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?!


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


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.


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.”


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


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.


*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?"


Why I Won’t Commute by Bike in Phoenix

commute by bike
This is why think Helsinki is a world leader in getting people to commute by bike.

There’s no way I’ll commute by bike in present-day Arizona. A post at the Architecture Travel Writer blog made me think about why it’s not one of my transportation alternatives.

Fellow blogger Nichole talked to Phoenix city planner Joseph Perez about improving bike commuting options. His ideas (bike shares, smartphone apps, consultants and developer input, to name a few) show why Phoenix lags  in the movement to commute by bike.

commute by bike
I don’t expect credible ideas that encourage people to commute by bike to come from Phoenix City Hall.

You’ll notice my lengthier-than-typical comment about an open state of war between motorists and bike commuters. My view comes from my past attempts to commute by bike. Here’s what I faced:

  • Disappearing bike lanes – I’d be in a great lane for a mile or two. And then it would disappear. Transportation alternatives need routes users can count on.
  • Debris-strewn bike lanes – Dirtiness and grit that love puncturing tubes.
  • Openly hostile motorists – I’ve had people throw stuff at me, yell at me, cut in front of me and try to bump me with their mirror. Other cyclists will say the same.
  • Clueless motorists – Some motorists think it’s a good idea to blare their horn as they approach cyclists from behind (hint: we can hear their engines). Then there are others who get to a four-way stop first, hesitate and give the "after you" wave. Guess what? The safest place for cyclists is behind you. Obey the law and the four-way stop protocol – your misguided "politeness" doesn’t help.
  • Other bicyclists – The "don’t give a shit about rules or good sense" variety puttering against traffic, ignoring traffic flow and just general being self-centered jerks. These riders deserve a special place in hell – they make drivers paint all of us with the same brush. They make cycling lose political clout among the transportation alternatives.

Too many near misses put me back in my car. Not the heat, not the lack of bike parking, not the scarcity of showers in most commercial buildings. It was the motorists – the antagonism, or just the casual disregard for a cyclist’s safety over their convenience.

English: Picture shows a bike path or ciclorut...
Phoenix also lags behind Bogota, Columbia, in bicycle infrastructure  En detalle la cicloruta. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What would get me to commute by bike as one of my  transportation alternatives again? Physically separating bike lanes from roadways as much as possible. The canal bike paths are a great start – Step One would be to widen them. Next, get some physically separated connectors to the canal.

The bike infrastructure in Helsinki, Finland, and its below-grade bike superhighways provide the perfect example. The U.S. is decades away from Finland’s harmonious relationship between motorists and cyclists -- but we can at least separate bike lanes.

Apps and consultants are half-measures to make it look like Phoenix city officials take seriously the need to commute by bike. None will make a true difference – and they’re not meant to. Phoenix revolves around car culture and sprawl – and looking like it’s trying to change while not actually doing so. City officials seem to have no clue about one fairly easy change that could make its streets more pedestrian friendly – how can we count on them to be any better with bike commuting if they can’t implement scramble crosswalks? I offer a vote of no confidence on bike commuting to current and past administrations.

I expect naysayers to sputter “but, but, we can’t.” People, this is nothing next to light rail. It would take a fraction of the time and money. It could happen … if we approach it with a “how?” attitude. There’s a way to do it if we can overcome the lack of political will.

If you want to see other interesting ideas to make it more feasible to commute by bike, check out the Copenhagenize blog.

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