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Why I haven’t been riding my bike

This will be my last post in this forum, at least for a while.

I’ve come to realize that caring for an infant full-time doesn’t leave a lot of extra wiggle room in my day to do much of anything else. The part-time work I’m doing these days from home is squeezed into the often-unpredictable nap schedule of my rapidly-changing 6 month old (time, I’m told, that I’m somehow supposed to be sleeping myself).

A somewhat gratuitous photo of my 6-month-old.
An admittedly-gratuitous photo of my 6-month-old.

But as I sit at my desk typing these words in the early morning hours while my husband takes the baby out for a walk before heading to his office, I realize that really time constraints, 3 a.m. feedings and the other obstacles to getting anything done but care for a small human being are but one part of the challenges standing in the way of my monthly obligation here.

The other overarching consideration, the one that leaves me who could once list 20 ideas for essays on biking off the top of my head panicking as a deadline nears, that makes me feel a bit silly attempting to offer up meaningful insights on commuting by bike when my turn rolls around, is that, I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit, I really haven’t been riding my bike much at all lately.

For all my swagger about biking while pregnant, my expectation of doing things differently from most, my silent judgment about so many things that other parents do that I vowed not to repeat after having a child of my own, I’ve fallen into the trap of so many others in this car-centric landscape of ours and become far too familiar with the curve of my car seat, the feel of my keys between my fingers.

To my amazement, I can count just three occasions in which I’ve been on my bike in the past six months. And even as I do a good bit of walking around my neighborhood, more than I used to even, and am very thankful to live in a place that affords me the chance to do most of what I need to do on foot, this is the most car-dependent I’ve been in a very long time.

Getting a pedicab tour of Davidson College, my husband's alma mater, earlier this month.
Getting a pedicab tour of Davidson College, my husband’s alma mater, earlier this month.

I can come up with plenty of excuses to help justify my habits of late. For one thing, my favorite bike got stolen a few months back, an apparent casualty of a growing bike theft ring in my city that at once speaks to limited economic opportunity and the growing appeal of biking here.

Tuesday night gatherings of the group GetUpRRide are a testament to the growing popularity of biking in my city. Photo by Stosh Kozlowski
Tuesday night gatherings of the group GetUpRRide are a testament to the growing popularity of biking in my city. Photo by Stosh Kozlowski

Then there’s the point that essential baby supplies, many of which I’d never heard of six months ago, seem to be concentrated in the suburbs, virtually unreachable except by car.

There’s also the fact that at 6 months old, my son is roughly half the age recommended by pediatricians to begin putting a kid on a bike, though a few weeks back, my husband and I rigged our new bike trailer to accommodate his car seat and took a magical 30-mile ride on a protected trail outside the city.

But the unfortunate reality is that I haven’t been riding my bike very much lately because I’m scared. Scared of the drivers out on our roads who seem to not recognize the very high stakes involved in getting behind the wheel of a car. Scared because we live in a society that makes it far more dangerous than it should ever be to get around outside a two-ton steel cage.

It is somewhat ironic that in this car-dependent period of mine I expect will be finite, committed as I am to overcoming my anxiety, that I have become more resolved than ever about the necessity – the urgent obligation even – to do things differently.

This is what comes to mind when I hear that traffic fatalities were dramatically up last year.

Or learn about Karen McKeachie.

Or read about the two people seriously injured in hit-and-runs in recent weeks in my city while riding unsuspectingly in bike lanes, one of them a block away from my house.

Or encounter someone like the drunk driver I met last Saturday when she smashed into the rental car my family was riding in back to our North Carolina hotel after dinner. The woman attempted to drive away but we caught up with her, and as she staggered out of her car unapologetically and I held up my still-sleeping infant, shaking with fear and anger, she declared: “I was on my way to pick up my 3-year-old.”

What if she had another way? I found myself thinking. What if we all did?

beaux and hudson biking
My husband pushing our son part of the way down our street during his ride home from work.

Emilie Bahr is a writer, urban planner and healthy communities advocate living in New Orleans. She is the author of the book Urban Revolutions: A woman’s guide to two-wheeled transportation.

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Thoughts on the passing of an icon

A couple Fridays ago, I got a call from a friend in the middle of the day. I thought the timing odd given his busy work schedule, but because I was participating in a webinar, I let the call go to voice mail and sent him a text message asking what was up. The words that popped up on my cell phone screen sent a chill down my spine.

“My aunt was biking this morning and a motorist hit her and killed her,” he wrote.

It was a sad introduction to a phenomenal woman I will never have the opportunity to meet.

It turns out my friend’s aunt wasn’t just anyone out for a leisurely ride when the worst possible thing happened. Her name was Karen McKeachie, and she was an internationally-acclaimed triathlete who throughout her 63 years challenged just about every preconception related to gender, age, and the limitations of the human body.

Karen McKeachie, photo: USA Triathlon
Karen McKeachie, photo: USA Triathlon

McKeachie’s professional racing career included six world championships, nine Ironman triathlons in Kona, Hawaii (among them an 8th place finish among women), and 15 age-group national championships.

At 58, she beat out competitors half her age to win the overall title in a major triathlon, becoming what is believed to be the oldest athlete to accomplish such a feat.

Two years ago, she was inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.

And her contributions to the sport extend beyond her personal athletic endeavors.

With her husband and fellow triathlete Lew Kidder, she founded the magazine Triathlon Today!, the precursor to Inside Triathlon. She spent decades directing marathons, triathlons, and other races. She started what may have been the very first triathlon equipment mail-order business. And she coached athletes including Olympian Sheila Taormina.

Oh yeah, she was also an inventor. Fed up by the existing options at the time, McKeachie, an engineer by trade, is credited with creating the first women’s bicycle saddle in her basement using a saw and duct tape for the prototype. Her friend, journalist, and fellow triathlete Tom Demerly calls her “one of the greatest endurance athletes in all of history,” writing in a remembrance on his blog:

“She never appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, never wore an Olympic Gold Medal around her neck – but she did collect stacks of world and national championship medals, overall race wins, age group victories and accolades and more importantly, did the heavy lifting of getting other women into the sport, and the sport into the Olympics.”

Karen McKeachie, photo: Tom Demerly
Karen McKeachie, photo: Tom Demerly

McKeachie first discovered the triathlon almost accidentally in 1982 when she took her husband’s spot in a race after he opted not to compete because he feared the water was too cold. She placed third among women in that race and was hooked.

Her athleticism was evident from a young age. In a radio interview last year, McKeachie described growing up in rural Michigan where “there weren’t any sports for girls,” so she played football with the boys in her neighborhood. This would become a running theme in her life – playing with, and often beating, boys at sports, and early on at least, frustratingly few available outlets into which to channel her athletic interest and ability.

In high school in the late 1960s, she wanted to join the track team and bested all but two of the boys in a practice race. The coach agreed to let her join if the rest of the team was ok with it, but the boys she beat out refused to let her on, her husband told the Detroit Free Press.

At the University of Michigan in the mid-1970s, McKeachie’s competitive spirit again ran up against a wall when the university athletic director said she couldn’t represent the school in a cross country event. Undeterred, she had her mother sew an M onto a yellow jersey and ran anyway, placing 8th overall. Her homemade jersey now hangs in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, according to Kidder.

Throughout her too-short life, McKeachie continued to train hard and compete, biking as many as 300 miles each week until the very end.

She was out on a training ride near her hometown of Ann Arbor August 26th when she was hit by a Chevrolet Avalanche driven by a 70-year-old man police said veered into McKeachie’s lane while trying to pass the car in front of him. The two women McKeachie was riding with careened into a nearby ditch and survived.

Like most people who ride bikes, hearing of someone killed while biking feels very personal in a way that many other tragedies do not. I think the collective anguish and outrage we feel over these types of incidents is fueled by the knowledge that it very well could have been us in the bike saddle or, perhaps more horrifically, on the receiving end of a phone call none of us ever wants to get.

The news of McKeachie’s death has shaken me more than most bike-related tragedies. If someone of such caliber and skill, who no doubt was doing everything right, who knew how to handle herself on a bike, was not immune from the dangers of the road, certainly none of us are.

It has left me as a new, highly-sensitized and somewhat paranoid parent questioning the responsibility of getting into the bike saddle in a country that continues to sacrifice the safety of its people to the convenience of moving them quickly in cars. It reminds me that we aren’t the only ones responsible for our own safety and that we have to do more as a society to promote defensive driving, better enforcement of the rules of the road, and a built environment that accounts for the safety of all road users.

I’m still not sure how to reconcile the very real risks of riding my bike with the many benefits of doing so. But this past weekend, I strapped my infant son into a bike trailer and took him on his very first bike ride. Quite consciously, my husband and I staged this auspicious event on a protected trail in the suburbs rather than on the city streets where we would normally ride.

I thought about Karen.

Author Emilie Bahr takes her infant son on his first bike ride.
Author Emilie Bahr takes her infant son on his first bike ride.

I find myself wondering what she would have done had she been one of the women who survived last month’s crash. Based on what I’ve learned over the past couple weeks, I doubt she would retreat for very long. Some of the people closest to her agreed.

“I think she would be back on the roads, maybe dirt roads for a while, but back nevertheless,” her sis
ter-in-law told me in an email. Already, Karen’s husband Lew has returned to the saddle, she added, biking almost daily with Karen’s friends in a most-fitting tribute to his late wife.

A quilt made of t-shirts from races in which Karen McKeachie competed. Photo: Andy Jacoby
A quilt made of t-shirts from races in which Karen McKeachie competed. Photo: Andy Jacoby

Emilie Bahr is a writer, urban planner, and healthy communities advocate living in New Orleans. She is the author of the book Urban Revolutions: A woman’s guide to two-wheeled transportation.


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La. lawmaker to cyclists: Keep off the streets

I live in Louisiana, a place that carries the ignominious designation of being one of the most dangerous places to walk or bicycle in the country. We’re in good company in the Sun Belt and in the Deep South in particular which, with certain important exceptions, is especially hostile to non-motorized transportation.

Part of the problem relates to inadequate infrastructure, the legacy of 1950s-era sprawling development patterns that presumed modern lives would be eternally dependent on the eternal combustion engine. Cities and towns built upon high-speed highways, with strict segregation of residential and commercial land uses — the pattern of most American cities constructed after World War II — tend to require significant retrofitting in order to accommodate more recent growth in demand for walking and bicycling. Fortunately, many American cities are starting to make meaningful investments in improving access to our public rights of way by pedestrians, bicyclists, and others not traveling in two-ton steel vessels.

recently-opened Lafitte Greenway
The recently-opened Lafitte Greenway in New Orleans is one example of new investment in walking
and bicycling of the sort taking off in the U.S.

But another big piece of the safety puzzle when it comes to active transportation relates to the attitudes of the people living in and setting policies for places where cars are even more than other parts of our auto-obsessed country unquestioned king.

I’ve been thinking about the role that our collective mindset plays in securing safety on our roads lately. Even in my own city, which developed well before the rise of the personal automobile and carries a number of inherent advantages that make it well-suited to walking and bicycling, the prevailing ethos continues to be that our roads are the primary – if not the exclusive – domain of the motor vehicle, even though many of those roads were conceived decades before Henry Ford popularized the car among the masses. This mindset is crystal clear to me every time I attempt to cross the street in my neighborhood, where drivers pay no mind to the newly-minted crosswalks on the well-traveled boulevard that runs near my house, even when I have a baby in tow. I wrote about this experience in a letter to the editor recently and was heartened by the number of people who shared my frustrations. But equally troubling were the many who weighed in in the comments section expressing disdain for people like me and who showed an appalling lack of understanding of basic road rules.

Despite new bike lanes and crosswalks, many New Orleans drivers continue to treat Esplanade Avenue as a thoroughfare built for cars exclusively.
Despite new bike lanes and crosswalks, many New Orleans drivers continue to treat Esplanade
Avenue as a thoroughfare built for cars exclusively.

Is it any wonder, I found myself thinking, that New Orleans grapples with such dismal bicycle and pedestrian crash statistics?

So it was with great optimism that I heard a few months back that our state legislature, whose actions rarely elicit any pride, was poised to do something quite positive aimed at reshaping the public consciousness around road safety. Our legislative body was set to consider a vulnerable road user law offering extra legal protections for walkers and bicyclists and other road users not protected by the steel casing of an automobile. VRU laws might be described as a new frontier in active transportation policy in this country. Similar measures to those proposed in my state have been adopted so far by nine states across the U.S. Louisiana would be adding its name to a list that included just one other southern state (Florida) alongside more obvious places like Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii.

To my surprise, SB 171, which called for stiffer penalties for operating a motor vehicle in a “careless” manner that resulted in the injury or death of a bicyclist, pedestrian, or motorcyclist, had garnered significant bipartisan support by the time it came up for consideration. But that’s when Louisiana’s governing body resorted to more typical behavior. The bill was quashed with opposition led by a state representative who is either especially ignorant of the laws governing the state’s public rights of way or who is especially cynical. I suspect it’s a combination of the two.

Rep. Kenny Havard explained that his opposition to the bill was rooted in protecting his constituents from being sent to prison for “accidentally” hitting a pedestrian or bicyclist, reinforcing the notion that the best way to kill someone and get away with it with little more than a slap on the wrist is to “accidentally” hit them with your car.

“When you make bad decisions and take chances with your own safety, don’t blame others for the outcome,” said the Republican, until now best-known for his unsuccessful proposal to place weight limits on the state’s exotic dancers. Yes, I’m serious.

Rep. Kenny Havard thinks the streets are for cars, not people.
Rep. Kenny Havard thinks the streets are for cars, not people.

“If you don’t want to overdose, don’t do drugs. If you don’t want to get hit by a car, don’t play in the street,” Havard wrote on Facebook, channeling the late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Havard hails from St. Francisville, a town just outside the state capital known for its antique shops, antebellum plantations, and scenic, hilly terrain that has made it a hotspot for spandex-clad cyclists and elderly window shoppers alike. The town is home to the Rouge Roubaix, the grueling century race that draws amateur and professional riders from across the country to the Tunica Hills of rural West Feliciana Parish each year. It is not far from the spot where last year, beloved Louisiana State University professor Elisabeth Oliver, 63, was killed after being struck by a car while walking her malfunctioning bicycle along a highway.

In the wake of the bill’s defeat, Havard was beset by angry emails and phone calls. Some threatened very publicly via social media and other channels to stop bringing their bicycles and their business to Havard’s district, to which the legislator responded in characteristic fashion that he was fine with cyclists taking their “Fiji water bottles” elsewhere. He
also admitted that he “[didn’t] ride bikes on the open road” and that his “knowledge of cycling is zero,” which was no surprise to anyone who had been paying attention or, to be perfectly frank, seen a recent photograph of the legislator. (Normally, I would refrain from such ad hominem attacks, but in light of Havard’s interest in others’ weight, I feel alright about pointing out the legislator’s own struggles here.)

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that our legislature once again failed to do anything to address a serious problem confronting our state. After all, at a time when our coast is dying, when we rank near the bottom of every indicator related to public health, crime, education, and poverty, and when we are confronting one of the most serious budget crises in the state’s history, our legislature has seen fit in recent sessions take up such issues as barring cities from banning plastic grocery bags; expanding control over women’s reproductive choices; and allowing monkeys to qualify as service animals.

One of the many
One of the many “ghost bikes” erected around New Orleans to memorialize people killed while riding their bikes.

Rarely if ever have I been inspired to correspond with one of our legislators, which has generally struck me as a lost cause. But perhaps it was the woman who sped up as she saw me attempting to cross the street with my infant in my arms the other day and nearly hit me. Or the white bikes that are cropping up with increasing frequency around my city. Or the way I have my husband text me on the days he bikes to work to let me know he made it safely. Or the fact that I hold my breath every time I hear of another pedestrian or bicyclist hit while walking or riding our streets, hoping it’s not someone I know. This time, the disappointment felt very personal. So at a point in my life where some days finding the time to take a shower feels like an accomplishment, I sat down and typed out the following email:

Dear Rep. Havard,

My name is Emilie Bahr, and I am a new mother, an urban planner, and an avid runner, walker, and bicyclist. I was very disheartened to hear your commentary in opposition to SB 171. I believe reasonable minds can disagree, and I understand questioning the necessity of a vulnerable road user law. However, I am extremely disappointed to hear you speak out against the lawful use of public rights of way as “playing in the road.” The same laws that you helped to create provide for the legal use of the roads by many different types of users. When a pedestrian crosses the street or a bicyclist rides down a highway, they are simply exercising their right to move freely through our state. Your comments amount to victim blaming and add fuel to a volatile situation. I expect my legislators to speak and act in a manner that honors the value of all of our lives and fosters a safe environment for me and my family.

Your constituents and I will continue to travel throughout the state on foot, on bikes and in cars. When speaking on matters of public safety, I humbly request that you consider the effect of your words on those who stand to lose the most. I intend to teach my 2-month-old son how to safely walk and bike for transportation. I hope that by the time he is old enough, his legislators recognize his right to do so without the added danger of legally-unsubstantiated and inflammatory rhetoric.

I have yet to receive a response.

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Velo Orange Brass Temple Bell Review

We are big fans of bells here at Commute By Bike.  Every good commuter bike, or bicycle that is ridden near people and dogs, should have some sort of bell attached to it.  After many years of trying various bells, some expensive and some inexpensive, I think Velo Orange has crafted my favorite for the city commuter.

The Velo Orange Brass Temple Bell attaches to only certain handlebars due to the limited clamp diameter.  I would say it is safe to install it on a straight bar, townie or anything without an over-sized design.  This bell is also pretty inexpensive at $8.00.  You can save your pennies and install one on every bike you own…  For a bell with better mounting choices, check out the Japanese Bell with Retro Space Mount.

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Q&A : Bike Lights

A reader wrote in asking questions about lights, read his question and then my personal answer.. From there, I turn the table to you all, what do you think he could do to avoid cars pulling out?


I wanted to get your input on lights/ being seen. Most of my morning commute is in the dark and in a bike lane. I have, on severa. occasions, almost been hit by cars pulling out from a sid. stree. despite the fact that I have a 27. lume. headlight shining in their direction. What else can I do to get their attention? Should I just accept the fact that they aren’t going to pay attention and wait for the to pull out.


#1 a solid and a blinking light : Catch their attention, but be able to be seen
#2 reflective 3m tape that will be “caught” from all sides of your bike. I have it on the rims of my wheels, seat stays, fork legs and downtube on some bikes.
#3 more than one light. It is hard to catch someones attention with just one fixed light, they may think you are a reflection, mail box or not moving very quickly.

Now, what would you do differently?

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Honda is Taking Action for Bicycle Safety

Honda Bike SimulatorOf all companies to invest in safety of people on bicycles, Honda is leading the charge.

Tokyo, Oct 15, 2009 – (JCN Newswire) – Honda Motor Co., Ltd. today announced plans to begin Japan-wide sales starting February 2010, of the Honda Bicycle Simulator developed for the purpose of traffic safety education. By safely experiencing the possible risks bicycle riders may face, users will improve their ability to predict risks and increase safety awareness. In addition, rider evaluation session which will follow the riding simulation will help users learn traffic rules and manners in an enjoyable way.

It will probably take several years for this device to make it to the states, but I hope to see one day something like this for every drivers education class.

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A whole litany of faults

“Bicyclists are obnoxious.”

That’s how columnist Michael Dresser begins his column today in the Baltimore Sun in which he encourages legislators to vote for a proposed three foot law in Maryland.

Some other colorful words he uses describing people on bikes: infesting, freakish, Spandex (of course), dweeby, smug, elitist, irksome.

But he’s being clever, I think, because he then turns around and writes Maryland state legislators should pass the three foot passing law like some 20 other states have.

Read more in the Sun.

On the topic of cyclist bad behavior, Traffic author Tom Vanderbilt weighs in on the perception and reality of how we ride our bikes.

What do you think? Are we as badly behaved as some people think? Or are people just people: with some jerks out there no matter if they’re on foot, on bike, or in car?

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Ex-husband prohibits children bike riding

Does anybody know where Randy’s girlfriend can get help for this situation? Posted here with his permission. They live in Longmont, Colorado.

I am writing this on behalf of my girlfriend and her two kids. There has been an issue with my girlfriend’s Ex-husband about the fact that we allow her two children (age 7 and 11 as of March 9th 2009) to commute to school by themselves on a bicycle. The Ex contacted there Mediator Arbitrator and complained, and the Med/Arb set a ruling forbidding the children to commute by bicycle by themselves.

All of us commute by bicycle all over town, and my girlfriend and I both commute to Boulder. If we were to continue to transport ourselves by bicycle, her two children need to go it alone to their school in the mornings. We had ridden with them for over 4 months, the same route everyday, and taught them all of the rules of the road.

As we felt the youngest lacked the responsibility to do this on his own bike, we set them up with a Yuba Mundo (, a cargo bike that is built to transport multiple passengers as well as cargo. I installed an extra set of handle bars on the rear of the bike for the youngest to hold on to. My girlfriend and I made several test rides with them to and from their school to ensure they not only operated the bicycle safely, but that they also felt safe on the bike and the route.

The route they travel is as safe as any route in town, and 90% of it is on streets with bike lanes, the other 10% in on streets either wide enough to have a bike lane, or little to no traffic. They use crosswalks with lights, or intersections with stop lights or 4 way stops to cross major intersections.

I feel a very dangerous precedent is being set here that should concern us all. I am asking for your help to fix this situation.

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DiNotte lighting recall notice

I know there are a lot of DiNotte fans here so I thought I’d pass along this note that DiNotte is recalling some of their older Li-Ion batteries because they don’t match the quality and safety of their current product line. For more info, see DiNotte’s recall information page.

Speaking of lighting up, you might enjoy Momentum Magazine’s “Let’s Get Visible” video in which Momentum publisher Amy Walker spoofs Olivia Newton John in her encounter with a Bike Ninja.

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Biking in the rain safely

I covered equipment and rain the other day and several people provided very helpful comments on biking safety in the rain. Here’s my contribution to the discussion.

  • Visibility is paramount! I’m not normally a safety ninny, but consider what you can and can’t see when you’re in a car with the windows fogged up and the wiper blades leaving streaks of bug juice across the windshield. I normally run with lights on in the rain. Consider also high visibility jackets.
  • Braking may take longer than usual. Wet braking surfaces take longer to slow you, and you generally want to avoid sudden stops on wet roads. Test your brakes before you have to stop to dry the braking surfaces and brake pads.
  • Avoid puddles. They may hide hazards such as deep potholes, bricks, alligators, etc. On the other hand, if you don’t care about your bottom bracket too much flooded streets are a ton of fun to ride through 🙂
  • Pavement markings can be very slippery in the rain. Ditto (especially so) for anything metal: manhole covers, rail crossings, drain covers.
  • A small towel is handy. Like Ford Prefect, I know where my towel is. I keep a small hand towel in an easily accessible pocket to wipe the mist from my eyeglasses so I can see where I’m going.

Besides the excellent contributions some of you already left what are some other safety considerations for riding in the rain?