Monthly Archive for March, 2009

Bike dilemma at four-way stops

The Davis Enterprise: Mar. 27, 2009

Davis Bicycles! column #13

Title: Bike dilemma at four-way stops
Author: John Whitehead

photo caption:
Bicyclist John Whitehead, at a stop sign near his home, has often dealt with the bike versus car dilemma at four-way stops.

Are we glad that many people — and perhaps especially Davisites — drive their car with extreme caution and extra courtesy when they see a bicyclist? Absolutely!

Do we routinely expect motor vehicle drivers to relinquish their right of way to cyclists? We had better not.

A wide range of behaviors and expectations brings complexity to car-bike interactions. One situation, unusually prevalent in Davis, is the four-way stop.

In order to preserve forward momentum and conserve time and energy, some cyclists (and even a few motorists) don’t always stop completely. Bicyclists have less impeded sight and hearing, with more time to look and listen when approaching an intersection at lower speeds. They may feel that this gives them license to take some liberties to preserve momentum.

When cars and bicycles approach a four-way stop from different directions at about the same time, no one can be sure what to expect. It is not simply a matter of taking turns in the order of arrival as typically happens for cars only.

Many cautious and courteous drivers often wait for a cyclist and wave “go ahead,” even if the car was there first. Cyclists usually appreciate the courtesy, but an unfortunate side effect is to reinforce the tendency for cyclists to not always stop. As a result, there can be dangerous surprises when such cyclists meet drivers who aren’t extra courteous. Perfect predictability might be nice, but we can’t realistically expect everyone to behave the same way when driving a car or when riding a bicycle.

As a mostly law-abiding cyclist, sometimes in a hurry, I do my best to avoid the kind of awkward encounters described above. Consider a situation that arises when my bicycle is heavy with groceries, and I try to be nice to a sore ankle and other road users at the same time. A car is approaching a 4-way stop sign at right angles to my path. I slow down to erase any doubt about who arrived first. Some drivers will stop and proceed through the intersection before I arrive, then I can avoid pushing on the weak ankle to get going from a complete stop. I would bet Davis bikers with kids in trailers often do the same. Once the cyclist commits to arriving second, the car would ideally proceed first.

In other cases, however, a person in a car will just wait and wait, seemingly concerned that a cyclist who is trying to yield will suddenly appear in front of the car. Not yet at the intersection, I wonder in such situations whether I’m inconveniencing others by not forging ahead to take advantage of the courtesy being extended to me. Putting my feet on the ground, or even removing a foot from a pedal as I coast could send a clearer message to the driver.

A variation on this theme is that I might coast slowly into an intersection after a car has entered first and is moving faster than I am. We are not on a collision course and the motorist has the right of way, but the car sometimes screeches to a halt nevertheless.

Among our population, there is a wide variation in reaction times, and a range of experience at judging the speed and future position of moving objects. There is even a wide variation in people’s understanding of the rules of the road.

There can be unintended consequences when a driver stops and waves “go ahead” to a cyclist at a crosswalk. Another car approaching from the opposite direction should not be expected to stop, because only pedestrians have the right of way in a crosswalk.

Unexpected behaviors from people driving or cycling are not going to go away any time soon, so my own conclusions from all the above experiences are threefold. I definitely appreciate the planners, traffic engineers and police who strive to keep cars and bikes moving safely about Davis. Second, despite the unpredictability, it’s a good thing that many people are very cautious and extend extra courtesy. Most importantly, it is always appropriate to constantly look around and listen in all directions when using the road.

— John Whitehead has been bicycling for most of his local transportation since 1982, and he has also worn out a couple of cars. He is a member of the Davis Bike Club board of directors.

Biking with your kids is tons of fun

The Davis Enterprise: Mar. 15, 2009

Davis Bicycles! column #12

Title: Biking with your kids is tons of fun
Author: Natalya Eagan-Rosenberg

photo caption:
Raychel Kubby Adler pedals in North Davis with her 2-year-old daughter Ruby in the front seat; Arianna Eagan Rosenberg, 5, on the instant tandem; and Marley Adler, 6, in the trailer. Amarlyn Ewey, 6, rides alongside.

I’ve always wondered why biking with babies isn’t promoted more — the fresh air and exercise are the perfect antidote to postpartum blues and, ahem, one or two extra baby pounds. The first Internet site I found, the Bike Helmet Safety Institute, provided some clues: The jiggling of the bike may cause brain damage, the heavy helmet can strain a baby’s neck and back muscles, the road kicks up dust, mud and twigs that can fly right in your baby’s face. … It’s a good thing I didn’t find this site eight years ago when I started biking with my son.

I still believe some creative preparation can make toddler cycling fun and safe. Since helmets are not recommended for kids under 1, you probably won’t find one to fit your infant. My huge 9-month-old son did fit a helmet, but since he was our first-born, we prudently decided to skip the helmet and buckle him into his fivepoint baby car seat harness. We then belted the car seat right into our shiny new Burley bike trailer.

An article on the BHSI site suggests deflating the trailer tires a little to cushion the ride. You can also purchase a bike trailer that has been safety tested to resist tipping over, among other things. My husband tipped our trailer over (oh, the horror!) at Covell and J, taking a fast, sharp turn and catching the wheel on the crossing island.

Now that I know about the bike trailer standard, maybe I can sue someone and forgive him. Of course he’s apt to point out that the baby was fine.

Once your child is helmetsafe, the options are frontmounted seat, back-mounted seat or bike trailer. Some say front seats are easier to balance than rear seats. My friend who loves hers adds, “I love that my arms are almost wrapped around her while we bike though town. I love that I can feel her soft hair blowing into my face as we go.” Poetry in motion.

But before you make any nonrefundable purchases, make sure your bike frame allows you to pedal without your knees knocking the seat in front.

One Davis bike shop owner thinks a rear seat offers more protection, while the trailer is the safest choice. If you go for the trailer, put a firm pillow behind your child so her helmet doesn’t force her chin down to her chest. Pillows on either side can help her stay propped up as well.

Special snacks that are reserved for bike rides may help resistant attitudes. I like dried papaya because it doesn’t immediately fall everywhere like a bag of cereal, snack mix, pop rocks … you get the idea. On hot days, I encourage kids to wet their hair with a spray bottle before donning their helmets. And it seems riding in a bike trailer on a summer day is more fun with a spritz bottle in hand.

In the winter, I find lots of blankets and gloves work better. Remember, you are warm because you are exercising, but they are just relaxing. The flap on the bike trailer-fastening keeps off rain, wind and whatever airborne debris can be generated by our lovely Davis bike paths.

When my toddlers weren’t snacking or spritzing in the bike trailer, they were usually sleeping (no, they never fought). The beauty of a trailer nap is avoiding the dreaded transfer. Simply unhitch your trailer and wheel that sleeping angel right into the warm/cool house. If the child needs continuous motion to sleep, well, at least you can get your workout in as you bike around Davis aimlessly (and gently, of course) for miles and miles enjoying our Central Valley jewel.

By now you have realized biking with kids is awesome and one day soon you’ll need a trail-a-bike or tag-along, officially known as an instant tandem. Balancing a kid on a wheel behind you can be intimidating, but no fear! Lower your seat and attach your old bike trailer behind your child’s instant tandem while you get the hang of it. The three-part train makes your ride feel incredibly stable. Also the trailer is a great back-up if your zealous 4-year-old loses his zest for pedaling mid-trip.

Last tip: The distance between the seat in the lowest position and the pedals can vary quite a bit with instant tandems. So check that your child can reach the pedals and shop around. Otherwise you might find your spouse handily screwing your toddler’s building blocks onto her pedals.

Epilogue: My kindergartner, third-grader and I ride our own bikes just over 2 miles to school when it is not rainy, not too windy, over 40F, under 90F and not a car-pool day. That’s success by anyone’s standard!

— Natalya and her husband Matthew moved to Davis in 2001. Matthew bike commutes to Winters two days a week. They love biking around town with kids Tazio and Arianna, and they all always wear their helmets.