22 August 2008

Day Seven (Commute Day Five)

I don't know me anymore.

But this may be the most constructive midlife crisis anyone's ever endeavored.

First came the cruiser bike--or rather the giving-away-of-the-minivan for a cruiser. I never would have envisioned myself on a cruiser bike (but I've always had an appreciation for different bike styles, so I can understand in some ways coming around on that one). But bike bells? Who am I? Two days ago, I hated bike bells. I'd always considered them a saccharine coating to a personality disorder. A worm in a caramel dipped apple. It's how certain bikers can non-verbally signal their superiority from the passing lane in utterly gratuitous fashion. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you're probably one of those people. I love you anyway for riding your bike.

Or so went my old mode of thinking (and if anyone actually read this blog--hi, mom--I'm sure I'd get dissenters). Over the course of the last week though, I've turned a complete 180 on bike bells. And I'm not even running for office.

It started at the Tour de Fat parade on Saturday. I'd never been among a triumphal cacophony of bike bells such as that. You can't imagine my pride as hundreds of human curios filled the closed-down corridors coursing through Portland's swanky Northwest neighborhoods inviting gapes and gasps from the doorways and street fronts of franchised boutiques. Those little bells rang out like angels lifting our collective from the asphalt and delivering us to an alternative reality where R. Crumb's Mr. Natural sits with a wicker basket of free kazoos. Did I imagine it, or did everyone there sense it too?

I might have easily dismissed the occurrence and never given it a second thought, but then a funny thing happened yesterday on the Hawthorne Bridge. Bike advocates, as they're wont to do, gathered on the west side of the bridge giving away stuff to folks on two wheels. As much as I like free stuff, as anyone at the non-profit where I work whose seen me shovel in hummus from the break room that's been sitting out for three days can attest (maybe that explains my vision), I tend to keep going, taking the off ramp from the bridge to the waterfront, even with the lure of muffins or coffee as is typically the case.

But yesterday I stopped. They were giving away bike bells.


ha said...

I also didn't "get" bells until I got a cool one for free during a similar giveaway on the Hawthorne Bridge. Now I love them, and use them all the time, particularly to obey those pesky "audible warning" mentions in the Oregon Revised Statutes (traffic laws).

Glad to hear you stopped for one of the BTA's safety campaign events! I was supposed to be there helping, but didn't leave my house until super late that morning. You can read more about the entire campaign and the events we're doing at SeeingEyetoEye.org.

Sean P. Hutchinson said...

particularly to obey those pesky "audible warning" mentions in the Oregon Revised Statutes

Whoa, hold on. Are you saying it's against the law to not ring a bell (or some variation thereof)?

ha said...

ORS 814.410: Unsafe operation of a bicycle on sidewalk; penalty.
(1) A person commits the offense of unsafe operation of a bicycle on a sidewalk if the person does any of the following:
(b) Operates a bicycle upon a sidewalk and does not give an audible warning before overtaking and passing a pedestrian and does not yield the right of way to all pedestrians on the sidewalk.

Unfortunately, "sidewalk" can also mean "multi-use path" which is why the BTA and others have done bell giveaways on the Hawthorne Bridge and the esplanade. Not only are bikes and peds sharing the same walkway, but it often gets very crowded and problems happen between pedestrians and bicyclists.

However, "audible warning" doesn't necessarily mean a bell. It can just be saying "on your left!" before passing, but you'll often come across pedestrians who jump, and often jump left, when you startle them this way. A high-pitched bell is much easier for pedestrians to hear, sounds cheerier ("brrrrrring! brrrrrring!"), and people know it means there's a bike behind you. I often ring my bell and say "on your left" before I plan to pass someone, so nobody can complain. : )

Another point to consider is that it's often good form to warn other cyclists before you pass them as well, at least when you're passing them fairly closely. Perhaps they're about to change lanes and don't know you're overtaking them, and BLAM! A crash. (Hand signals are not required by law when you need both hands to control your bike.)

You should come to the BTA legal clinic! You'll learn lots of information about your legal rights and responsibilities as a bicyclist, and you'll also get a free copy of our legal guide Pedal Power: A Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists, written by awesome bike lawyer Ray Thomas. Ray also leads the legal clinics too.

You can see the schedule and sign up here:

Matthew D. Hutchinson said...

The timing on this post is uncanny -- I'm doing this 24-hour street race in Atlanta next weekend, and they just announced that they are REQUIRING bells (part of the race is on the multi-use PATH), which created quite an uproar on the race blog.
But once somebody posted this video, everybody shut up. . .