A Bad Start to the Commute

Today I was to start my car-free commute to the University, due mainly to the fact that yesterday I got a ticket and had my license suspended and taken away (for a supposed unpaid infraction that was actually thrown out of court and reduced to $0, I found out later), and if I’m caught driving, well, it’s the slammer for me. No problem, I have a bike and Miami’s fairly good public transit system at my disposal. Let’s do this.

I biked from my house in South Beach across the Venetian Causeway and into the Omni station at the edge of Downtown Miami (see MapMyRide.com route here). It took me about 35 minutes and it was an eye-opener in many respects: how much weight I need to shed from what I’m carrying (I calculate I was carrying about 30 lbs between the chunky bike chain, backpack with school stuff, laptop and extra clothes due to the 40° weather), how different it is to bike for leisure vs when you need to get somewhere on a time schedule, and how I need to better layer for the cold so I can remove layers more efficiently while riding. All good lessons. And in the end, I did make it to Omni, fairly tired, with a nice burning sensation in my thighs from the exercise, but overall fine and dandy. I was actually quite proud of myself!

Then came the bus leg of the trip, taking bus route 93 from Omni station to 135 St along Biscayne Blvd. The bus pulled up, I brought down the front bike rack and hefted (ugh!) the bike into it. I was always afraid that the 700-size wheels on the Amsterdam would not properly fit the bus bike racks, but they fit just fine, surprisingly (700 is not a common size in the US). It was also my first time using the bike rack so I followed the instructions on the Miami Dade Transit (MDT) website to the letter when locking it, but asked the driver as I got on if I’d done it right; my bike is back-heavy due to the panniers so it felt a bit wobbly and I wanted to be sure. She made a non-committal noise and shrugged; I took that to be a yes.

Elam on the bus bike rack (pre fall)

Elam on the bus bike rack.

The bike held ok for the ride, swinging back and forth as the driver hit the brakes and accelerated along the route (in that oh-so-softly way that MDT bus drivers hit the pedals, like they really get a kick of seeing everything and everyone on the bus swing wildly back-and-forth). I hit the signal for my stop at 135 St & Biscayne, and as we’re slowing down, the bike slipped off backwards from the bus bike rack. The locking mechanism of the rack had slipped off the front wheel and thus the bike was left without anything holding it in place. The bike was hit by the bus (thankfully as it was slowing down), pushing it into the next lane of traffic (the middle one).

The bike suffered some scratches, one of the panniers was scratched heavily, and both wheels got bent to the point that the bike could not be ridden. The driver called in and reported the incident, and then left.

Bent back wheel and destroyed pannier.

I accept an amount of responsibility for perhaps not having secured the bike well to the bike rack. But then again, the mechanical arm that supposedly holds the front wheel did not actually lock into place (as it should have?). Furthermore, the driver never properly confirmed that the bike had been rightly secured, and at no point did she ever check that the bike continued to be properly secured on the rack, thus not noticing that the locking arm had slipped off. Even though I was sitting right up front and keeping an eye on the bike I could not see the locking arm from my sitting position, so I cannot tell at what point it slipped off.

To add insult to injury, the driver (driving bus #2070) was less than cordial with me after the accident (which happened at 10:00 AM), immediately shifting all the blame onto me, almost annoyed that she had to deal with this issue. She did not inform me of any kind of procedure to follow (if there is any in place), simply called the report in and left. Not even an “I’m sorry.”

The bike can be repaired (I’m guessing it’ll be around $100, as I need a new rear wheel rim), thankfully, though the panniers will most likely need to be replaced (at a cost of $150, though currently unavailable via Amazon.com). I don’t know what MDT policies are in regards to situations like this (I looked around their website before writing this, just in case, but could not find anything). I doubt that Metro Dade Transit will actually accept any kind of responsibility for the incident, though I did file a complaint, just to follow protocol.

I will not let this deter me from my resolution to go car-lite/car-free in 2010; if anything, it forces the issue even more, as I now have to rely solely on public transportation to make it to and back from school. I will likewise not hold all MDT employees in contempt for this event (though you bet if I see that driver again, she’s getting the stink-eye from me), though I can’t say that I like them very much either.

As a kind of epilogue, I walked down 135 St all the way to FIU, walking along the beautiful bike path going through Arch Creek East Nature Reserve. My feet hurt when I finally made it to class (15 minutes late, not bad considering my entire morning odyssey) but that walk did give me some time to cool off.

Elam grounded; I tied it down at a friends building until I can pick it up this afternoon.

Elam grounded; I tied it down at a friend's building until I can pick it up this afternoon.

19 thoughts on “A Bad Start to the Commute

  1. First, this is of course terribly sad news, but alas not surprising to me.

    I also ride on 700 sized wheels so I’ll try to give you some insight from my own experiences with MDT’s bus racks. I wonder if your wheels did in fact fit properly onto the rack because I have never found this to be the case. To fit my front wheel into the rack so that I can get the locking mechanism on it requires that the back wheel only be partly within the valley for it. Regardless of this, both wheels are at least partly within the wheel valley (i don’t know what this part of the rack should be called, but it’s where the wheels fit!) when the front wheel is locked.
    There are two type of bike locking mechanisms in use on MDT buses, although you will only find one type on any given bus.
    There is a red locking mechanism which looks a bit like an arched doorway, which locks onto the front wheel via a pressure mechanism which keeps it from loosening. I personally prefer this mechanism of the two because I find that the pressure is very strong, and imagine it would not loosen under most circumstances.
    The other mechanism is the original, older system–an upside down J shaped arm, composed of one hollow, black, square shaped piece connected to the rack itself, which houses the actual locking mechanism, a silver/metallic J arm, (usually with a black synthetic cover where the J meets the wheel) which locks the wheel by a spring inside the black hollow piece.
    Which system were you dealing with?
    In this older system, which is still more common in NE Dade county, the hollow piece, which is connected to the rack, if often connected very loosely! It moves forward and backward (traffic direction, not bicycle position), very easily. I have noticed that of the two rack spaces, the one closer to the bus (which is mostly used) is much weaker and shakes much more violently than the other rack space’s arm. I NEVER use this rack space unless there is a bike already occupying the front space.
    I have observed my own bicycle leaning as far forward as 45 degrees from the normal position.
    I don’t know if this space’s arm moves as such due to years of use, or because of its design. The outer rack space, while still shaky, is not as dangerous a bet because the “locking” arm is attached to the inner side of the rack (facing the bus) so that any shaking is in the direction of the bus and not the street.
    I have also, on many ocassions, found that the spring locking mechanism is broken. Usually only one of the two arms will be broken, but it’s no unheard of to find BOTH springs broken making both rack spaces unusable.
    Most bus drivers will NOT allow you to take the bike on the bus in these extreme circumstances.

    If the system available to you was the red, pressure locking mechanism, I don’t really have much to say, I’ve never had any trouble with this system, and my best guess would be that maybe you had the back tire in place, but not the front tire (again, my experience (and perhaps the space between my wheels is greater than yours) is that the wheels cannot both fit properly) which would prevent the an appropriate lock on to your wheel.

    MDT will not take any responsibility for this, as I think is indicated by how dismissive the bus driver was to this. The bike racks are an “at your own risk” option for bike riders, and it’s rather pathetic. Once you get your bike fixed I would recommend locking the bike to the rack itself, so that in the event of it coming loose of the locking mechanism, it will not fall off the rack, just fall onto the rack. That is no guarantee, of course, that the bus driver would then bother to inform you that the bike fell because many of them are very lazy and lack compassion.
    .-= Prem´s last undefined… If you register your site for free at =-.

  2. @Prem
    The rack I used this morning had the red mechanism you describe. I also felt it should be strong and secure, but it didn’t feel like it properly locked into place when I used it. Again, it was my first time and maybe I did it wrong, but I was also not corrected by the driver.

    The front wheel did indeed fit in what you describe as the valley for it; my problem was with the rear wheel. This rack did not have an actual wheel canal where the wheel could rest, but rather a kind of ramp arching downward. So basically the only thing holding the bike in place was the front locking arm. Once this one doesn’t lock down properly… Frankly, I’m amazed the bike didn’t fly off before, angling back and forth as you describe above while we rode.

  3. I’ve used both. Personally, I prefer the big hook. Some of the buses with the red mechanism seem to have no air pressure (the tube is broken, or something similar), so the bar hangs loosely around. The J-hook, on the other hand, is usually a bit better maintained (they tend to stick, if they’re old, and some of them aren’t as springy as they should be), but the mechanism is large enough that you can hook them around your front wheel *and lock them to your back wheel*.

    My worst experience with these was when there was *no* mechanism, and I was forced to lock my bike to another fellow’s bicycle. Awful.

  4. @Camilo
    The red locking mechanism I used yesterday felt floppy like you describe, not tight with air pressure. I didn’t know I could use my own lock to secure the bike to the rack; it isn’t stated in the MDT website and well, I already mentioned how helpful the driver was.

  5. Sorry about poor Elam! I’ll shift into lawyer mode and say that you should push the local transit authority to pay for the damage.

    I didn’t even know you had a personal blog outside SBM. I think your readers there would be interested in your more personal exploits, too.

  6. @Dottie
    Elam’s been dropped at the bike shop, so with luck, we’ll be riding by the weekend.
    I want to remain optimistic that the transit authority will accept even a part of the responsibility, but I am also very cynical about dealing with government agencies. Nowhere on their site, however, it is stated that they are not responsible, so maybe that help me.

    I never really realized I hadn’t mentioned this blog over at SBM. I started a separate bike blog because I sometimes focus too much on branding, and over time I realize all I’ve done is isolate parts of me. I am pondering the logistics of folding SBM into this blog as a branded category. Doing my research and we’ll see.

  7. You should of took your 2 panniers off before you got on the bus. considering that your bike is already heavy. and no MDT will not do anything about it as its your responsibility not there. it says that on the bike and ride program papers.

  8. @Nick
    Thanks for commenting.
    I can’t be taking off the panniers everytime I intend to ride the bus; it’s just not logical or practical as these are really well strapped for security and stability.

    As for MDT, see, I’ve been checking their site and I cannot find any place where they state using the bike racks is at your own risk and that they don’t make themselves responsible. If anyone can find that on the website, please link me to it.

  9. I’m confused. You say 700 tires aren’t common in the US? That’s the primary size for every road bike out there. Those seem to be more common (at least where I am in CA) than the 26″ mountain wheels. Almost nobody I know commutes on a mountain bike because the resistance on the tires is a large amount of extra effort for no particular gain when you’re not leaving the road.

  10. Why complicate it folks – simply take two (or three) good sized bungee chords with you and irrespective of the looks the bus driver might give you for taking the “extra time” out of their schedule…..AND what?!!?!? – I bungee tie my bicycle 700 tires (front and back) down just fine (loaded up with my commuting attire and extras)

    Simple solutions for simple people.

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