Urban Cycling and Aging Minds: Making Allowances for One Another

Background Reading


One of the real mysteries to me is why folding bikes like the Brompton have not ‘caught on‘ to a greater extent here in Chicago. They make it far easier to deal with bicycle theft because you do not have to worry about removing things (like lights and saddles, etc.) from your bicycle before locking it to a ‘sucker pole‘ to which you return to find it gone. Instead you simply take the bike and all its accessories indoors with you and slide it under your desk or shove it into the hall closet and never have to sit and wonder whether it will be where you left it at ‘going home‘ time. But hey, any town which cannot see the value in dropping Chicago Critical Mass Rides is unlikely to ever delve into the arcane mysteries of folding bikes, right?

So instead they think of things like this:

Posted by Jim Reho on June 2, 2014 at 3:24pm

As someone who rides (and drives) frequently at night, I’m always amazed by the number of bikers who have no lights. In fact, in certain areas — Logan Square and Wicker Park, I’m looking at you — the bikers seem to take a perverse pride in not having any lights or reflectors AND dressing in all-black or dark-colored outfits. I note from photos that the vast majority of bikers in accidents at night do not appear to have had proper illumination, if indeed any. I really believe that the amount of casualties and fatalities could be decreased substantially if everyone followed the requirement of the Chicago bike ordinance: “Every bicycle when in use at nighttime shall be equipped with a head lamp which shall emit a white light visible from a minimum distance of 500 feet from the front and with a rear red reflector capable of reflecting the head lamp beams of an approaching motor vehicle back to the operator of such vehicle at distances up to 200 feet or a rear lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of at least 200 feet from the rear.”

An excuse I hear from the lightless is that someone might steal their lights or have stolen their lights before. Now, on its face that is a feeble reason to not have lights. If someone broke my car headlight, I wouldn’t just give up. I’d replace it, because safety is at issue. Nonetheless, I have learned over the years (and yes, after having many lights stolen) that there are reasonably effective ways to secure one’s light in the big city.

A very cost-efficient way to have a decent headlight is to simply mount a small, powerful LED flashlight (or two) to your handlebars. There are zillions of them available on ebay, Deal Extreme, etc., in the $20.00 range or even lower. Look for Cree emitters — those are the good ones. The brand of flashlight isn’t so important, although of course more money buys a better light. A Cree-based flashlight with a single rechargeable 18650 battery is light in weight, bright, and way better than nothing. I like the ones with the adjustable zoom feature, which enables you to control the size of your headlight beam. They are only a few dollars more.

The security angle is this: You install them using hose clamps from AutoZone, or wherever this particular type is available:

Koehler hose clamp
They come in packages of two. Buy a size that will fit both your handlebar and around the barrel of your flashlight. Then mount the light like this:

Hose Clamp Flashlight Mount

Hose Clamp Flashlight Mount

Use an old piece of inner tube or any piece of rubber under the bottom clamp to protect your handlebars and enable adjustability. Tighten that lower clamp so it won’t slip, but not so tight that you can’t move the flashlight up and down by hand. You will find that this system is more secure than any flashlight mount you can buy, and surprisingly flexible.

The reason that you use the Koehler clamps, not the kind shown in the picture, is that you can pull the plastic key off the Koehlers, leaving a little square piece of metal with no screwdriver groove that would be cramped and difficult to turn even with pliers, and which will not fit a conventional socket or wrench. In other words, without that plastic key it’s damn tough to loosen those clamps. If you can’t loosen the clamps, you can’t steal the flashlight.

I’m not saying this system is foolproof, but, knock on wood, I’ve never had a light that was installed this way stolen, and I’ve had my bike locked up for hours, even at night, in some fairly gritty places. It is doubtful that someone is going to try and unscrew the end cap just to steal that or your battery. At least, I’ve never had that happen. And, it’s the best and tightest mount you’ll ever have. Finally, this way you don’t have to remember to take your light off the bike or put it back on.

I take no credit for this general idea — I found it on the web. However, using the special keyed clamps is my own concept, and it’s important. Anyone with a screwdriver can remove a standard clamp rather quickly. Not so the ones I recommend.

As far as rear lights are concerned, a blinky is worth a thousand reflectors to me, although some might disagree. Forget about the easy-off mount that comes with them. With those, the blinkies just fly off when you hit a bump. If you have a rack, open the light up, take the circuit board out, and drill a small hole in the back. Bolt it to the back of your rack, which usually has a provision for just that. Then, put a cable tie around the entire blinky assembly each time you change the batteries (or slide the old and reuse it) and tighten the heck out of it. Again, while not perfect, this is reasonably effective. A thief would have to break off most of the light to remove it, and the cable tie would have to be cut or pried off. Also, the cable tie keeps the front of the blinky from popping off when you hit a bad bump. If you have to use the quick-release mount, try two cable ties as well. I haven’t had a rear light stolen yet with this arrangement and a rack.

I hope this benefits someone, especially with regard to the too-often-missing front light. It has worked for me for many years. Also, with the key it only takes a minute to remove the flashlight and use it for general purposes.


Kludgy Is Chicago Chic

Hey, I get the fact that this probably works. But like an awful lot of things about the Urban Cycling Movement here in Chicago the inelegance is somewhat overwhelming. I guess that it bothers others as well. I am guessing too that regardless of the chronological age of the person, some folks are likely to come up with solutions to things that are not very far outside the box and others do. But lights are something that we have a pretty good solution for if we plan to leave the bike parked outdoors and bring in its accessories. (Again, I am not a leave it outside kinda guy. I would always but always opt for a folding Brompton with a SON hub generator and eDelux II light.)

So I’m Gonna Let The Minds Of The Urban Cycling Movement Divulge Their Contents

Reply by Thunder Snow 15 hours ago
Great idea, Jim! Totally agree on being well-lit and wearing light colored/reflective clothing at night. Those keyed clamps are really interesting. I wonder if you could develop a tamper-resistant saddle leash with those as well, to keep your saddle, or other parts like a rack or pannier, from being stolen.

Yep, the degree to which the Urban Cycling Community is divided over the use of lights, reflectors, dark or unreflective clothing is simply amazing. You would expect there to be unanimity at least in this one area that is so very crucial to survival. But hey, it’s a free country and you can even get folks who disdain helmet use and obeying traffic signals because it’s their skin in the game and not yours. But that kind of thinking always makes we wonder why all the hand wringing over cyclist deaths or the supposedly bad behavior of motorists if we are so cavalier about our own safety?

Reply by rwein5 15 hours ago
Virtually 100% of bike lights sold today are designed to be removed easily from the bike. Installation is a breeze on just about all of these as well.

Why not just get one designed for the job and take it with you after you lock up?

Great point! But again I would offer that arguing bike lights it missing the point altogether. We can have any kind of lights we choose and always leave them in place if we simply bring the bike indoors. (Sorry to go on about this point, but it always vexes me to see people ‘trying to re-invent the wheel‘).

Reply by Michelle Milham 15 hours ago
I… don’t get why it’s so hard to have lights you take off of your bike?
I have these:
https://www.serfas.com/products/view/668/ — one white in front, one red in back
They are REALLY bright (actually, I only EVER use them on the lower setting) and they are REALLY easy to take off, they are REALLY light and take up no room at all in my cycling bag.
Like… yeah lights can get stolen. Dont let them get stolen by leaving them there?

Brash is the word I would use here. As in other discussions this respondent can be abrasive. But the point is well taken. What I am more interested in here is the fact that I think she is a bit younger than the following respondent.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.1 mi 14 hours ago
Because some of us are not smart enough to remember to take the things with us, especially during the day. (Looking in the mirror here.) I like the set up!

I do not buy the notion of ‘smartness‘ in this instance. But perhaps she is using a bit of sarcasm? But here is the kicker, few folks on this thread are probably likely to actually build anything at all. They are far more likely to either go without lights or buy something from a store. That is pretty much true of any group of individuals.

Reply by Julie Hochstadter 14 hours ago
Yeah I’d love not have to remove my lights every single time I lock up….

Reply by Michelle Milham 14 hours ago
I am USUALLY terrible about this sort of thing (I think my motto might be “where are my keys, I lost my phone” from “Just Dance” by lady gaga…) but I am SUPER paranoid about getting shit stolen from me because I bought nice stuff for my bike and can’t afford to replace it. Or my bike really

I swear I check on my bike 100x a day at work, and each time I check to see if I forgot anything attached to it.

She is clearly a candidate for a folding bike. So why keep locking up your bike out-of-doors and risking not just theft but wear and tear on its paint, greased joints, chain and even saddle?

Reply by Rich S 14 hours ago
I think most ninja riders just don’t realize how invisible they are to traffic. I also think most of them are summer type riders that don’t put much thought into their bikes or riding.

I can’t think of a single experienced biker that I know personally that doesn’t use lights at night.

Outstanding point! In fact I would go so far as to say that what makes bicyclists less safe than they recognize is the fact that manufacturers of automobiles and even bike lights are concentrating on ‘keeping the beam low‘.

It is one of those unintended consequences of trying to do things with a purpose. But bicycle reflectors and lights and even bright clothing on a rider are almost invisible to late model car drivers at night.

Reply by BootsyC 14 hours ago
I’ve seen people break a chain, loop it around the saddle rails and then down through the rear triangle and reattach the link.

Unless someone has a chain tool, the seat’s not going anywhere.

I suppose you could do the same with your rack, but go around the seat stays instead.

Reply by Jim Reho 14 hours ago
You’re right — but people, including myself, might forget to take the light off the bike. And then it’s gone. Also, I don’t like the rattliness of a lot of light mounts. Thirdly, my method is really inexpensive. But, your point is well-taken. I’m taking a shot with one of those easily-removable, rubber-strap held lights right now. We’ll see how like I manage to keep it!

Reply by Jim Reho 14 hours ago
That a great idea, especially for items like saddles or racks that ordinarily don’t have to be removed.that don’t. You could simply put the end loop around the body of the clamp and tighten it. It would be just as hard to loosen that as to cut the cable on a typical leash, I think.

Reply by Jim Reho 13 hours ago
Those are nice lights, but they’re about a third as bright as the system I described, have no zoom function, and cost twice as much. Also, people like me forget to remove their lights despite their best intentions, and then they’re gone. In a perfect world, or if I were perfect and always acted perfectly, I would agree with you. For you, your lights are great. I’m just suggesting another way.

So here is the nub of the article. There is clearly a chasm in the thinking of individuals on most points. The Urban Cycling Movement however functions to suppress innovative ideas. In that regard it is more like a religion than a movement. There are lots of things like Critical Mass and even Ghost Bikes which clearly would be worth revisiting. But the tendency is to disregard new ideas in favor of continuing on ‘with the way we have always done it‘.

What that gets you is extinction. In this fast-paced world you either innovate or die. Urban Cycling has focused on the automobile as the source of its rage and anger. But cars are moving ahead with innovations which will sharply reduce if not eliminate collisions. Meanwhile Urban Cyclists are dealing with the world by ‘corking intersections‘ and ‘pissing off motorists‘ or better yet ‘riding around naked‘.

Reply by jolondon30 8 hours ago
There is a very nice front LED bike light that doubles as a flashlight. It comes with a very nice front mount. Powerful Front LIght. This thing is incredibly powerful and comes right off.

Well, let’s just leave this group to enjoy an afternoon ‘reinventing the wheel‘. Meanwhile the automobiles, velomobiles and electric-assist bikes are eating their lunches. But a movement headed up by this kind of thinking is doomed.