Monthly Archives: October 2013

What Does 3 Feet for Safety Mean?

Last month Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1371, a three foot passing bill that requires drivers to pass bikes with three feet or greater clearance. The bill has had some people wondering what it means for them. The good news is that for the overwhelming majority of drivers, this law doesn’t require any changes in their driving behavior.

In my experience riding my bike around Silicon Valley on a daily basis, most drivers pass me safely, giving me more than 3 feet clearance. Safe drivers know that passing anything on the roadway closer than three feet, whether it’s someone standing on the sidewalk, a parked car, or even a lamp post, is risky if their car is moving faster than a crawl. And if what they’re passing is moving too, like another car or someone on a bike, safe drivers allow even more room. Both drivers and bicyclists often make small adjustments to maneuver around potholes, avoid people stepping out of cars, or react to other unexpected road conditions. A bigger buffer keeps everyone safer.

So what exactly are the provisions of the bill? The bill enacts the Three Feet for Safety Act, which prohibits the drivers from passing bicycles moving in the same direction “at a distance of less than 3 feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.” That means three feet between the car’s rear view mirror, not the body of the car, and the bicycle’s handlebars or rider’s elbow.

The act also requires drivers to pass “at a safe distance that does not interfere with the safe operation of the overtaken bicycle, having due regard for the size and speed of the motor vehicle and the bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, and the surface and width of the highway.” In other words, large trucks traveling at high speeds that could create a dangerous draft would be required to give more clearance than a small car at lower speeds that doesn’t create a wind draft.

If three feet clearance is not possible due to traffic or roadway conditions, the act allows the vehicle to pass closer if the driver slows to a speed that is “reasonable and prudent” and doesn’t “endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle” as described above.

As a driver, how do you know how far three feet is? It’s about how much room you need between parked cars to exit yours without hitting the other car. In other words, roughly a car door’s width.

Another thing the Three Feet for Safety Act does is clarify when a lane is too narrow for a car and a bike to travel safely in the same lane. This is important because bicyclists are not required to ride on the right-hand side of the road when a lane is too narrow, per CVC 20122. If the right lane is “too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane” then people may ride their bikes in the middle of the lane to ensure that drivers change lanes to pass instead of passing too closely in the same lane.

There are streets in Mountain View where there are parked cars on the right and the lane is not wide enough to allow three feet of “door zone” clearance between the parked car and the bicyclist, plus three feet between the bicyclist and a passing vehicle. That’s why you’ll sometimes see people riding in the middle of the lane, especially on the narrow streets downtown. It’s perfectly legal for narrow lanes, and it discourages drivers from unsafely squeezing past.

But once again, the vast majority of drivers pass safely because they know the potential for injury. The Three Feet for Safety Act just spells it out for the dangerous few who don’t.

Will the Three Feet for Safety Act change how you drive or ride a bike? Will it make you feel safer riding a bike? Will it change your behavior when you drive?

Categories: Bike Safety | Leave a comment

Family Bikes: The Minivans of Bicycles

In the morning it’s school or day care drop-off. In the afternoon it’s pick-up then soccer practice, swim lessons or dance class. On the way or in between there’s shopping for groceries or craft supplies for school projects. For most, being a parent means lots of driving around town and waiting in long lines of cars. But in our area more and more parents are hopping on bikes instead of into minivans and SUVs for their “mom’s taxi” trips, especially now that there are more options for carrying kids and gear on bikes.

For the past 30 years, parents have had two basic options: mount a child seat on a rack over their bike’s rear wheel or drag a trailer behind it. More recently, single-wheeled trail-a-bikes that let a school-aged child pedal along have appeared, and now there are small child seats that mount just behind the handlebars too. These are all easy, relatively inexpensive options for converting a standard bike into a kid-hauling machine.

But for more kids and bigger loads, some local families have graduated to bikes that are designed from the wheels up for the job. Cargo and family bikes come in all shapes and sizes, each with advantages and disadvantages. Here are three basic types that local parents are piloting.

Long-Tail Bikes
Cherie lives with her husband and two children in Mountain View’s Jackson Park neighborhood. When her kids were toddlers she hooked a trailer to the back of her mountain bike took them with her on errands and to their favorite playgrounds all over town. But as they kids got heavier, she found it tougher to stay balanced starting and stopping and she didn’t have as much room for gear as she needed. So Cherie bought a long-tail Xtracycle family bike.

Long-tail bikes look like mountain bikes where someone grabbed the rear wheel and stretched the frame back. This longer wheelbase means there’s more space for a longer rear rack and larger panniers (saddle bags). For Cherie, that means room for up to three giggling kids and four oversized bags of groceries. And if her seven-year-old daughter gets too tired to ride her own bike mid-ride, Cherie can secure the front wheel of her daughter’s bike in a pannier and drag the bike behind while her daughter catches a ride on the rear rack.

Bucket Bikes

Even before her son started kindergarten in Dublin in the East Bay, Kristi had heard enough horror stories about long lines at school drop-off to push her to look for better options than driving. Walking the mile to school wasn’t a problem for her, but would have been a challenge for her son and his 2-year-old brother. She considered and rejected pulling a wagon due to the hills, and she didn’t think a stroller was a dignified way for her little man to roll up to school. After searching family bike options, Kristi went with a Madsen bucket bike.

Bucket bikes have longer wheelbases like long-tail bikes, but instead of a rear rack, they have a cargo bucket in the back, usually with a bench seat and room for extra gear. Even though she hadn’t ridden in years, Kristi found the bike comfortable immediately, making it easy to get started. Her sons love being in the fresh air riding in her Madsen, and she loves pedaling straight to the school entrance and skipping the queue of cars, as well as doing errands after work. She recently added an electric-assist motor so she can climb some of the steeper hills easier.

Box Bikes
If you’re in San Carlos and see a mother pedaling two towhead toddlers in a Dutch-style bakfiets, or box bike, it’s probably Tyra. Tyra’s husband was itching to buy this classic cargo bike, but until they moved to London she had no interest. After dragging kids and a stroller on buses and on the underground to get around the city, Tyra decided to give a bakfiets a chance. She loved it so much they shipped it here when they moved back to the US.

Dutch-style box bikes have a distinctive low-riding box in front of the bike rider instead of the rear like the bucket bikes. While there are three-wheeled models available, Tyra chose a classic two-wheeler from because it rides more like a standard bike. She likes having her kids in front where it’s easy to keep an eye on them and to chat. Her also has a rain cover that keeps her kids completely dry and comfortable on wet days. She was the only one who had to brave London’s infamous drizzle.

Replacing a Second Car
Tyra can get almost anywhere within 2-3 miles of her home in downtown San Carlos as easily on the bakfiets as in a car. That means she and her husband are able to share a single family car. Ditto for Cherie and Kristi. Having a family bike saves them the expense of buying and maintaining two cars. It also means they have more space in their garages for more bikes. As Kristi explained, family bikes can become an obsession.

Talk to Other Parents
These three bikes are just a taste of the many family bike options available. You’ll find long-tail bikes at several local shops, and A Street Bike Named Desire in Palo Alto sells European box bikes. But the best way to find one that works for you is to talk to parents, both in person and online, about their experiences. One great opportunity is Kidical Mass, a ride for kids and families on Saturday, October 19 that rolls from Eagle Park in Mountain View at 10am. There will be a wide variety of bikes on hand, and you can get straight advice from parents who use them day in and day out.

Kidical Mass Ride:
Family Bike Photos by Bike Fun:


Categories: Gear Talk | Leave a comment

Dressing Up on the Bike, Halloween Style

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice online edition on October 3, 2013.

Growing up, my favorite thing about Halloween wasn’t the candy, it was the costumes. My sisters and I would come up with ideas, then dig into our closets and boxes of craft materials to see what we could fashion into something scary or pretty or goofy. I recall that a lot of Mom’s old dresses, cardboard, glitter, aluminum foil and duct tape were involved.

You’d think I would have outgrown it, but I still love Halloween and plotting my costume each year. As luck would have it, there’s no shortage of costumed bike events in our area. But that adds a whole new dimension: not just what to wear, but what to wear comfortably and safely on the bike.

Here are some things I always consider when working out a bike costume.

Ladies, Think Sexy
Not because looking sexy is required or even appropriate for most places, but because costumes labeled as “sexy” usually have shorter skirts that won’t get caught in your spokes. Most also have full or knit skirts that give you full range of motion for pedaling. As for modesty, that’s what bike shorts, tights and close fitting knit tops are for. Wear them under your costume and even your conservative auntie can’t complain.

Keep Your Head About It
Costumes that rely on hats or wigs to deliver the impact can be problematic, especially with a helmet. If you haven’t noticed, helmets are larger than your head, so you may have to slit that wig or precariously perch that hat on your helmet. I’ve had success attaching smaller items to the helmet, like cat ears, halos and wreaths. I also ripped apart a cheap gladiator helmet and reconstructed it on my helmet. Your best friends for helmet embellishment: zip ties, elastic stretch cord and double sided foam mounting tape.

Stay Grounded
Great costumes are “head to toe”. But if you’re headed to the coast to buy a pumpkin with a local mountain bike club, doing an all-day charity ride, or racing cyclocross at the annual costume race, your costume will likely include cycling shoes. Some commercial costumes, like my Batgirl costume, come with shoe covers that work just fine. If you’re doing a slower-paced urban ride like San Jose Bike Party, there’s more leeway with the shoes, so go ahead with the heavy boots or stilettos.

Accessorize (with care)
If the costume relies on a prop, make sure it works on the bike. The last thing you want is to be taken down by your own sword. While capes were banned for superheroes in The Incredibles, I found they worked ok even for a cyclocross race, so long as I did my running remounts into the wind.

Take One for the Team
If you’re lucky enough to convince a friend or family member to join you in a tandem team costume, make sure the captain’s wings, cape, sword or tail aren’t a slap in the face of the stoker.

Keep Cool, Stay Warm
As with all other outdoor activities, prepare for changes in the weather. Make sure your costume is not a sweat suit and that dressing to stay warm doesn’t ruin the look. How to do this: wicking base layers, bike-specific arm warmers, and leggings over bike shorts work as well for bike costumes just as they do with lycra bike wear.

What tips do you have for others preparing costumes for bike events? What was your a favorite costume?

San Jose Bike Party El Dia de los Muertos Ride Friday October 18, 8:00 pm
Silicon Valley Mountain Bikers Pumpkin Ride Saturday October 26, 10:00 am
Surf City Cyclocross Costume Race Sunday October 27, 11:30 am

Costume Bike

Photo by Jackie Link from Cinderella Century.

Categories: Style & Fashion | Leave a comment

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