The Best Bell

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Bells for bicycles usually aren’t well designed.  People think of them as a toy or a kitschy accessory that gives a bike that “classic bicycle” look.  Because most people don’t see a bell as safety equipment, they’re seldom built to a very high standard—they just need to be “good enough.”  I’ve been waiting for a superior bell for a long time, and now someone has finally made it.

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Bike Habits: the shoulder check

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You can read the introduction to this series here.

Today I’m kicking off the Bike Habits series with an action that you probably already do. It’s one that precedes nearly every maneuver you make in traffic, and it’s absolutely vital to riding safely in the city. I’m referring, of course, to the shoulder check.

The shoulder check is basically just turning your head to look behind you. You do it before moving into the next lane, making that right turn, or a million other things you do on your bike. Most of us just whip our heads around to check that the coast is clear, without giving much thought to what exactly we’re doing.

So why should I bother introducing you to something that you’re already doing? Because of my friend David Rees!* He’s the host of my favorite new show, Going Deep with David Rees, in which he explores the inner workings of seemingly familiar activities, revealing how fascinating it can be to, for example, dig a hole, strike a match, or open a door. It’s really neat.

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Bike Habits

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It is widely accepted that one of the best ways you can keep yourself safe on the road is having good skills and experience in traffic.  Knowing what to look for and what to avoid when riding will help you to interact with other vehicles and avoid a crash.

Of course, nobody ever really explains the specifics of how to obtain those skills or acquire that experience, beyond telling you that you need to “just get out there and ride.”  Essentially, they’re suggesting a “trial-and-error” method, where an “error” can result in a hospital visit or worse.  I think that it would be helpful to take a more systematic approach.

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Doing it right.

A couple months ago I got a voicemail from someone at the Northeastern University Police Department, asking if I would be willing to help them produce a video on bike safety. I have to admit, I was a little hesitant at first. There are plenty of “safety initiatives” for bikers out there, but for me they nearly always miss the mark. Obvious or unhelpful tips become noise, and I don’t want any part in contributing to that (such “tips” were my inspiration for the 10 Commandments for City Biking).

However, after our first meeting, my concerns were put to bed. The NEUPD made it clear that they wanted to “do it right,” and they were willing to give me full creative control. To me, that meant making videos that are short, to the point, and provide clear and concrete advice for how to bike safely. Basically, I want these videos to actually be helpful.

This first video explains something that everyone biking in a city should learn: how to ride in a bike lane. My intention was to address a dangerous (but understandable) tendency that many new bicyclists—and some experienced riders—have that can get them doored. Please share this with all the bikers in your life, as I’ve already got plenty of clients.

I’m currently working on the script for the next video in our series, so keep an eye out for it and make sure you subscribe to the Northeastern University PD on YouTube. Next stop, Hollywood!

Yours,

Josh

MA state law for cyclists requires that "every bicycle operated upon a way shall be equipped with a braking system to enable the operator to bring the bicycle traveling at a speed of fifteen miles per hour to a smooth, safe stop within thirty feet on a dry, clean, hard, level surface." In the case of a fixed gear bicycle with no lever-operated brakes installed, do the cyclist's legs/direct connection qualify? The lack of definition of brake system makes this a very gray area, no?

Asked by
Anonymous

Actually, I don’t think that the wording of this law causes a problem for brakeless fixie riders.  In fact, when compared to similar statutes in other states, the Massachusetts version law is far more accommodating of bikes without lever brakes.
 
For example, in Oregon, ORS §815.280 requires all bicycles to be “equipped with a brake that enables the operator of the bicycle to stop the bicycle within 15 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour on dry, level, clean pavement.” [emphasis mine]  I would argue that it’s much easier to interpret this as requiring a mechanical lever brake than the MA version, which requires the slightly more broad “braking system.”
 
In fact, a judge in Portland interpreted it that way a few years ago.  While I believe his reasoning was flawed, I can see where he’s coming from.  However, I think it would be more difficult for a MA judge to reach the same conclusion—a brake is a well defined and commonly accepted term, but a “braking system” has a bit more room, and can conceivably include a fixed gear and a pair of legs.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I think riding fixed without a front brake is stupid and unsafe, and I’ve made no secret of it.  That being said, legally speaking, I still don’t think that brakeless fixies should be outlawed.  Though it is quite severe, the main risk that they present (i.e., a broken chain on the way into an intersection) is not that much more likely than the other types of catastrophic equipment failures that can befall any other cyclist.  Also, the risk to the public is relatively low, as the fixie rider will probably only end up hurting himself.  I would much rather see the police pulling over bikers who ignore traffic signals, or ride without lights after dark than have them going after the poor dummies who think they are allergic to brake levers.
 
-JZ

What should I do if I’m hit by a car?

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Few things are worse than those first few minutes after a crash with a motorist. You might not be able to tell yet how injured you are, or if your bike is still rideable. You’re probably facing a driver who is just as distressed as you are. Emotions and adrenaline are running high for everyone. It’s a tough time to try to think clearly, but there are some things you need to do to make sure your rights are protected after the fact.

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The Lumen

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It was a little over a year ago that I first wrote about my reflective bike, introducing a major advance in bike safety.  In that time, my partners at Halo Coatings and I have been working hard to bring our tech to the bicycle market.  That work has paid off.  Today I’m proud to announce that you can order a reflective bicycle of your very own.

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Not all cars are created equal—certain vehicles on the road deserve extra scrutiny. The following is an illustrated guide to some of the characters you should be keeping an eye on while you’re navigating the mean streets. If you know what to look for, you can stay streets ahead of these bozos.

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Staying Covered

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(Note: This post was originally written for publication in the current issue of Momentum Magazine, where I am presently writing their “Legal Brief” column. Below is the original version, entirely unedited and 100% pure. Enjoy.)

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Most bikers don’t spend much time thinking about their insurance. After all, what good will a car insurance policy do you when you’ve been doored? And who cares about renter’s insurance when your bike was stolen off the street? 

But every biker should be thinking about what their auto and homeowner’s insurance policies can do for them. As it turns out, these policies can mean the difference between being slammed with medical bills or the cost of a new bike, and having those expenses fully paid.

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