Last week was the perfect storm of sorts in Boston. The weather was beautiful and there was this whole bike to work stuff going on. Now I'm all for riding to work, I do it all year long, however when you get a bunch of people on the roads/paths who have not ridden in a while, it can be downright dangerous. I am going to start my own lobbying campaign with this post. I am lobbying to change the name of Bike to Work Day/Week/Month to the Most Dangerous Day/Week/Month to Bike to Work.
My commute to work is 98% bike/pedestrian pathway, which is both a good and a bad thing. It is good because I do not have to deal with motor vehicles much, but on the downside I have to deal with other cyclists, pedestrians, dogs, birds, squirrels, the occasional rat, and yes, even a regular on a Segway. I try to ride a bike like I used to drive a car - defensively. I think there is little to gain from riding aggressively. Riding a bit defensive likely saved me from several possible trips to the emergency room last week. I will describe three brief episodes.
Episode I - There is a blind corner on my commute and it is not uncommon for pedestrians or runners to go two or three abreast. I was approaching the corner early last week and two side-by-side runners began to emerge from around the bend and a guy on a fixie was blasting past them with little regard to the fact that he could not see what was coming at him. What was coming at him was me. I am very happy that I recently tightened my brake pads, I slammed on my brakes and came to a complete stop and the guy on the fixie swerved and almost took both one of the joggers and me out.
Episode II - There is a very narrow corner near a cross walk and in order to let people pass, anyone who is stopped has to angle their ride. A woman had stopped in the narrow corridor, however she left not an inch for other riders to pass. She was happily staring at the light, not paying attention, and I slowed down and chimed my bell. Because of traffic and or headphones in her ears she could not hear me and upon slowing down I heard a loud squeal and the dragging of a shoe. A guy had been following me and he almost rear-ended me.
Episode III - A woman is riding toward me and is obviously enamored by something in the adjacent river. How do I know? She is riding on the wrong side of the path - straight at me. I slow down and ring my bell and she finally looks ahead at me and starts swerving madly. I guess her hands were not stretched over her brake levers because she does not slow down at all and starts screaming. Fortunately she was composed enough to ride around me, barely.
One thing I have learned during my time on earth is that I cannot control other people. The moral of these stories is to ride defensively, especially during Bike to Work Month. Also, I suddenly have found myself longing for the days of sub-zero commutes where the path was much more desolate . . . and safe.
Two hacks for the price of one is always a good deal and reader Karl hacked up a dual purpose mudguard and reflector. He took a retroreflective sleeve fitted for traffic cone, cut it up . . .
. . . and attached to his rear fender.
For a full write up visit Karl's blog.
Reader Chris, who attached a spot light to his bike, is back again. This time he shows how he attached a car horn to his bike. Whether it be via light waves or sound waves, Chris is capable of making sure drivers are aware of his presence on the roads. If you have hacks or ideas to share about how you make those on the roads aware of your presence, feel free to send our way.
One issue I have been curious about for quite some time is why bike companies do not paint frames with reflective paint. We have reflectors, reflective tape, and reflective strips on tires, why not reflective paint on frames? It seems like a no brainer to me, but I received one of my lowest grades ever in high school chemistry so I am not the guy to try to figure it out.
One common way to increase visibility is to use reflective tape, however I learned of another solution due to networking. Check out this email I received:
I was just attending the Portland Bike Expo as a vendor and two
seperate people came up to me and said that they read your site
religiously and that I should contact you about getting my product
reviewed... So, I'd love to submit my hack for you guys to review.
My company is called BikeWrappers and I make reflective wraps that go on your bike frame so you can be seen at night. They go on with velcro so there is no permanent adhesive you are putting on your frame and are temporary so you can swap them out between multiple bikes. In addition to being visible to car headlights from a 1/4 mile away, they help to protect your frame from scratches.
After feeling all warm and fuzzy, I responded and asked if the BikeWrappers creator would like to collaborate. He responded in the affirmative and I received a set to review, and he generously agreed to give away a set to a reader. We are working on contest ideas so stay tuned. In the meantime here is the package I received.
On one side is decorative fabric, and there are many choices on the website to choose from.
And on the other side is reflective fabric that looks like this when you point a smart phone camera on it with the flash on.
When I first tried them on I noticed two things.
1) The fabric will stretch, which is good. My downtube is a bit oversized and you can see at the end of the arrow that some of the Velcro is showing. This is no big deal because it does not really impact visibility/reflectivity.
2) The "bad" thing is that these things have the ability to make my bike actually look good. I love the ghetto nature of my bike, and the picture above shows how the BikeWrappers transform the look of the original appearance of my bike.
As far as performance, BikeWrappers do not disappoint. This is a night picture (with flash) without the wrappers -
As I wrote earlier in this entry, we are working on a giveaway so that a reader can receive a set of BikeWrappers, so stay tuned.
Flashlights have made several appearances on Bike Hacks. We have seen flashlights attached to handlebars with zip ties, hose clamps alone, and hose clamps with a stem assist. We have seen an inner tube assist as well, and thanks to reader Mactire we now have another great example. Check it out -
The Ingredients are as follows:
2 Maglite Minis
1 Nite Ize Maglite Mini LED mod
1 Red Maglite cover glass
1 racebike inner tubing
Full write up is available on Mactire Reviews.
Most front bike lights I have owned would not be that great outside of a well lit urban setting. The lights have made people aware of me, but would likely not be great on a super dark road with no other light around.
Reader Chris wanted to get the attention of cars and see where he is going, and he came up with an awesome hack incorporating a spot light. One thing is for sure, there will be no missing Chris if he is anywhere within a mile of you! Around the 8:20 and 9:30 marks is where you really get a feel for the effectiveness of this hack. Of course I would not want this hack wrongly positioned with Chris coming at me or he might be able to see the inside of my skull =)
Take it away Chris!
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I used the metal bracket from a lattern tree hanger to mount a
rechargeable Stanely spot light on my handlebars. I took everything off
one side of my handle bars, bent the bracket a little to make the
"holes" on the bracket slide over the handle bars, then bent the bracket
around and underneath the stem.
It practically holds itself, but I added zip ties. With the way I mounted it, it could actually be inverted and used to hold another "accessories" bar out in front of your handle bars.
Photo credit goes to MessengerMirror
Reader Chris sent us a link to a product that is as clever as it is useful. Chris writes:
So inexpensive, so seemingly "it-just-works" that I ordered one immediately. How often does that happen?
Some will argue that mirrors are for dorks, but I would rather be alive and a dork than in the hospital or 6 feet under without one. I have been riding with CycleAware Reflex mirror for years.
The MessengerMirror is a clean and simple mirror for cycling that works with any pair of glasses. You'll also be able to clearly see the Ford Excursion approaching at 54mph in a 35mph zone. As of this posting the MessengerMirror is a reasonable $5.99 + .92 cents postage.
How do you fend off traffic? If you have hacks/solutions/products let us know.
There are bike lights, and then there are bike LIGHTS. My rides are mostly urban and I can get by with a lower level light because of all of the ambient light I have access to. Reader Jesse on the other hand wanted to bike in conditions devoid of ambient light and he came up with a bad ass DIY solution. Take it away Jesse . . .
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This hack is for those that like night riding or want to get into it (it's great, never too many people and nice and cool) but think that those 300 lumen lights just don't cut it and don't have the cash for a 1000-2000 lumen lighting system (they can be like $500 - $1,000 dollars, yikes). Even with 1000 lumens, it's just not enough plus some of those systems out there can only last about 2 hours at max power.
There is hope though, with this slightly overdone bike light I built for my mountain bike.
The light is made of 6 cree xml u2 LEDs mounted to a copper and aluminum heat-sink to keep its 60 watts nicely dissipated. To power this light I built a 150 watt-hours lithium polymer battery pack all in-closed in a extruded aluminum case.
I built the case so it can easily attach to any standard water battle cage (you can see on my bike the water bottle cage just happens to be on the bottom of the frame, that's just how GT decided to do there full suspensions those years). The weight of the light and the battery and all the wires come out to just under 3.5 pounds (with the battery being the fatty at 2.9 pounds). I also hooked up a few other cool things like rear red lights and a power level indicator so you know when you have to charge it.
The charging is done with a lithium polymer balance charger for rc cars and helis that I bought just for the light (cost me 30 bucks on ebay). I ended up building the whole thing for about $150 (would only have been $100 if i would have built a battery pack half the size).
For those who know high power LEDs have to be run at constant voltage and current to make them last (these are guaranteed to last 50,000 hours). So I have 3 parallel dc-dc converters with a 93 percent efficiency regulating them to put out 20 watts, 40 watts or full power of 60 watts to make just over 7000 lumen's of light, but the lenses I used are 92 percent efficient and I am getting about 6600 usable lumens.
To put this in comparison a standard headlight of a car gives 1000lm while a D2S Xenon metal halide arc head light you can buy gives you about 3000lm (so double that and that is what I hit the trails with). I can't imagine much more power being useful or very easily created (running this amount of power gives you a problem with heat dissipation which made me do a lot of testing to get a good rough design) but I think I will keep trying. Next I am thinking to go over 9000 lumens (for those dragon ball Z fans out there).
One recurring question I have is, "Why don't bike companies paint frames with reflective paint?" Readers might have more wisdom than I on this topic. Is it too expensive? Is it too difficult? It just seems like common sense to me.
Until bike companies start coating frames with reflective paint, that leaves readers like Sara exploring their own creative ways to improve visibility at night. Take it away Sara . . .
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Covered my commuterized Specialized Myka Elite Disc in cheap reflective tape from ebay.
Really effective and also makes it look like an undesirable rubbish bike!