Saturday, March 17, 2018

Powered Scooters Are Not a New Idea

Or for that matter, a good one. If it was good idea, it might have gone somewhere in the last hundred or so years.

Contributor Names-Harris & Ewing, photographer
Created / Published-[between 1911 and 1917]
Format Headings-Glass negatives.
Repository-Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
It is unclear where there the above news photograph was taken, other than that it was in a city in the United States. It provides evidence that the idea of commercial uses for powered scooters (here, a small gasoline or perhaps electric motor) is not a new idea.

With LimeBike introducing eScooter dockless app-driven rentals, one wonders why powered scooters have not been commonly used before. As we now know, scooter-enabled postal delivery did not catch on.

The Segway experiment never went very far, but they are expensive and heavy (clunky) despite a cleverness in design

When Segways appeared more than fifteen years ago, I wondered if they were going to compete with bicycles for traffic space. Their cost and other factors seemed to prevent them from becoming popular with individuals - I see a few being used for city tours in Washington but that is about it. There was one (1!) fellow who I saw for a while using one to commute on the Mt Vernon trail but as an entirely motorized vehicle, it was not legal. The two wheels abreast profile was also not good on this trail that isn't that wide - Segways aren't that fast and getting around him was annoying, and probably stressful for the Segway operator since I don't think putting one wheel off the trail suddenly would be pleasant.

Now we have the LimeBike e-scooters that can be rented for riding around in Washington DC. The LimeBike e-scooters have a substantial 250 watt motor and claim a top steep of just under 15 miles per hour (with the motor alone) which is a pretty good clip for a vehicle that has your feet only five-six inches off the ground and wheels only eight inches in diameter. LimeBike's site refers to the wheels as "solid, stable 8" wheels" but a typical folding bike will have 16 inch wheels (that are real tires, too). The problem with an 8 inch wheel is that a significant pothole or a misjudged curb cut would result in a very sudden stop. While not necessarily a problem if being pushed along with foot power, the results could be a lot more interesting when riding a motorized version.

There is also legal ambiguity, at least for now, as to what rules (if any) a rider of an e-scooter is to follow. The sense one has from LimeBike is that their e-scooters are the same as a bike or e-bike, but isn't obvious why that would be true. Riding one of these on a city street in Washington seems almost crazy by definition, but I can't imagine they are good to have on sidewalks, either. Washington DC in particular has a "no bikes on sidewalks" law for its central business district -

If every tenth, or twentieth, person walking in downtown DC was to move to an e-scooter, how would that work?

A separate but related issue is that LimeBike displays a casual attitude towards their vehicles themselves, as things. I can't seem to find a creative commons licences photo of piles of bikeshare bikes in China, but LimeBike and the other dockless bikeshare operators all seem less than concerned about whether some of their bikes end up in effect as random trash (which works for them since they are very cheap bikes). Society, not the operator, will pay for the disposal of a stream of these "vehicles" that may have some convenience for their user-customers but not so much for the rest of us.

Perhaps I am a curmudgeon.

The First Tour de France (Book Review)

The First Tour de France: Sixty Cyclists and Nineteen Days of Daring on the Road to ParisThe First Tour de France: Sixty Cyclists and Nineteen Days of Daring on the Road to Paris by Peter Cossins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this on the new book shelf at the public library. To me, the dust cover design didn't much suggest a newly published book - and I have read enough books with a Tour de France theme that I took this home thinking I would give it 25 pages with the expectation that it wouldn't engage my attention.

But it did - this focused look at the first instance of the Tour de France and how it came to happen drew me in.

A good book about professional bicycle racing successfully combines description of the context of the race, enough (but not too much) about the significant riders, and a narrative description of the race itself - and that's what is I found here.

From reading this (and having read other books about the Tour), I came away with a better understanding of just how much the structure and rules of the Tour de France have changed over the years since the first iteration in 1903.

Two aspects of the 1903 Tour de France surprised me. One was that the new rule (at the time) for the race that forbid what was called "pacing" - that is, riders that were only part of the race to lead a designated team leader who would draft behind them. Of course riders did draft behind one another, but usually taking turns to help each other and not in support of one person. The "no pacing" rule was in fact more about leveling the field between teams with more money to have more riders and other smaller efforts.

Another was the structure of the race overall, which was quite different than recent years - although it ran over 19 days as a multi-stage race, there were only six stages with longer periods for rest between stages that were on average far longer than what is done today. Some amazingly given the lack of lighting on the route or available to cyclists in the form of headlights, the stages would usually start in the middle of the night and run through the day with some riders continuing on into the next night. Given the road conditions and the length of the stages, the physical demands of simply completing a stage must have been incredible.

An enjoyable and entertaining read.

View my other cycling book reviews.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hertz "Rent-a-Bike" in Washington DC (1971)

1971 DC Hertz Bike Rental
Photograph title: Bike story [Bicycle rental store, District Hardware]
Creator(s): Leffler, Warren K., photographer
Date Created/Published: 1971.
Medium: 1 photograph : negative; film width 35mm (roll format)
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Forms part of: U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection.
The Library of Congress has a collection of older photographs from the US News & World Report, including many that never appeared in the magazine. These are occasionally being digitized and put online, which is nice since they are in the public domain.

The photographs sometimes have discernible context but often not - here, it isn't clear why this photograph was taken - what news story would have been supported by such a photograph.

A store called "District Hardware" still exists in Washington DC. I confirmed by email with the grandson of the man pushing the bike out the door that this was an earlier location for the same store in Washington. And that Hertz really was in the rent-a-bike business in the 1960s-70s. Crazy.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Celebrity at Home - Photographs with Bike

Occasionally one finds old news photographs featuring well-known persons of the time with a bike, apparently to show they are regular sorts of people.

Dalhart (LOC)

In these two examples from some time between 1915 and 1920, a then-successful country singer is shown (among other things) with a bicycle. A regular guy!

Dalhart (LOC)

Dalhart seemed to like hats - the one he is wearing while riding a bike is somewhat amazing for its size.

"Speed Kills" - According to the Seattle Dept of Transportation

The Seattle Bike Blog has a recent post about e-bike versions of LimeBikes that is interesting to read. The description of the apparent success of dockless bikeshare in Seattle is intriguing since their attempt at "traditional" docked bikeshare was a failure, only getting to 500 bikes available before being shut down. And now they have dockless e-bikes too.

LimeBike e-bikes in Seattle
LimeBike e-bikes in Seattle from SounderBruce on Flickr

The blog post talks about how the LimeBike e-bikes only provide powered assist up to about 15 miles per hour. This is explained as follows: In part, this is for safety and liability concerns. As the Seattle Department of Transportation regularly reminds us, pedestrians have a one-in-ten chance of death when a driver collides with them at 20 mph. For LimeBike, any crash or collision at that speed is a serious liability.

I first read that (too quickly) as having to do with the speed of cyclists, not cars, and involving cyclist crashes - thus getting two aspects wrong. Oh well. There probably aren't good numbers about how the speed of a cyclist relates to crash outcomes, but it likely that the faster one is going, particularly beyond 20 mph area, the more likely the outcome will be more unpleasant (for the cyclist - and also for whoever he may run into who isn't in a metal box).

This is why I am often unhappy with the so-far relatively few e-bike equipped bicycle commuters I see whose main goal seems to be to emulate car-like average transportation speeds on their overall commute, chugging along the Mt Vernon trail along the Potomac at between 20 and 25 miles an hour (and beyond). Counter-intuitively many such riders are highly disinclined to slow down when presented with traffic or to exercise what would seem like common sense, instead passing at the highest speed manageable with little apparent interest in anyone's safety. (Of course, this is not true of all e-bike commuters, some are a little more safety minded, thankfully.)

The speed limit for cyclists on the Mt Vernon trail (as one example) whether riding an e-bike or a regular one is 15 mph, so someone traveling at 22-24+ mph is traveling well in excess of the speed limit. Now if there is a fantastic tailwind (which is very rare with the direction of my commute) I may average 20 mph for a while but 16-18 is more typical as my high speed - also exceeding the speed limit, but only by ten percent or so, and not exceeding the 20 mph "death zone" speed.

It is also relevant that the trails are used by persons on foot, running or walking, and that the trails around here are typically not very wide or all that well maintained. The mix of 3 mph walkers and 23 mph e-bikers on these trails is not good for anyone.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Invisible Mile by David Conventry (Book Review)

The Invisible Mile: A NovelThe Invisible Mile: A Novel by David Coventry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am something of a cycling enthusiast, although my interest in modern professional road racing has mostly collapsed, I guess from fatigue with doping scandals.

There are some topics that are, let's say, overworked. For U.S. history, topics such as the Civil War, for example, or something about Abraham Lincoln. For books about cycling, the Tour de France has somewhat the same place - it feels like every third or fourth book involves the Tour somehow. This is a work of fiction drawing on actual events at a particular Tour, the 1928 version. At that Tour there was a mostly Australian team; the main character of the book is a fictional participant from New Zealand. The rest of his team are historical figures from that race, as well as other named riders and a few race officials and others.

The structure of the Tour de France has evolved (and perhaps also devolved) over the years - I should have read the Wikpedia entry on the Tour de France for this period before reading the book for some basic context.

The book has several plot lines - one is certainly the main character's participation in the race, and much about the race itself with particular focus on its many grueling aspects. There is at least one other plot line, although perhaps it's more like several others, and I somehow never engaged will with any of that.

I didn't read the book properly, I guess. Oh well. I enjoyed the cycling parts.

View my other cycling book reviews.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Bicycles on DC Streets 1907 (Compared to 1903)

Washington, D.C. clip of Pennsylvania Avenue in 1907 from GhostOfDC

In two different earlier blog posts, first this one and then this one I looked at bicycles that appeared in two short videos of DC streets in the summer of 1903. I have now found the above video of Pennsylvania Avenue in DC, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, from 1907. One can see a lot of change in the four years!!

Pennsylvania Avenue 1907 #1
At about 25 seconds in, a cyclist first appears riding from right to left

The main impression of change is WOW there are a lot more cars carrying passengers on a main thoroughfare in Washington DC in 1907 than there were in 1903, and far fewer horse-drawn carriages. The fellow with a hat facing the Capitol is apparently a traffic policeman who casually directs traffic and to some limited extent, pedestrians.

Pennsylvania Avenue 1907 #2
This is the same cyclists as above, having made a left turn in the intersection and now proceeding away from the Capitol

The cyclist proceeds as any other vehicle, motorized or horse-drawn, riding in the main part of the street.

Pennsylvania Avenue 1907 #3
Another cyclist appears

There are some small breaks in the film - it isn't clear how this cyclist got to the middle of this intersection, but probably he was riding away from the camera and towards the Capitol, then stops or slows to turn to the left.

Pennsylvania Avenue 1907 #4
Because of heavy traffic, the cyclist starts to ride away from the Capitol but then turns to his right

The cyclist makes his left turn in two stages - first, he makes a U-turn, then once he is established heading in the reverse direction and traffic clears to his right, he makes a right turn to complete his original left turn. The traffic policeman plays no role in this maneuver. Note that cyclists in this intersection would have had to navigate safely tram rail tracks in two directions, crossing those at as close to a 90 degree angle as possible.

Pennsylvania Avenue 1907 #5
One of several vehicles spewing vast amounts of exhaust, which can't have been too pleasant

Pennsylvania Avenue 1907 #6
One of only five horse-drawn carriages in the short video

Cars carrying passengers have skyrocketed and horse-drawn carriages, all appearing commercial in nature, have dropped off in number from 1903 to 1907. There are still many streetcars in this urban setting. And there are still bicycles, but the ease with which they can be navigated is much changed for the worse, which probably meant fewer were riding as shown here (although these short videos are of course a very small sample).