UPDATED : Being Petulant Is Inconsistent With Safe Cycling


The ChainLink has been relatively quiet the past few days. But one discussion caught my eye, because what is being discussed should be a “slam dunk” for all concerned. A round of “Amens” should have been all that was heard and instead we get a “ripe hissy fit” and “feigned ignorance”. I guess someone “broke a nail” or is “having a bad hair gel day”.

That Is All…

The discussion began with this succinct visual comment:

Posted by Will V. on November 30, 2012

The State of Illinois has this to say about riding with lights and reflectors:

11-1507 Lamps and other equipment on bicycles – Permalink

(a) Every bicycle when in use at nighttime shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and with a red reflector on the rear of a type approved by the Department which shall be visible from all distances from 100 feet to 600 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear may be used in addition to the red reflector. (b) A bicycle shall not be equipped with nor shall any person use upon a bicycle any siren. This subsection (b) does not apply to a bicycle that is a police vehicle or fire department vehicle. (c) Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will adequately control movement of and stop and hold such bicycle. (d) No person shall sell a new bicycle or pedal for use on a bicycle that is not equipped with a reflex reflector conforming to specifications prescribed by the Department, on each pedal, visible from the front and rear of the bicycle during darkness from a distance of 200 feet. (e) No person shall sell or offer for sale a new bicycle that is not equipped with side reflectors. Such reflectors shall be visible from each side of the bicycle from a distance of 500 feet and shall be essentially colorless or red to the rear of the center of the bicycle and essentially colorless or amber to the front of the center of the bicycle provided. The requirements of this paragraph may be met by reflective materials which shall be at least 3/16 of an inch wide on each side of each tire or rim to indicate as clearly as possible the continuous circular shape and size of the tires or rims of such bicycle and which reflective materials may be of the same color on both the front and rear tire or rim. Such reflectors shall conform to specifications prescribed by the Department. (f) No person shall sell or offer for sale a new bicycle that is not equipped with an essentially colorless front‑facing reflector.

P.A. 95‑28, eff. 8‑7‑07

Sounds pretty straightforward to me. If you ride at night the state requires you to have a light up front and either a light or red reflector for the rear.

But the ensuing response to this Public Service Announcement seems to have gotten under the skin of at least one individual who is always quick to call in the media types when an article is needed to describe the sins of a motorist who has injured or killed a cyclist. But this individual steadfastly ignores what is a meaningful way to avoid these injuries and deaths (in cases where lack of visibility is a contributing factor) and I do not understand why. But I am fully aware that this kind of posturing on the ChainLink is as common and as meaningful as the diatribes waged against the current Ambassador to the United Nations.

There is a very striking resemblance to the style and manor of Conservative Republicans in much of what goes on here on the ChainLink. And yet these folks consider themselves Liberals, yet they would often be better described as garden variety Fascists. How else do you explain a group that dislikes “riding against traffic” because of its potential to inflict harm on fellow cyclists when riding without lights at night is a similar threat both to cyclists and motorists and even pedestrians.

The conversation continued as follows:

Reply by h’ yesterday

Answer: Because the beauty of bicycling is its simplicity. You need to get from here to there, you get on the bike and pedal. Some days you may be wearing dark clothes when you need to get somewhere and choose to use a bicycle.

I think a better question is: why are cyclists expected to share travel space with speeding hunks of metal weighing several tons? Let’s speak up for appropriate infrastructure rather than endlessly grind our wheels in “blame the cyclist” mode.

Reply by Will V. yesterday

“Ninja mode” refers to not using lights, not to the color of one’s clothing. You may not know, but a front light and rear reflector are required by law on all bicycles ridden at night. And as most of my evening riding is done on the lakefront path, that’s what I’m referring to. Ninja mode at night is dangerous, whether it’s on the path, or on the streets.

I hardly see how this is “blaming the cyclist”. You can call it that if you like, but you’re wrong.

Reply by Sarah D. yesterday

I agree with Will. I see so many people riding without lights lately. WHY, why, people? You’re riding fancy bikes and rocking fancy winter bikewear, so buy yourself a set of damn lights! I fear a police crackdown or sting thing is the only thing that will change the hipster mindset.

Reply by h’ 12 hours ago

Thanks Will. I think I might have heard something once that there are some kind of laws about bikes in Chicago.

Not sure if you read what I wrote or just skimmed it, but my point about the simplicity of the bicycle still stands– it should not be a complex and costly thing to get on one and ride.

Why are there 100 rants about other cyclists for every rant about reckless or irresponsible drivers?

Maybe if we can get all the bikes off the road we’ll be safer?

Reply by Joe Guzzardo 11 hours ago

I agree. I’m a LFP rider myself and anything that improves ones visibility is a good thing and it also happens to be the law. Ninja riders are a disaster waiting to happen. They’re dangerous not only to themselves but to others around them as well. Along with rights, comes responsibilities, which in this case means see and be seen.

You can get a cheap orange safety vest for 5 bux and a headlight might set you back say $10 to $20, both of which can be easily carried in one’s coat pocket, very simple.

Now, don’t get me started on the subject of bicycle helmets.

Reply by Will V. 10 hours ago

Surely you’re joking. I personally post roughly ten rants about reckless, dangerous drivers, for every one about similar riders. Anyway, this is a cycling forum, and I simply posted a public service announcement. Lights do not have to be costly or complex, but cyclists who ride at night should use them.

Reply by Jeff Schneider 9 hours ago

I think it’s not just the lack of lights that makes a Ninja. That alone is not so very dangerous. It’s really the fact that choosing not to have lights often correlates with general unpredictability and lack of awareness of the presence of others.

The Ninja mindset is manifested in whatever the Ninja does – driving, cycling, walking, etc.

Reply by Joe Guzzardo 5 hours ago

Good point. The Wacker Drive project was just completed at a cost of about $300 million, that will buy you a lot of bike infrastructure. Studies have shown the beneficial effects of more bike infrastructure upon the local economy. Plus, its one small way to get around that onerous 75 year parking meter contract the city signed.

Last I checked, the lake front pedestrian/bike overpass near Navy Pier was estimated at about $50 million and while they’re at it, they should link up an overpass to the McDonald’s bike center at Millennium Park. Navy Pier is the biggest tourist draw in Illinois and there’s plenty of room for improvement. Our mayor wants to make Chicago the most bike friendly city in the United States. Chicago is a world class city. If we wish to maintain that status, we need to make the city more livable, as well as drive through-able, or risk going the way of Detroit. One way to take back the streets, and the city, by extension, is to put more bikers on it.

Reply by h’ 4 hours ago

I’d say about 1/2 the people in this video don’t have lights in use. I wonder if they edited out all the crashes.

Reply by Joe Guzzardo 4 hours ago

Umm, yeah, but it also happens to be a very well lit area. Not so true of the LFP. I wish we had bike jams like that here. Did you notice how long that one guy had to wait before making a left turn? Pretty busy out there, I’m surprised there weren’t any bike rage incidents. Bike traffic reports on the radio, I long for the day.

Man, this is way cooler than my Surly:
On the same page:

Reply by Will V. 3 hours ago

Yeah, because four minutes of well-lit cycling in snow during rush hour in the Netherlands is representative of the Chicago lake front path. Completely.

Reply by h’ 1 hour ago

Not sure what you’re saying… that we don’t have rush hour in Chicago? Or we don’t have snow on the lakefront path? Or there’s never snow during rush hour? Anyway, the video is in Holland, not whatever country you said.

(Editor’s Note: I just have to point out how illiterate this crowd can be. Did you notice that this respondent is complaining that the video is in Holland and not the Netherlands. Where do these folks get their training in geography?)

Reply by Will V. 21 hours ago

At this point, I can only assume you’re nothing more than a troll. Either that, or you’re in the fifth grade.

Reply by kiltedcelt 58 minutes ago

Yeah, I’ve often seen a tendency in some folks to blatantly ignore the point of a post or to take some esoteric offense to one little part of a post rather than the entire post. In this case, I heartily agree with you, being a five-day-a-week LFP commuter. I see numerous “ninjas” everyday, although I hesitate to call them ninjas because ninjas are actually kinda cool. Instead I refer to them as “dangerous dumbasses“. And no, showing a crowded cycling intersection in Denmark where there don’t appear to be many lights on the bikes is not the same thing as riding on the LFP because the main difference is that intersection is lit up about as bright as daylight whereas much of the lakefront path is lighted in a very dim and spotty manner or not at all. Personally I don’t appreciate it when I don’t see some no-lights jerk until I’m practically on top of them. At least since I run a very bright front light they can see me coming and I often see them far enough away to shake my head and wonder and also give them a wide berth. Still, you gotta wonder what someone like that is thinking. As long as you’re on the LFP you’re probably reasonably safe, even without lights. It’s only two bikers without lights that are likely to crash into each other. However, they have to get onto the LFP from somewhere, which means they’re unsafely riding on city streets with no lights. That’s the scary part.

Riding like a Ninja

© BikeFreek on ChainLink Forum

Ninjas (at least the ones on television) dress in black. Bicyclists who wear dark clothing and then compound their folly by not using lights are acting irresponsibly. If you have decided (as ChainLinkers seem wont to do) to ignore the law then at least allow others with whose actions you disagree to do so without complaint from you. If pointing out that riding without lights is the equivalent of

endlessly grind our wheels in “blame the cyclist” mode

then certainly complaining about riders who choose to “ride against traffic” is as well. If we can get the Trained Seals on the ChainLink to at least drop their insistence on a Double Standard that will have been a step in the right direction on at least the most basic level.

But arguing with the description of “Ninja-riding behavior” is useful in that it brings out the fact that once again there is very little in this “urban cycling universe” that is uniformly understood. This is one of the reasons that Vehicular Cycling and its Effective Cycling text are so very important. They provide a uniform starting point for discussions about cycling safety. The kind of “urban legend style” of thinking about cycling safety that is prevalent on ChainLink is full of inconsistencies that are both illogical and dangerous.

 Cycling Is Human Powered Vehicular Diving

I think that part of the problem with the ChainLink crowd is there inherent willingness to both reject some European standards while embracing others. The trouble is that you eventually end up with Americans being sore about:

  • Europeans reject the idea of Critical Mass Rides
  • Europeans reject the idea of Vehicular Cycling and the seminal work of John Forester (i.e. Effective Cycling)
  • Europeans embrace the idea of segregated bicycle infrastructure
  • Europeans reject the idea of bicycle helmets
  • Europeans embrace the idea of bicycles as appliances and not as cherished objects (i.e. functional vs. artistic)
  • Europeans reject Spandex™ and Lycra™ as suitable clothing materials, preferring high heels, stocking and mini-skirts, etc.
  • Europeans embrace the idea of bicycles as having functional parts such as:
    • Fenders
    • Chain guards
    • Kickstands
    • Hub and Bottle generators for front and rear lights
    • Bells
    • Front and Read racks
    • Balloon tires
    • Heavy durable frames
    • Platform pedals
    • Built-in bike locks

You could go on and on comparing the two cultures. But suffice it to say that we differ on some fairly important issues and we Yanks are more likely to clutch to our bosoms that which we like and conveniently ignoring what makes us uncomfortable. It is part of our typical schizophrenia where all things cycling are concerned.

The two videos cited were interesting but perhaps not germane to the discussion at hand for the following reasons:

  • Segregated bike lanes in Europe are a step above anything we have here in terms of on-street cycling. You are not colliding with automobiles here but instead other cyclists. And yes it appears that there is some degree of congestion on even these “roadways” but there is sufficient lighting to navigate by. However, you will note a very high degree of front light and rear light usage here because their laws (like ours) require them. Sure people venture out without satisfying the law but the bikes sold there are by definition ones that have most if not all of the necessary accessories to make them legal.
  • The second video is an example of the kind of thing that goes on amongst ChainLink members when their heads begin to hurt from the exertion of having to think. You either publish a link to a video of chirping crickets or a chaotic crash or something so far afield from the conversation that it becomes a distraction. It reminds me very much of junior high school behavior.

We can embrace blowing through stops signs and red light intersections while being offended when people of color use the bikes lanes while “traveling against traffic”. Indeed we are the quintessential 5th graders.