Thursday, November 20, 2014

Taking the Lane: Keep Going! How to make a smooth transition to winter commuting.

STEP #1: Outfit your Bicycle

Hopefully by now you have a bicycle that you have been commuting on. You do not need a special bicycle to commute on during the winter. There are certain features that you will really like, but there are always ways to deck out what you have! First step, and something that can be utilized year round, are fenders. 

Yay! Full Coverage!

To use full coverage fenders like the ones pictured above your bike will need mounts.
They will look something like the silver bits on the bikes fork below, but will be specific for fenders. Investigate your bike and take it to your local shop if you need to verify what they are really for!
Mounts Galore

If you do not have those mounts do not fret. You can use a frame mounted fender. Even if you do have the mounts these fenders are easy to snap off and on depending on your need!


These fenders will protect you from snow, sleet, and all the muck. Your bike will also thank you. The full coverage fenders do a great job of keeping extra snow and salt out of places it shouldn't be.

Next up are studded tires. These will help you take on the ice. Studded tires will fit most all bikes, typically not a road bike though. They are usually a little pricier, but will last more than one season. Also if you are strapped for cash, just using one up front will be a great start. This will prevent your front wheel from slipping out, hopefully allowing your rear wheel to follow through smooth and safe. One thing to mention is that the studded tires are great on ice mainly. If you don't experience much ice where you are they won't be much help, and I would stick to a tire with more tread for snow.  They are also something you will have to get used to using on dry pavement, as the studs can slip. It is something that is very obvious and easy to get the hang of though.

45NRTH, Schwalbe, and Continental are some great tire brands to start looking at for studded options!

The last and arguably most important piece to outfit your bike is LUBE. I cannot express how important lubing the moving parts on your bicycle is. We covered chain lube in our ABC's of bike maintenance post. In the winter all of these ideas will become even more important as salt, sand, and cold are attacking your bicycle. 


First off you will want to wear different clothes. We have oodles and oodles and oodles of posts about what to wear when commuting! Check them out. I want to touch on what you can do to make the winter commute a little less harsh. 

First things first. KEEP RIDING. Ride a little outside everyday. It is the best way to figure out how to dress and to let your body acclimate. 

Even if it is just a short jaunt to the store. It will keep you motivated and it won't be as intimidating when you go out for your whole commute. 

Once you have conquered some snowy and cold commutes it is probably time for a break. I use a friends car at least once a week to give myself something to look forward too. Then I also realize commuting on my bike is usually faster and much more enjoyable. 

Second thing is to give yourself extra time. Extra time to get dressed, to ride, and to get undressed. This time probably adds up to around 15 minutes total for my commute. Acknowledging this added time is necessary because then I am not stressing trying to make up for it during my ride. 

Last and overall the change of seasons is hard for everyone, bicycles included! Taking the change one step at a time will ensure you actually want to be riding and will continue to do so after the winter season has blown by. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Taking the Lane: An Interview with 7 Different Lady Cycling Commuters

This week I wanted to feature local female commuters and ask them some questions about their commuting, the bikes they ride, and the worst outfit they ever wore when commuting.  These women represent all kinds of women commuters in the community, from early 20's to 50 plus.  These women are you and me.  I hope you enjoy their stories in this Q & A session.

I decided not to put names with each response, but simply let the responses stand alone.

How long ago did you start commuting on bike?
15 years ago
I biked to school as a kid, biked to classes on occasion in college. Then 15 years went by before I began to commute to work and errands on bike.
My first commutes were in the summer of 2006, and I started commuting regularly in March of 2007.
I first started really commuting in college, in 1977.
2-3 yrs ago
I commuted to school as a child. :) So....about 40 years ago.
Off and on beginning in 2002, full time starting 2009.
2003, I was commuting everyday by bike and riding bikes everywhere until I had a baby in 2010.

Where did you go on your first bike commute or when did you know you wanted to continue commuting by bike?
To work and was hooked from the first day!
To school. I always enjoyed my bike and found it very liberating. I could go where and when I wanted (with permission) without relying on others.
UNL as a student
First commute was from West A neighborhood to University Place Pool as a high school / college student. By the time I graduated from college and got a grown-up job in 2009, I knew I wanted to cut cars out of my life.
Technically, to school, but didn't consider myself a commuter until recently when I began to commute to work and on errands. I knew I wanted to continue because I felt great afterwards.
Grocery store; not really sure when I made that decision.
I commuted to a job at a political campaign in the Lincoln Haymarket from time to time in the summer of 2006. I really didn’t want to pay for parking downtown. Then, that winter, when I got a job working for the State, I thought it was SO DUMB that I basically had to park a third of the way home if I didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg for a garage. So that spring, I started riding my bike to work. It took me less time to ride there than to drive, and I got rock star parking!
I just moved to Philadelphia and started a new job, and I bike to work every day, 5 days a week. It’s about 3 miles each way. I also bike to the store (about a mile), to dinner (1-3 miles), to hang out with friends (5-10 miles), or pretty much everywhere. It’s a pretty rare day for me that I don’t commute somewhere. It’s annoying to drive in the city!
First on campus from my dorm and then to UNL campus from my apt. across from Russ’s in the near south. In more recent history I attached a trailer to the bike to carry my then toddler son (he’s 25 now) and commuted to main campus to teach, and later to Dawes Middle school when I was mentoring gifted students for LPS.

How often do you commute by bike now (times/week or per month) and how far is your typical trip?
not terribly often now due to work and grocery store being further away; typical trip is just a few miles
Every day. Commute times distances vary widely, anywhere from 4 to 40 miles in a day, depending where I’m sent on multiple trips. A common average might be 15 miles, which I add to with errands.
Five days a week, now only 1.5 miles (one way). This time last year it was 6.5 miles.
7 days a week (retail - no day off :)) 2 - 15 miles - during the school year it is 15 miles.
Once a week, 15-25 miles.
I have done a couple 15 mile, one-way commutes to work. For fun, my longest one-day ride was 200 miles at the Dirty Kanza.
I commute only during the summer months 2 -3 days a week when school is out of session.  My cycling commute to/from work is 21 miles round trip.
3 times a month maybe, it’s sad. I try, but its hard taking my daughter to daycare and having the potential of also picking her up. On occasion, I have pulled a trailer with me to daycare and then to work.

In contrast, how often do you ride for fun/exercise instead of for commuting?
Spring/Summer/Fall daily and in the Winter on nice days.
Commuting is my exercise in the summer, plus 1 long ride on the weekend.
I ride most every day for fun/exercise. I take the long way home, or go on a dedicated ride if I have time. It varies with the time of year, too.
50-60 miles a week
spring to fall I ride a ton on gravel but still commute everyday!
Two to four days a week when the weather is nice; a lot less in the winter.
I usually ride for fun or exercise at least 4 times per week.
Probably 2/3rds of the time.

Where are you most likely to commute to?
Work or downtown, I hate looking for parking.
Work and the grocery store.
Work and school
Grocery store, gym or library
That varies where I’m getting sent. Sometimes I’ll be interpreting for a patient at the regional center so I’m there multiple times a day, other times I’ll be at Madonna most every day. There are other offices I go to often in other areas of town.
I commute to work most regularly.
Appointments, errands, events...
Unfortunately, my daughter but I also enjoy having her with me so its easy to trade off the bike for a conversation with a four year old.

What’s the furthest single commute you have ever done or the furthest in one day?
25 miles
The Heart Hospital is the furthest at 10 miles one way. The most in a day, about 40.
9 miles
Commute 40 miles - riding 155 miles
6.5 miles
I have done a couple 15 mile, one-way commutes to work. For fun, my longest one-day ride was 200 miles at the Dirty Kanza.
25+ miles.

What prevents you from commuting by bike more often?
If I need to be in two places at the same time. Sometimes there is no time, but not often. Right now, my fractured rib. I still rode today, but slowly and no far.
Work across town and must dress up, work does not have a shower
The only time I don’t commute is icy conditions (have fallen many times and it hurts, I don;t like to hurt :)) or if i have HUGE boxed to deliver somewhere!
Time, carrying capacity, distance, weather, bike type.
The biggest thing that has stopped me is transporting items like my cat. I really don’t think she’d like it. Also, sometimes, for running errands, I just feel lazy. So about once a month, I’ll maybe run errands with the car. Especially if it’s rainy. Rainy commutes are not my favorite...EXCEPT when it’s really hot and then it rains and it turns nice out.
The start of the school year. Getting kids off to school eliminates the possibility of commuting.

Do you commute less in the winter?  Why or why not?
Yes, because of the snow and equipment. I am not willing to drop cash on fancy gloves, pants, studded tires, etc.
I don’t commute once school is in session - so no commuting during the winter.
ICY conditions are what keeps me off my bike!
yes, temperature and road conditions
Not really, but I probably do less fun rides in the winter. Even when it’s cold, the bike is just the easiest, fastest, cheapest way to get to work. Now that I live somewhere with a subway, though, Nope; I’ve left myself no other options.
I might take that sometimes.
Yes. Can't keep those toes and fingers warm, less geography to ride on, more danger, shorter days.
For work and errands, no. I ride less recreationally. Even though I have a great light, I ride less in the dark, especially if there is snow and ice. If it’s really ridiculously cold I back off too.

What is your favorite bike to commute on?
My Jake (Jacinta to me) the Snake
In perfect conditions, Specialized Amira Sport.
My Kona Dew. It’s a great bike. In bad weather, my mountain bike.
Kona Jake
I have a very tried and true, trusty Surly Long Haul Trucker. Her name is Bizzie Lizzie. She’s made up of old parts from a bunch of different friends and covered in stickers.
I’m very happy with my Salsa Vaya (steel frame, disc brake, touring).
I rode my Trek SpeedConcept to work once or twice, that’s my triathlon bike. It was so fast, so that is my favorite, but I don’t typically ride it on commutes.  It’s just not made for commuting.
All City Space Horse

How many bikes do you currently own?
I currently own 5 bikes, but I’m trying to sell one of them.
3, also own a Specialized Roubaix and a Surly Karate Monkey with custom paint.

What other bikes in the past have you owned and ridden?  
I’ve had quite a few over the years, but in my adult years, I started with a Huffy mtb in college, until it was stolen. Then I bought a few other lower priced mtbs, and I’ve slowly upgraded to better bikes over the last 5 years.
Any that stand out or a cool story to go with one in particular? lot’s of bikes - usually cheap ones from a dept store until I moved here! My favorite bike has to be my very first one my dad put together from bikes he found at the dump!
Had a cheap Mongoose MTB
I used to commute in the winter on a singlespeed mountain bike I called the SSSnow Monkey. Studded tires, so good for ice and snow! I felt like nothing could stop me on that bike.
I know as a kid I had a purple banana bike with streamers that was a hand-me-down from a ten-year-older aunt. In jr high, I saved paper route money to purchase a Centurion road bike from Bike Peddlers. I had that bike through 2004, so 20+ years. Before kids, I'd tear it down every winter and give it a tune up. At one point, when I had little kids, I had one ride in a seat behind me, and two in a carrier I pulled. The 4th was able to ride her own along side. We moved, and I was tired of flats all the time, still had younger kids, so donated that bike and bought a cheap Schwin MTB. A couple years later, my husband bought me another very nice road bike, my Amira.
I had a 3 speed Atala Ladies, a Motobecane Touring, a Trek Mountain Track, and now my Kona Dew and Gary Fisher Tarpon.
I also really like my Trek Allant (comfort hybrid). Very comfy upright posture, covered with nice commuting features.
Soma Smoothie which I loved for sentimental purposes but I learned its frame size was too large for me.

If you could only own 1 bike for the rest of your life, (and it was free) what bike would it be and what color would you have it painted?
My current Jacinta …..just the way she is!
love my Jake. pink or purple
I kind of feel like I already have it! I absolutely love my War Axe and it’s my favorite color, a beautiful periwinkle blue.
Ooo...I don't know. I love going fast and being nimble. Living here, I'd probably get the top-of-the-line Amira. I love my Amira. It would be red. If I were near mountains, I'd probably get a top-of-the-line MTB. I like the thrill of plunging down the mountain trails. Always wanted to try an Orbea, but that Salsa bike at the Cycle Works demo was pretty cool too.
I wouldn’t know without riding it first. Something with awesome components that never wear out even with what I dish out. Maybe a silvery blue-green.
No particular bike in mind, but I do have ideas of what I would want. It would be bicycle yellow, would be light weight, and I would be able to swap out handlebars super fast to drop bars or straight bar, have disc brakes, and take anything from skinny to fat tires. And it could carry about 6 full bags of groceries when needed and quick release fenders.  Basically a universal bike...does that exist?
Too hard to answer but it would be custom fitted and made for long comfortable rides.

Worst bike commute ever was…?
Last year on ice and the year before on ice! Scared to the point of no fun!
Well, there always seem to be challenges, and whereas those rides are not as fun as they could be, I don't think I've ever thought, "That was the worst ever." I went to visit my son in DC, a few weeks ago. Bikes is how we mostly got around. One day, we picked up bikes in Georgetown, and were heading to GW to meet someone for lunch. While we were there, it decided to pour. We were cold and wet, and it required more diligence to our safety, but I can't say I wished we had driven. ;)
Oh boy. I think the worst one was on a Friday afternoon in the spring. I was leaving work at the State Office Building, and a van cut me off and rolled into my leg. The van wasn’t moving fast at all, and I was kind of not riding in the best place in the street -- I was a pretty inexperienced commuter at the time. The bumper bent my wheel out of true and I got a big bruise on my shin. But the worst thing was that I was just so tired and frustrated that I rode off. I think the guy felt bad that he’d hit me, and I kind of yelled at him and rode away. I didn’t feel good about that.
I got caught in a thunderstorm that by surprise. It was one of those freak storms that pop up out of nowhere in the summer. I saw it coming as I left work, and hoped I could out run it.  No luck. Four miles into my commute it started to pour.  By mile 8 it was so bad I had to take shelter under a park shelter (of all things) and call for help. I seriously thought a tornado was coming the wind was so strong and a big tree branch broke and landed next to me while I was under the shelter. I was soaked, freezing cold, and scared.  My ride couldn’t get there fast enough to save me!
I don’t know if you can call my about once a week rides out to visit my dad 20 miles east of Lincoln a commute, but last winter I decided at the last moment to take my Kona- with fenders- instead of the old mtn. bike- with mtn. fenders. Big mistake. There was more snow out of the city and I had to stop every few miles to poke the snow out that had wedged between the wheel and fender until it wouldn’t turn. I took highway the return trip. Another time would be when I had two flat tires on two bikes the same day. Made it to each job anyway.
I was riding home in the rain and it was dark outside. I had lights on both the front and back of my bike while riding in a bike lane on 11th street. A car at a stop sign clearly didn’t see me and while I was in the intersection pulled out in front of me. They were a few feet in front but it was raining and I couldn’t stop without skidding. I hit the back end of their car with my body but was able to toss my bike off to the side. The car stopped for a moment and then drove away.

Worst outfit you ever decided to commute in and why?
Shorts on too cold & wet of a day
Meh, you can make a lot of things work. While not ideal for a long ride, I’ve felt pretty killer going a mile or two in heels and a cocktail dress.
I have definitely ridden in skirts that were a little too short and a little too tight. Once, I definitely knocked myself over trying to get off the bike gracefully. Whoops!
Generally, if I get into wardrobe trouble, it's because I get cold.
A full, longish skirt. Got wound into the spokes and made holes. Also the light color pants with old, not too clean suede saddle on the Motobecane on a hot day. Left a dark saddle stamp on my backside.
I’ve been lucky enough to not have had a bad outfit, but I commute in cycling clothes, which helps, and I don’t commute in winter, which also helps.
Can’t think of anything tragic; just never wear flip flops when riding. That was a beginners mistake.

Do you think everyone should commute by bike at least 1 day per year?  Why or why not? Absolutely!! There is so much you miss out of in a car - change of seasons, fun dogs, facial expressions on people you meet.
yes because it's just fun
I can’t account for people’s physical limitations. If they are capable, by all means. It’s always good for people to experience a commute from someone elses point of view. For example, I think anyone who has anything to do with designing bike lanes should have to commute for a month by bike before they are allowed near the planning process.
Do it! Why? Because I love it and you might too. Because it’s easier than you think. Because you’ll be a more cycle-conscious driver the next time you get behind the wheel.
I really think people should give it a go for at least a couple days a year. Just try. For one, I think a lot of people would be surprised by how easy it is. But more importantly, I think that it would make those who drive more empathetic to cyclists and hopefully more careful on the road.
Some of what I appreciate about biking is the freedom and independence. I would never want to poison such a liberating activity by making or telling someone they need to do it.
Yes, it’s a great idea. Everyone should have an experience of what it is like to ride your bike to work if not for the enjoyment but for the simple

Biggest obstacle for commuters in my town is…?
not knowing where to ride and being afraid of traffic.
Feeling unsafe biking around auto traffic? Also, Nebraska weather.
I’m going to answer for both Lincoln (my long-time home) and Philadelphia (my very new home). Lack of protected bike lanes.
Unaware and ignorant drivers, and unsafe areas along routes from A to B.
In Lincoln, I think it’s the fact that not that many people do it -- it’s not normalized. I think it probably keeps people from doing so. I see so many more people of all sorts of walks of life commuting here in Philly, and I think seeing people riding in business suits and such is a good thing -- it helps you think you can do it, too. In Philly, though, I think the biggest obstacle is cars on narrow streets. You have to ride much more defensively and aggressively to avoid getting frustrated in traffic.
The uncertainty of drivers in cars and being seen as a nuisance In streets. I am yelled at almost on a weekly basis for simply being on my bike. I was sitting at a stop sign once and waiting for the right moment to cross the street and a passenger in a car yelled “why don’t you just kill yourself or drive a car!!” It is incredible to me the negative opinions that what seems like the majority of people have about bikes sharing the road with vehicles. Vehicle and bike collisions are a growing problem and

Funniest, weirdest, meanest, or otherwise standout comment to you about biking from someone who doesn’t ride?
lot’s of “you are crazy” but they say it in an envious way (I think)
what's wrong with your car
So many people who just flat out dismiss you as crazy. I shrug it off as funny, but really, it’s pretty mean. There’s nothing weird about commuting by bike.
Well, I was a bit miffed when I was told by more than one to hang up my cycling shoes after breaking my hip in a crash. I told them they wouldn't be able to stand me without the exercise and for the thrill, I'd probably just get a dirt bike instead then.
A stranger at a store I shop at said he see’s me riding all over town. I used to think I rode under the radar, but apparently not.
I get asked all the time how far my commute is.  Most are shocked when I tell them I bike about 11 miles each way across town. I think most people assume it’s only a mile or two.
See comment about killing yourself above. There are so many mean motorists, it is hard to list all of the situations. I am a safe rider and would never put myself in a situation that I feel like would be harmful to me. I follow traffic laws, take side streets when I can but the amount of hate towards cyclists is huge. I have never been able to understand this mentality and would like to see that change.

Any other memorable stories about commuting you want to share?
I enjoy being on my bike so much i never want to be in a car anymore! If i have to drive I definitely am envious of those on bikes!
I think it's interesting, how many questions I get, and how much interest I garner when I show up at businesses with my bike and in my cycling kit. They ask about the weather, how far I'm going, comment on my bike (I carry it with me some places), they tell me to be careful, how often I ride...etc.
I think the absolute best thing about commuting by bike is that you can so easily talk to your fellow commuters. Comment on the weather, the roads, whatever it is. When you’re in a car, you’re isolated from the world. On the bike, you can interact with it.
I got a lot of people to bike to work this past summer for the first time ever. Every single one of them loved it. Many did it at first for the exercise and then discovered that not only did they save some gas money, but it made them feel great.  Most people don’t arrive to work in a good mood, but when you arrive on bike you are naturally in a good mood.
The day I got the two flats I was first on my way to the heart hospital. I was luckily only 10 blocks from home when I ran over the glass shard. I trotted the bike home, no easy feat as the tire was completely flat and didn’t want to roll on the old mtn. bike. I swapped it out for the swift Motobecane when I got home, poured on the speed those 10 miles, and being that the day was hot and humid, arrived completely soaked to the skin with sweat and with the aforementioned saddle stamp on my backside.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Commuting Whilst Training for Running Events (and vice versa!)

I remember, years ago, one of my cross country runners lamenting the fact that she was going to have to drive her car to her summer on East Campus and not bike the 3 miles. When I questioned her on this, she informed me there was no way she could possibly ride her bike and run all the miles I had scheduled for her that summer. "That's crazy" is what I thought, so I slowly introduced the idea back to her as "this is a way to increase your fitness". She agreed to try it and went on to have the best cross country season of her career! Did bike commuting really have something to do with it? Absolutely! It is the perfect way to add more fitness with out the pounding of running.
The important thing here is to think "training specificity" when commuting by bike. Is your emphasis on a biking event or a running is what I mean......
I have learned to embrace my commuting and my running as beneficial, equally to each other. Prioritizing the event that is most important is the first thing to do. If training for a marathon/half marathon, or any running event that is your goal race, that workout should take precedent. There will be days when you will be extremely weary, leg wise, and a commute does not seem possible. Actually a slow commute is exactly what you need! Slow it down, make sure you have time so you don't have to "race" to work and get that blood flowing. Getting the body back to homeostasis is the best way to get yourself ready for the next workout. If things are feeling fine, and you've had a couple easy days of running, then making the commute more of a workout is a great way to add some strength. Emily Grace found adding miles to her commute and hill climbs. "Climbing with a heavy bag is an excellent way to build those leg muscles" Emily e-mailed me. If possible (where it is safe) "racing" your commute can add that valuable speed with out the breaking down of your muscles. I know after a long bike ride of 80-100 miles I can function, after a long run of 18-20.....not so much. So use this to your advantage. As time goes on, with your training and commuting, it gets easier and  easier to do both and not be leg weary.
Now, saying that you do need to be aware of your body and listen to it. As female athletes I feel we know our bodies. My doctor used to laugh at me when I would go in and tell him " I know what's wrong with me I just need a second opinion." He understands me now and it is because I am almost always right with my diagnosis. We know when something isn't right....follow your instincts! If you have done a tough running workout - whether that be miles, or speed, or hills - and you have a long commute ahead that you will need to ride pretty quickly.....well, that may be the day you choose to drive and it's ok. Your running at this point takes precedence.
The same goes for training for a cycling event, commuting by bike should not interfere here but if you are a die hard runner as I am, it may be a bit hard to give up running workouts. Just remind yourself the commute will be more beneficial to you than getting in the extra running miles.
You just need to think "training specificity"! Train for the event, running or cycling, that is most important at the time.
One very valuable thing to remember, and I remind myself all the time with is .....there is way more to this commute than building fitness or getting to work..... the mental therapy I receive from my bike commutes is many time just what I need after a long week of big running miles and workouts.
Embrace the commute and use it as it needs to be used that day. Don't be afraid of the extra's actually additional fitness and that s always welcome, regardless the sport!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Taking the Lane: Caution, it may be habit forming!

OK, so it was frosty this morning. I didn't expect to see that sparkly white addition to the scenery and to my garden. I was awoken by a call from my boss asking if I could be at a job in 35 minutes, a 20 minute ride away if I pushed it. I briefly toyed with the idea of driving, but I knew it would only save a few minutes and I'd be cranky about it later, so I biked. I could have used thicker gloves, but otherwise all was well. The longer I bicycle commute, the harder it is to find any reason not to do it. The exceptions are only when it's really physically impossible to do so, or if it cuts too much into my sleep. We are all creatures of habit. Once that habit is established, it's hard to break. That's true for bad habits, but to an extent, good habits too. Habits may change with the seasons because we expect them to, and spring and fall are changeable times. Temperatures fluctuate widely and a frosty morning commute may turn into a glorious afternoon ride on the way home. Or conversely, it may have been wonderful earlier but a late ride home is uncomfortably chilly. For those of you who only commute, or even ride at all during warm weather, what really changes your habits when frosty mornings are here? Would you like to keep it up, but find lack of light daunting? Are you like my dentist who told me today “my eyes water, my glasses fog up, and my feet and hands get cold”? I see many different cold tolerance levels exhibited on the trails and streets, and they may all be appropriate based on the cold tolerance level of the rider. Though I think a parka and scarf over the face at 50 degrees might be just a bit excessive, I've seen it.
Dutch Winter Bike
Dutch winter bike
When I first decided to try winter commuting, it was an experiment. It had not been something I'd considered seriously before. If you're curious but don't like the idea of riding both ways, the city buses can carry bicycles. Or, you can drive part way and ride the rest, or maybe try certain days of the week.  Until I tried it I didn't known that I could do it. I made common mistakes; I dressed too warmly, but my gloves weren't warm enough, and I slid on packed snow. Still, I loved being out in the fresh, clean, cold air. The day was sunny and it was exhilarating. I felt such a sense of accomplishment reaching my destination!
Since that first day, the habit has just become easier. Yes, there have been days that I've gotten wet. I've had to plow my way through or go around unshoveled paths and curb cuts. My tires have slid. Mainly, it teaches me something for next time. At the very least, patience. And always, the benefits have far outweighed the inconveniences. Frost and snow are beautiful, and I don't have to scrape it off my windshield. The turn of the seasons is all around me, and I'm completely immersed in my environment.
That being said, do take sensible precautions. If riding in low light, have a headlight and tail light, and wear reflective clothing if possible. Allow yourself extra time if conditions are not perfect. Dress for 10 minutes into your ride, in layers that wick moisture away from your skin, not cotton. Wear a breathable jacket. Wear warm gloves and shoes, consider wool socks and a light weight scarf for your neck, if your jacket collar is loose, and a thin cap that fits under your helmet and covers your ears. This will get you started. As the temps go down further you will have to deal with eye and face protection, and possibly shoe covers and bar mitts, or warmer gloves. Riding a mountain bike with lower tire inflation or a bike with studded tires helps when conditions are slick. Also, don't forget to keep your drivetrain clean and lubed, and you'll appreciate fenders when it gets sloppy.

And be aware that cool and even cold weather commuting may become habit forming.    
Do this
Not this

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Taking the Lane: Facing your fear

I am an avid cyclist with a secret. My secret is that I am quite terrified of the roads that I use for transportation and sport. I am telling you this, because I also want you, my reader to know, that I do not let this stop me from riding regularly. It is also my desire that if you are struggling with fearing the road that you know you are not alone. I am writing this to encourage you to keep riding or to start riding if these fears are what have been keeping you from the joy of traveling on two un-motorized wheels.

Bike Commuting (Photo by Piper Williams)
Having a little fear of the road is not unfounded and not a bad thing. Fear is a natural and healthy response for situations that require our care. One common bit of advice given to those with phobias is to rationalize the situation and assess the actual dangers. There is and always has been a measure of danger using any type of vehicle on the road. In cycling, assessing the actual dangers can be a little tricky. Individuals who are solely motorists often exaggerate dangers for cyclists and cycling advocates sometimes describe cycling as safer than it actually is to combat the false reports of the motorist. Being a scientist, I like to see facts. The statistics show that cycling is more dangerous than driving, but not by much. For cycling, the death rate is 0.37 - 1.26 deaths per 10 million miles (source). The death rate for cars is 0.11 deaths per 10 million miles traveled. These statistics include accidents from recklessness and the difference goes down when these types of cyclists are excluded. What we can learn from this is that we need to take care when cycling, but we have no reason to fear it anymore than we fear driving. Now, for the sake of full disclosure, minor injuries are more common on a bike than in a car, but studies have shown that these types of scrapes do not keep people from riding.

When I was getting my motorcycle permit, I was given an important piece of advice. “Fear the road enough that you give it the respect it deserves, but not so much that you put yourself in danger.” So we have covered that a little fear that generates safe practice, but excessive fear can keep people from riding. So how does one cope with that?

Another common piece of advice when dealing with fear is to have the person realize the control they have in the situation. I think this applies to cycling as well. As a cyclist you have a good deal of control in your personal safety. You can ensure that you are visible at night. You can educate yourself on traffic and bike laws and follow them. You can read Taking the Lane each week to learn new commuting tips. You can avoid situations where your safety is overly compromised. These would include passing large vehicles (busses, trucks etc.) on the passenger side, taking a corner at the same time as a large vehicle, and cycling too close to parked cars. One of the biggest actions you can take is to try and bike with confidence. This is something I have struggled with as I navigated narrow, shoulder-less roads with speeding cars. However I realized that cars give me more room if I am further into the lane and assert myself. This is a necessary in taking control of your bike safety.

Some tips for Defensive Cycling

When you are riding, another way to take control is be aware of those around you. This allows you to be proactive instead of reactive. Take note of what vehicles are ahead of you and beside you. Also learn to took behind you from time to time, especially if you need to move further into the lane. One great skill that will give you greater bike confidence is learning how to turn your head back while keeping your bike straight. The trick to this is practice and little bit of core strength. You are in control of your bike.

As a cyclist, you are also in control with the circumstance in which you cycle. You do not have to bike at all speeds and in all conditions if you are not comfortable doing so. It is better to cycle some of the time than none of the time. If cycling at a slower pace means you will cycle with more confidence, than do so. I often choose to go slower when commuting especially if I am balancing a heavy bag. It is also okay to make judgment calls about weather conditions that you feel are too risky. My personal no go scenarios are heavy fog and snow in parts of the world that are not used to snow. (I personally love biking the snow, but I do not trust drivers that are not used to the snow.) Doing this is not giving into your fear, it is yet another way of realizing your own control.

So far we have covered the actual danger of riding a bike and tips to be a confident cyclist who is in control, but what about the bad rides that leave us more scared than usual? What about the element of the unknown? All cyclists have had rides that have left them shaken. There are times when I feel like every driver on the road is out to get me and none of them are seeing me. In these circumstances I remind myself that my perceived danger is likely higher than my actual danger. Then I assess how I feel. If I am biking scared and am unable calm down, I have had to call it quits and take public transportation home. This does not make me a failure. If you have ever had to end a ride early because you were shaken, it is okay. What is important is that you ride again. As for the element of the unknown, I cannot promise you that you will be safe if you take every precaution. Some accidents cannot be prevented. What I can tell you is that cycling is a wonderful activity. It will improve your fitness, make your commute more enjoyable, and give you greater confidence. I can also tell you that facing a fear of the road gets better with practice. The first time I road my bike as an adult, I road on the sidewalk and could not keep my legs from shaking as I heard the cars passing. Now, I ride confidently on roads interlaced with roundabouts and shared with double decker busses. I still have fear, but I have also have recognized my own control.

Confident Cycling and Look at How Much Fun I am Having (photo by Piper Williams)