18 Nov 2016

Responding to the Death of a Cyclist

Lately, as many of us have, I have been formulating my thoughts surrounding the recent tragedy that occurred on November 6, 2016 along River Road in Richmond. According to reports, a motorist pulled into the oncoming lane and drove into a group of six cyclists, killing one and seriously injuring two others. I do not want to get into the details of the crash (click to read about that from CBC or Richmond News). I want to talk about how the City of Richmond is responding to this tragedy.

Now let me be clear, I am basing this entirely on what is publicly available in the news. I have not interviewed anyone, nor do I intend to. And I fully accept that some media sources have a tendency to make stories more dramatic than they really are.

However, accord to this Richmond News article, the City of Richmond was considering banning cyclists from River Road altogether. Here are a couple of letters to the editor condemning this consideration: November 16 from Graham Taylor, November 17 from George Muenz. I was truly shocked that the City of Richmond would even consider this as a possible solution.

I was relieved this morning to read this November 17 letter to the editor from Coun. Ken Johnston in which he clarifies that he had no intention of banning cyclists and that the use of the word may have been inappropriate and misleading. Ken Johnston writes the following:
"My intent was to have staff investigate all options for cyclists, including  use of a safer alternative route, if one exists. My request was intended to generate more information on cycling use of River Road. In retrospect, my use of the word “banning” in the motion was ill advised, as it has detracted from the important direction of the committee’s motion. But at no time did I say I wanted cyclists banned from River Road." 
With that in mind, that the City does not in fact intend to ban cyclists from River Road, I still want to state my position on this topic.

First, whether a city is or is not invested in building safe infrastructure for bicycles, are rural farm roads not precisely the place that the city would want cyclists to be riding? River Road, for example, is a non-arterial, quiet, residential street that runs along the river. It is outside of the city core and, therefore, out of the way. It bends and curves so most vehicular traffic should be at a moderate speed anyway. Further, aside from the few businesses in the area, most vehicular traffic is local residents. The only exception here is the odd speedy motorist looking to skip heavy traffic along Westminster Hwy or Highway 91.

So banning bicycles from the road altogether seems counter-intuitive to me. How about installing rolling speed bumps to limit speeders, similar to the ones along 0 Ave? Or how about adding more bollards to keep impatient motorists in their own lanes? Or, even better, how about adding a mixed-use (pedestrian and bicycle) trail along the mostly unused waterfront?

Just for arguments sake, let's have this same discussion about vehicles but replace the word vehicle with samurai sword. This may sound like a ridiculous analogy, but allow me to start things off:
In Richmond, we have a lot of people that depend on their samurai swords. However, we also have a growing number of people that have decided to leave their samurai swords at home and go without one. This growing number of people believe that life is better without a samurai sword. Some just for recreation, others as a way of life, and others yet are simply not able to carry a samurai sword any more.
Most people are very responsible with their samurai swords. But some are not. Inevitably, every once in a while, someone gets reckless or careless with their samurai sword and someone dies as a result.
But we always consider it an accident, of course. Sometimes it is an "out of control samurai sword," and other times people die as a result of a "mechanical malfunction" with the samurai sword. 
In order to prevent more deaths, to prevent more people from dying by samurai swords, we will ban the individuals that leave home without a samurai sword. Everyone must now have a samurai sword. That is how we will prevent more people from dying by a samurai sword.
If any municipality or city actually considers banning cyclists from a stretch of road to prevent tragedies, then I strongly believe that they have their priorities backwards. Earlier in the year I wrote about changes needed to Richmond's bicycle infrastructure (click here to read that post). Along with changes to infrastructure, Richmond also needs to prioritize vulnerable road users (pedestrians, bicycle riders, etc.) in all areas of our city. Motorists also need to be held accountable for their actions (as far as I am aware, no charges have been laid against the driver in the November 6th tragedy). We need to stop calling these tragedies accidents. And the media needs to stop using language that removes the blame from the motorists and places it on the vehicle or the victim.

15 Jun 2016

Richmond Bike Lanes Still Have a Long Way to Go!

Over the years, the City of Richmond has made great progress building bike lanes. Compared to most of the Metro Vancouver area, Richmond could be considered "ahead of the pack." However, in recent years, progress has stalled dramatically (or even halted altogether). With other cities like North Vancouver building their bicycle infrastructure at a rapid pace, Richmond is at risk of falling far behind.

In my opinion, this is a shame because ridership in Richmond seems to be on the rise. While I do not have any hard data to back this up, I do have my own perception that I see a lot more people riding their bikes than I used to. Mostly, I see a lot more older people and families out for an everyday leisure ride or ride to the store. Rather than cyclists (roadies in Lycra), I see a lot more everyday bicycle riders in the bike lanes.

Every day I see more and more bicycle riders out there - some on sidewalks, some in bike lanes, all of them riding where they feel safe. I see both teenage kids riding to and from school and elderly folks riding to and from their activities or the store. In addition, there is still a growing number of road cyclists. It may be true that a road bike is the new cure for a mid-life crisis. And regardless of why any of them are riding, we need to welcome anyone and everyone who chooses to pedal along on two wheels. The more bicycles there are on the roads,, the safer we all are.

In general, Richmond's bike lanes are great for recreational use, But in order for Richmond to truly embrace bicycle culture and sustainable infrastructure, they need to do more. I always think the perfect gauge on bicycle lane safety is how often I see children or parents riding with young kids. For example, along the Granville Ave bike lanes, you rarely see young kids. The traffic is simply too close and too fast to risk a young kid swerving on a bicycle. The dyke and the Railway Greenway, in comparison, are full of kids riding with their parents, along with couples on dates, and other travelers walking, riding, or running. We need more like this, please. Lots more!

When you consider Richmond's bicycle infrastructure, in the simplest of terms, there is the dyke, two east-west routes: Granville and Williams, and two (or one and a half really) north-south routes: Railway and Garden City.

The dyke is a great place to go for a weekend ride with the family. But if you have a particular destination in mind that isn't Garry Point Park, the Olympic Oval, or Steveston, the dyke won't get you very close. If you want to go for a ride on the dyke, then the dyke is a great place to ride on the dyke. The views are incredible and it is definitely safe from vehicle traffic. But for most bicycle commuters and everyday bicycle riders, the dyke won't get you anywhere near where you want to go.

Consider riding from west Richmond to Richmond Centre. The Granville Ave bike lane gets you to Minoru, which also has bike lanes. But what if you live north of Westminster Hwy? Detouring all the way south to Granville Ave is significant. The dyke runs out past Gilbert Road, but that's as close as it will get you.

In addition, there are plenty of disconnected or incomplete routes. Coming south off the No. 2 Road Bridge, once you get to Westminster Hwy, the bike lane completely fades away. To continue on a bike route, you have to cross three lanes of busy Westminster Hwy traffic to make the left turn lane at Lynas Lane. Then there are the areas around No. 3 Road and Sea Island Way, Garden City between Granville and Francis, and Garden City crossing Sea Island Way and Bridgeport. Each of these areas are part of marked bike routes. The southbound No. 3 Road bike lane runs for 100m between Bridgeport and Sea Island Way then ends, starts again at Alderbridge and ends abruptly at Cook Road rather than connecting to the Granville bike lanes. Awfully disconnected for a major route. I can't determine whether the city is trying to attract bicycle riders or scare them away.

In response to gaps like these, HUB (formerly the Vancouver-area Cycling Coalition) has launched their UnGaptheMap initiative to bring awareness to these gaps in the bicycle network and to work with city planners to remove them.

Another way to evaluate Richmond's bike lanes is to compare them to Vancouver's. In general, bike lanes throughout Richmond tend to be along major arterial roads with a speed limit of 50-60 km/h. The bike lanes are not physically separated but are merely painted lanes on the right-side of the road. In contrast, the City of Vancouver has designed its bike routes through traffic-calmed residential corridors with speed limits around 30 km/h. The result is a far more relaxing ride where one feels much safer. I would take my kids on bike routes in Vancouver, but not in Richmond (the dyke and the Railway Greenway exempt of course).

Overall, Richmond's bike lanes are a great start, but they're not enough. A lot more needs to be done. I hope that the City of Richmond keeps progressing and building more lanes - either physically separated bike lanes on arterial roads or marked routes through traffic-calmed residential routes. Even more so, I hope the City of Richmond takes a more proactive role in the years to come rather than relying solely on developers to build piece-meal sections of bike lanes.

12 May 2016

Gear: Two Wheel Gear Pannier Backpack Convertible

I have been using the Pannier Backpack Convertible from Two Wheel Gear for about six weeks now. And I want to start by saying that I absolutely love this bag!

From my perspective, first and foremost, it is a backpack and I am a backpack kind of guy - I carry a backpack with me everywhere. But the Two Wheel Gear Pannier Backpack Convertible is also a pannier. It has clips that allow me to attach it to the rack on my bike. Genius! This saves me from getting my back all sweaty on my rides and makes for a much more comfortable ride.

As for aesthetics, the bag I received is granite colour with red detailing. This bag is both sporty and professional, rugged and refined. I love the colour of this bag and the red straps and zipper tags really add some colour to it. This styling is the perfect balance for "I am a hard working business professional" and "I rode my bike to work today".

This bag is very comfortable to carry. I carry this bag to work with me every single day with my lunch and usually a laptop inside and this bag is comfortable. Straps are contoured and padded just the right amount to remain minimalist yet offer the comfort required. The latching system that attaches to the bike rack is behind a padded piece that faces your back when you have the bag on your back; however, I have only been able to feel the brackets once or twice and, even then, could barely feel them at all.

One of my initial concerns was that converting the bag back and forth from pannier to backpack and vice versa would become exhausting. However, I have found it much easier than I anticipated. Flipping the bag from pannier to backpack, for example, takes mere seconds - pull out the traps, attach to the buckles, and zip up the flap. Done. To reverse the process, unbuckle the shoulder straps, unzip the flap, tuck the straps into the pocket behind the flap, and tuck the top part of the flap down on top of the straps. Done.

The one downside is that the bag is significantly smaller than I expected. Although it is difficult to compare to other backpacks because of the features of the bag, namely that it has a bike rack mounting system in it, other 24L backpacks have significantly more usable space inside. The mounting system takes up a good amount of space. For me, there is not enough room for a change of clothes, lunch, and my laptop (my typical daily commuter load). That being said, the bag does expand a bit and I am surprised how much I can jam in there when I need to. So all things considered, the bag does have plenty of room for everything I need for a day trip or night out on my bike.

It is important to note that this bag is not intended to replace the 2.0 Garment Pannier but to complement it. Back when this bag was still being designed, I was able to discuss it a bit with Reid Hemsing, President of Two Wheel Gear, and what he said makes perfect sense. With all the space in the 2.0 Garment Pannier (see my post on that bag HERE), I can haul all the clothes I need for work for the entire week in a single trip. Then for the rest of the week, I can use my smaller, lighter, sleaker Pannier Backpack Convertible and enjoy the lighter loads. There is plenty of room for everything else I need in the Pannier Backpack Convertible when I remove a full change of business clothing from the mix.

My only criticism is that the zippers are a bit difficult to close around the corners. With a bit of patience though, it takes only a second to reposition and get it zipped up. This should also be easier over time as the fabric relaxes a bit more.

I have to admit though, I had to really look for things to find wrong with this bag. I had six weeks to think and plan what I could find wrong and those are the only two things I could come up with. This bag is great. It looks excellent, it is extremely well made, and it fits a niche use-case that I have been looking to fill for a long time.

So overall, I love it. It fits nicely into my daily routine, looking stylish enough to ride to work and rugged enough to handle being attached to a bicycle. So whether I am riding my bike or not, I almost always have my Two Wheel Gear Pannier Backpack Convertible with me.

1 Feb 2016

Gear: Axiom Smartbag Touch

In the fall (2015), I started coming across ads for Axiom's new Fondo series frame and seat bags. The one that particularly caught my attention was the Smartbag Touch. First, because I'm always looking for a place to keep my keys, wallet, and phone while I ride. Second, because it displays the phone right in front of you, where you can see it. More details on that below.

I guess I mentioned this bag a few times because my wife got me the Smartbag Touch for Christmas. A perfect accessory for my longer rides and for my trips doing errands around town.

The bag is a clever design. It mounts on top of the top tube and has pouches that straddle on either side. In the middle, on top of the top tube, is a clear plastic pouch for a smart phone. It is weather resistant because it is covered with a solid piece of clear pliable plastic. There is a flap to cover the opening, which is held shut with Velcro. Obviously, water could eventually get in - it's definitely not watertight - but it will definitely keep the rain drops from getting directly at your phone.

The position of the bag is a bit low for checking the display of your phone while riding. I usually do it when stopped, because it is almost straight down from your head position (on the bike with drop bars anyway). This is quite a bit different from a handlebar mounted phone or GPS bracket. My phone is responsive through the plastic as well, so I can still use it if I need to without taking it out. It would be nice if the plastic was a bit thinner, which would make it much easier to use the phone. I have to tap my phone every once in a while to wake it up (when I want to read my Strava ride stats) and sometimes I have to swipe a couple times for it to register. I can read everything clearly through the plastic though. No issues there.

Now, as for size, I have an iPhone 5S, in a Speck case, that fits in this pouch perfectly. And I mean perfectly, so a bigger phone likely wouldn't fit in here at all. But for me, it's a perfect fit.

On either side is a small pouch. The pouches are a perfect size for a wallet, set of keys, and a couple snacks
for the ride. One side has a mesh cover, the other solid polyester. According to Axiom's website, the idea was that you could see into the mesh side while the other one was for privacy. All told, I can't really see into the mesh side regardless. So visibility aside, rain will go through the mesh and not the polyester, at least not as quickly. So, living in Vancouver like I do, I put items like my wallet in the polyester side and items that can get wet, like keys or granola bars (in wrappers), in the mesh side.

That's about it for the function of the bag: a cell phone spot and a bit of storage. Not much too it. But what got me was how to properly attach the bag. There are three Velcro straps: one underneath, in the middle to attach to the top tube; one on the front edge of the pouches to wrap around the head tube; and one at the bottom edge of the pouches, which I presume is just to hold the pouches steady because it's not long enough to loop around the down tube. I wish there was a diagram, or something, either on the packaging for the bag or on the Axiom website, but there isn't. There's nothing to clearly show me how the bag was intended to be mounted. I have it setup now where I think it is the way it was intended to be mounted, but I'm not 100% sure.

The other thing is that my bike has cables that run through the top tube and down tube. From the handlebars, they come into the top tube right where the Smartbag Touch sits. So, one one side, it pushes the bag out, which makes the bag sit crooked on the top tube. This bugs me. It's not straight. I like things that are aligned. Linear. Not crooked. If I do the straps any tighter, I won't be able to get my phone in and out. So I just have to live with it, crooked. Or constantly try to straighten it. Which I do.

Overall, it's a good bag. It does what it intends to do: display your phone in a convenient location and provide some small storage for wallet, keys, and snacks. It looks good and it is relatively inexpensive at around $30-35.

Update February 24, 2016: After barely two months and less than a dozen uses, the plastic for the phone slot has ripped substantially. It started in the corner and spread up across the face, no longer holding the phone in place at all. I am going to contact Axiom for a replacement, but this is a massive setback for me in terms of how I view the quality of this bag.

25 Jan 2016

Route: Railway Greenway (Richmond, BC)

The Railway Greenway was completed in 2014 along what was formerly the Richmond-Steveston tram line. For many years (at least as long as I've been on this earth), the abandoned rail line sat idle. It was largely overgrown and unkempt and consumed a large track of land that ran right through the city. Turning that land into a multi-use trail was the perfect solution.

The Railway Greenway runs alongside Railway Avenue from the Britannia Heritage Shipyard at the south end to the Middle Arm Dyke Trail at the north end. Overall, the trail is approximately 5 km long. Further, unlike the on-street bike lanes along Railway, the Railway Greenway is physically separated from the street by a ditch, ,trees in many places, and about 20 metres. Thus, it is an incredibly safe route for walking, running, bicycling, or any other method a human-powered transportation.

The trail is well marked and has some really unique signs. One of my favourites is the direction markers on the trail itself. 

One of the drawbacks is that the trail crosses several major roads. While there are designated pedestrian crossing signals, and bright green paint on the road to highlight the crosswalk, motorists still tend to try to fly through without waiting for a pedestrian to cross. Not a problem exclusive to the Railway Greenway of course, but definitely one that impacts it.

Every time I run, walk, or ride my bike down this trail, it looks a bit better too. The trees that line the trail are getting more mature (fuller and taller). The trail itself looks settled in now too.

The other great thing about the Railway Greenway is that it connects to several other trails (bike, walk, or run routes). Most notably, there's the South Dyke out of Britannia Heritage Shipyard, the bike routes along Williams Road, bike routes along Granville Road, and the Middle Arm Dyke at the top. So not only is the Railway Greenway excellent for leisure activities, it's also incredibly functional as a commuter route.

If you haven't checked it out already, you really should. I only wish there were more routes like this in Richmond. While the dyke system provides a fantastic trail system, it me
rely circles the perimeter. I love that the Railway Greenway goes through the city. I'd love to see more like it.

22 Jan 2016

Gear: Two Wheel Gear The Classic 2.0 Garment Pannier

For all of 2015, with my wife on mat leave, I was able to use my bike as my sole method of commuting to and from work. Honestly, in terms of commuting, it was the best year of my life. I enjoyed every single day of it.

My commute is 20 km each way, which takes me between 45 and 55 minutes, depending on my energy level. As such, my ride is substantial enough that I need to change into my work clothes when I get there. Luckily, my office building has exceptional facilities available: showers, change rooms, secure bike storage, etc.

One of the challenges was getting my work clothes (dress pants and dress shirt) to the office without wrinkling them up in a backpack. Also, backpacks are sweaty and uncomfortable, especially on hot summer days.

So for my birthday last year, which is in late spring, my wife got me the number one item on my wish list: The Classic 2.0 Garment Pannier from Two Wheel Gear. I can't remember where I had first heard about Two Wheel Gear, but early in 2015 I started seeing the name appearing in articles more and more. Two Wheel Gear is a great local company with a great concept: a suit bag that's made to fit on your bike. As for the company itself, "the focus is to create the very best bags in the world for professional business commuters, to keep innovating with new commuting bags and to make it extremely easy to bike to work."

The garment pannier was the perfect solution to my problem. The main pocket zips completely open and lays flat for organizing clothes. Inside, there are a couple small pockets for socks, belts, ties, or other accessories. Inside the flap, there is a laptop pouch and a larger accessory pocket.

On the outside, it looks almost like a regular set of panniers. Large outer pockets have ample space for shoes, a packed lunch, a jacket, or whatever else you need to carry.

The bag comes with a bright yellow rain cover that attaches to the outside of the bag. The nice part about it is that I can detach it and leave it at home on the days I know it won't rain. But if the forecast shows a chance of rain, I simply clip the rain cover on, just in case I need it.

The other thing I really like about the bag is that it comes with a shoulder strap. So when I park my bike, like on the days I take a shorter 5 km bike ride to the train, I simply unhook the bag from my bike, throw the strap over my shoulder, and, voila, a shoulder bag. Now I will admit, that the bag is a bit bulky to be an awesome shoulder bag. Thankfully, that's not it's primary purpose. The bag has to be that bulky to fit both the length and width of the clothes inside. The only downside is that I have to really squish it into the lockers at work (which I assume are standard size changing room lockers). Even an inch less width would make it a lot easier to fit.

Overall, I love this bag. I use it every single time I ride to work. The quality of it is top notch. It has big, sturdy zippers on it. And after almost a year's worth of daily use, it barely has any signs of wear at all. When it gets dusty from the road/trail, a quick rinse with the hose and it's cleaned right up.

Now if this is a bit too much for what you're looking for, Two Wheel Gear is close to releasing a smaller Pannier Backpack. I am extremely intrigued by this bag as well, especially for the days when I don't have as much to carry.

You really can't go wrong with either option!