To Helmet or Not To Helmet

I was interviewed yesterday by Grand Rapids Press reporter Jim Harger about whether or not Grand Rapids should pass a mandatory bicycle helmet law requiring ALL bicyclists to wear helmets. I said I would not support this ordinance. (Edit: Here is the article. It turns out that Mr. Harger did not choose to quote me.)

Unknown to many, helmets can be a hot, controversial topic in the bicycling community.

Ken Kifer, a cycling advocate who was tragically killed by a drunk driver in 2003, lays out some of the main arguments for helmet use:

1) Bicycling accidents are frequent and unavoidable, and head injuries and death are likely to result from these accidents.

2) Many cyclists have attested that a helmet saved their lives and even have battered or broken helmets to prove it.

3) Scientific evaluations have been made of helmets which ensure that they will protect the head against almost all injures.

4) Researchers have determined that up to 88% of head injuries or deaths could be avoided by wearing a helmet. A drop in the number of cyclists killed each year is further proof that bicycle helmets work.

5) Any protection is better than none, there is no handicap involved in wearing a helmet, and no advantage comes from not wearing one. Statistics show that when bike riders are given a free choice of whether to wear helmets or not that most of them don’t.

He continues on with the reasons he does not believe those arguments are valid. See his article here.

There are many other sites opposing mandatory helmet laws as well, including the
League of Bicycling Voters, an Austin, TX group that formed to oppose a proposed mandatory helmet law in that city.

The bicycle helmet debate has extremely passionate and convincing advocates on both sides. There are two main websites that will be referenced by each side.
The pro-helmet side: Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
The helmet skeptics: Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation

Each is packed with data and scientific studies that supposedly back up their point of view.

Who is right? As with many complex issues there is not a clear-cut answer.

A bicycle helmet is a tool for bicycle safety and can clearly help prevent some types of injuries in low-speed crashes. This is why I wear one nearly every time I ride a bicycle, and I encourage others to do so as well. However, it may be of little help in many bicycle/motor vehicle accidents that happen at higher speeds, which are the ones that typically result in serious injury and death.

Crash prevention is the best way to avoid these situations. We need widespread education of both drivers and cyclists on the causes of car/bike collisions and how to avoid them. We need “Complete Streets” that safely accommodate all road users. We will have to work together with local governments, educational institutions, and the bicycling community to implement these changes and others.

Doing these things will be a lot harder than passing a mandatory helmet ordinance, but it will be more effective in encouraging people to get out and ride, continuing to build a bicycle culture in Grand Rapids, and making our city a Bicycle Friendly Community.

Are You Hardcore Enough For These Races?!?

IMG_0307 (by fotoman311)Two fantastic endurance cycling events this weekend will draw riders from all over the US (and even the World) to West Michigan. The National 24 Hour Challenge will be held in Middleville, MI, just SE of Grand Rapids in Barry County, and the Lumberjack 100 will test the mental and physical strength of mountain bikers at the Big M ski area in Manistee National Forest west of Cadillac.

National 24 Hour Challenge

Started in 1983 by local bicycle racing supporters Diane and Skip Obermeyer, the National 24 Hour Challenge is in its 27th year, and is the largest event of its kind in the country.  While it is a “race” of sorts, for most participants it is more of a personal challenge.  They set a goal for how many miles they want to ride, or they try to beat their personal best.  The idea is to ride as many miles as you can from 8am on Saturday morning to 8am on Sunday morning.  Riders will complete a 126.7 mile loop of rolling hills around Barry County.  Once that is complete, they will do as many laps around a 23.7 mile loop.  And once nightfall sets in, they will continue on a 7 mile loop until 8am hits.  Once riders complete the first two loops, they are allowed to sleep whenever/however much they want.

The record for this event is 502.6 miles, set in 2007 by Chris Ragsdale, a Grand Haven native who lives and trains in Seattle, WA.  I’ve heard rumors of another experienced rider intent on beating that record, but the ability to do that relies in part on luck, weather, and having a good team of cyclists to help pull you along.

Good luck to all the National 24 Hour Challenge participants this weekend!!


A recent interview on WGVU with Rapid Wheelmen member Joel Bierling, who has ridden over 400 miles each of the past two years.

2008 photos (in 2008 I was the official event photographer and took over 1,400 photos of the riders in an attempt to capture each individual who participated)

DSC_3777 (by davisrc19)
by davisrc19

Lumberjack 100

This is the one I am attempting this year.   The Lumberjack 100 is a race to see who can survive 100 miles of singletrack the fastest.  The fastest riders will complete this task in around 7 hours!  I am just hoping to finish my third lap by the 10 hour cutoff time and get to the end in one piece.

Riders must complete four laps of both an 8 mile loop and a 17 mile loop with a brutally steep climb up to the top of an old downhill ski hill at the beginning of the 8 mile loop.

Good luck to all of the riders participating in this awesome weekend, particularly my Rapid Wheelmen Race Team cohorts!  And if you’re going to Founder’s Fest on Saturday, dance a bit to Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe for me!  I’ll be totally exhausted!  It’s going to be AWESOME!!!


Local endurance cyclist Danielle Musto’s 2008 Ride Report

Lumberjack 100 map (pdf, follow the tiny arrows)


Of course, these races pale in comparison to the efforts put forth by participants in the Race Across America (RAAM), which started on Wednesday, 6/17, with the first racers finishing the 3,022 mile grueling course just over 8 days later on 6/26.  Amazing!


Or there is the 2,745 mile Tour Divide, which started on June 12th and has riders racing unsupported (they carry all their gear on their bicycles) from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, NM.  The fastest riders in this race should finish in around 20 days.  INSANE!

Link:  You can follow the riders at this link, and even track them live, here.  As you can see, last year’s winner, Matthew Lee has a commanding lead and is approaching the Grand Tetons (which is a LOOOONG way from Banff, Alberta).

Millennium Park – More Fantastic Every Year

IMG_2547 (by fotoman311)
Tuesday marked the opening of Phase 1 of the Fred Meijer Millennium Trail that will eventually connect Johnson Park to John Ball Park.

Words can’t really describe how great this new trail is, so I will just agree with Fred Meijer and say, “It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful.”  And it starts less than 2 1/2 miles from Fulton and Monroe!

Millennium Park Trail 061309Now, onto the good stuff.

First a map of the new trail, as best as I could draw it up from memory.  Thanks to Microsoft for the aerial imagery.  I started my trip at the west end of the new trail.  I also drew in the location of the fantastic viewing deck that you can see in the above photo. To view a larger version, click any photo to visit Flickr. Once at Flickr, click the “All sizes” icon and select “Large” or “Original”. My complete set of photos may be found by clicking here.

Click for LOTS of photos!

NBL Midwest Regional at GRBMX track

I rode by the GRBMX track yesterday to check out the track and also look around where the new Mtn Bike Park and pump track are to be constructed. The track is located just SE of US-131 and Burton in some old little league field they have leased from the city.

While there, I ran into Paul Maycroft, one of the guys responsible for building and running the track.  It turns out that this weekend BMX racers from all over Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois will be converging on Grand Rapids for a NBL (National Bike League) regional event.

Sounds pretty awesome, and I would recommend heading over there sometime this weekend and checking out the track if you haven’t been.  There should be lots of racing to watch.

The schedule of events can be found on the NBL website.

First GR Bike Summit a Success!

IMG_0344With 60 bicycles crowding the Bike Valet Parking area and around 200 attendees inside to learn how to make Grand Rapids into a Bicycle Friendly Community, I would call the first ever Grand Rapids Bike Summit a big success!  In the crowd there were young people, old people, roadies, mtn bikers, casual bicycle riders, hardcore cyclists, fixed gear riders, gov’t officials, politicians, and many others.

We had fantastic City Commissioner, Rosalynn Bliss, to start things off with introductions.  Ms. Bliss explained how the Bike Summit began as an idea over a cup of coffee between herself and Bob Zylstra.  They brought in help, including committee chairperson Kevin McCurren, myself, and many others.  With many Monday morning planning meetings and funding from our many sponsors, the result was this summit.

IMG_0395 editBill Nesper from the League of American Bicyclists was our keynote speaker.  Mr. Nesper is head of the Bicycle Friendly America program, and he was there to provide the inspiration for what Grand Rapids could be in the future as a Bicycle Friendly Community.  He provided plenty of examples from Portland, OR, Boulder, CO, and Davis, CA, the three current “Platinum” Bicycle Friendly Communities.  He explained that while we have an excellent start, and a lot of great things providing momentum, Grand Rapids has lots of room to improve our 5 “E”s, Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, and Evaluation.  And he said that improvement will have to come from both the top and the bottom of our local city and county governments.  We need the support of the Mayor, through activities such as the first Mayor’s Bike Ride, and the support of the community, who showed up in great numbers for this summit.  I was also happy see that Interim City Manager Eric DeLong took time out of his busy schedule to attend and hopefully get an idea of what is possible with strong leadership and support within City Government.

IMG_0403Following Mr. Nesper was Ann Freiwald, from Alta Planning and Design, the national leader in bicycle friendly design and planning.  Ms. Freiwald was there to show us how to actually make our community more bicycle friendly.  She began by stressing that one of the keys to increasing bicycling is to create a welcoming bicycle culture that includes everyone from kids to seniors.  The bicycle culture must be visible and be accepted as part of the community to create a sense of pride.  To do this, you must convince the 60% of riders who are “interested, but concerned” that it is safe and healthy for them to ride their bicycles everyday.

After a break for lunch, we heard from Josh DeBruyn, who works for MDOT as our federally mandated state Bicycle & Pedestrian coordinator (every state must have one or they miss out on some federal road funding).   Josh talked about the reasons why Michigan ranked 12th overall in a recent League of American Bicyclists study ranking states on bicycle friendliness.  Our highest rankings were 7th, in Education and Encouragement, and 8th, for infrastructure.  In Michigan 35% of roads in the MDOT system, over 2,925 miles, have a shoulder 4 feet wide or larger.  Statewide we have over 1,576 miles of rail trails.  We placed lowest, 35th, in the legislation category, where we have no statewide complete streets policy, and bicycles are not considered a legal vehicle, despite being given all the rights and responsibilities to operate as one.

IMG_0392 After that we heard from Suzanne Schulz, our tireless Planning Director at the City of Grand Rapids.  She talked about the City’s efforts to improve bicycling after it came up in the talks for the 2002 Master Plan.  In 2004, the city developed a Bicycle Plan and have since put many roads on a “road diet” going from four lanes to three, with a striped shoulder.  However, many of these shoulders have not been wide enough to meet the technical standards to be labeled a bike lane, and in the past, the city has been concerned about liability for maintenance of a labeled bicycle lane.  These are two of the reasons we do not have a single marked bicycle lane in the City of Grand Rapids.  She talked about the money for implementation and maintenance being a large  obstacle to the widespread implementation of bicycle lanes throughout the city.  The city roads dept. is already beyond it’s budget just trying to maintain the status quo.  She did mention that shared use facilities, such as sharrows, may be an option because they do not require much extra plowing or maintenance.  She also said that bicyclists need to advocate strongly on their own behalf or the city will not budget for facilities that take them into account.

IMG_0368Ms. Schulz also mentioned that the Green Grand Rapids master plan process currently underway will be producing a new, more detailed Bicycle Plan.  A draft of this plan is available here.  I hope that the city will be able to use this plan to leverage funding.  Possible sources include the Transportation Enhancements program, and the next Federal Transportation Authorization Act,  which may specifically set aside $50 million for improving the bicycle infrastructure network in Grand Rapids through the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s 2010 Campaign for Active Transportation.

Next were the four breakout sessions to brainstorm ideas from community members on what priorities should be addressed and what actions we needed to take to improve bicycling in the Grand Rapids area.  The breakout sessions were:

  • On-Road (2 groups)
  • Off-Road
  • Policy, Law, and Enforcement
  • Advocacy and Education

I was moderating the Advocacy and Education, with the help of Barb Schmid and Ann Freiwald, and thought we had a lot of good ideas that were discussed amongst the four small groups in our session.

IMG_0336After the breakouts, our panel summarized the sessions and then we had some open question and answer for our experts.  Although the crowd had thinned out some by this time, we finished with remarks by Kevin McCurren and a big round of applause.

A big thanks to all who  came out to make the first Grand Rapids Bike Summit a success.  We’ll be looking at our feedback forms, compiling the data from breakout sessions, and trying to figure out how to move forward and implement the ideas spurred on by this Summit.  Watch PedalGR for ways to get involved in this process.  I think we can make Grand Rapids a better community for bicycling and a better community for living!  See you on the road!


Check out the very good story that Fox 17 News did on the Bike Summit.  Thank you Carl Apple and crew: