Biking is great for your health. Unless you get hit by a car. And unfortunately, there are lots of cars and biking remains less than completely safe. There were 630 fatalities and 51,000 injuries due to collisions between bikes and motor vehicles in the U.S. in 2009 and many large cities—Los Angeles and New York, to name two—are still struggling to create bike-friendly streets.
Until that happens, however, we can make biking marginally safer by making safer bikes. That challenge inspired Josh Zisson, a lawyer and cycling safety advocate, to build what he calls "the safest bike on the road."
A year in the making, it is "sort of a European-style ‘city bike,’" says Zisson. "The upright posture is comfortable, and it’s great for navigating through traffic." It has enclosed drum brakes that work in any weather, and an internally geared rear hub instead of a derailleur, which allows the rider to switch gears at a dead stop. It’s also got puncture resistant tires, a chain guard, and fenders.
But Zisson says that the bike’s visibility is what sets it apart. Not only does the bike have an LED headlight and "daytime running lights," powered by a dynamo hub in the front wheel, it also has a special rear light that gets brighter when the bike slows down—a brake light, in essence. And for good measure, almost the entire bike is covered in a unique coating. Any light that hits the bike gets reflected right back at its source.
Zisson enlisted a variety of companies and craftsmen to help. The handmade frame came from Ted Wojcik Custom Bicycles in New Hampshire, the saddle came from Selle Anatomica, and Portland Design Works provided the basket and handlebar grips. Most of the remaining parts came from Hub Bicycle in Cambridge, who also assembled the bike. The custom head badge came from a jewelry maker in Philadelphia.
It weighs around 30 pounds, which is heftier than most bikes, but Zisson says it’s worth it. "For instance, the benefits of the internally geared hub more than compensate for the added weight compared to a derailleur."
Zisson has been so interested in the reflective coating, in fact, that he’s taken a job with the company that makes it, Halo Coatings, to help them find new markets. What might those markets be? Well, bikeshare companies, maybe. "I was recently contacted by someone at Alta Bicycle Share [which operates in Washington, D.C. and Boston], and they’re interested in getting Halo’s coating on all of their bikes," Zisson says.
Sounds like the capital’s public bikes might start looking a little more like this.