CategoriesFitness

No, the Pool Noodle Bike Hack Isn’t Great. At All.

Someone put a pool noodle on a bike to keep drivers away. And now media outlets are all over the place are saying this a genius and that the pool noodle bike hack is the greatest thing ever.

No. It’s not.

Using a Pool Noodle as a Bike Hack Sucks

Any transportation planners who see a cyclist using a pool noodle as a visual cue to drivers should hang their heads in shame. It means that their infrastructure is so bad that drivers don’t feel safe.

bicycle infrastructure
Protected bike lanes would work far better than the pool noodle bike hack.

That’s epic bike planning failure. You think cyclists in Finland or the Netherlands need pool noodles to stay safe?

No. Because they have good cycling infrastructure and their drivers are relatively civilized.

This is what the Pool Noodle Bike Hack Really Means

Municipalities in the U.S. were delighted by this news. It cushions them against the abject, epic failure of most towns and cities.

That’s because it’s another device that dumps the full burden of safe cycling on cyclists and absolves drivers and planners. The City of Mesa in my city, which has exactly one good piece of cycling infrastructure along the Rio Salado, shared this post on one of its Facebook accounts:

I called them out, and of course they said it was "just interesting." Smart cyclists see this for what it is: an attempt to push the narrative that cyclists alone bear the responsibility of safety.

Oh, a driver killed a cyclist? Were they wearing a helmet*? Did they have flashing lights? And now -- did they have a pool noodle? Because that’s the best bike hack!

This is Why People Don’t Ride Bikes

Why invest in cycling infrastructure when you can tell people to wear helmets, ride with lights, use horns/bells or strap a pool noodle to their bike?

Casual riders see these so-called hacks and think "if I have to do all that, maybe riding a bike isn’t safe." I see where they’re coming from. Even experienced cyclists have a hard time steeling themselves to ride around cars.

And before anyone starts with the tired “cyclists break the law” argument … so do drivers. Nearly every driver speeds. When I drive 70 in the carpool lane, I’m speeding. And yet I get tailgated, cut off and passed by people who think that’s way too slow. Drivers run stop signs and stop lights constantly. The consequences of their transgressions are far greater in 4,000 pounds of metal than a person who is 170 pounds of flesh and another 30 of metal. (I believe people who like arguing would call this a “false equivalency” or if “whataboutism” if they favor new vernacular.)

pool noodle bike hack
Also better than a pool noodle bike hack: bike/pedestrian paths completely separated from drivers.

Fix the Real Problems, Stop the Band-Aid Approach

Every ride I take, I encounter some absolutely wretched infrastructure. People park their gasmobiles in bike lanes or use them as turning lanes. The bike lanes disappear, or it’s completely unclear what’s supposed happen near intersections. Drivers get away with literal murder, and cyclists have more close calls than you can imagine. But nobody measures close calls.

So to all you touting the pool noodle as the best bike hack: It’s not. It’s a sign that cycling infrastructure, transit policy and law enforcement have all failed.

Bonus Round: Reddit Piles on the Pool Noodle Bike Hack

Ahhhh, Reddit -- the source of so much Internet fun. The cyclists there took to the pool noodle bike hack topic and squirted some humor into it. A few choice bits:

‘Murica loves noisy, smelly gasmobiles. It hates cyclists. But what if the cyclist has a flag on their bike?!

Card

On point. Still lets planners off the hook a bit, but not every response on the Internet can cover every angle.

Card

I can’t resist a Star Wars reference. Especially when someone else replies “A more elegant noodle for a more civilized age.” That’s how you win at Internetting, if I can verb the noun.

Card

This person certainly wears a silicon wristband that says “WWBCD?” That’s What Would Bruce Campbell Do? And the answer is always “put a chainsaw on it.”

Card

This is a real cyclist: They know the bike industry loves a chance to make money and churn out some carbon fiber bike bling.

Card

Not really pool noodle-related, but definitely a good question. I’ve ridden among autonomous vehicles many times. And I’ve had no problems. They pay attention. They don’t hate cyclists. They’re not texting. They are able to stay in their lane.

Card

*I absolutely love wearing bike helmets. They keep me cool through venting and keeping the sun off my noggin. I hate, though, that the first question when a driver kills a cyclist is "were they wearing a helmet?"

 

CategoriesGear

Reborn Marzocchi Bomber Z2: Good News for Thrifty Riders

If you need a solid but relatively affordable mountain bike fork, you should be excited about the Marzocchi Bomber Z2. The original Z2 that came out in the late 90s was a huge step forward with its coil springs and open oil bath system.

The reborn Bomber Z2 has travel options ranging from 100 to 150 millimeters and a price of $499. But none of that matters if it doesn’t work well. And trust me, it will.

Why I’d bet on the Marzocchi Bomber Z2

A few years ago, I built a cool titanium hardtail. It’s a weird one with a singlespeed belt drive. So I had to be weird with the fork, too. I found a sweet deal on a Marzocchi 320 LR fork. That one leans a bit more cross-country in nature than the new Bomber Z-2.

But it was considerably better than the XFusion I used on a previous hardtail. It never bottoms out as harshly, it doesn’t hiss when compressed, it steers just slightly better (possibly because of its thru-axle). It held up beautifully during my first six-hour singlespeed race.

Marzocchi Bomber Z2
There’s my Marzocchi ready for action.

From what I understand, the new Marzocchi forks are built by Fox. That’s another point in its favor (though some people insist that Fox doesn’t make ’em like they used to).

Users on the MTBR forum also praise the 320 LR, which is a good sign for the Bomber Z2.

Wait for the Release Date

If you’re putting a bike together, it would be worth waiting for this fork. My experience with Marzocchi 320 LR gives me confidence that you’ll have a great fork for a good price. You’ll be able to choose between 27.5 and 29er versions, too.

You’ll also be able to get different fork rake options, so be sure you know your frame’s geometry before you buy: Your local bike shop will be able to help. If you’re a DIY type ordering online, you either know this or should at least ask a salesperson before you click "BUY."

Marzocchi Bomber Z2
A look at a for-real reborn Marzocchi Bomber Z2. (Found on the PinkBike website, likely from a Marzocchi press release)

What Other Options?

If you have about $500 to spend on a fork? What else can you get?

The Rock Shox Reba is always a competent option, especially if you prefer to stick with the bigger brands. If you’re more adventurous, you have other possibilities: The SR Suntour Epixcon (sometimes known as an Axon -- Suntour confuses me!) and the XFusion Slide are both easily available new in the price range. I haven’t ridden the Epixcon or Axon, so I can’t say much about them. You might also be able to dig up a Manitou Mattoc.

My X-Fusion Slide 29 is a good fork, but I like the Marzocchi 320 better. Again, my bet is on the Bomber Z2 to be a hit.

CategoriesGear

Bike Test: Electra Sprocket 1 and Giro Scamp MIPS Helmet

Here’s a long overdue discussion of the Electra Sprocket 1 bike and Giro Scamp MIPS helmet. We picked these items up as early birthday presents for our now-4-year-old daughter.

She warmed up to both nearly instantly, but then mysteriously stopped riding. She retreated to her balance bike, which she rode in the house and front driveway.

Just as mysteriously, she took to the Electra Sprocket 1 last week. She has logged at least three miles a day since then. She puts her helmet on, turns her bike lights on and hits the bike lanes and paths with us. (Shrugs) Kids are mysterious.

Introducing the Electra Sprocket 1 Bike and Giro Scamp MIPS Helmet

We bought the bike and helmet at REI. First off, we get member dividends. Second, they had them in stock. Two big points there.

REI offers no shortage of options for kids. Bike manufacturers largely put some aggressive gender markings on bikes. But Electra’s seafoam green looks a lot like the classic, classy Bianchi celeste green. It caught our little person’s eye, and it seemed to just fit her body. You’re looking at about $270 for an Electra Sprocket 1.

Giro is also kind enough to offer some neutral colors that don’t require us to completely pinkify our offspring. She likes a bit of color, but doesn’t go for the head-to-toe bubblegum look. The Scamp comes in a regular version, as well as a model upgraded with MIPS technology. This is supposed to be a safer helmet that protects from rotational stress to the head. It was only $40, so it was a no-brainer.

Spinning the Electra Sprocket 1

Our little person is about 40 inches tall. I can’t remember her weight. But whatever it is, she has more than enough muscle to handle the Electra Sprocket 1. She has already started hopping off curbs, riding up switchbacked access ramps and threading the needle through obstacles.

Electra Sprocket 1
Cleaning the switchbacks on the Electra Sprocket 1

She can also climb some steep grades, and is adept at standing up out of the saddle. The Sprocket 1 doesn’t hold her back.

What About That Lid?

Well, we haven’t had to put the Giro Scamp MIPS to the test. I’m OK with that. But she has no trouble putting it on. She could be a bit better with taking it off, though. The clasp is a bit of a challenge for small people still developing hand strength and coordination.

That will come soon, though. She has the rest of this bicycling thing well under control, so the clasp on her helmet won’t elude her for long.

 

CategoriesFitness

Bicycle Infrastructure is Cycling’s Big Problem

Better bicycle infrastructure could solve a lot of transit problems. More people on bikes means fewer cars on the roads, more people burning calories and cleaner air.

Cycling advocates love to point to the Dutch cycling culture to illustrate the possibilities. Adopting even a small percentage of their policies would be huge for the United States.

Unfortunately, decision makers at every level of government in the United States simply don’t care. Even those who support cycling are too cowed to front the political and financial resources. Exceptions are rare — all credit to the governments in the Tucson, Ariz., are for their success on The Loop. That’s 130-plus miles of safe, convenient riding.

This is why I have no confidence in an American cycling boom.

bicycle infrastructure
This bike superhighway in Helsinki is a great example of bicycle infrastructure.

Inconsistent Bicycle Infrastructure

I live in the Phoenix area. And you wouldn’t believe how widely our bike lanes and trails vary in quality — often within the same city.

Bike lanes wind up going nowhere. And city planners seem to have no concept of their user groups. Most of the bicycle infrastructure is adequate — barely — for recreational riders going less than five miles. Long-distance commuters and recreational riders have to overcome bike lanes that don’t connect to the corridors they need. They encounter frequent traffic lights and situations where drivers have no idea what to do.

One of my least-favorite examples is a cycling corridor along Pima Road: It has bike lanes on both sides of the street, which is good. But there’s a second bike-specific corridor on one side; the two-way bike traffic adds a layer of confusion for drivers and cyclists.

There are signs of progress, but they come very slowly.

Terrible Lane Maintenance

I’ve lost count of the places where I have to swerve out of the bike lane to avoid obstacles. Potholes and overhanging branches are common around Phoenix. That gives drivers another reason to be annoyed by cyclists.

There are many spots around the Valley where cities have added great bike lanes. But within months, plants encroach. If you build bike lanes, have a plan and budget to maintain them!

Debris is also a problem. Broken bottles and fallen branches litter the bike lanes. There’s no plan for reporting bicycle infrastructure problems. Concepts like Bikelanes.org help. But if government entities don’t act on the reports, it doesn’t matter.

Speaking of reporting problems: I’d love a cycling GPS that could log problems on the fly to be shared later.

Bike Industry Not Focused on the Problem

I like racing bicycles. I do it a few times of year, and it’s a great celebration of bike culture.

Photo by Ed Buckel.
This isn’t the reality for most people who own bicycles. We need to focus more on people who ride the roads. (Photo by Ed Buckel.)

But bike commuting and family riding are important, too. Unfortunately, the bike industry is uniformly too focused on the Mountain Dew-swilling extreme sports adrenaline junkie cliche. Most people can’t identify with that.

Maybe bike manufacturers could sponsor fewer races, and throw some money into advocating for bicycle infrastructure. Find some room in the budget for a lobbyist to influence pro-bike legislation and policies. That will pay dividends in bike sales and branding.

No Support from Law Enforcement

Every time I ride, I think of people like Rob Dollar. He was one of way too many cyclists who have been run over by drivers. Way too few of these drivers are ever held accountable.

Some police support would also help with drivers who threaten, harass and endanger cyclists. Chesney Parks’ Twitter account is a litany of near-daily conflicts with drivers. And some of the worst offenders are the authorities. The abuses of power are often shocking.

And police don’t seem to take this literal life-and-death situation seriously. According to this article, they look for any excuse not to investigate.

That sends a message to cyclists everywhere: We’re all alone in this.

And that means fewer people will see cycling as an alternative to cars.

Drivers Can’t Deal with Cyclists

Overall, drivers have no clue how to deal with cyclists. Some will try to be polite, but wind up screwing up traffic flow (Example: At a four-way stop, DO NOT wave at a cyclist to take your turn. Treat them like a car so everyone else knows whose turn it is next.).

bicycle infrasctructure
Here’s a great and very cost-effective way to protect a bike lane. Spotted in San Jose, Costa Rice in November, 2018.

Just yesterday, I was heading through a green light. The driver in the oncoming left-turn lane started to turn in front of me and changed her mind -- and then repeated the process twice. She then started gesturing at me.

And I’ve had so many cars swerve into the bike lane that I can’t even remember every close call. You can see a great example of this with the red cup experiment. Protected bicycle infrastructure would offer some protection.

Other Reading

https://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/EBC_report_final.pdf

https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-bicyclists-drivers-crashes-statistics-2014nov22-story.html

https://thecisforcrank.com/2018/07/25/bike-lanes-are-for-everyone-fact-checking-claims-that-only-the-privileged-want-safe-cycling-infrastructure/