Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Get Lit Ride

To celebrate the winter clock-change and the transition to riding on darkened streets, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington invites you to take part in a special ride. The Get Lit ride is to promote the importance of safe nighttime riding and the use of lights and conspicuous clothing. To help ensure that all riders have access to front and rear lights, the Bicycle Alliance will donate lights to a number of organizations to distribute to their members.

The alliance invites bicyclists to take part in the free Get Lit ride November 5 in Seattle. Riders will meet at Bikestation Seattle at 4:30 PM. After a brief discussion of safe night cycling, riders will ride as a group to the Union Gospel Mission, The Salvation Army, Plymouth Housing Group, Goodwill and Bike Works. At each of these locations bicycle lights will be delivered to be distributed at no cost to low-income cyclists. These lights have been provided by the Bicycle Alliance of Washington's Get Lit program as part of an ongoing effort to improve road safety for all cyclists in Washington. Major funding for this program has been provided by attorney John Duggan, individual donors and Bicycle Alliance income from the Washington State Share The Road license plates.

All riders must register at the start of the ride and have lights, reflective gear and a bicycle helmet. An award will be given for the best-lit cyclist and the most creatively lit cyclist. All riders will receive reflective stickers. Hot cider will be provided at the end of the ride.

When: November 5 (Monday) at 4:30pm
Start: BikeStation Seattle, 311 3rd Avenue South.
Finish: BikeStation Seattle
Cost: free (disclaimer form must be filled in)
Distance: approximately 10 miles

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ivan Illich on Bicycles

Ivan Illich was a man who thought a lot about people and the way we live in the world. On a recent train trip to Portland, I read Ran Prieur's interesting little zine Civilization Will Eat Itself. Ran's zine had a link to his website and one of the things I found there was an excerpt from Illich's Toward a History of Needs. Ran chose to call this excerpt Ivan Illich on Cars but I found the more interesting nuggets were actually about bicycles.

Illich writes:


A century ago, the ball-bearing was invented. It reduced the coefficient of friction by a factor of a thousand. By applying a well-calibrated ball-bearing between two Neolithic millstones, a man could now grind in a day what took his ancestors a week. The ball-bearing also made possible the bicycle, allowing the wheel -- probably the last of the great Neolithic inventions -- finally to become useful for self-powered mobility.

Man, unaided by any tool, gets around quite efficiently. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer in ten minutes by expending 0.75 calories. Man on his feet is thermodynamically more efficient than any motorized vehicle and most animals. For his weight, he performs more work in locomotion than rats or oxen, less than horses or sturgeon. At this rate of efficiency man settled the world and made its history. At this rate peasant societies spend less than 5 per cent and nomads less than 8 per cent of their respective social time budgets outside the home or the encampment.

Man on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories. The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man's metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well.

The ball-bearing signaled a true crisis, a true political choice. It created an option between more freedom in equity and more speed. The bearing is an equally fundamental ingredient of two new types of locomotion, respectively symbolized by the bicycle and the car. The bicycle lifted man's auto-mobility into a new order, beyond which progress is theoretically not possible. In contrast, the accelerating individual capsule enabled societies to engage in a ritual of progressively paralyzing speed.

Bicycles are not only thermodynamically efficient, they are also cheap. With his much lower salary, the Chinese acquires his durable bicycle in a fraction of the working hours an American devotes to the purchase of his obsolescent car. The cost of public utilities needed to facilitate bicycle traffic versus the price of an infrastructure tailored to high speeds is proportionately even less than the price differential of the vehicles used in the two systems. In the bicycle system, engineered roads are necessary only at certain points of dense traffic, and people who live far from the surfaced path are not thereby automatically isolated as they would be if they depended on cars or trains. The bicycle has extended man's radius without shunting him onto roads he cannot walk. Where he cannot ride his bike, he can usually push it.

The bicycle also uses little space. Eighteen bikes can be parked in the place of one car, thirty of them can move along in the space devoured by a single automobile. It takes three lanes of a given size to move 40,000 people across a bridge in one hour by using automated trains, four to move them on buses, twelve to move them in their cars, and only two lanes for them to pedal across on bicycles. Of all these vehicles, only the bicycle really allows people to go from door to door without walking. The cyclist can reach new destinations of his choice without his tool creating new locations from which he is barred.

Bicycles let people move with greater speed without taking up significant amounts of scarce space, energy, or time. They can spend fewer hours on each mile and still travel more miles in a year. They can get the benefit of technological breakthroughs without putting undue claims on the schedules, energy, or space of others. They become masters of their own movements without blocking those of their fellows. Their new tool creates only those demands which it can also satisfy. Every increase in motorized speed creates new demands on space and time. The use of the bicycle is self-limiting. It allows people to create a new relationship between their life-space and their life-time, between their territory and the pulse of their being, without destroying their inherited balance. The advantages of modern self-powered traffic are obvious, and ignored. That better traffic runs faster is asserted, but never proved. Before they ask people to pay for it, those who propose acceleration should try to display the evidence for their claim.


Illich really goes to the heart of what I respond to about a bicycle. It seems to me that a bicycle is perhaps mankind's most delightful gadget. I am swifter with a bicycle than I am alone. With a bicycle I can go more places, see more people and carry more things. Traveling by bicycle makes me stronger but still keeps me in touch with my limits, the shape of the land and the weather of the moment. On a bicycle I am still an active particpant in my journey rather than a passive passenger.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Two Planet Bike Headlights Compared

I've been using a couple of Planet Bike headlights lately and I think the above picture conveys some useful information.

The light on the left is the Planet Bike Beamer 3. This little light runs on 2 AA batteries, comes with a nice handlebar bracket and so far seems quite waterproof and well-built.

The light on the right is the Planet Bike Blaze. The Blaze is slightly larger than the Beamer 3, seems similarly well-built and comes with both a handlebar and a helmet bracket. Like the Beamer 3, it also runs on 2 AA batteries.

Planet Bike lists both lights have having run times of "up to 100 hours". In practice, I've been running both lights with NiMH rechargeable AA batteries and I usually remember to charge them up about once a week or so. Depending on when I go to work, that means I may have logged a dozen hours of night riding in that week. For me, any light that can get me through a solid night of riding has a long enough battery life.

Basically the difference in the two lights comes down to beam pattern and price. I'd expected to prefer the pricier Blaze. As you can see from the above photo (shot in normal office light BTW) the Blaze has a stronger, more focused beam. The Beamer 3, which has three lower-powered LEDs compared to the Blaze's single 1/2 watt LED, has a more dispersed beam. The Blaze lets me see further down the road, while the Beamer 3 gives a broader view.

Now here is where I should put in the disclaimer that I have very good night vision. Some of my friends claim that I can see in the dark and while that isn't strictly true, I am comfortable with lower powered lights than what many of my rando buddies use.

I'm happy to navigate my commute with either of the two lights above, but my favorite set-up is what I have on my green bike right now: I have both a Blaze and Beamer 3 on that bike. On my little red Dahon, I've ridden the commute with a just Beamer 3 but I think I prefer the further reaching Blaze. Compared to my other favorite light, the Princeton Tec EOS, the light output of the Planet Bike lights is right on par. The beam of the EOS is probably about halfway between that of the Beamer 3 and the Blaze. The EOS has various power settings and more sophisticated circuitry,but the later generation LEDs and good optics of the Planet Bike lights seem to make very good use of the power they have. The EOS is super weather-proof, but the fact that it takes an odd number of AAA cells is still a little bothersome. The EOS and the Planet Bike lights can both be set to either flash or solid modes, but I find the faster flash rate of the Planet Bike lights to be better for riding.

Planet Bike has sent me fenders and nifty beanie in the past and they gave the Bicycle Alliance a good deal on Beamer 3 and Blinky 3 lights for our "Get Lit" program, but I've spent my own hard-earned bucks on the lights in this review. But I guess I am kind of pre-disposed to think favorably of a company like Planet Bike that not only makes good stuff, but also gives 25% of their profits to causes that promote and facilitate bicycle usage.

Busted Reelight

Awhile back I wrote about Reelights. While they pretty much work as advertised, I've discovered one interesting incompatibility; the front Reelight conflicts with the bike racks at the Seattle Bike Station where I work.

At first I noticed that the light would bonk into the rack when I'd park. Sometimes it would get knocked out of alignment enough that it would be moved too far away from the wheel magnets to blink. Later, I noticed that the light started making a ticking noise every time the magnets would move past it. I surmised that the jarring knocked the inner coil loose. The ticking was the coil shifting each time the magnets tugged at it.

Eventually I parked one too many times and I broke the front light. The case popped open and the internal parts fell out. The good news is that I got some pictures.

The coil attaches to the circuit board with incredibly tiny wires. I don't think I'm going to bother with reassembling the circuit and I'm going back to using a front LED light powered by rechargeable NiMH batteries.

Kent Peterson's Diet Haiku

Digging around in my pre-blog archives, I came across this. I thought you folks might enjoy it.


As I have said many times, I am not a nutritional role model. Nonetheless, it seems these days that almost everyone has written a diet book or is pushing some low-something lifestyle and I got to thinking I should cash in on the action.

But cashing in on things has never been one of my strong suits.

People ask me how I manage to eat all kinds of stuff and stay thin, so I wrote my diet book. It came out a bit on the short side. The seventeen syllable short side to be precise about it.

Hmm, that hardly seems worth shopping around to a publisher.

So here, in the spirit of freewheeling disregard for the basic tenets of western capitalism that has made me the eccentric non-millionaire that I am today, I hereby give out to the Internet and the world at large:

Kent Peterson's Diet Haiku

Eat what you enjoy

Ride twelve thousand miles per year

You will not get fat

There you go. If the plan doesn't work for you, gee that's too bad but you can't say you didn't get your money's worth. And in the haiku where it says "ride" it means "ride your bike" but you folks know that.

Keep 'em rolling.

Kent Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sun, Snakes and Salmon

As a resident of the Pacific Northwest one of my duties is to perpetuate the myth that it rains all the time here. This story was invented to keep everyone from California from moving up here driving up the costs of housing and clogging our roads with SUVs. That tactic doesn't seem to have worked, so I'm adopting another technique; pointing out how darn nice it can be some days in this part of the world and showing how lovely it can be to get around here by bicycle. I'm pretty much figuring readers of this blog include a lot of people I wouldn't mind having for neighbors, so if you want to load up your Xtracycle or Bob trailer and move here, drop a note to:

kentp (at) bicyclealliance (dot) org

and I'll fill you in on the ins and outs of getting around this part of the world by foot and bike.

On Saturday, October 13th, 2007, my friend Mark Canizaro loads his bike on a bus in the Seattle morning fog and rolls east to find Issaquah bathed in warm sunlight. The pines and the cedars are still green, of course, but the cold nights and shortening days have cued the maples, dogwoods, oaks and others to color their leaves in shades of red and gold.

Our nominal goal today is the Black Diamond Bakery but our route is more meander than mission. Our bike tires ultimately spin out fifty-two miles on mostly quiet roads and leaf-strewn trails. Snakes enjoy the sun and salmon work their way up the Cedar river. Mark and I explore and eat and eventually wander home.

Soon the rains winter rains will begin in earnest. The salmon carcases and leaves will wash downstream, the snakes will sleep away the winter. Bike commuters, like Mark and myself, will layer wool under yellow rain jackets, turn on our lights for both the morning and evening commutes and tell lies like "there is no bad weather, only bad clothing."

But we'll remember there are days, days in October when the air is crisp and the light is golden, when it is hard to imagine why anyone would ever want to live anywhere else.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Walking and Biking: Better For People and the Planet

Today is Blog Action Day and bloggers all over the world are posting things about the environment. I often write about big bike trips or bike safety or the latest bikey gadget I've found but today I'm going to talk about short trips. Trips less than 2 miles.

40% of US urban travel is two miles or less. Now I'm fond of saying that "any distance is biking distance" but not everybody goes out for 50 mile rides for fun or thinks 18 miles is just about the perfect distance for a bike commute. But two miles? Lots of folks can walk or bike two miles.

And the folks at Clif Bar are trying to get more folks to use their own power to go on those short trips. Their site here:


and the Walk Score folks here:


have tools that help you see what's within a short walk or bike ride of a given address.

Since Christine and I gave up our cars over 20 years ago, we've always been very conscious of the walkability of the places we've lived. We used to plot out circles on paper maps but these days the web puts that kind of info at your finger tips.

Some times we do big things that make a big difference. But often it's the little things we do, over and over, that make a big difference. Maybe one of those things can be using our own power to go to the market or the library or the post office. Small steps can make a big difference.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Avoid The Suicide Slot

On September 7th 2007, cyclist Bryce Lewis collided fatally with a right-turning dump truck in Seattle, Washington.

On October 11th 2007, cyclist Tracey Sparling was struck and killed in Portland, Oregon by a right-turning cement truck.

Two collisions, two young riders dead. Two cycling communities mourning and questioning.

I can wish for a world where trucks don't have blind spots, drivers and riders are always attentive, lane markings save lives, and human beings don't make mistakes. But that is not the world in which I live and ride.

Trucks and cars do have blind spots. Human beings, myself included, are not perfectly attentive. And some bike lanes, some times and some places, send cyclists to exactly the wrong spot on the road.

My friend Alex Wetmore doesn't mince words. He posted this in response to the crash which took the life of Bryce Lewis:

Down in Portland my friends Michael and Beth posted their reactions to the death of Tracey Sparling here:


and here:


I can wish for the ability to turn back time, to make something different for Bryce and Tracey and two truck drivers. I can even work, slowly (I wish it wasn't slowly but unfortunately it is) to change lane markings and habits.

Folks like the Effective Cycling people and the League of American Bicyclists point to the need for more education but I think they have a problem with packaging. Both groups have good information but it's locked in big books and multi-day classes. They package their message in long sermons delivered to the choir and then they wonder why their message isn't reaching the wider world.

I think Michael Bluejay has done a better job in presenting vital bicycle safety information in his website, How Not to Get Hit by Cars here:


Michael very compactly describes the ten most common car/bicycle collisions and gives practical advice for avoiding them. He also has a good, sensible reprint and linking policy that lets folks like me do things like use a graphic from his site to illustrate this blog post.

I'm taking Michael's advice and condensing it even further. In my job I wind up having a lot of three-minute conversations with people about bike safety. Yeah, I wish I had more time but when you are handing someone a map at a transit fair or helping them figure out a bike route, often three minutes is all you have. So if they know what a bike lane is, I make sure they also know about the door zone. And lately I've added another term to my discussions:

Suicide Slot

If you look at Michael Bluejay's spot (and I really hope I've convinced you to take the time to look at it), you'll see that several of those ten common crashes involve the cyclist being where the driver isn't looking and/or being in the driver's blind spot. I call this the "suicide slot", being to the right of a right turning car.

Now you may say "suicide slot" is a loaded term, that I'm blaming the victim, that the driver should see the cyclist. Well, we can talk about what drivers should do, but as near as I can tell not everybody does what they "should" do. So even even they "should" look to the right, I'm thinking some won't. And if I'm off to their right anyway, well that strikes me as suicidal. But maybe it is a loaded term. Loaded like a gun. And like a gun, it can kill you.

So I'm trying to plant the meme of the "Suicide Slot" and get more cyclists avoiding the slot. If a bike lane puts me in the suicide slot at an intersection, then I'd argue that the bike lane is wrong. If I am going straight through an intersection, I will be where the other straight heading vehicles are. In the lane, taking my turn.

Finally, I'd like to say that cars are not the enemy. The two biggest enemies to all users of the roadways are inattention and impatience.

Be careful out there. Take the lane when you need to. Take your turn at intersections. And stay out of the suicide slot.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dahon Curve D3 -- Folding and Luggage

I continue to be very pleased with my Dahon Curve D3. I've pretty much got the bike dialed in now. The pictures show how the bike folds and what I'm using for luggage. I also added bar-ends, lights and a bell to the bike and for better wet-weather braking, I upgraded the brakes with Koolstop Salmon brake pads.

The bike rides really well. Having the bag up front doesn't seem to bother the handling but like most folders, the D3 is not a bike I can ride no-handed. Single-handed riding is fine, however. The Schwalbe Big Apple tires are great, I've ridden them on rough roads and gravel paths and they are plenty comfy.

Speaking of comfy, the stock saddle is cushier than what I usually ride but it seems right for this bike. I'm quite upright on the bike but I've already logged some fifty mile days on the bike and I still like the saddle. The Dahon is such a kick to ride, I'll probably ride a century on it before too long.

I have done a few multi-modal trips with the Dahon, things like taking the bike on the bus from Seattle to Federal Way and then riding the last few miles to a corporate commute seminar. But some folks are doing really adventurous multi-modal trips, like this guy:


Yet Another Nerd Mirror

A while back I found a little mirror on the shoulder of the Sammamish Parkway. The stick-on helmet mount had obviously not been up to the job so I got to thinking about a way to put my road find to use. I clipped off the faulty mount and replaced it with an office binder clip and a couple of rubber bands.

I always wear a cap under my helmet so I clip the mirror to my cap brim whenever I go for a ride. BTW, the cap in this picture is an REI runner's cap and the trim is very reflective. You can see the cap reflecting the flash from Tarik's camera here.

And yeah, I know it looks dorky. I made my peace with being a dork a long time ago.