Take a Look Bike Mirror

511SR6oUfgL._SL1200_In honor of bike to work week which, in the case of a work-at-home blogger such as myself should be called bike from work week, I thought I’d discuss one of my favorite bike commuting tools: my “dork mirror.”

This little mirror attaches to a pair of glasses so that you can watch motorists behind you updating their Facebook profiles, texting and Snapchatting while they “drive.” Combined with middle age, this accessory marks you as a serious bike dork. Add some Lycra and you’re a full fledged MAMIL (middle aged man in Lycra). Of course, I ditched the Lycra a long time ago and bike commute in this outfit:

e91549b03e028b190f71e5f7b411ddaa
All it takes is a little saber rattling to disrupt those Snapchat sessions! But I digress.

What I really like about the Take a Look mirror is its durability. There’s a lot of poorly made plastic crap on the market these days. The Take a Look mirror is oddly, almost supernaturally, indestructible. I’ve sat on it so many times that I’ve lost count. It’s lasted for many years.

A mirror like this makes changing lanes a lot easier and gives you an awareness of what’s going on behind you. The mirror attaches to a pair of glasses and is fully adjustable. There’s an adapter kit if you want to attach it to a helmet.

The one caveat I’d add is that you need to be careful not to check the mirror too much. It’s more likely that something bad will happen in front of you: someone turning, a pedestrian jumping out from the curb, someone opening a car door. And you should be able to ride without using the mirror. That said, I never leave home without it.

082 Get Outdoors with Jeff Potter

channels4_banner

My guest this week is journalist and outdoor enthusiast Jeff Potter who runs outyourbackdoor.com. We talk about cross country skiing, riding bikes paddling boats and even eating road kill. You can find Jeff’s non-lycracentric cross country ski how-to videos in his Out Your Backdoor Youtube channel. During the podcast we also ponder the question, “If you could have only one bike what kind of bike would it be?” We get into canoe vs. kayak, how to roll a kayak and the joys of cyclocross.

Make sure to check out all the cool things Jeff has for sale on his website as well as his wife Martha Bishop’s website lazygal.biz.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Two apps for choosing bike routes: one good, one bad

img_0873-1.jpgOne of the single most important lessons I’ve learned about riding a bike in a big city in the U.S. is that you’ve got to choose your route carefully. Pick quiet streets and you can avoid speeding, angry motorists. Even in a car-centric city like Los Angeles, if you do your homework, you can find residential alternatives to major arterials that will make you think you’re in Amsterdam. Well, almost.

Before going somewhere unfamiliar, I used to pour over bike maps to figure out where the bike lanes and paths were. Now, there are apps for that.

The Good: Google Maps
In 2010, a bike option was added to Google Maps. While not perfect, it works surprisingly well. Combined with a little familiarity with what streets are good and bad to ride on, I now find that I rarely look at the city’s bike maps anymore.

Here’s an example: one weekend this month, Kelly needed the car and I had to across town, from the La Brea Expo line station to the new Westchester Community Oven.

The route Google Maps suggested was excellent:

IMG_0869

It routed me on to the La Ballona creek bike path and from there to a reasonably calm street and then to a bike and pedestrian path that I didn’t know existed. The path gets you up a steep hill quickly and avoids a not so fun to bike on major boulevard. Now, it just so happens that I know a drainage ditch that’s better than the path Google Maps suggested, but that’s splitting hairs:

IMG_0802

Google maps also talks to you, so you can keep your attention on the road. I’ve compared it to a number of routes that I routinely ride and Google Maps’ suggestions are just as good, sometimes better. One feature that I wish it had was a way to combine transit and bike routes together rather than separately.

The bad: Go LA
Xerox and the city of LA just came out with an app called Go LA that, in addition to driving and public transit options, also suggests bike routes.

Unfortunately, like so many other initiatives in Los Angeles, the bike portion of Go LA is just an afterthought. If you like your bike rides to be like a meat world version of Frogger, you’ll love what Go LA suggests. I compared a number of trips that I commonly take on my bike in both Go LA and Google Maps. Google suggested routes were much better. Go LA seems to just suggest the shortest routes, which are most often really unpleasant streets to bike on. Here’s the same route as above, but in Go LA:

IMG_0868

It’s obvious that Go LA doesn’t have any data for bike paths, lanes or routes. The route it suggested would be high-stress and, possibly, dangerous.

Perhaps they have plans to improve the bike portion of this app in the future, but they have a lot of catching up to do with Google. And I was excited, at first, to see that Go LA suggests combined bike/public transit options. But, again, until they improve the bike routing portion of this app, it’s basically useless. A press release from Xerox alluded to improvements that will let you track fitness, but why do that when there are so many other apps that already track calories and effort? Giving cyclists the tools they need to find peaceful routes for useful trips will be much more valuable in the long run.

In my search for apps I came across a number of cities around the world that have dedicated bike apps. If you’ve tried any of those, please leave a comment. If the city you live in doesn’t have a good app, give Google Maps a try.

Los Angeles Announces Separated Bike Lanes on Sunset Boulevard

mitchlane1

Sunset Boulevard is about to get a major makeover. Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell announced today the installation of fully separated bike lanes along the iconic boulevard. The project will connect Echo Park with Hollywood and make it safer for residents to bike to Metro Red line stations along this busy corridor. City planners estimate that the resulting switch from cars to bikes for short trips will cut everybody’s travel time, resulting in a win-win for both cyclists and motorists.

He also spoke of additional positive outcomes. “Finally our children will be able to safely ride their bikes to school, or to visit the local ice cream shop,” said O’Farrell.  Signalling the end of a hundred years of car-centric planning, O’Farrell’s links the new bike lanes with his goal to lessen the devastating impact of climate change and end the U.S’s dependence on fossil fuels.  He added, “It’s no coincidence we’re fighting wars in the Middle East.”

bikelanenow

Current bike lane conditions on Sunset: narrow and often blocked.

Funding will come from two unique sources: fines for owners of illegal billboards and film companies caught blocking bike lanes without a permit. “I’m happy to be killing two birds with one stone on this one,” said O’Farrell.

Operation Firefly: Lighting Up the Night

operation firefly

There’s a common stereotype of the average bike rider. We tend to think of a privileged man wearing skin-tight, candy bar colored Lycra and riding a $5,000 Italian bicycle (not that there’s anything wrong with that–cycling is a great way to get exercise). But the reality in Los Angeles and many other big cities around the world is that the average rider is not someone who wants to ride a bike but is, instead, someone who must ride a bike either to get to work or to school. Which is why, when the days get short, I appreciate the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Operation Firefly:

Operation Firefly/Operacíon Luciérnaga is an education and bike light distribution program intended to make sure people riding bikes in Los Angeles County are riding safely at night. Our Team Firefly volunteers flag down unlit riders, install lights, distribute informational spoke cards, and conduct a survey. Now in its fourth season, data from last year’s survey showed that 75% of light recipients use their bicycle as their main form of transportation. See last year’s fact sheet.

Please consider giving a donation. The ability to get around safely is a basic human right.