Retroreflective Manicure

2 09 2012

You  know those moments when you think of something so awesome but also so obvious and wonder “how did I not think of this before?” I had one of those last week – retroreflective nail polish!

Retroreflective means that a material reflects light directly back at its source. For night time cyclists, this means that the light from a car’s headlights is reflected back at the driver, making you look far brighter and more visible from a longer distance. Retroreflective materials are used in things like street signs and markings, high visibility safety wear, and to improve visibility of trailers & train cars.

Last year, I procured some traffic grade retroreflective glass spheres (spheres so small they’re almost a powder). I used them to turn bracelets and silk flowers high-vis in Retroreflective Goodness and to make the magnets in Bike Art Galore. The technique is easy: pour the glass powder over wet paint, let it dry & shake off the excess so there’s a single layer of glass spheres on the surface.

To apply to nails, simply embed the spheres in the final coat of wet nail polish! I did a blue stripe over a purple base coat and then just gently laid my nail down in the powder.

I only did the pinky and ring finger with the retroreflective material because this is still an experiment. The camera flash replicates the effect of headlights.

Hand signals just got way more awesome! Like with paint, the lighter the colour, the brighter it will be, and metallic colours look amazing.

So far, the retroreflective nails have worn better than just the regular polish, leaving me with another problem: how to remove it. I usually rub polish off with an acetone soaked rag but I don’t dare rub the retroreflective glass. Remember the Mohs hardness scale – glass scratches fingernail. I figure I’m going to have to invest in the type of nail polish remover where you dip the whole finger in if I’m going to have any chance of getting it off without damaging my nails. Another issue I’m having is keeping it clean. If I do up my whole left hand I’ll have to start wearing a glove (which I’m not a fan of) while I’m wrenching to prevent any bike grease from taking up permanent residence. At least one thing that I was worried about, the glass spheres detaching and getting into everything, hasn’t happened though.

Mourning a Fellow Cyclist

29 08 2012

On Monday morning, news of a tragic accident on Whyte Avenue sent Edmonton’s cycling community into shock. Isaak Kornelsen, age 21, fell under the wheels of a fully loaded cement truck after losing control of his bike while trying to dodge a large mirror sticking out from a large pickup truck that was parked more than a foot away from the curb.

Ghost bike on Whyte Ave in memory of Isaak Kornelson.

It didn’t take long for word to spread about what had happened and for glimpses of who this young man was to appear. At the University of Alberta, he was a track athlete and a student in philosophy. He worked at a local vegetarian restaurant. He rode a bright orange Masi. He had graduated valedictorian at a nearby high school. People who knew him spoke of respect and love for a talented, accomplished, but humble young man who was a true leader and inspiration. His family are also cyclists. He sounds like the kind of person that this world is sorely lacking, and I send my heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, and everyone else who is mourning his passing.

Mourners gather and light candles at the ghost bike memorial.

The accident happened only a couple of blocks from BikeWorks South, and there were many witnesses, including an EBC member, who went directly to BikeWorks and started working on a ghost bike with Chris, which was installed mere hours after the accident happened.

The police called it a freak accident, but that implies that it wasn’t preventable. While I can only speculate about exactly what happened, I ride that stretch of road several times a week, and from all the witness descriptions, I feel like Councillor Ben Henderson’s summation that everybody involved, the cyclist, the pickup driver, and the cement truck driver, were pushing the limits of safety, limits that are routinely pushed every day on the Avenue. I want to be clear that I’m not blaming anyone involved, but as cyclists there is a lesson we can learn. That lesson, simply put given the current infrastructure, is take the lane.

This accident has reignited calls for bike lanes on Whyte Ave, but along with lack of infrastructure, has also highlighted the lack of cyclist and driver education that allowed this to happen in the first place. On mainstream media sites (Global’s facebook page, I’m looking at you) I’ve wretched after reading some of the nasty, victim-blaming comments, and even more friendly voices have said things like “that’s why I always ride on the sidewalk” and “riding on Whyte Ave is suicide.” Well, until there’s proper bicycle infrastructure, I’m going to keep on riding on Whyte Ave, taking the lane. If drivers want to get annoyed & honk at me, I’ll be reassured, because I’ve got the right to be there, and because when they honk, it means they saw you. It’s still the fastest way to go, and believe it or not, is safer than the sidewalk where every intersection is another opportunity for a collision, or being squeezed in between a lane of traffic and a lane of parked cars. I know it sounds scary to a lot of people, and there is always the slower, less direct alternative of taking the side streets, but even if you don’t feel like you can assert yourself in a lane of traffic, or that you’re not ready, I hope that you’ll keep in mind that level of comfort as a goal.

This Friday, the monthly Critical Mass ride will be dedicated to Isaak’s memory, at the request of some of his friends. As usual, meet at City Hall, by the fountain, at 5:30. Wear yellow in honour of Isaak. Together, we’ll take back the streets, if only fleetingly. I expect we’ll alter the usual route to include an emotional visit to the scene of the accident.

News reports:

Cyclist Down

8 10 2011

JRA is an often unhelpful story every mechanic has heard as they try to figure out what caused the broken bike in front of them.

“What happened?’

“I was just riding along…”

Bikes just don’t spontaneously destruct without warning. Mechanical failures either start small and are detectable before they become a threat to the rider, or are precipitated by some sort of impact. Keeping this in mind, here’s my story:

Yesterday, I was just riding along when, I guess the most accurate way to describe it would be, my bike crashed me. I was riding on the sidewalk (which I rarely do) at a decent pace, and somehow my front wheel came off. I crashed into the pavement with my right arm and shoulder taking the brunt of the fall, but also landing on my face & snapping back my neck.

Talk about taking it with a stiff upper lip. How I lost all the skin here, but only had minor road rash elsewhere is a mystery.

As I sat, dazed, on the sidewalk, a guy with thick framed glasses and skinny jeans who happened to be driving by when I crashed, jumped out of his car to assist me. He asked if I was OK and if I needed help, and was genuinely concerned that I’d broken my neck. I started going through a mental checklist of body parts, making sure each one was working properly. “I think I’m OK,” I said as he retrieved my shoes, which had flown off my feet in the crash. I didn’t even realize I was in stocking feet until he handed them to me.

He asked me if he should call for help, and I said I’d better call a friend for a ride instead, at which point he left and I fished my phone out of my pannier and began making desperate calls.

After arranging for a co-worker to pick up me and my bike, and with the help of a random homeless-seeming guy, I started to assess the damage as I waited. Poor Marjory. My new helper was trying to put her back together, but I could see that the front fork was now splayed out twice as wide as usual and significantly bent backwards, so I told him not to bother.

This picture does no justice to how fucked the fork is. Marjory, you were a damn good bike.

Best case scenario: I’ll have to replace the fork. Hopefully, there wasn’t any other damage to the frame and this will be the case. Worst case scenario: frame also bent beyond repair, in which case I’ll salvage the new alloy wheels, sweet tires, shifters, drive train, and salmon brake pads for the next bike. I still need to carefully examine the bike to determine what is salvageable, but it’s safe to say it’s done for the season. The basket and water bottle (which had been sitting in the basket) were also broken.

And me? I’m thankful this didn’t happen in traffic. Twenty-four hours later I’m quite sore, have bruises on both my legs and arms, and have no skin on my lip in what looks like the world’s nastiest cold sore. My neck is sore, but I’ve done worse at Megadeth concerts. My upper arm and shoulder are the worst, and while I have full strength and motion in them, it feels like they’ll be hurting for a while. Hopefully there aren’t any other insidious injuries that show up later. I used to practice martial arts, and I’m pretty confident that I would have been much worse off in this crash if I hadn’t trained breakfalls into my muscle memory. And, because I know some of y’all are thinking it, I was not wearing a helmet and it wouldn’t have helped a lick if I had been wearing one in this crash. I was back on a bicycle (albeit trepidly) within a few hours of getting home.

Getting back to what I was saying earlier, about just riding along, the mechanic in me HAS to figure out why my bike failed. I think the most likely scenario is that the axle nuts were loose, causing the wheel to fall off, which is a very humiliating thing for me to admit. Every time someone else’s bike is presented to me, I check that the axle nuts or quick releases are properly tightened. Every bike library bike I work on gets the same check every month when it’s returned. I put every nut, bolt, and ball bearing in Marjory with my own two hands, but the truth is that I don’t know whether her axle nuts were loosening, because I haven’t checked them since I put new tires on her last spring. And considering that I knew that she had wheels that didn’t match the dropout widths and that it could result in exactly this sort of accident, I should have known better and been regularly pulling out the wrenches.

Retroreflective Goodness

15 02 2011

Cyclists constantly hear complaints from drivers about how difficult we are to see (or more accurately, how easy it is not to see us). In response, some cyclists will feed an endless supply of batteries to a Xmas tree’s worth of blinkies while others repurpose dayglo highway worker vests into everyday riding garb. And that’s fine, it’s just not the way I roll.

My hoodie with a retroreflective owl in a tree and stars, plus a floral design on my calf. Being seen doesn't mean having to wear stripes. Photo by Chris Chan.

Geneva put a little bird on her hoodie.

The retroreflective silver returns the flash right back to the camera.

When I ride, I hope to encourage other folks to ride, too, and I think that presenting bicycle commuting as something you need an ugly uniform to do safely is contrary to that goal. “Cycling clothes” need not be discernible from street clothes, they’re just street clothes that happen to be suitable for cycling (which includes  everything but the trench coat).

Haydn put some subtle stripes on his parka.

Under headlights, though, not so subtle.

Still, some of the technology being developed for safety and athletic applications, such as retroreflective treatments are pretty cool, and I am very interested in applying it to apparel without it reading as safety wear.

As well as a pennyfarthing motif on his sleeve...

... Ian also created a turn signal effect on his gloves.

Perhaps I should begin with what retroreflective is, besides a cumbersome word that spell check won’t recognize. A retroreflective surface reflects light back to the source, no matter what angle the light hits the material. This is important for cyclists because at night it reflects the light from car headlights back to the driver, often allowing them to see a cyclist earlier than without a retroreflective sumtin sumtin. It’s no substitute for a good set of lights, but every little bit can help. In the photos throughout this post, the camera flash simulates the effect of headlights.

Orange is good color for daytime visibility.

With the addition of some retroreflective motifs, it's a good choice for night riding, too.

Over the last year or two, I’ve facilitated several workshops for folks to add retroreflective accents to their own clothes. The material we use is scrap from industrial production, the process is pretty simple, and the imagination is the only limit. All the pictures you see in this blog post taken in the red room (the upstairs lounge at EBC) are of folks who spent an evening with me brightening their wardrobes with this silver film.

Brendan's strategy for choosing his motif was one of my favorite.

"Eyes" like a moth to activate the "flight" response in the most primitive parts of the human brain.

This week I’m holding another workshop (Thursday, 7pm at EBC – register by emailing courses (at) edmontonbikes (dot) ca ) for anyone who’d like to increase their visibility without increasing their geekiness (unless you want to up the geek factor, and I’d be glad to help you if that’s your steez).

As well as using the retroreflective silver film for clothing, this workshop will have another exciting aspect (hey, I get excited by stuff like this). Inspired by a really cool tutorial on Giver’s Log, I’ve got my paws on some raw, traffic grade, tiny retroreflective glass spheres – think of it as high visibility glitter.

The retroreflective glass beads I added to this orchid for my bike look like a layer of sugar.

Outside, in the dark, this lovely orchid sends more light back to its source than the red rear reflector.

Having access to the raw material means we can now retroreflectivize a greater variety of stuff (specifically, anything that can be painted with acrylic craft paint) in almost any color.

These bracelets don't look like safety wear.

But in headlights no one will miss a turn signal when you're wearing safety bling.

I’ve barely begun exploring the possibilities of this stuff, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the workshop participants will create on Thursday. If you’re in E-town this week, come check it out! The workshop will be fun, it’s cheap and there’s still space left for last minute registrants.


21 10 2010

Fear vs living in fear.

I’ve already made several (failed) attempts at starting this post – I think I’ll just start with what happened. It may seem off topic, but I will bring it back to bicycles, I promise (and there’ll be  some coarse language along the way).

It was late on a work night, and a small group of folks were at my place until all hours preparing food for an upcoming event. The music was bumping, the windows were steamed up from pounds of roasting peppers, onions, garlic and other veggies, and the air was thick with the delicious aromas. After everybody left, I still had to wait for stuff to cool down enough that I could refrigerate it, so I was puttering in the basement around three AM when I heard footsteps above me, and not just of the startled kitties stampeding down the stairs.

Wondering if one of my guests had returned, I marched quickly up the stairs, through the kitchen, and into the dining area to find myself staring at a strange man standing in my living room. What I did next I did without thinking; I went completely berserk. It plays back in my mind in slow motion.

“WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU AND WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING IN MY HOUSE!?!” I yelled as I started to run towards him.”GET THE FUCK OUT!” He turned around and ran out the front door and I gave chase, me still yelling and swearing. He hopped on a ten speed and started riding away, down the sidewalk. I wasn’t sure if he’d just stolen the road bike a friend left parked in my living room, or anything else for that matter, so I kept chasing him on foot, halfway down the block until he finally accelerated away from me, yelling and swearing the whole way, “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU”RE DOING!?! YOU CAN’T JUST FUCKING WALK INTO PEOPLE’S HOUSES YOU PIECE OF SHIT!” I actually don’t remember exactly what I said, my memory is in so slow a motion as to make my words indecipherable, but it was peppered with profanity and was loud enough to wake the neighbors.

I returned to the house full of adrenaline, but also terrified, shaking and crying. A friend rushed over after a frantic phone call (thank goodness for friends who will get out of bed at 3am to take a teary phone call and then come over to spend the night) and helped me relax, though between jumping at every little noise and the somberness setting in about all the fucked up shit that could have happened, it was still a restless night (er, morning). I don’t remember being so afraid, ever, nor can I think of many times I’ve been so strong.

The next day, tired, still feeling down about having my space violated, still in shock. Being my own shero is tough.

Two summers ago, police warned women in my neighborhood to lock their doors and windows because of a violent serial rapist (and some women in the ‘hood responded with some more pertinent advice to prevent sexual assault than blaming the survivors for not using enough security gadgets). This incident made me think of that series of assaults, and I’m sure it also crossed many friends’ minds as they heard the details. I made a decision back then to not live in fear, to not imprison myself in my own home, because a cool breeze in my bedroom on a hot summer night does far more to help me sleep soundly than any facade of security. Even though one is a hundred times more likely to be assaulted in their home by someone they know and have invited in than a stranger, women (and men) are cultured to believe in stranger rape as the ultimate reason to live in fear, and then use that fear as a reason to not walk alone, to not go out after dark, to not live alone, to not wear what you want, to not let children play outside, to avoid alleys and parkades, to not do anything (ahem, riding a bicycle) without a chaperon.

Perhaps the early 21st century will be known to history as the age of living in fear and preoccupation with safety (the flipsides of the same coin), when we were so afraid of each other that we locked ourselves indoors, sentenced to a lifetime of unhealthy inactivity and an earlier death. The culture of fear that tells women it’s unsafe to walk on the street (when they’re more likely to be assaulted in their own home) is the same culture of fear that makes people think that cycling is dangerous (though driving is, statistically, equally dangerous and worse for your health). The same people who are always on my case for “putting my life on the line” through cycling (especially without a helmet) are the same ones who chastised me for having the reckless audacity to not double check that the front door was securely dead-bolted.

Fear is powerful, but when we are living in constant fear, besides being miserable, we negate the strength and insight that can come from being truly afraid and become paralyzed in the face of things we need to take action on.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on what happened in the days following the incident, and realized, that for my sanity, I had to focus on what happened, rather than what could have happened. The man in my house wasn’t there to rape me or otherwise attack me. He may have been there to rob me, he may have walked into the wrong house, he probably walked in through an unlocked door, he probably wasn’t stalking me, he couldn’t have been watching me through the fogged up windows, he probably won’t be back, and if he does come back I will make him regret it. It’s likely that (if he is a thief) the bike pile out front is what first enticed him to my threshold, and considering someone tried to jack Poplar a week earlier, it was time for a change in bike security, so I channeled my nervous energy into a little DIY project.

Long chain + super strong fabric cover + badass padlock = bike pile that will neither be moved nor scratched

While I U-lock all my bikes’ wheels to their frames, they weren’t always locked down to something else, as was the case the night I retrieved Poplar (U-lock still attached) from the sidewalk out front. (What kind of drunken crackhead tries to steal Poplar anyway?). I sewed a cover for a hunk of chain long enough to secure all of my bikes, in bright red fabric so it’s hard to miss. I don’t know if it’ll prevent any more douchebags from darkening my doorstep, but I needed to just do something, even if only symbolic, to assuage the fear and get on with my life.

Sassy inspects the leftover fabric. Kitties and hundred year old squeaky floor are the best security.

It’s been more than two weeks since this shit went down. All in all, I’m fine, and even though I got a little jumpy writing and reliving this, it took less than 48 hours to feel “normal” again. When I told a friend (who has also appointed himself my unofficial blog content manager) that I was planning to write about this he said, “Why? Because that dude escaped on a ten speed? It doesn’t have much to do with bikes.” Actually, it speaks to one of the core reasons I started this blog to begin with – to inspire people (especially women) to liberate themselves from fear, because the biggest reason people don’t do awesome stuff (like cycling) isn’t other people or the environment stopping them, it’s the fear inside their heads.

Please Be Aware & Careful Out There.

22 05 2010

Sad news that a cyclist was struck and severely injured by an LRT train on Thursday. To Wesley John Haineault, best wishes for recovery, my thoughts are with you, and your family and friends. You sound like the kind of person our communities need more of, and I really hope you pull through.

News story here.

The news reports say that he waited at the railway crossing for a southbound train, and then crossed while the crossing arms were still down, not knowing that there was a northbound train coming down the other tracks, which hit him. In a slight twist of the usual blame the victim spin the media likes to take whenever a cyclist is injured or killed, it has been widely reported that he was wearing headphones. How headphones can drown out the sound of a train is beyond me, but do you know what can drown out the sound of an approaching train? Another train passing! I must admit, though, that I am glad that they haven’t been reporting on whether or not he was wearing a helmet, because I don’t think it would make much difference being hit by a train.

I don’t know if I’ve ever met Wesley, but this story still strikes close to home. I rode through the same intersection minutes before this accident happened, and waited for the ill-fated train at the next crossing. I’ve been quick to cross the tracks after the train passes but while the signals are still on (heck, I’ve done it at least twice this week) and have had a near hit in a similar situation where there was a second oncoming train. I cycle with music all the time (and I don’t wear a helmet, in case anyone cares). For 99.99% of the time, cycling is pretty safe, but it could’ve been my, or anyone’s, number come up in the shit lottery.

Before anyone chides me for risk taking, please consider this. The most important piece of safety equipment we possess are our brains. Alertness, patience, awareness, good decision making and reaction time are more critical than any gadget we can buy or what we wear or don’t wear. Take this reminder to reflect on the chances we take and decisions we make everyday, and please be alert and careful out there.

And to my friends, I promise I will never enter an active train crossing again, no matter how clear it seems.