Monthly Archives: December 2011

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bike Lights

Decisions, decisions. It’s time to decorate our Christmas tree, starting with the lights. But which color? Red like last year? Traditional clear? Or Mardi Gras colors to honor my Louisiana heritage: purple, green and gold?

At least there’s one decision we won’t have to make–whether the lights should blink or not. Dick and I both prefer steady Christmas lights over blinking, which is why I don’t miss that crazy set we once had with three different blinking patterns. Every year we’d run through all the different modes and then settle on steady.


With bike lights, though, Dick and I don’t agree. I’m all for keeping it steady, while Dick likes to flash. You could also say that I’m Paris while he’s London. Paris’ Velib bikes and the London’s Barclays bikes are both equipped with always-on front and rear lights. A great little feature not only for nighttime riding, but also for improving daytime visibility. And you don’t have to remember to turn them on, or remove them when you lock up the bike since they’re permanently attached and can’t be stolen. I wish my bikes were so well equipped.

But the difference is that the Velib lights burn steady while the Barclays flash, which to me reflects the two cities’ attitude toward urban cycling. Steady bright lights say to me: “I have lights like cars and motorcycles. I’m just another vehicle on the road.” In contrast, flashing lights shout out a strong warning message: “Be careful. Watch out. Don’t hit me.” The presumption is that drivers can’t be expected to see you.


Philosophical arguments aside, here’s my case for steady vs. flashing:

  • With today’s bright lights, flashing ones can be very annoying to drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists. I refuse to ride behind Dick when he has his rear light flashing.
  • A steady front light will help you see the road ahead better so you can avoid potholes and other obstacles.
  • Steady lights help other road users gauge your distance from them better than flashing lights.

That said, there are times when I will set my lights to flashing:

  • At dusk, when there’s little contrast between the bike lights and the ambient light, I’ll set both front and rear lights to flashing.
  • After dark, when the route takes me through an area with a lot of lighting distractions, I’ll set the front to steady and have two red lights in the rear: one steady and one flashing.
  • Ditto for when it’s raining at night, for the same reason.

Finally, be aware that technically speaking, the California vehicle code only allows flashing lights to be used on emergency vehicles, a rarely enforced law that at least one cop with an attitude has used to harass cyclists with before. I wonder what that cop would have said if he had seen me with my Down Low Glow lights.

So, do you like to flash or keep your lights steady? Do you use the same mode for both front and rear, and for all occasions?



Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Gear Talk


Blazing Trails at Water Dog

It was a sunny, crisp late fall California morning, the kind that promises to warm up quickly. So Jill, Cindy and I were itching to hit the trails with their post-rain tackiness. But this time, instead of grabbing our bikes we grabbed McClouds, Pulaskis and other trail building tools and got to work. ‘Cause Mother Nature may have created the forests and grasslands, but she doesn’t build the trails we ride, run and walk on. Volunteers do.

Our destination: Water Dog Lake Park in Belmont. Water Dog offers a rare taste of wilderness in the middle of the urban Bay Area: its canyons are deep, its bay-facing vistas expansive, and its streams largely untouched. How wild is it? Well, mountain lion sightings are not unusual.

Water Dog is also rare in that its trails not only welcome mountain bikers, its trails were largely built by mountain bikers. The singletrack designed by John Finch, Berry Stevens, Patty Ciesla and others is often technical, with ladder bridges and narrow boards allowing the trail to hug the canyon’s steep slopes. Water Dog delights thrill seekers, but has a reputation of leaving less skilled riders battered and bruised. More than one of my friends has been badly bitten by the ‘dog.

But on Saturday, my friends and I came out to Water Dog to build an easy-rated trail around the lake and tame the beast just a little. Led by Kevin Sullivan, a Belmont Parks & Recreation Commissioner and fellow mountain biker, we joined a team of other volunteers working on the new-and-improved Lake Trail. Volunteers have been working on this trail since before 2008, when I first joined a trailbuilding crew and helped pry out a small boulder.

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After a few hours of scraping hillsides, lifting lumber, digging foundations and drilling boards, we reaped the sweet rewards with a spin around the park. I strapped on the GoPro to capture the dizzying descent down the 17 well-banked switchbacks on the Finch Trail. Thank you, John, Berry, Patty and Kevin. It was totally awesome and only a little gnarly.

If you were building a mountain bike (or walking) trail, what would you want it to be like?


Posted by on December 4, 2011 in Dirt Trails, Issues & Infrastructure


Fashion Friday: Autumn Chill

A cozy sweater dress with a thick rolled neck, a lightweight poplin coat and sassy spike-heeled boots take a bite out of the early morning chill, on Juliett.


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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Cycle Fashions


High Viz: Smart Style or What Not to Wear?

Nothing screams “Look at me” like high visibility jackets and vests, which come in oh-so-fashionable colors like fluorescent yellow and bright orange. The resulting look is often so ugly that many wouldn’t want to be caught dead on the side of the road in it, much less seen riding around town in it.

Before anyone jumps to defend their favorite jacket, I believe wearing high viz is smart for many situations, such as riding along high speed highways or in foggy weather. I have a high viz jacket I wear sometimes, like on this weekend trip my friend Deanna and I took to San Francisco back in 2005. It made me feel a lot safer, especially on that often foggy stretch of Skyline Boulevard where it crosses Hwy 1 in Daly City.

My problem with high viz clothing is the expectation that it’s essential gear for all riders. Or in the case of London, for pretty much anyone on the street. The hot fashion trend on the streets of London we saw on our recent trip was high viz, and not just for cyclists and road crews. We saw police, sanitation workers, delivery van drivers, schoolchildren on field trips and even horses flashing their high viz outfits in London.

London stood in sharp contrast with Paris and Amsterdam, where I can’t recall seeing anyone wearing high viz, not even cyclists or police directing traffic. In Paris, you can find police on bikes, on skates, even on Segways–none wearing high viz. (Just kidding about the Segways)

To me, widespread promotion of high viz clothing reinforces the belief that streets are inherently dangerous places for everyone not protected by a large metal box, and that it’s the duty of vulnerable street users to SHOUT OUT their presence. Otherwise, shame on them for not taking a necessary precaution.

Instead, it should be the duty of the drivers of motor vehicles to slow down, pay attention, and not bully cyclists and pedestrians on the street. It’s no surprise to me that the city where I felt most threatened by cars both on foot and on the bike is the one where high viz clothing is most popular. And that city wasn’t Paris.

Note: Photos below were liberally taken from various internet sources.

Do you have a high viz vest or jacket? If so, when do you wear it?
If someone suggested that you wear a high viz vest to walk the streets of your city, what would you think?


Posted by on December 1, 2011 in Cycle Fashions, Issues & Infrastructure

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