they sometimes call their Travel section already), bicycling, and other various forms.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I'm Jazzed

January's just done, and I'm at 253 miles. I don't think I had this many miles last year until it was into April. This is going to be a great year for cycling, and a good year for this blog, too. I think I've found a rhythm to posting that won't wear me out. Some of my posts will be longer compilations (like the Cargo bikes and the more recent Winter Cycle clothing) that frankly take a long time to put together. So I'll try and intersperse little "easy" ones, to keep the conversation going.

Speaking of conversation, I'd love to hear more from the people who visit. Feel free to comment -- I've put virtually no restrictions on it, and I won't remove stuff unless it's spam. I'd love to hear especially from people who might want to write articles on cycling. If there is some interest from folks who want to write once in a while but who don't want to have to write on a regular basis, let me know, and we can accommodate.

Today, I began some drawing work in the CAD program I use (Vectorworks Architect) for some upcoming bike-safety diagrams. The image at right is my prototypical cycle commuter, but I don't have a name for him (/her) yet. Feel free to make suggestions....