Smoky Sunrise

With over 800 fires raging here in Northern California, it’s starting to feel like the entire state is going up in flames. And with the air quality index for today approaching the “extremely unhealthy” range, I’m glad to be telecommuting. On a positive note, the smoke is making for some striking sunrises.

Streetfilms at Sunday Parkways

Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson, Jr. was recently in Portland, OR to cover the city’s first Sunday Parkways event. The Portland event is patterned after Bogatá, Columbia’s Ciclovía “street opening” festivals, where cars are periodically banned from the streets to make way for pedestrians, cyclists, bladers, joggers, and all manner of happy people. From all reports, Portland’s event was a resounding success and a grand time was had by all.

From Portland Car-Free Day:

Ever wondered what it would be like to live, dance, and play in the middle of a bustling city street? That might sound intimidating, but now imagine that the bustle comes from other pedestrians and cyclists like yourself, roaming the streets free, and not a single automobile! That’s the spirit of Ciclovia, a weekly street opening festival in Bogotá, Colombia, where the public’s right-of-way is celebrated as a safe and very alive space in which to cycle, walk, dance, and sport.

Sunday Parkways will be a day-long inclusion of everyone —people who walk, dance, ride bicycles —allowing all citizens to share life in the street. On June 22nd, a circular route of traffic-free streets in north Portland will link four parks —Arbor Lodge, Peninsula, Unthank, and Overlook —to create a 6-mile loop for pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers, skaters, dancers, and aerobics and tai chi classes. Bring your stilts if you have them! While streets will be closed to automotive through traffic, a soft-closure will assure that neighboring residents have access to and from their homes.

The Geometry of Safe Cycling

When I come to an intersection, in my mind’s eye, I draw a bird’s eye view of my path and the potential paths of all the vehicles in my range of vision. In other words, I visualize a mental map of potential collision points in a plan view, like a GPS display, but showing not just where to go, but also where the potential threats are coming from. All of this happens semi-subconsciously in the blink of an eye. I’ve done it for many years, and I admit this sounds a little weird, and I don’t know how it got started, but I think it helps keep me safer on the road.

I’m only guessing, but I suspect this habit of visualizing a “collision map”, if you will, may be a result of the fact that I’m a graphic designer that works (and consequently thinks) in two dimensions all day. Among other things, I create a fair amount of technical graphics and maps. The mapping in particular seems closely related to this unusual habit. (My wife is always confounded with my keen sense of direction and ability to read maps, while I’m continually confounded by her ability to remember precisely what someone said in a conversation three weeks ago… LOL. I think this demonstrates something about the left brain versus right brain paradox.) But I’ve terribly digressed, so back to the point…

I believe one of the most important things we can do to stay safe on the road is to anticipate the actions of our fellow road users. That’s why I use a rear view mirror; if I see a car drifting onto the shoulder or into the bike lane I have an extra split-second to take evasive measures (this has saved my life at least once, maybe twice). The same holds true for left and right hooks (the deadliest of all one of the more common accident types); anticipating that a car might hook you by visualizing its potential path buys a split-second that may be just enough to avoid getting hit.

I’m not suggesting anyone make a conscious effort to draw a virtual map in their mind every time they come to an intersection (that’s far too distracting unless it’s something that comes naturally), but I am suggesting it behooves all cyclists to get in the habit of anticipating where other road users are headed. Doing so is arguably the best defense against a collision.

Henry WorkCycles

Photo © WorkCycles

Henry Workcycles in Amsterdam are builders and retailers of bakfiets, workbikes, and hand-built city bikes. What I find intriguing about WorkCycles (besides their exquisite products) is the fact that owner Henry Cutler is an American expatriate living and working in Amsterdam, building and selling traditional Dutch bicycles. You can read more about his interesting story on his blog, Bakfiets en meer:
[ Part 1 | Part 2 ]

Here’s the WorkCycles philosophy (from their website):

The bicycle is a perfect example of the beautiful minimalism the world should adopt to continue forward. We thus promote everyday cycling amongst individuals, families and enterprises by supplying the most practical, beautiful and affordable bicycles possible and by providing an unmatched level of service.

We cooperate closely with small, quality-oriented, Dutch manufacturers such as Azor, Bakfiets and Nijland to develop special bicycles that extend the capabilities of their riders and make daily cycling as attractive as possible.

Smithfield Nocturne Folding Bike Race

The Smithfield Nocturne Folding Bike Race is held as a part of the Smithfield Nocturne cycling event in London. The race pits commuters on folding bikes against one another in a Le Mans-style race around the historic Smithfield Market. At the drop of the start flag, the suit-and-shorts clad racers run 10m to their bikes, pick them up and run another 10m, unfold them as fast as possible, and race 5 laps around the 1km closed course (sounds a bit like my sprint to the train every weekday morning… LOL). The 2008 event hosted over 100 entries with competitors coming from as far away as Slovenia. The grand prize for this year’s event was a Dahon Speed Pro TT folding bicycle and bragging rights as the world’s fastest multi-modal commuter.

You Tube Videos

The Bicycle Bell Curve

Across the spectrum, from the most utilitarian to the most high-performing, the range of bicycle designs is a continuum of subtle differences. As much as we like to categorize bikes, when we line them up, it jumps out that it’s actually a small series of steps that takes us from one end to the other. I attempted to illustrate this with the above graphic (click the “zoom” button).

Starting on the left is a carbon lowracer recumbent, and on the far right is a carbon time trial bike. In the middle we have a beach cruiser and a city bike. The lowracer and the time trial bike give up everything in user-friendliness to gain the most in performance. The beach cruiser and city bike give up everything in performance to gain the most in user-friendliness. The bikes between the two extremes are bundles of conflicting priorities, each making compromises to reach a middle ground between utility and performance.

So pick your medicine: lots of performance, lots of utility, or a little of both. It appears that when it comes to bikes, like so many other things in life, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

There’s more to performance than aerodynamics, but reducing wind resistance is by far the most dramatic way to increase efficiency (at 20 mph, wind resistance makes up approximately 90% of total resistance). The cyclist’s torso generates a tremendous amount of wind resistance, so for maximum efficiency the body needs to be laid down inline with the direction of travel. But doing so dramatically reduces a bike’s user-friendliness because an upright torso position (with the rider’s feet near the ground) is the most natural and confidence-inspiring. Recumbents with high bottom brackets, and upright racing bikes with extremely low handlebars, both put the rider in positions that, while being highly efficient, are unnatural and limited in their practicality. And, of course, bikes that place the rider in an upright position, while providing excellent user-friendliness, are limited in their efficiency. (Fairings bend the rules by allowing an upright seating position with good aerodynamics, but they increase complexity, weight, and cost, thus reducing practicality.)

No particular type of bicycle is necessarily better or worse than another (though an argument can be made that it may be prudent to focus on practicality over sport at this particular juncture, but I digress). Each attempts to fill a need; the trick is finding the type that best fits an intended use. Bikes that fall in the middle ground between pure performance and pure user-friendliness (like hybrids and low-end MTBs) are popular because they’re versatile (and consequently, relatively inexpensive). But like other “all-purpose” tools, they tend to do a lot of things reasonably well, but very few things exceptionally well. So pick your medicine: lots of performance, lots of utility, or a little of both. When it comes to bikes, like so many other things in life, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

New Amsterdam Project

Boston’s New Amsterdam Project provides green, human-powered freight and delivery services. They design and build their own custom cargo bikes and other special purpose HPVs. A partial list of their clients includes Boston Organics, Fiore di Nonno, Harvard University, Lionette’s Market, Silverbrook Farm, Taza Chocolates, and University Florist.

The NAP Mission Statement:

The New Amsterdam Project was created in 2006 in order to facilitate the cultivation of habits that reduce dependence on fossil fuel.

American dependence on fossil fuel is correlated with:

  1. potentially disastrous environmental transformations
  2. adverse economic impacts
  3. profound social problems
  4. compromised physical and emotional health
  5. reduced security
  6. problematic and destructive foreign policy

The New Amsterdam Project aims to improve the transportation experience by encouraging and facilitating movement that:

  1. is less destructive to the natural world
  2. enhances economic security
  3. is pro-social
  4. optimizes physical and emotional health
  5. is consistent with American energy independence
  6. repairs the credibility of the American people and the nation at home and abroad

Human-powered freight services are not a replacement for long-distance trucking companies, but they provide an eco-friendly and efficient alternative for local delivery within a city center.

More Information:

© 2011 EcoVelo™