National Bike Month and Bike To Work Week

2012-05-08 by . 1 comments

National Bike Month

In the US, May is National Bike Month, and next week (May 14-18) is National Bike to Work Week. This is an awesome opportunity to challenge yourself to commute by bike more often, and with the weather getting warmer, it's the perfect time to get back into the habit of using your bike to get around.

Individual communities have bike challenges, with prizes sponsored by local bike advocacy groups, cycling shops, and bike groups. The League of American Bicyclists has a webpage where you can look up official Bike Month events in your community. Not all events are listed on this site, so you should also do a web search for bike to work <city name> and see what you can find. For example, Oregon has the Walk and Bike Month Challenge, New York City has Bike Month NYC, San Francisco Bay Area has a Bike to Work Day, and dozens of other communities across the US have their own programs.

Not every city's Bike to Work events are on the "official" dates, so make sure to check for local events right away so you don't miss out!

As you get geared up for spring commuting, don't forget to ask Bicycles Stack Exchange when you have questions about setting up your bike!

If there are local events in your area, please leave links in the comments below and we'll add them to the blog post.

Filed under Commuting, Contest

A great place to ride: Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC

2012-04-25 by . 0 comments

I recently spent a few weeks commuting in our nation's capital, and my best route was through Rock Creek Park. I wish I had a permanent commute along a route like this!

Folks playing in the park. The pictures in this post are from previous trips; I didn't have a camera this time.

The park was created by congress in 1890, along with Yosemite National Park. The park is a long valley that pretty much divides the district in half. Most access points are very steep, and I see many more riders walking those hills than riding them. (At the end of my three weeks in the District, I'm proud to say I was regularly climbing those hills.) more »

Filed under Day Rides, Fun

Review of the Best Bicycle Tail Lights in 2012

2012-03-05 by . 114 comments
Testing bike lights

Taking some lights out for a test ride at night

UPDATE: This review is a couple years out of date! For frequently updated bike light recommendations and reviews, visit The Bike Light Database.

Whether you bike to work every day regardless of how dark it is outside, or only let dusk catch you on the occasional evening ride, every cyclist should have lights. They're required after dark by law in almost all regions, and are a crucial piece of safety equipment even where they're optional.

Remember that although spending $30-50 on good lights may seem like a lot of money, the medical costs from a single accident would far surpass that initial investment. If you bike at night (or even bike on busy roads during the day - several of these lights are daytime visible), a bright light is a must-have!

Choosing a light can be a difficult task though - there are countless options to choose from ranging from cheap $3 flashers to blindingly bright $200 powerhouses. The internet already has some good comparisons of bike headlights, but there's a surprising lack of comprehensive taillight comparisons, so I decided to make one. For science.

In total, I reviewed 16 different taillights from 8 of the top light manufacturers. I chose which lights to review based on a survey I conducted on the parent site for this blog - Bicycles Stack Exchange, a Q&A site for everything about bicycles, and also asked on Reddit's /r/bicycling. The incumbent in this race is the Planet Bike Blinky Superflash. Everyone has this light (myself included). Not only is it the light most people own, it's also the most-loved - 20% of respondents said it was their favorite. In terms of what people wish they had or are considering buying, the Planet Bike Superflash Turbo, Portland Design Works' Radbot 1000 and Danger Zone, and the Niterider Cherrybomb were all high on the list. Many people expressed an interest in DiNotte's lights, but unfortunately we were unable to acquire one for this review and the company declined to loan a light for the review.

I'm sure you're all dying to know which light is the best, but first, let's take a look at the contenders.

Table of Contents

more »

Filed under Commuting, Lights, Traffic

US Citizens: Act Now To Save Bike Infrastructure!

2012-02-13 by . 0 comments

Sorry to all the non-US folks that read this blog; this doesn't directly affect you.

There's currently activity in both houses of Congress affecting funding for cycling (and walking) infrastructure. If things go wrong in Congress, we could end up with a lot fewer bike lanes, bike paths and sidewalks and move more towards a totally car-centric infrastructure.

The current Senate transportation bill (MAP-21) weakens walking and biking programs. To improve the bill, bicycle advocates are asking senators to vote for a bipartisan amendment to guarantee local governments a voice in transportation decisions and allow them to build sidewalks, crosswalks, and bikeways that keep people safe.

In the House, cycling advocates are asking representatives to oppose the House transportation bill. Despite the fact that walking and bicycling infrastructure is a low-cost investment that creates more jobs per dollar than any other kind of highway spending, the House bill eliminates dedicated funding for walking and biking altogether.

Learn more and contact your senators and representative about this issue.

Obligatory disclaimer: none of this represents the official stance of Stack Exchange.

How Cars Can Be Nice to Cyclists

2012-01-16 by . 4 comments

A message to drivers:

We know you don't all hate cyclists. Many of you--most of you?--probably like bicycles and have fond memories of riding one as a kid. Many of you may not understand why adults would ride a bike when they could be in a car, but hey! --live and let live. You yourself may even ride from time to time.

We know that you try to keep alert for cyclists and pedestrians. It's the occasional driver talking on a cell phone while giving themselves a pedicure that makes you all look bad.

Also, we're truly embarrassed by the stupid, suicidal riders you see on the roads. Those of us who know how to cycle in traffic see wrong-way cyclists (or worse, cyclists who ride on the goddamn sidewalk) as misguided at best, damn fools at worst. Yeah, they're our fellow cyclists (sorta), but every time we see a ninja cyclist at night dressed in black without even a reflector, let along lights, who's riding salmon-style on a divided highway... we shudder. These riders are road-pizza in the making.

We're trying to educate them, but a lack of cyclist education in driver's ed classes (coupled with all the misinformation that's out there) makes this a hard, uphill task. Some days, it makes us all seem like salmon swimming upriver.

(Personally, I'd love to see more cyclists get traffic citations. Sure, the bike advocacy organizations would howl about a "needless and vengeful crackdown on cyclists"--or something along those lines--but nothing makes people more law-abiding than the threat of a ticket.)

If you're one of these drivers who considers cyclists fellow road users, you may have wondered: How can drivers like you make cyclists' lives easier? more »

Filed under Traffic

The Bicycles blog wants YOU!

2012-01-11 by . 0 comments

Would you like to be part of a blogging community? Do you have opinions about cycling, or just a good story to tell? Do you love the Bicycles site but are you're frustrated by the limitations of the Q&A format? Come and write for the Bicycles blog!

What kinds of posts are we looking for?

Stories about bike rides -- These are easy to write up, and fun to read. If you have pictures from your ride, or even of the terrain or road, so much the better.

Reviews -- Have you bought a bike you love? A headlight that gets you home in the winter evening hours? We'd love to hear about it.

Cycling culture -- Posts about culture, weirdness associating with riding, frankenbikes; really, about anything interesting and strange.

Bike shops -- Do you love your mechanic? Your shop? Tell us all about it, maybe the post will help someone who's looking for a shop.

Controversial stuff -- Do you think helmets are a conspiracy by the styrofoam hat manufacturers? Is "carbon fiber" just another name for "cheap-ass plastic bikes marked up for suckers"? Your Stack Exchange rant-disguised-as-a-question will be closed in a heartbeat because Stack Exchange hates fun, but the blog is a perfect place for you to write about these crazy interesting ideas.

Stuff -- Anything that doesn't fit in the above categories. For anyone looking for ideas for posts, we've started a list of them. This page is filled with post ideas you can use. Also, if you have an idea but you're lacking the ten minutes it'll take to write it up, post to that page and someone else will pick up the slack.

What am I getting myself into (or, "how often will you want a post from me?")

The blog updates once a week on Monday mornings when we're lucky, twice a week when posters are extraordinarily prolific. But you don't have to write a post nearly that often, just when you have something to say.

Okay, I'm sold. How do I get started posting?

You'll need an account, and the simplest way to get one is to ask Neil, Gary, or Freiheit to add you. Just ping us in chat by typing @ before our usernames, or post in this thread.

A great place to ride: An evening in Portland, Oregon, by the river

2012-01-09 by . 0 comments

The other day, the weather was unseasonably nice and a pretty sunset looked forthcoming, so a friend and I decided to go for a short ride down to the Portland waterfront. We ended up catching a beautiful sunset, and had a nice leisurely ride around the Eastbank Esplanade, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, and up the first bit of the Springwater Corridor. It was just about rush hour for bike commuters, with hundreds of cyclists passing over bridges and down bike paths. Here are a few pictures from our trip. (Photos taken by jtbandes)

Portland's skyline from the Eastbank Esplanade


The Burnside Bridge from the Eastbank Esplanade


Big Pink and downtown skyline


An interesting bike-reindeer stencil on a trash can


Construction of the new MAX light rail bridge in background; OMSI submarine "Blue Back" in the foreground


OMSI's iconic sign

We only went for a short ride, but it was nice to see the city at night and enjoy some time on our bikes with friends.

Last-minute gift ideas for the cyclist in your life

2011-12-21 by . 3 comments

Looking for a gift for a cyclist? Been putting off your shopping? Here are some stocking-stuffers ideas for the cyclist on your list. Price ranges are estimates; you can almost certainly find these items for more than this, faux-carbon pattern included. Most of these should be available at your local bike shop.


If the cyclist on your list doesn't have any lighting, then anything that emits light will be an improvement. If they already have a few lights, you can contribute to their lighting themselves up like (ahem) a Christmas tree.

Rear Blinkies: The Planet Bike Superflash is well thought of. It's bright, cheap (around $35 US), and durable. (It does tend to bounce out of its included clip, so you may want to toss in a zip tie.)

Spoke lights: Cat Eye makes a set of two that goes for around $20. These things last forever, particularly on blinking mode, and drivers can't help but see the circling, blinking motion. Great for when you cross an intersection. And if they already have these, they can keep adding pairs to their wheels.

You can also get them a safety vest. These can be had for $15--20. Look for the ones made of mesh on the front and shoulders.

Bar Tape

Anyone with drop bars who rides a lot goes through a lot of bar tape. You usually can't go wrong with black, but if your friend has color-coordinated road rig, have a look at their bike before purchasing.


Tires are something people get picky about---I know I do, buying me tires would be like trying to buy me shoes---but tubes? Feh. Avoid the cheap tubes, get Specialized or another name brand and you'll be fine.


If your friend does their own maintenance, a bottle of chain lube goes for around ten bucks. Just try to find out if they use wax or regular lube on their chain.


Multitools are usually a good bet. Park Tool is the "Craftsman" of bike tools, and their stuff is solid. $15--30. You could also get tire irons (maybe $5 if you want the expensive ones), a chain washer tool (around $25), or a pedal wrench ($15). But the most useful bike tool I own is a 3-way hex wrench. They go for anywhere from $9--20, and they're amazingly useful for tightening anything on a bike from rack screws to bottle cages to saddle rail bolts.


Pfft. Yeah, right. I have enough trouble picking out my own bike clothes. About all you can safely get for a cyclist is socks. A pair of nice wool socks can cost $15--30, glaringly bright colors included.

A balaclava might be a safe present; these run from $10--20, more if you want a nice wool one.

A warm winter cap should work out well. Something thin that fits close to the head, so that it fits under a helmet. Bonus points for ear flaps or other ear coverage. A cap and scarf are a more stylish alternative to a balaclava, so a matching scarf wouldn't hurt.


These can be expensive, or not. Winter cyclists often have collections of different kinds of gloves. While they'll be picky about the gloves, they often go through a lot of glove liners---and those are pretty generic. You can layer these under heavier gloves, or wear them under fingerless gloves for a little extra warmth on not-so-cold days. Glove liners run from $5--30.

Water Bottles

Your call: You can find these for a few bucks, or pay more for insulated bottles. A nice idea is to fill an empty water bottle with other knicknacks.

Happy gifting, happy holidays, and have a great new year!

Filed under Fun

A great place to ride: American River Bicycle Trail, Sacramento, CA, US

Apparently there is a long tradition with a certain group that on the shortest day of the year (or nearest convenient day), there's a bicycle ride down the American River Bike Trail. This year I was invited along by the executive director of my local bike advocacy group (which I'm on the board of).

The trail is historical and beautiful. It was one of the first trails specifically made for bicycles in the US, and one of the longest purpose-built paved bike paths in the US. It's about 30 miles long and follows the American River from Folsom to Sacramento. It's essentially 30 miles of park with a nicely paved trail running the length of it, bridges where needed, etc. Lots of parks of various sizes along the way, from tiny little "one picnic table with a view" parks to big sprawling parks. Some of the parks have big parking lots, so if you don't want to ride the whole distance you can start there.

We used light rail to get from Sacramento to Folsom and then rode the downhill/downstream direction of the trail.

The day started at 5:45am, when my bike and I were picked up for a drive down to San Rafael. We met up with somebody, rode about a mile and met up with the truck that drove us to Richmond while we nervously watched the bikes jiggling around on the overloaded rack.

In Richmond, we got on Amtrak to Sacramento, then on a light rail to Folsom. Had a bit of breakfast on the Amtrak ride consisting of food people brought along, such as some homemade gingerbread and banana bread.

Getting off the light rail in Folsom

The usual tradition in this ride is that there's a rainstorm and epic suffering, but the weather was fantastic this year, so I put away both upper layers that I'd brought along and went until evening in shorts and a t-shirt.

After the light rail, there was a very short ride up a hill to our second breakfast, for kicking off the ride.

Parking our bikes outside the breakfast spot

Then after that, a ride over to the trail, and off we rode.

Regrouping before starting on the trail, which starts right below

One of our first rest stops. A river viewing spot connected to a park

View of the river

Most of the trail is lightly shaded with trees and really quite pleasant.

A fairly typical stretch of the trail

Met some new friends while resting watching the water


Crazy hats on one of the bigger bridges


A huge walnut tree we had to check out

Myself and the Bike Sonoma director posing for a photo

Near the end of the trail


Our ride ended in Old Town Sacramento, a historic tourist-attracting neighborhood that happens to be right next to the Amtrak station to get us back to Richmond. We got some dinner, a few of us got lost finding the train, got some cocktails at a bar on a boat, and caught the next train.

Filed under Day Rides

A tale of a malfunctioning sensor

2011-12-16 by . 2 comments

Most urban cyclists have probably encountered the problem of triggering traffic signals once or twice. Most of the time, sensors at traffic lights detect bicycles right away, and are often helpful in reducing wait-time. I know of a few intersections where the sensors are finely tuned so that the light turns green before you even get there, if nobody is coming the other way. What happens though when one of these sensors is out of whack?

I go to school in Corvallis, OR, which currently holds the record for the highest percentage of bicycle commuters nationwide. There's a particular intersection here where the under-pavement loop-type sensor simply wasn't working for me. Some friends had mentioned having problems at the same intersection as well. The sensor is for a left-turn arrow in a turn-only lane, so it probably doesn't get huge amounts of bike traffic, but I use the turn lane there, as do others. You can see the intersection in the streetview image below:

As you can see, there's a pavement indicator for where bikes should stop to trigger the signal. There is also one for the bike lane on the right. It's difficult to see in this image, but there are pavement cuts which indicate a buried sensor loop, which works by magnetic induction, not a visual cue. When I arrived at the intersection, I stopped just past the marker, and waited for the light to turn. It never did. Fortunately, the intersection has one of the new "flashing yellow" sequences, so I was able to turn left when there was a break in traffic, although I did have to wait two light cycles before I was able to make it across.

So, what to do when a sensor seems to be malfunctioning? In hind sight, I should have tried again before seeking help, but having heard similar reports from other cyclists, it sure sounded like there was a problem. Fortunately, it's easy to contact the city public works and get problems checked out. I sent an email on a Sunday afternoon, and on Monday I got a response back from them:

Thank you for the description of the concern you have at location.  We went today to test the southbound left turn loop.  This movement of the intersection uses a quadrapole loop for vehicle detection.  In layman's terms, a loop is essentially an antenna in the pavement, tuned to a specific frequency, to detect metal objects.  When a metal vehicle passes over the loop the frequency of the loop is changed and acknowledged in the traffic signal controller.  A quadrapole loop looks like two long narrow rectangles, placed side by side, with a common line in the middle.  We have a bike marker placed on the pavement, in the center of the quadrapole, at the very front, behind the stop bar.  The bike's crankset should be placed directly over this marker.  We use a Specialized MTB from Public Works to perform our bicycle detection.  We feel this type of bike represent the majority of commuter cyclist in Corvallis.  We did not find any issue with the southbound left turn loop at location.  Every time we installed or removed the bike from the detection, it was acknowledged in-kind at the traffic signal controller.  If you have any questions or concerns please contact me via email or phone.

Wow! In less than 24 hours, a work crew was sent out to check the sensor, and verified that it's properly working. I was slightly embarrassed to hear that the loop is functioning just fine and that I had not been triggering it properly, but that feeling was vastly overshadowed by how impressed I was with the city's quick and helpful response. This is the same city where a police officer was dispatched to cut loose my friend's bike when her lock got jammed (after proving ownership of course), and where the University just finished installing about 500 new bike racks across campus. No wonder so many people bike commute here!

I have yet to return to this intersection since filing the report, since I don't bike that direction often. The next time I do, I'll be sure to try the public works official's tips for positioning the bike to properly trip the sensor. It's odd that this problem occurred, since I've never had trouble with any other intersection. It's possible that the light timing is slightly different and if I had waited another cycle, I would have gotten an arrow. It's also possible that I was just not paying close enough attention to where I was positioning my cycle - if I had originally triggered the sensor, but then moved off it slightly, it might have thought that I went through the intersection during the flashing yellow cycle.

Regardless of the true cause of the light mishap, which I now know won't happen again, the lesson learned is this: if something looks amiss, don't hesitate to contact your municipality's public works department. They're here to help you out, and if my experience so far is any indication, they'll be more than happy to help.

Filed under Commuting, Traffic