Tag Archive for: CyclingSavvy

energy is real

Energy Is Real

I’m shocked when motorists are rude to me. Here in St. Louis or anywhere I ride, it just doesn’t happen.

The driver’s anger poisoned the energy of the other drivers on the road. Everyone started honking.

riding a bike on a freeway-like surface street

Google Maps view of Forest Park Parkway

OK, I’m exaggerating. Last year one driver was obnoxious.

He or she apparently could not buh-lieve I’d ride a bicycle on that road.

I was riding on Forest Park Parkway, a road similar in design to a freeway. People on this section are typically zooming through to get somewhere else.

On a fateful afternoon last fall, a driver of a black Audi either stayed or got stuck behind me — I’m not sure which — and honked for what seemed like an eternity.

Here’s What’s Fascinating

The driver’s anger poisoned the energy of the other drivers on the road. Everyone started honking. I waved to acknowledge their annoyance, and my humanity.

What could I do? I was on a section where I couldn’t escape. I simply had to endure, until I got to my destination at the other end of this canyon-like stretch of road.

forest park parkway in saint louis

Forest Park Parkway between Skinker and Big Bend boulevards in St. Louis

On the rare occasions that I have problems, I don’t blame “stupid” motorists. I analyze what happened. What could I have done differently so it wouldn’t happen again?

Energy Is Real

A big reason I have such good experiences is because I expect to.

Attitude elevates your ride. Courtesy and cooperation are the twin pillars of every great ride.

Attitude elevates your ride. It’s important to understand the dynamics of truly dangerous situations, and how to avoid them. Once you’ve got that down, courtesy and cooperation are the twin pillars of every great ride.

If you’re a mensch, you have every reason to expect other drivers to be mensches, too.

Ever since my honking takedown, I’ve wanted to revisit the scene, and see if I could control the energy around me this time. I’d be more careful to actively communicate with the motorists who would most assuredly be on the road with me.

I finally rode it again last Friday. You can see what happened below.

instruction changes things

A Little Instruction Really Changes Things

How are you at backing up with a trailer on your car? If you’re like many people, you haven’t had reason to do so, and thus find the idea daunting.

It seems like a black art to many, based on the reactions I’ve gotten from people when I backed trailers into narrow spaces.

Decoding the black arts of trailers and savvy cycling.

My wife, Jenn, was going on a road trip with my sister. One of several things they planned to accomplish involved moving some things that won’t fit in or on our car. Rather than rent a truck for the whole trip, renting a trailer made sense, since it could be picked up close to the first house and dropped off close to the second.

It made sense to me, but not to Jenn.

Jenn didn’t feel comfortable maneuvering a trailer in close quarters, and especially didn’t feel good about having to back up with a trailer, after an unpleasant experience she had a few years ago.

Why is this related to savvy cycling, you ask? Read on.

I’m pretty good with trailers, having done a LOT of backing up with them in various occupations (tow truck driver, airport tug driver, bicycle trailer user). I figured that with a couple of short sessions, Jenn would gain confidence in her ability to navigate in tighter quarters than she had thought herself able to manage before.

Since we’re both CyclingSavvy instructors, we know the value of parking lot drills. It’s important to have a quiet place to develop and practice a skill before venturing out on actual roads and using the skill “in the real world.”

With that in mind, we rented a trailer the same size as the one they’d be using for the trip, and headed to a mall parking lot to practice.

I started with basic rules:

  • Always turn wider than you think you need to turn, since the trailer tracks a different turn radius. There’s an interactive video in the CyclingSavvy web site about big trucks and how the trailer follows through a turn
  • Second: Plan your backing up for best visibility; plan for your blind spots. To get the trailer to change path relative to the car, turn the wheel opposite what you think you need to turn (THIS way instead of THAT way)
  • Lastly, it’s not a failure to pull forward to realign the trailer or start again
decoding black arts, like using trailers and savvy cycling

“How do you drive these things?”

Then I set up easy exercises: Back up guiding on a particular line in the parking lot, trying to keep things straight. Start to turn, and learn when you can and cannot straighten out without pulling forward to do so.

practice with trailers

“Hey! That wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be!”

Then I had her back into a marked parking slot from the aisle, to simulate backing into a driveway from the street. After she did a couple of those, I had her pull into a parking slot, then back to the parking slot to the left of the one directly behind her, to gain confidence in directional control.

After a while, she was doing quite well. She had improved tremendously.

The next day we had family visits to do, so Jenn drove with the trailer. When we got to my folks’ house, she backed into the driveway, for practice and to prove to herself that she could. She did it easily! A little while later, she took the opportunity to practice in her parents’ driveway. She did even better, in a narrower driveway! And, yes, it was easy to see how much more confidence she had in her ability to back with a trailer, a thing that many people find a daunting task.

The analogy?

A lot of people find the idea of using bicycles instead of their cars daunting. With a few good pointers from experienced people (like CyclingSavvy instructors), and a little practice (CS Train Your Bike and Tour sessions), much of the mystery is solved.

CyclingSavvy helps people learn how traffic works, and how to participate in the existing system to get what we need through planning, courtesy, and mindfulness.

Jenn’s confidence in her ability to back up with a trailer attached to the car improved through a few brief exercises. She knows that she can go places using a trailer, which enables her to carry stuff with the car that she might not have been comfortable carrying before.

Similarly, you can become a safer, happier, more confident cyclist by attending a CyclingSavvy workshop and using what you learn. A little bit of focused experiential learning and a little bit of practice with new skills will help you realize why the tag line is Empowerment for Unlimited Travel.

And if you’re in my hometown of Louisville, look me up. I’ll be glad to show you how to do some real hauling with your bike.

sofa hauled by bike

Bill (not in this picture–Tom was using Andy’s trailer, so he’s there beside Tom, wearing his helmet) truly appreciated Tom hauling his sofa and several boxes of books, under plastic to protect from the rain

Hauling more by bike than by car

When I worked at a bike shop, I could haul more cardboard on my trailer than the store owner could in his minivan. This load weighed about four hundred pounds

Hauling barrels by bike

These 55-gallon barrels won’t fit in my car, not at the same time

bulky load by bike trailer

We had to dispose of an old mattress and box spring set. It was easier to haul it with my bicycle than with a car

dogs traveling in roomy bike trailers

Our basset hounds, Wilbur and Orville, always want to go with us, however we travel


The Special Mode

No reasonable person expects pedestrians to behave like vehicle drivers. If you’re walking down the street and planning to turn left at the next intersection, nobody expects you to walk in the left turn lane to do that.

Similarly, no one expects motorists to behave like pedestrians. Driving on the sidewalk is illegal — as well as highly dangerous and impractical.creating a virtuous transportation culture

But when it comes to bicycling, some people expect cyclists to behave as pedestrians, and some expect them to behave as vehicle drivers. Many cyclists switch back and forth between the two approaches.

Bicycles were both commonly and legally defined as vehicles by the 1880s, well before the invention of the automobile. Until the middle part of the 20th Century, most people expected bicyclists to behave as drivers. Practically speaking, the operating characteristics of bicyclists are that of a vehicle, not a pedestrian.

We don’t design different types of pedestrian facilities for “beginner” and “experienced” walkers. We design pedestrian facilities based on their operating characteristics and legal requirements. We generally want those “beginner” pedestrians to become “experienced” as quickly as possible, because we know experienced road users are safer.

While we don’t provide different types of sidewalks and crosswalks, we recognize that quiet neighborhood streets present fewer conflicts than busy commercial arterials, so we prefer that beginner pedestrians (children) keep to those neighborhood streets until they are mature enough to handle the busier ones. More experienced pedestrians (parents) prefer to accompany their kids on those busier streets.

We don’t have special lanes or facilities for beginner motorists.

We design their facilities based on their operating characteristics and legal requirements.

We generally want motorists to become “experienced” as quickly as possible, because we know experienced road users are safer. As with pedestrians, parents prefer to accompany their teen drivers or have them taught by professionals — especially in more complex driving environments — until they have shown they are competent to drive on their own.

Best bicycling practices often counterintuitive.

Unlike with walking and motor vehicle driving,

few parents understand the strategies of successful, experienced bicycle drivers, and often believe them to be unsafe. So they themselves stay with the untrained and inexperienced pedestrian approach to cycling, and teach their children to do the same. This inexperience has now been passed along for a few generations.

This approach is okay on quiet residential streets. But when used in busy commercial districts, it greatly increases the risk for the cyclist, due to all the turning and crossing conflicts with motorists.

Is it possible to provide bicycle facilities for “beginner” cyclists?

Yes, but the opportunities for such facilities are very limited. Trails in their own rights-of-way are great places to learn bike handling skills and get comfortable operating the machine. But when a path is placed along a busy urban or suburban street, it presents users with more turning and crossing conflicts with motorists than a cyclist would encounter using a regular travel lane. In Central Florida, where I study bicycle and pedestrian crashes, 82 percent of motorist-caused bike crashes involve cyclists riding on sidewalks, sidepaths and crosswalks.

savvy cyclists co-exist with ease

Rebecca Bealmear in St. Louis understands where the risks are (and where they are not) wherever she rides

Bikeway advocates are fond of calling experienced bicycle drivers “strong and fearless.” How often are experienced pedestrians or motorists referred to in that way? The key characteristics of bicycle drivers are their understanding of how conflicts and crashes are most likely to happen, and their use of the best strategies to prevent those conflicts. Inordinate strength and fearlessness are simply not necessary for successful bicycle driving.

This “strong and fearless” framing is clearly intended to marginalize cyclists who are competent and experienced. How many novice cyclists would express a desire to become “strong and fearless”?

Ultimately, whatever type of accommodation is provided along our roads, cyclists will need to understand the true causes of crashes and the best strategies for avoiding them. Neither the causes nor the strategies are common knowledge, and they sometimes run contrary to popular belief. That’s why cyclist education is essential.

how to change American bicycle culture

How to jumpstart a virtuous traffic culture

At the American Bicycling Education Association, we also want America to have the best motorists. By “best” we mean competent, predictable and courteous. Here’s what’s exciting:

We bicyclists can create a virtuous transportation culture.

It’s beyond the scope of this post to describe how, but when you explore CyclingSavvy Online or attend a CyclingSavvy workshop, we’ll show you how. You’ll discover how motorists who seem so dumb and careless can become quite smart and courteous when you change your behavior.

The best bicyclists are educated bicyclists, who fully understand the difference between being a bicyclist operating as a pedestrian, and bicyclist operating as a driver.

The best cyclist is a savvy cyclist.

ABEA wants American bicyclists to be the best in the world.

savvy cycling instructors

Introducing The Nation’s New CSIs

Eight more dreamers in our ranks!

The solid citizens who traversed the country earlier this month to become CyclingSavvy Instructors might be surprised to hear themselves described as such. But right now there’s still so few of us (people who know how to go by bike anywhere now, rather than waiting for some imaginary future when it will finally be “safe” to ride).

That’s OK! These guys are going to make dreams come true. I’d like to introduce you to the nation’s newest CyclingSavvy Instructors:

Jacob Adams

Jacob came the shortest distance with an audacious goal: He’s ready to transform the University of Florida’s car-centric culture.

He’s in a position to do so. Jacob currently works on bike programming for the university’s Office of Sustainability. He intends to use both education and encouragement to show people how easy it can be to choose bicycling.

CyclingSavvy Instructors learn from their colleague Jacob Adams in Orlando.

CSI Jacob Adams (at right) uses his engaging and entertaining style to make an intimidating road easy to navigate by bike

Jacob lives in Gainesville. He’s a lifelong cyclist passionate about sharing the value of cycling with the world. He’s managed bike shops, worked as a community organizer, organized bike races throughout Florida, and delivered food for Jimmy John’s — by bike, of course.

Jacob described his training weekend as “an invaluable experience.”

“The CyclingSavvy curriculum is a game changer for safer cycling and for improving the overall standing of cyclists in the hierarchy of transportation resource users,” he observed.

“The system feels like magic when it’s implemented. I want to give that gift to other cyclists.”

Jacob loved working directly with CyclingSavvy co-founder Keri Caffrey.

“Keri and the entire CSI team at the seminar created an accepting and encouraging space that made it possible for all the instructor candidates to learn and grow during the weekend. Having the opportunity to learn the intricacies of the program from the team that conceived, developed and implemented it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always look back upon fondly.

“Turns out Orlando isn’t so bad after all!”

Randy Dull

nation's new CSIs (Feb 2018)

CSI Randy Dull is at the front on the right, leading instructors to their next destination

Randy lives in Columbus, Ohio. He’s been involved with USA Cycling as both a racer and coach. He’s done race promoting and taught bike maintenance classes. He rides almost every day. Check out the impressive ride log he keeps on his company’s work site.

“I love to ride,” Randy wrote. “In addition to recreational riding, I’ve been commuting to school and work by bike since I was 15 — an opportunity for two more rides per day!”

The process for becoming a CyclingSavvy instructor is intense. Randy observed that he learned quite a bit from his fellow students as well as the instructors. He looks forward to passing it on.

“Helping others to gain skill and confidence on the bike is my quest,” he said. “CSI training provided great help with both subject matter and teaching techniques. This was time well spent.”

Carl Fenske

CyclingSavvy instructors at the beginning of an intense and rewarding day.

CSI Carl Fenske (at front left) describing what to expect on the Tour of Orlando

Carl hails from Greensboro, NC. He describes himself as a cycle tourist, urban bike commuter and cycling advocate. He’s ridden across America and led several self-contained youth cycling tours from Maine to Florida, as well as in England. During his 38-year career as a science teacher, Carl commuted six of those years to and from school by bike, and taught summer cycling camps.

Carl never heard of CyclingSavvy until last fall. “When I first discovered CyclingSavvy, I watched several of the videos and was intrigued by the concepts presented there,” he said.

He immediately subscribed to CyclingSavvy Online, but then discovered and signed up for a three-day workshop in Charlotte, led by veteran instructor Pamela Murray.

“It was there that I was able to gain new approaches to teaching cycling skills and strategic riding practices,” Carl said. “I inquired about becoming an instructor because I wanted to continue my CyclingSavvy journey.”

Carl called it a “privilege” to work with Keri during his instructor training — and then took his observation a step further.

“She’s identified and solved so many common problems that urban cyclists frequently encounter, she may become known as the Mother of Modern Bicycle Transportation.”

Les Leathem

Les is one of the guys behind These Guys Bike. He maintains there’s a big difference between knowing how to balance on two wheels and riding.

Les Leathem practicing chalk talk.

CyclingSavvy instructors learn all sorts of ways to communicate. Les Leathem practices “chalk talk” in a parking garage in Downtown Orlando

Riding a bicycle means feeling confident at any time,” he says. “It means the ability to ride in most weather conditions, it means using it for exercise, transportation, or just the sheer joy of getting outside and doing something!”

A native of New Orleans, Les has returned home after many years away. He is Louisiana’s first CyclingSavvy instructor. He’s excited by the rapid rise of bicycling in NOLA, and looks forward to helping people discover savvy cycling.

“Remember: Whenever, however, wherever you ride, you are an advocate,” he says. “And what you communicate matters.”

Les was already one of the nation’s top cycling instructors when he decided to check out CyclingSavvy. He’s a coach for the League of American Bicyclists, teaching others how to become League-certified instructors.

This bicycle expert was surprised when he took CyclingSavvy.

“Taking the basic course, I learned a lot,” Les wrote in his application to become a CyclingSavvy instructor. “The focus of the course was very useful and different. I’d like to be able to offer that perspective to the community.”

Damon Richards

Damon is the executive director of IndyCog, the bike advocacy nonprofit serving Indianapolis. He’s an Indianapolis native and Indiana’s first CyclingSavvy instructor. He says he’s “pretending to be retired” from running a small computer consulting company. As head of IndyCog, he wants to create more bike riders in Central Indiana.

Damon & Randy describe their road features for the Tour of Orlando

CSI Damon Richards and CyclingSavvy co-founder Keri Caffrey discuss the road feature he’ll be leading later that day, as instructor trainer Lisa Walker and CSI Randy Dull listen

And not just Indiana. Damon’s recent ride across America led him to an epiphany. Every single day delivered kind encounters, almost always with strangers and even when he thought it might be otherwise.

He’ll never forget being stranded on a lonely road in Oklahoma as he changed a flat tire. A guy in a large pickup truck roared by. As he flew down the road, Damon looked up to notice the guns on the rack behind the bench seat.

A couple of minutes later, the guy came roaring back. “This can’t be good,” Damon thought to himself, and started looking around, wondering what he could grab to protect himself.

The guy jumped out of his truck and heaved a huge tool chest over to Damon and his bike. “I see you have trouble,” he said. “How can I help?”

That ride set Damon on a mission. He realized that biking was about so much more than the bike. His research afterward led him to savvy cycling, as a way to restore kindness and civility to everyday human encounters.

Scott Slingerland

This training included not one but two directors of bike-ped organizations. Scott serves as director ​for CAT-Coalition for Appropriate Transportation, in eastern Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.​ He comes to bicycling-pedestrian-transit advocacy & education as a “recovering engineer,” with 12-plus years’ experience working on power plants and pressure vessels.

CyclingSavvy instructor training in Orlando (Feb 2018)

When you’re bicycling, you have choices! CSI Scott Slingerland describes the pros and cons of options for cyclists when using this road and its sidepath

Bicycling has been a big part of Scott’s lifelong journey for synergy of transportation, sport, health and freedom. He first biked to school at age 11. He’s done mountain bike racing and bicycle touring in the United States, Costa Rica, Germany, China and Taiwan. He’s not owned a car since 2008. He bikes daily for transportation, averaging about 7,000 miles per year.

Scott used a combination of Greyhound, Amtrak and his own power to get from his Easton, PA, home to the Orlando training. His trip included visiting friends in Daytona Beach. He rode from there to Orlando.

Scott decided to pursue instructor training last fall after taking CyclingSavvy. “I’m fascinated by the extensive communication methods taught to foster cooperation between cyclists and motorists,” he wrote in his application to become an instructor. “I want to bring this method to local cyclists in my official capacity and extend the teaching to motorists as well.”

Scott continued: “I also find the classroom portion of CyclingSavvy to be eye-opening with clear presentation and graphics.

“In the general realm of expanding bicycling, I would like to focus on teaching skills, driver awareness, and cyclist-motorist cooperation, rather than fighting for, or against, infrastructure.”

Jeff Viscount

He’s called the “Mayor of Biketown” in Charlotte, NC. Jeff runs WeeklyRides.Com, an impressive compilation of rides, tours and all things bikey around Charlotte. He’s a recreational road cyclist and commuter. “I want to help others learn and understand the principles and techniques taught through CyclingSavvy,” he wrote in his application to become an instructor.

He did a fabulous job in Orlando.

CSI Jeff Viscount with an excellent "chalk talk" in Orlando

CSI Jeff Viscount created an excellent “chalk talk” of an intimidating intersection in Orlando

Brian Watson

Someday lots of us will be earning a living teaching savvy cycling. Right now, Brian is!

CSI Brian Watson explains how to safely navigate a complicated interchange

CSI Brian Watson (kneeling) describes how to easily bike on a busy road under Interstate 4 in Orlando

Brian lives in Bremerton, WA, and teaches Seattle-area adults and children through BicycleTeacher, his bicycling education coaching service. He is Washington State’s first CyclingSavvy instructor. Every weekend from mid-April through late September, Brian teaches, often for Go Redmond, a mobility program in Redmond, WA. His students include those who have never been on a bike to people with many years in the saddle. When Brian’s not on his bike, he’s busy in Watson Studios making one-of-a-kind creations in wood.

“Becoming a CyclingSavvy Instructor has been a long-time goal, and was a rigorous and rewarding process,” Brian wrote afterward. “The insights and thoroughness of the CyclingSavvy approach will allow me to offer the best in bicycling education in Washington State.”

When he got back home, Brian wrote this awesome post on the instructor forum:

Pedaling home from a long day of CSI training, I experienced a poignant moment of civility that CS behavior inspires. It was dark, so I had my lights on, and was wearing my reflective vest and wristbands. I had moved into the left tire track (after scanning, signaling, and verifying that the lane was clear) at a stoplight to turn left. As I was waiting at the light, a driver pulled up behind me with her right turn signal blinking. Since there was plenty of room in the lane for us to wait side-by-side, I gave her a friendly wave to come on up beside me.

She rolled her window down to thank me, and then said, ‘It’s just so nice to see a bicyclist following the rules.’ Even though she was some distance behind me as we approached the light, she was able to see me, see my signal, and correctly read my intentions from my lane positioning. She was genuinely appreciative of my behavior, and I returned the gratitude to her for her civil driving.

I then gave my best ‘red light speech’ extolling the CS approach, and encouraged her to check it out so she too could ride her bike anywhere, any time.

The light turned green all too soon, and we parted ways with a wave and a smile.

In today’s climate of fear and incivility, this brief encounter was a small but powerful demonstration of the potential for creating trust, respect, and kindness with simple changes in cycling behavior.

CS gives me HOPE.

cyclingsavvy instructors in orlando, florida

The nation’s newest CyclingSavvy Instructors. From left: Lisa Walker (instructor trainer), Jacob Adams, Les Leathem, Scott Slingerland, Carl Fenske, Damon Richards, Randy Dull, Jeff Viscount, Keri Caffrey (CyclingSavvy co-founder), Brian Watson and Karen Karabell (newly minted instructor trainer)


william phelps eno

William Phelps Eno, My Hero

On this day devoted to love, I admit to adoring a man who’s not my husband.

Yes, Harold knows. He also thinks highly of the guy, though he’d draw the line at “adore.” Not me. I love what this guy did for humanity.

thank the father of traffic safety for your safe travelsWhen you go out today — reasonably certain of being able to get where you want to go without incident — thank this man. He had something to do with your safe travels, even though you’ve probably never heard of him.

His name is William Phelps Eno. Well over 100 years ago he created pretty much everything we take for granted as we move about on our public roadways. Stop signs, crosswalks, traffic circles, one-way streets, drivers’ licenses: That’s all from Eno, and much more.

Perhaps the biggest thing he did was develop the “Rules of Movement” that we still use today. At least most of us. Yes, there are people on bicycles who don’t use them — and more terrifying, people in cars. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Eno didn’t invent the Rules of Movement. He observed the way ships operate on the high seas, and applied these ideas to our public roads.

New York City 1909 traffic code

A section of the world’s first traffic regulations, drafted by Eno and issued by New York City in 1909

Our streets and roads

are BY FAR our largest public property. We’ve used them for centuries not just for travel, but for socializing, commerce and play.

Lately we’ve been using our public property to make statements. #InsertYourCause and go march on a large arterial road.

Eno started thinking about traffic in 1867, when he was 9 years old and stuck with his mother in a buggy on a New York City street. He later wrote: “That very first traffic jam (many years before the motor car came into use) will always remain in my memory. There were only about a dozen horses and carriages involved, and all that was needed was a little order to keep the traffic moving. Yet nobody knew exactly what to do; neither the drivers nor the police knew anything about the control of traffic.”

guy riding wildly on his bicycle

The Scorcher

Things got worse before they got better, in part because of nifty new machines that everyone was riding. Hooray for bicycles!

At the turn of the 20th Century, “scorchers” were accused of scaring horses and causing crashes. Many victims were children playing in the street, which led to a public outcry. Somebody had to do something!

Eno did.

He’s described as a “public-spirited citizen” who insisted three things were needed to bring order to our streets:

  • Concise, simple and just rules, easily understood, obeyed and enforced under legal enactment
  • These rules must be so placed and circulated that there can be no excuse for not knowing them
  • Police must be empowered and ordered to enforce them, and trained for that purpose

At age 40 he left his family business to work on road safety and traffic control. His innovations led to the elegance and simplicity that define the US transportation system, and others around the world modeled upon it.

People on bicycles fit right in.

It took me awhile to truly understand and embrace this. I learned the basics when I first took CyclingSavvy.

What? The guy who created rules for safe traffic flow and designed the world’s first traffic plans and is honored as the Father of Traffic Safety never drove a car? Eno died in 1945, so he could have driven one.

He’s said to have detested cars, and predicted they’d be a passing fad.

Father of Traffic Safety never drove a car

Well! This was inspiring. I loved learning that the rules regarding traffic were developed well before the rise of the automobile. But look what’s happened since then. We’ve watched Eno’s ideas scale “up” to the point where private auto use has become ubiquitous. These days, cars are overused to the point of ridiculousness. One of every four auto trips in America is less than a mile. That’s heartbreaking.

Our challenge now is showing how Eno’s ideas scale “down.” Hell, yes, you can use your bike instead of your car!

There are certain things you need to know to keep yourself safe. Back to bicyclists and motorists who think the rules don’t apply to them:

Your safety is a product of your behavior.

When crashes happen, we can almost always identify the behavior that led to the crash. That’s a big part of what we do in CyclingSavvy: We show people what really causes crashes, and more important, how to avoid them.

I wish Eno were here. I’d take him on a bike ride.

He’d instantly understand how savvy cycling — created by two other people nobody’s ever heard of — could make the use of cars…not a thing of the past — they’re just too useful — but much less necessary.

I will be forever grateful to Eno for teaching me that the Rules of Movement — which he so brilliantly applied to our public roads — have nothing to do with size or speed. They have a whole lot to do with another “S” word, as well as a couple of “C” words. No, one of those “C” words is not cars!

Safety, courtesy and cooperation are the hallmarks of the US transportation system. While the rare bad encounter sticks in your craw, think about how good and uneventful your typical commute is, however you convey yourself.

For this you can thank Eno.


daytime running lights

Daytime Lights: Magic Bullet Or Not?

Two recent tragic bicyclist deaths in Florida resulted in a local newspaper column extolling the importance of daytime running lights. Without going into detail about these tragedies, I’ll say one thing: It’s doubtful that either death would have been prevented by daytime running lights.safety equipment for cycling

That’s the thing about tragedies and safety equipment. Whatever safety equipment you’re enamored of — daytime running lights, protective padding, helmets — it will help some times, but not others. But when you’re upset because a friend died, that kind of thought-chopping doesn’t come to mind.

Of this you can be sure: Safety equipment is an area where “always” and “never” don’t exist, and where emotional baggage leads all of us to want to cling to a magic solution.

As an expert witness in bicycle crash reconstruction cases,  I believe daytime running lights are usually superfluous. Yes, there are specific occasions where they do help. But they often are used as a makeshift solution for problems best solved by behavior change. If daytime running lights are offered as a do-it-all solution, they become grist for victim blaming when a cyclist was doing nothing wrong.

When To Light Up

Let’s start with the situations where daytime running lights do help. These would include fog, heavy rain, the sun low on the horizon, confusing lighting, and short sight distances on curvy roads.

Fog can reduce visibility to a very short distance. Where I live, in the hills of eastern Pennsylvania, the hilltops can be in the clouds and the valleys can be clear. Sometimes I may need daytime running lights — very bright ones at that — to be seen in the fog. But a half-mile later, I’m out of the fog, and visibility is good.

Some of the curviest country roads make a case for daytime running lights. Even so, if you measure the actual sight distance on a curvy country road, you’ll be surprised at how far it really is.  There’s plenty of space to slow down from curvy-road driving speed to cyclist speed. But there’s no harm in giving the overtaking motorist a wake-up call.

man cycling with daytime running lights

Scott Slingerland, executive director of Bethlehem, PA’s Coalition for Appropriate Transportation, demonstrates the effectiveness of daytime running lights earlier this month in Easton, PA.

view from rear of man cycling with daytime running lights

Scott is easy to see coming and going. But is this because of his lights?

Lane Position

It’s your lane position that affects how soon you’re seen, often more than any light can. This is especially true on curvy roads. If you’re hugging the curb on a curve to the right, you come into view later than a rider using a lane control position.

Dappled mottled light, on a tree-shaded road, makes a case for daytime running lights. The brain takes longer to assemble the picture of a bicyclist in such lighting conditions.behavior more important for cyclist safety than daytime running lights

Daytime running lights need to be bright enough to be conspicuous in daylight. If not, they’re no more effective than a rabbit’s foot. How often have you seen a bicycle light, in bad need of new batteries, blinking feebly — in broad daylight? I saw several on a recent trip to Philadelphia. A dim, poorly aimed daytime blinkie just sucks up the electricity to make the light even less effective at night when that rider absolutely needs it.

Brightness costs money. The least expensive bike lights (less than $10 for a front-and-rear set from a major discount retailer) are usually bright enough for nighttime use. But I wouldn’t bet on those lights being noticed on a sunny day. To be seen in daylight, you want a more powerful light. The taillights that have a strobe function (Portland Design Works Danger Zone and Planet Bike Superflash are two that come to mind) cost more than this. So do brighter headlights.

I recommend that you test daytime running lights in the situation when you might use them. Turn them on, take them outside, and see how they appear from 50 paces away. Do they jump out at you? Are you sure? Remember, you’re an alerted observer, and you are far more attentive to them than the people you want to see them. Those people are un-alerted observers.

When the Sun is Low: Your Shadow Points to the Danger

Does a daytime running light really solve the sun-low-on-the-horizon problem?

when the sun is low, your shadow points to the danger

While the world probably looks clear to this cyclist, his shadow points toward drivers on a high-speed arterial road who have the sun in their eyes – and may not see him as he violates their right-of-way

As we teach in CyclingSavvy, the sun low on the horizon can be a serious problem. Your shadow points in the direction of people who can’t see you. And in the class, we tell people to take a different route or to wait a few minutes for the lighting conditions to change.

The need to verify your lights’ adequacy is most especially true when the sun is low and casting glare. In that situation, you’re asking your daytime running lights to overpower the entire sun! If you do a good observation experiment — with several observers, please — take good notes and tell us what you saw. We’ll publish it. Bonus points if you take a good photo.

Blinded By The Light

What if your light is too bright? At a minimum, you annoy people. You distract drivers from their ongoing job of absorbing visual information and then going on to the next bit of visual information.

It’s a fad — a bad fad, in our opinion — to make emergency vehicle lighting so bright and so discordant that it’s difficult to look away from it. But look away you must, in order to focus on the path you need to travel. The driver needs to watch where she’s going, and watching the light display interferes with that.

Some of today’s lights are strobes, rather than light-emitting diodes. Are they too bright? In some situations, yes. For daytime running lights in pea-soup fog, probably not.

Remember, in normal lighting conditions, a cyclist in a black shirt is easy to see from 200 yards away. And all of us have an obligation to be looking when we drive.

Daytime running lights make you more visible, certainly. But if you were already visible, does making you more visible help? I don’t think so. You need to be relevant as well as visible. The nature of driving is that the driver discards most visual information. When he sees a bicyclist on the shoulder, his brain thinks, “That cyclist is out of my way, and he’s not a factor.” A blinking light is unlikely to change that thought process.Do daytime running lights make you more visible in court?

Any search engine will find you dozens of articles in which daytime running lights are praised as if they are mother’s milk. In those articles, people who don’t use daytime running lights are badmouthed. This is stunningly irresponsible, because it aids and abets victim blaming where it matters most — in court.

Imagine yourself, the victim of a motorist-at-fault car/bike collision. You were plainly visible. But the defense counsel brings out a stack of articles telling you what a jerk you were for not using daytime running lights. He asks you to read them aloud on the witness stand. Your emotions go south and your blood pressure skyrockets. After the first dozen articles, he calls for a break, and out in the hall, offers you $100 to settle the case then and there.

So. . . use daytime running lights mindfully. And promote them cautiously.

savvy cyclist

The Cyclist’s Dilemma

When I begin bicycle training discussions, I often ask students what word they associate with cycling.

Most commonly, that word is Freedom.

Think back to your childhood. Your bicycle was quite likely the first technology you encountered that significantly expanded your independence. Once you had confidence in your operation and navigation skills, you were free! You could undertake longer excursions, and choose your own path.

You probably also chose how you rode. Absent significant instruction — or even if you had instruction, absent direct supervision — you made your own decisions about how you interacted with other vehicles or roadway users.

Many adult cyclists hold onto beliefs they derived from their early cycling experiences. These include:

  • You can ride a bike if you can balance and steer it
  • Getting from Point A to Point B is a question of navigating a lawless terrain where pragmatism is the first principle
  • The way to be successful on a bike is to capitalize on its form and design — its narrow profile and maneuverability — and to exploit the limitations of cars
  • Bicyclists don’t have to obey laws designed for motorists

Given our early preconceptions, who would see any need for further education in bicycle operation and traffic rules? Who would judge it worthwhile to learn how to adapt their cycling to principles based on traffic rules? As cyclists, must we give up our freedom and act like drivers? Are we really less privileged than pedestrians?

men riding bikes on sidewalk and on road

Who’s actually safer on his bike? Where is it easier to ride?

Childhood misconceptions imperil us as cyclists. These misconceptions impede a disciplined approach to easier and safer cycling.

There’s much to learn about how you as a cyclist can reduce the prospect of a crash, and even be able to predict where conflicts and stress are likely to occur, and how avoid them.

On top of this are the incredible benefits of savvy cycling: Understanding how to exploit subtle principles and traffic patterns adds tremendous value to your cycling. The fascinating thing about traffic patterns is that exploiting them not only makes cycling safer. It makes cycling more enjoyable and less stressful. Solving a few hard spots in your daily commute can make all the difference in your attitude when you arrive at your destination.

small savvy cycling session allow instructors to focus on students

CyclingSavvy offers small sessions that allow instructors to focus on each person’s needs.

The beliefs we accept as beginning cyclists or infer from the behavior we see in other cyclists can lead us into a stressful, hostile, and dangerous world. CyclingSavvy instructors know that there is another direction, and most anyone can take it if we can just get them to spend that 9 hours with us; to educate oneself about the most common types of traffic conflicts, and learn how to avoid the situations that lead to these conflicts.

So the dilemma for cyclists is whether to accept the constraints of traffic and learn how to use them, or to ignore them and make it up as they go.

The paradox is that while it appears cyclists give up independence by accepting and responding to the principles of traffic, they actually gain freedom of travel. Knowledge of traffic patterns and the skill to analyze any roadway situation will increase, not decrease, the places you can go by bike. Seemingly insurmountable obstacles to travel can be diagnosed, broken down, and overcome.

Come learn how.

ebike law

Ebikes: Education, Training & The Law

Electric pedal-assisted bikes are becoming more prevalent at bicycle industry trade shows and bike shops. They’re being ridden for recreation and transportation, at MTB races, and even now by some public safety agencies across the US and beyond. My purpose in writing this post is to point cyclists and cycling instructors in the direction of educational, training, skills and legal aspects associated with e-bike use. This serves only as a starting point. Never stop learning and improving your skills, whether on a “traditional” bike or e-bike!

clint sandusky at interbike 2017

Clint Sandusky at Interbike 2017, with an e-bike in the Bosch “Circuit” test track staging area

My experience and knowledge of e-bikes comes from riding eMTBs at Interbike trade shows, at home, and at a recent Southern California bike patrol class. I’ve also read countless articles on e-bike use in public safety and by the community. At Interbike 2017 I attended the presentations on e-biking offered by Bosch, People For Bikes and the International Mountain Bicycling Association. But don’t call me Mr. E-Bike. I’m always learning, too!

Education & Training

In her recent post “Savvy E-Biking To A Car-Free Future,” Karen Karabell writes:

[T]here’s a catch [to e-biking] many people don’t realize. With speed comes a greater need to understand the traffic environment: sight lines, door zones, blind spots, and common motorist mistakes caused by underestimating speed. Without this understanding, an e-bike may be just as likely as any other bike to gather dust in the garage after a few close calls. This is why the engagement of CyclingSavvy and e-bike owners needs to happen, and can’t be a moment too soon.

As a longtime bike patrol instructor and now bicycle safety advocate, I TOTALLY agree!

I’ll take Karen’s thoughts one step farther. Additional training and/or evaluation MUST be done for riders wanting to use an e-bike during any CyclingSavvy, Public Safety Cyclist or other bicycle safety course. This should be done prior to the start of a class (not on Day 1) to ensure the rider understands how to safely operate an e-bike and is skilled enough to use it. This also means that bicycle safety instructors — even if they don’t ride e-bikes — now need familiarity with their operations and challenges in traffic.bike safety instructors need to know how to operate e-bikes

Important topics and basic principles that should be discussed prior to or at CyclingSavvy or other courses where cyclists ride or are considering riding e-bikes include:

  • Hazards and conflicts associated with higher-speed riding. With speed comes responsibility!
  • Maneuvering and stopping considerations. E-bikes are 15 pounds or so heavier than their equivalent “traditional” counterparts
  • The dynamics of lane control, and a solid understanding of cyclist behaviors and how to use them. If you’re riding an e-bike at its maximum speeds, you want to do so ONLY when you’re practicing “driver behavior.” DON’T ride an e-bike fast on edge of the road, or on sidewalks
  • Legal & safety issues (to be discussed below)

When e-bikes are used during any type of cycling class, they must be inspected prior to use to ensure they’re safe and adequate.

By ensuring the rider has adequate knowledge and ability to use an e-bike and that the bike is safe to use, time and attention won’t be diverted from the other students in a class. IPMBA and the agency I teach bike patrol courses for are looking at these very issues.

Safety & Legal Issues

The adage of “speed kills” is a legitimate concern when using an e-bike, both for you and fellow roadway users. As an example, a Class 3 e-bike provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 28 mph. Twenty-eight mph!!! You must have excellent bike handling skills and know how to protect yourself when you’re riding that fast. Simply manipulating the different modes of pedal-assist can be distracting for a novice cyclist.

Cyclists using e-bikes need to know how they and their bikes work together, especially under high-speed, emergency and/or adverse conditions. As Clint Eastwood said in the movie Magnum Force: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Therefore, the faster you intend to go, the more skill and training you need.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission and Bicycle Products Suppliers Association were the first to define e-bikes. Initially California, then other states defined and regulated e-bikes into three classes as follows:

  • Class 1: Max pedal assist of 20 mph
  • Class 2: Max throttle assist of 20 mph
  • Class 3: Max pedal assist of 28 mph

“Conversion kits” are also available, allowing someone to turn a “traditional” bicycle into an e-bike. Cyclists should be very leery when adding this technology to their existing bicycles, especially due to the likelihood of insufficient braking systems and frames!

An NL Times (Netherlands) article from last September noted that “The number of fatal traffic accidents involving e-bikes is increasing, especially among older people.” Is this because Europe has embraced the use of e-bikes much more than the US, or because elderly people may tend to be less fit and skilled in higher-speed cycling?

Cyclists riding e-bikes both on- and off-road MUST know local, state and federal laws/regulations/definitions pertaining to all types of e-bike use, especially if they’re riding a Class 3 e-bike. This includes riding on sidewalks, bike lanes, shared-use paths and trails. I recommend e-bikers contact their local jurisdictions and/or land management agencies for up-to-date laws and regulations on where they’ll be riding.


cap says "Make America Fun Again" with bikesPeople For Bikes offers a handy guide to your state’s specific e-bike laws.

Lots of useful info at the Electric Bike Association, the industry voice for e-bikes.

While we don’t endorse specific products, Bosch powers many of the e-bikes on the road, and offers excellent information on the mechanics and technology of e-biking.

Bottom Line

Technology can be a wonderful thing in bringing people to cycling, and riding e-bikes is certainly FUN!!!

However, cyclists choosing to ride e-bikes — for their safety and the safety of others — NEED to take importa