Everyone in LA is in a rush. And that means drivers tend to prioritize their hurry and their speed over a cyclist’s well-being. So you have to be aware not only of the drivers around you but also have to be aware of the dangers that can pop up in the path.
One movement striving to change that is the Los Angeles Bike trains. They choose a route that helps to avoid the hardest intersections, taking cyclists on the safest route possible.
The goal is to provide safety for people who need to commute to work. Bike trains allow riders to join the safety of the train on their way to work and then peel off to their destinations.
There is safety in numbers, and a group of cyclists is harder to be ignored — even by the most absent-minded drivers. Riding in a group can provide the safety that many would-be commuters wish they could have and can inspire more people to ride by making it more “normal.”
Elevated, or separated bike lanes are the ideal option. But, until that happens, the bike train can help educate new cyclists on the nuances of commuting safely and provide a stopgap measure that encourages greater commuting.
Here we start getting into some testy waters: limited resources and both cars and cyclists need access.
Many communities have begun either widening the road or repurposing the edge of roadways and marking them off to serve as “bike lanes.”
That part is all “fine and dandy”, and we cyclists applaud the nod towards a healthier cycling community. Once in awhile we even write a letter of thanks to a city council member or something.
Very quickly, however, these lanes start being violated by drivers, most noticeably the police and delivery drivers.
Police In Bike Lanes
This is the one cyclists like to point out the most. They are trying to drive in the bike lane — in New York, you can be ticketed for cycling outside of the bike lane — but there is a cop car smack dab in the middle of your morning commute.
Of course, you merge into traffic, wishing you could use this as an excuse the next time a cop hollers at you for holding up traffic.
It is unfair.
In most municipalities, police officers have special parking privileges: they can park wherever they damn well, please.
It’s a requirement of the job. Thugs aren’t courteous about where they commit crimes, and so, officers must be able to park where needed to fight said crime.s
It also comes in handy when stopping for donuts.
Since there is no shoulder in many of these locations with bike lanes, officers are left with no choice but to park in the lane while handling their business.
This is a battle we cyclists cannot win. And we only seem uninformed and petty when we point it out. An abuse of power? likely.
But who truly wants to spend the time and money fighting it in court? (ok, so we want to, but few of us can afford to!)
These guys are skirting the law, but they’ve gotta get their packages delivered. Packages create commerce and commerce pay the taxes that gives us nice roads… and bike lanes.
So everyone just gives them a friendly nod and assumes that they will be out of their way, shortly (they typically are).
After all, the beer isn’t going to deliver itself.
I don’t need to say anything, here. When shit breaks, it breaks. Be especially careful when navigating around these guys and don’t hesitate to use verbal cues if they are actively working and you must pass close by.
“Oh, I’ll just pop on in to grab a sandwich. I’ll be right back out.”
These are the only ones we stand any chance of fighting. They are playing a dangerous game of roulette, and they will continue to do so until we impound their cars.
In our community, repeated issues with people taking advantage of the bike lane typically have been easily resolved by buying a cup of coffee for a local officer, carrying it over to him, and having a friendly chat over coffee.
Of course, I do that regularly, anyhow. I like them to be on my side.
Some of the more stubborn violators, however, were only dislodged when cyclists recorded multiple days of violations and brought it up with their local alderman or at city council.
And, there has been the rare case where it has to go to the local newspaper.
Staying Safe With A Blocked Lane
The trick is awareness, especially of occupied vehicles.
The inconsiderate driver who is parking there is probably in an abject hurry to get out of their car and into the store and return before they get cited.
They will fling their door open with abandoned and hurt any cyclist in their way. Give these cars extra berth.
The same goes for cop cars. We can hope they are more observant, but they might be focused on a perp and not on you.
As a preventative measure, you must maintain awareness of the traffic patterns beside you. If you are going to be forced into traffic, it is better to claim your position early — or wait until the traffic has passed and then merge (my preference).
In general, however, we cyclists appreciate these lanes and the community is on board with protecting them, as long as the cops and the beer delivery guys still get to park there.
I used to run around town sans helmet. I am way cooler (literally and figuratively) without a helmet.
And, where I lived, there were no laws regarding helmet usage.
At best, you might find me sporting one of those snazzy cycling caps. You know, the ones with the hip little bill that flips up.
I was just as cool as all of those tour de France riders from the early 1900s, riding up the Alpe d’huez with a cigarette dangling from their lips. Neither one of us had any idea how much we were flirting with death.
Here’s the thing: none of us plan on crashing. If we knew it was going to happen, we’d prevent it.
I’ve seen enough cracked helmets in my day — and had enough close calls — that I finally recognized the danger and started becoming anal about wearing a helmet.
Just like that, wearing one was no longer enough. I needed to know what was the safest helmet.
The Safest Helmet And Rating Agencies
Motorcycle helmets are tightly regulated. You have the ECE regulation and the Snell regulation, and they all must be DOT approved.
In other words, you have the US government — for better or worse — looking out for you.
The same goes with bike helmets, sans the DOT sticker of approval (for what it is worth).
Our helmets must pass CPSC impact tests. These are more stringent than ASTM tests, and so you are advised to always go with a CPSC certified helmet. However, this is the only test helmets undergo and it is not possible to purchase one with a verified higher “rating.”
Spending more on a helmet typically just results in one that is more lightweight and has more ventilation (two key elements of a more comfortable fit!)
Giro Sutton MIPS
Giro — and their sister company, Bell — have done a respectable job creating a helmet that is designed specifically for the dedicated commuter.
You get more of an Urban style that is smooth, functional and low-key. The racing-style helmets with their huge air holes and swooping styles seem to be so over the top in the urban environment.
I recognize that there is no official way to measure whether a helmet is more crash resistant, but I have to think that a solid design with this one has to offer more integrity. You never see a motorcycle helmet that is dotted with holes. And we all know that every time you cut a hole in something, you make it weaker.
So it stands to reason that this helmet — with its solid design — is possibly offering greater protection for the unforgiving urban environment.
It has a removable visor and full adjustability of the straps so you can customize it to your comfort and your (constantly changing) riding conditions.
I’ve found this helmet sizing to be very on point. Whatever their sizing chart says, you can measure your head and make your purchase decision directly off of the chart.
A unique idea is the notable rear ports that are carefully measured to allow you to slip a U-lock through. This allows you to lock your helmet to the bike rack, and frees your arms for more important things, like school books and milk.
Probably the largest selling point of this helmet is the light clip. This small clip lets you attach a blinking light to help capture motorists attention. Most of us already ride with a small light clipped on a backpack or near our saddle.
By moving a flashing light to the helmet, we are setting it closer to eye-level for the drivers who are trying to avoid us. I think that is a smart play and makes this helmet a top consideration.
The Bern is a fun helmet for the cyclist who wants something different. You have to hunt for this one.
The bulky, block-helmet style looks a lot like the Giro Sutton. However, it adds more ventilation to the top which keeps your head cooler while also adding a lot of style points that the Sutton is missing.
It has a cloth visor like the Sutton. It is also removable for hand washing if you have an exceptionally nasty commute. It also has winter inserts you can purchase to insert for those colder commutes.
The sizing chart is pretty accurate, but, if you are close to the top of a size, go ahead and step up to the next size.
It also has more protection that extends down the back of your head, protecting that critical area in the event you go down backwards or get knocked to the side.
The downside is that the surface of this helmet seems to pick up more scratching.
I’d say that if you shopping for a helmet that stans out from the crowd while still offering every feature you could hope for in safety and functionality, this is an excellent option.
Specialized Echelon II
The Specialized Echelon II is an affordable helmet option that is attracting a large following amongst riders who want a quality helmet without overpaying for it.
There are several different colors available, although most end up going with a neutral color such as white or black so it will match your clothing.
The straps work really well. They lay flush against the face and aren’t always getting wadded up behind your ears like some of the other brands tend to do. It has the standard spin wheel on the back like most of the high-quality helmets in this category do.
This one does have reflectors on the back. Studies have shown that helmet reflection may or may not appear to vehicle drivers because they are so thin. However, I do like to have them, anyhow. The more reflection, the better is the motto.
The velcro holds the interior pads in place, which means you can remove them and wash them with soap and water whenever they start to get too grungy. I appreciate this as there is nothing nastier than a grungy, smelly helmet (except, maybe, grungy smelly socks.)
For an upper-mid-range priced helmet (just under $100), this is one of the lightest, most comfortable helmets you can get your hands on. You will need to find a Specialized dealer near you to purchase it from.
A good choice for the rider who also does a lot of long-distance and club rides and who wants a helmet that blend in both with the commuting environment as well as the club riding world.
Last week, we looked at some of the laws surrounding the construction and testing of helmets. In the United States, it wasn’t until the late 90’s that we began to codify helmet safety for cyclists.
According to the most recent data, at least 60% of the fatal cycling crashes http://www.bhsi.org/stats.htm are not wearing a helmet. Only 16% of the fatalities were wearing a helmet.
(24% of the crashes did not have helmet data).
It is important not over to infer data that has not been measured, but, at the surface level, it appears that helmets may help preserve the lives of cyclists. (The Guardian has no qualms about crunching the numbers, stating that it reduces the risk of fatal head injury by 65%)
Finally, cycling is the leading cause of sports-related head injuries, according to the American Association of Neurologic Surgeons, beating our both football and boxing. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/really-the-claim-cycling-is-the-top-sport-for-head-injuries/?mcubz=0
Head injuries are no laughing matter.
No US Federal Law
It makes sense that there is no federal law regarding helmets. Cyclists mostly fall outside of the range of “interstate commerce.” In fact, we aren’t even allowed to ride on the interstate!
Helmet safety standards — the quality of the helmet — is set at the federal level, but whether or not you a re required to protect yourself is left up to the individual cities — or states — to set.
Laws Mostly Set At The City Level
States haven’t been too motivated to take up the issue, leaving it to local municipalities to set the laws and enforce them.
This makes plenty of sense, as a law is only as good as its enforcement. If a local community does not have a problem with head injuries from cyclists or does not have the resources to make sure cyclists obey a law, there is no reason to add restriction to the books.
Figuring out where your city stands on the issue can be challenging. There is a municode website that displays the laws for many small communities.
Their website is confusing so that you may find a call to City
Hall might be the easiest way to figure out what your restrictions are.
Another resource is the American league of cyclists. They do a better job keeping up with the laws. However, there is no way for them to be aware of every change. So reach out to your local community leaders for the most up-to-date information.
Many of the laws are only for children under the ages of 18 or 16. So a parent who allows their kid to ride around the block without a helmet because “that’s the way I was raised” could find themselves having an uncomfortable conversation with a police officer.
Self-Policing Is Strong
You will find that most cycling events require you to have a helmet. Forgetting your helmet precludes you from participating in many club rides, local races, and even parades.
While many of these rules are in place to protect the event organizers, this attitude of self-policing extends to individual riders. There are many who will openly question your decision to ride without a helmet, and I’ve even seen riders ostracized because others felt like their decision to ride helmetless was inherently unsafe.
After all, none of us want to be the one holding your brains while you writhe in agony. And that is an all-too-real picture for many of us.
This acknowledgment within the community of a bike helmet’s importance has done as much to further the implementation of helmet laws could.
In fact, a study in Canada measured the impact of mandatory helmet laws and found that they did not decrease the risk of head injury compared to jurisdictions which did not have helmet laws on the books.
A Generational Change
Millenials tend to be a very safety-conscious bunch, choosing to avoid cigarettes and buy organic.
If you set helmet laws, they might rebel against the law. However, they do prefer a safer option, especially when the statistics back them up.
Forty-seven percent of all trips in Los Angeles are under 3 miles. This is an ideal distance for cycling.
California is one of the most bike-friendly countries in the United States. They have countless bike lanes and bike-friendly rules.
The hills are a huge challenge (no pun intended) for cyclists in Los Angeles. While it does take a little practice to get confident with the hills, most avid cyclists learn to navigate them with no issues.
The city is always installing new bike lanes, but it takes some skills to navigate them as they can disappear with a moment’s notice, throwing the cyclist into the midst of traffic.
When there is no bike lane, it is your right to take up the whole lane. However, it can annoy a lot of drivers and cause them to behave erratically around the cyclist. So most choose to drive near the side of the road, even if that puts the rider closer to car doors.
Sometimes the cyclist must revert to the sidewalks.
Commuting via bike has its challenges, but it is doable. Awareness is key.