Tag Archives: bike safety

bikes vs. cars

Whenever I read an article about bike safety or bike accidents (which is sadly too often these days, after a couple of bad accidents in Boston), I promise myself I won’t read the comments section at the end. Of course, that’s a promise I never seem able to keep, and I end up getting ridiculously riled up myself. They’re inevitably filled with vitriol from both drivers and bikers. The “what do you expect?” attitude towards bikers is rampant, and the amount of incorrect information from drivers who seem to think that bikers have zero rights on the road is mind-boggling. Sometimes I think commenters must just be bored at work and trying to stir up a fight on the boston.com message board by taking the most extreme position possible. If they’re being sincere, I’m ready to move to Copenhagen. Just as soon as the volcanic ash clears up.

This rant of mine was prompted by an article about a bike safety summit that Mayor Menino will be holding tomorrow in the wake of recent accidents, to encourage “harmony between bikers and drivers.” I’ll be interested to see what comes out of the summit. If you click on the article link, just make sure you don’t read the comments.

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lycra louts

I just learned this new expression for describing “rogue cyclists” who flout the rules of the road. It’s employed in serious articles in British newspapers, as I’ve discovered, and these louts seem to be considered a widespread menace in London. Saying it out loud still makes me laugh, but I’m glad we don’t seem to have an equivalent expression in Boston (or have I just missed it?).

“Lycra lout” behavior includes running red lights, biking on sidewalks, and biking the wrong way down one-way streets. This makes me wonder why there isn’t a similar outrage in this country (or at least this city) over cyclists who disobey traffic laws. There are certainly people who will be happy to tell you about all the “crazy bikers” they’ve witnessed from their car, but overall it seems like there’s no real expectation that those on bikes will obey traffic rules. Bostonians who tell these stories seem more amused than furious, unlike their counterparts in the British press.

Apparently fines for bicycle violations in London may be raised from £30 to £100, as £30 was considered too lenient. This is far higher than the $20 fine in Cambridge for bicycle violations, and I have yet to actually see anyone in Cambridge being stopped on their bicycle. In fact, a Boston traffic cop once laughed at me when I stopped at a red light. When I was in London in 2007, I once saw a cyclist chastised by a cop just for stopping in front of a “stop here” line at a red light, rather than behind it.

I’ve always been an advocate for vehicular cycling, but I often feel alone when others on bikes fly past me at red lights.

Now I wonder if the British are just generally more angered by rule-breaking than we are, or if these low expectations mean that cyclists are still too small a minority to be considered any real threat. Should I long for an American campaign against lycra louts, to prove that we’re capable of making an impact on the local psyche? Or is this just another indication that nothing good can come of wearing lycra?

today, a history lesson

As someone who spent a year of her life studying nothing but British art history from the latter half of the nineteenth century, I find it shocking that the phrase “bicycle suit” meant nothing to me until very recently. All those hours in the library flipping through dusty periodicals were wasted, because I never found anything like this.

It seems that bicycles were embraced both as a symbol and as an actual mode of female emancipation by feminists and suffragists in the 1890’s. Susan B. Anthony herself called the bicycle a “freedom machine.” Wide scale adoption of the bicycle by women took place after the invention of the “safety bicycle,” the first bike with a chain-drive transmission, smaller wheels, and air filled tires (replacing the “always-makes-me-giggle” penny farthing). This is probably fascinating to no one but myself, but I find the parallels to present day discussions of gender disparity amongst cyclists telling.

There’s no time like January in Boston to notice an unequal ratio of male to female cyclists, but even in the most bike-conducive weather, I’ve often noticed a lack of representation by my gender when the bikes start piling up at a red light. Apparently, women are as risk-averse today as they were 100 years ago, and just as the safety bicycle caused an explosion of women riders then, increasing practical bike infrastructure today can lead to a surge in women bikers, according to this article:

How Can You Tell If Your City is Bikeable? Hint: Count the Women

On my first critical mass ride, I wasn’t surprised to find myself vastly outnumbered. For some men, it seems, urban biking is even better when it involves rule breaking.

As a bike advocate who thinks everyone would be just a little bit happier if they took to two wheels now and then, I would of course like to see just as many women on bikes as men, but you don’t have to take my word for it (and really, why would you). Treehugger has already set forth some good reasons for women to get in the saddle.

Of course, sometimes in January it’s more fun to read about Victorian bicycle suits than to actually ride around on icy streets. Great cycling weather will be here before we know it. Let’s be ready!