Thursday, January 29, 2009

Public transport is too slow. And no fun.

Today was a lovely morning - snowing, a little bit of snow on the road and not too cold. I enjoy riding in this weather, cause it wakes me up and I get nice red cheeks.

But then it happened. When I wanted to cycle home in the evening I discovered my flat rear tire. Again. (That just happened a few weeks ago.) Most likely it was caused by grit (crushed stone they put on the road here in the winter for more grip - but also for more flat tires). Maybe I should have learned something from the last time. Last time I had to walk my bike 3km home, because I didn't have my repair kit with me. But on the other hand, that was my first flat tire in years. I don't want to carry around my repair kit all the time if I only have a flat tire every ten years or so. And to be honest I also wouldn't want to carry it around if I had a flat tire every month.. But well, that's why I had to leave my bike at the bike rack and had to use public transport. I hate public transport, especially in the winter. I have to wait in the cold for ages, it's crowded and it takes forever (well, at least twice as long as with the bicycle). And I need to walk a lot. I was tired and I didn't want to walk.. Hm, I had to anyway. Tomorrow morning I will have to take the tram again and therefore have to get up 30min earlier. But I will take the repair kit with me and fix my bike as soon as I get there ;-).

Photos: 1
lady in red at the subway station with a stylish blue Ortlieb bicycle bag (they are waterproof!), 2 some people cover their bike seat with a plastic bag if they have to leave it outside (quite practical), 3 traffic on a usual winter morning.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A few hints for cycling in the winter, part 2: you

In the first part I talked about practical equipment for your bicycle. Now it's all about you - the cyclist. Actually, it is quite easy to dress for winter cycling. You should just dress like you would as a pedestrian. There are only two different things you might think about - you move, thus you will be warm anyway -> better remove a warming layer or you will sweat. You are faster then walking, so there might be some wind -> use a windproof layer. Don't worry about waterproofness cause snow isn't wet. Plus, a windproof jacket is hydrophobic anyway and usually you don't need much more than that.
There are only 3 areas where you can get cold: head (and neck), hands and feet. Cover them and you'll be fine.
Here is what I mostly wear:
  • a warm cap and a scarf or
  • a balaclava if I use my helmet (but wear it tight and don't block your view)
  • different gloves depending on the temperature (fingers are the most sensitive part and get cold first): I have 3 pairs - a woolen one, a fleece one and skiing gloves. If the temperature is above +5 °C I just wear the fleece gloves, if it has -5 to +5 °C I wear the woolen and the fleece gloves together, if it is below that I wear my skiing gloves. I hardly ever wear the woolen gloves alone.
  • since I lean forward on the bicycle I wear long shirts to cover my kidneys
  • a soft shell, kind of neoprene, jacket (it's windproof and has colors that can be seen from afar) or my coat
  • legwarmes if it's really cold or if I wear a skirt (yes, I do wear skirts and tights in the winter - it's not particularly colder than a jeans, but much more stylish ;-))
  • if it's really cold I wear warm knee-highs, also designed for skiing
  • waterproof shoes or boots (waterproof shoes are quite practical if you have to stop in the mud)
  • I own overshoes, but I never use them since I have waterproof shoes anyway
  • reflector bands around my ankles (unfortunately I don't have a chainguard)
  • if it gets really dirty cause the cars created a lot of dirty mud on the streets I will wear waterproof trousers above
I never really check the temperature, I have a feeling for what I should wear for cycling. Actually I already forgot what I should wear for just walking around - and sometimes I'm not dressed warm enough cause I don't need that extra layer for cycling ;-).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bonusses: What is and what should be

Yesterday Austria's government decided something they call "Verschrottungsprämie", a scrapping bonus for those who give there old cars away. You better name it a "New Car Candy": You'll have to replace your old vehicle by a new one to get the bonus.

If you are interested in some arguments against the scrapping bonus, you can find a statement of in German here.

The VCÖ (Austrian Traffic Club) has started an initiative to give a greenie bonus of 100€ for purchasing a bicycle or an annual ticket for public transport. I like this idea and I'm hoping for big support.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Shit happens.

Today I had an accident. Not a bad one, but it hurts a bit and I will have several bruises. My friend Anna from Barcelona once said that the bicycle infrastructure there isn't very good and that she would like to have more bike lanes. I thought I will do a pro and contra list one day to show her that less bike lanes can be an advantage too. I won't do that now. But this is going to be a contra bike lanes argument..

Well, as every morning I rode my bike on the bike lane (in German "Mehrzweckstreifen" - the one with the broken line that trucks are allowed to ride over) to the university. Actually I like that bike lane although I already had an accident there in 2007 (a car driver overlooked me and cut me off), but at a different spot. I like it cause there's always a traffic jam that I can pass easily on the bike lane. And the progressive signal system is set up in a way that I have green lights in a row. It is the only street in Vienna that I know where they favor cyclists. Well, I was constantly going around 18-20 km/h which isn't fast, but also not slow. The cars on the left were sitting in a traffic jam. And suddenly there appeared an old lady in front of me that I didn't see before cause the cars blocked my view. She was on a crosswalk, but run a red light. Probably she only saw the standing cars but didn't look out for other road users. So she suddenly appeared in front of me, I shouted and braked hard. She turned her face in my direction but stopped in the middle of the bike lane rather than continue walking. I couldn't maneuver around her cause there was a car to my left and a scaffold to my right. In the last moment I pushed my front wheel to the left so that it didn't hit her frontal. But of course I lost my balance and we both fell. I helped her to get up. She was really confused. I asked her whether something hurts and if I should call an ambulance or accompany her to a doctor. She said it's ok and wanted to walk away. I think she felt ashamed cause it was her fault. I wanted to give her at least my details in case that she suffers from the accident later (I know that this happens), but she didn't want them.

Usually in Austria you only have to report an accident if people got hurt. So at first I thought it was not necessary. But then I kind of felt responsible cause I was on the "stronger" vehicle and reported it to the police. Unfortunately the old lady is gone. I don't worry to much about my injuries, cause they are not severe (although they hurt). But my front wheel is warped and I probably have to get it fixed from my own money.

I just hope that the old lady will not run red lights in the future and watch out for cyclists too. And hopefully she will not tell bad stories about bicycle rodwys. I still feel a bit sorry though. I don't want to hurt people, even not accidentally.

What's the contra bike lanes argument:
  • Most pedestrians are not aware of bike lanes and that there are actually cyclists driving there independently of the car lane - they ignore them, trust their ear (you can hear cars, but not bicycles!) and don't look.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dying bicycles

It's a sad story. Especially in the winter you can see many bikes out there - cold, alone and dying -, abandoned by their owners. Each of them has a story to tell, but nobody listens anymore. Is this where our society is going to? Is a bike worth nothing?

I simply don't understand it. Everybody talks about stolen bikes. Nobody talks about abandoned bikes which in my humble opinion are many many more. Why don't people give them away or sell them if they don't want to ride them anymore? Why do the even lock them if they don't care? But the only thing they do are leaving their bikes alone, blocking parking places for people who actually want to use them and destroying a valuable object.

Please, if you don't want to ride your bike in the winter, take it inside! Or at least cover it up with something so that it doesn't rust that much. Otherwise you will not be able to (safely) use it again after the winter. I can tell you that for sure.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

But while we are at it - yes, a lot of bikes get stolen too. But most of the bikes that get stolen don't have proper locks. A rough rule of thumb says that a bike lock should be at least as expensive as 10% of the value of the bike. By now, my bike lock probably even exceeds the value of my bike (my bike is really old - it didn't get stolen for more than 12 years now ;-)). I use an Abus U-lock with safety level 9. It cost around 45€. But there are much better ones up to maximum level 15, like the Abus Granit X-Plus 54, which costs around 90€ (generally theft insurances will offer you a discount if you use that lock). There are also other companies that produce U-locks and flexible lock chains, e.g. Kryponite. Avoid using number locks though. And - even more important - lock the frame (and not just the wheels) to a fixed object. For more tips check out how to secure bicycles.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A few hints for cycling in the winter, part 1: the bicycle

For me cycling in the winter is a little bit different from cycling in the summer. What makes it different? Primarily snow, ice and mud instead of rain. Fog instead of sunshine (although there is also a lot of sunshine in the winter ;-)). Well, it's also much colder, but that's not really a big deal. It's only an issue if it has temperatures a good bit below zero °C for a few days. In the following I will refer to winter as "winter in Central Europe" like Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary etc. If you live in a warmer climate you might not need any of that. Although, some of the techniques are also practical for cycling on wet roads. If you live in a colder climate you may want to check out some extra websites on the topic like Chicago Bike Winter, Icebike, Schnee-Fall? Nein danke! etc.

Since the list turned out to be a bit lengthy, I decided to split it up. There will be three parts:
So let's start. The only thing you actually need for winter cycling is .. yes, a bicycle! To be honest, you could also ride a unicycle, a tandem, a tricycle etc., but of course there's not a big difference - ok, maybe for the unicycle, but I can't ride them so I can't tell you anything about them.
What should your bike have if you ride it in the winter? There are some general and quite obvious things and some extra ones that can make your life easier:
  • strong lights - also use them during the day, especially when it's foggy or snowy, and not just if it's dark
  • reflectors on the front, back, wheels and pedals (if you don't have them already)
  • make sure your brakes work well and that you have a feeling for their response (I like them fast responding, but it's a personal thing)
  • lower the saddle a little bit
  • less pressure in your tires also gives you better road grip (but don't go below the minimum pressure written on the tire)
  • use tires with a good profile, e.g. like mountain bikes have (although that doesn't matter so much if there is no or little snow/mud)
  • if there is ice on the road you may think about buying studded tires (but don't worry, they are generally not necessary – I don't have them and I never felt the need to have them either)
  • don't forget to grease your chain regularly as well as other moving parts (chains tend you get rusty pretty quick in the winter, and you don't want to have to replace them, do you?)
  • fenders/mudguards are a must if you cycle in mud and want to stay dry - and clean
  • use pedals with a good grip (e.g. metal ones with saw teeth) so that you don't slip off them if you have some snow on your shoes

Certainly a good friend: bike oil

If you're not sure that your bike works perfectly well get it checked before it's too late (that's a must at anytime of the year). Most bike shops offer a cheap service in the fall and winter cause there are less cyclists around. Don't go to a sports shop, go to a proper bike repair shop with real bike mechanics who know what they are doing.

Did I forget something? Probably I did. Feel free to add any type of equipment you think is essential for your bike in the winter..

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Is cycling in the winter dangerous?

Well, according to an Austrian newspaper, the Kurier, it is:

And not only that. They claim that people are very irresponsible if they cycle in the winter. It doesn't matter that there were a lot of accidents with cars because some people still drive with - at these conditions not allowed - summer tires. How irresponsible is this? And it also doesn't matter, that some bus lines couldn't operate for a few hours because of the (actually not so heavy) snowfall. But to be fair, they mentioned that in the article too – in the end. The main object of complaint where cyclists though (a minority throughout the year, in the winter probably even less than 1% of the modal split – why do they even care?).

They even spread some lies to put winter cyclists down. For example they mention that most cyclists aren't insured. That certainly is not true, and in particular not for people who cycle throughout the whole year and very well know where the dangers lie, how to cope with them but still are aware that accidents can always happen. Most cyclists actually are insured, either due to their general household insurance (who basically everybody has) or even by an additional bicycle insurance due to their membership at a (bicycle) lobby like Argus, IG Fahrrad, VCÖ, Arbö etc.

Are these cyclists dangerous?

They also say, that cyclists can't see very well if they wear caps. What about pedestrians and car drivers - don't they wear them too? And what about windshields? Isn't it true, that the wipers only clean a small part of it. I don't even want to start talking about side and back windows and steaming up.. Plus, most car drivers in Vienna don't shoulder check and also ignore cyclists at good weather conditions. But sure, it's the winter cyclists that are so very irresponsible. Although, there certainly might be some who don't care about appropriate speeds or equipment. But I don't worry about them, because they will find out soon, that this isn't the right approach to winter cycling – namely when they fall off their bike the first time. But who cares? The only person they might actually hurt are them. And I'm sure that they will remember it and be more careful in the future. I also had to learn that myself, cause nobody told me how to cycle in the winter safely. I will provide you some tips next time.

And maybe in the future I will also write about cyclists and other minorities – how easy it is to find a punching bag and why people believe and repeat what a few people claim to abdicate their own responsibility.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Finally winter has arrived.

Today was the first day in Vienna this winter where it not just snowed, but the snow also stayed. They had problems clearing the roads and of course the bike lanes and sidewalks were the last parts to be plowed. But who cares. Fresh, soft and white snow is fantastic for cycling. Much better than all the dirty mud in the middle of the road where the cars are sitting in a traffic jam.