Thursday, March 27, 2014

Taking the Lane: Pedal On

Today we are going to have an in depth physics lesson on the mechanics of pedal motion and how it propels the bicycle forward. I hope all the readers are up on their multivariable calculus. Alright, so the above two sentences are just a joke, but today I am going to review the basics of two different pedal types to help you make the best choice for you, your bike and your commute.

Platform Pedals
Basic Platform Pedal (Photo by Piper Williams)
This is the type of pedal most people think of when they think of bike pedals. These are the type of pedals your first big wheel bike had installed. You can use this pedals by pushing down with your feet; there is no option for a pull motion (unless you have straps on your platforms). The benefits of these pedals are that they are very easy to use, have a non-existent learning curve, and allow the user to dismount very quickly. You can use these pedals in almost any type of footwear, even barefoot (being that I was born in Kentucky, you can bet that rode my little pink and teal Huffy without shoes many times, but I do not recommend doing this). Platforms can be acquired very inexpensively, I paid around $10 for mine, and often come installed on bikes when you purchase them. The downsides of platforms are that they can be bulky and do not allow the user to pedal as efficiently as clipless pedals.

Clipless Pedals
Clipless Pedal - My Beat Up Pedal (Photo by Piper Williams)
This is any type of pedal that you attach yourself to using a special type of shoe with a specially designed cleat. Within this class of pedals, there are multiple subclasses, but in this piece, I am going to be very general. Clipless pedals allow you to pedal much more efficiently as you pedal by both pushing and pulling. This helps you get to your destination faster. It can also help you feel more psychologically connected to your bike. Clipless pedals do have a bit of learning curve to get used to and most people (myself included) will experience at least one slow embarrassing fall from forgetting to unclip when stopping. These pedal also require that you have at least one set of shoes just for cycling with the cleats installed.

Racing/Training Shoes for Clipless Pedals - My personal pair (Photo by Piper Williams
Commuter Shoes for Clipless Pedals - My personal pair (Photo by Piper Williams)

So now that you know your basic pedal options, how do you decide which ones are going to work for you? There are couple of aspect to consider when you making a choice. First is the length of your commute. If your commute is short (under 4 miles), you may find that the extra speed given by clipless pedals is not worth the hassle of a change of shoes, particularly if you are biking in city and are constantly having to stop at traffic lights. However, if your commute is on the long side clipless pedals can make your ride that much more enjoyable. Do you use your commuter bike for training as well? Given that most training rides employ clipless pedals, changing pedals back and forth is more effort that it is worth and it may be best to stick with clipless pedals. Do you have the funds to invest in pedals, cleats and shoes? Combined this can cost well over $100 and is a worthwhile investment, but only if you will really use them. There really is no wrong choice when it comes to pedals for commuting, just the choice that makes sense for you. I do have to make one further comment for those of you are commuting in major metropolitan areas (i.e. London), make sure you are comfortable and practiced at clipping in and out of clipless pedals before taking them out on busy city streets. (The streets of Lincoln are not busy city streets.) However, most individuals are not commuting in these types of conditions and do not take this into consideration.  

To be upfront, I will tell you what I use and what I would prefer, so you know my bias. I presently own only one bike that I need to make work for transportation, training and racing. I do not have time to switch pedals on and off before every ride, so I usually have SPD clipless pedals attached. I use the shoes pictured above for training and commuting respectively. If I had an additional bike that I would use solely for transportation and commuting, I would have platform pedals installed on it since this would give me greater freedom in shoe choice.

As for what shoes you can use with these different pedals and what works for commuting, that is an article for another time.

Happy riding and pedal on.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Taking the Lane: Learning to Love the View

So, in recent weeks we've covered some of the basics of commuting: gear, a change of clothes, planning your route. As a runner first and a cyclist second, I don't feel qualified to give anyone advice on how to maintain their bike-my husband still changes my tires that absorb far too many thorns on the Homestead trail. What I do feel I can speak to is the experience of being on a bike before and after a long day of work.
Driving to work, most people are on auto pilot. Look around you at a stop light. People are drinking coffee, checking their phones, eyes not quite open all the way. Especially on my current morning commute, when the time change has left things a bit darker than feels right to be going to work. Something about leaving in the morning without a single hint of sunlight...but anyway. Most mornings, if you asked me what happened on my way to work, I don't know that I could tell you. Sure, there was that time I stopped and caught a loose dog and returned it home, or the time we saw a car slide into another car, but for the most part, 99% of my mornings are unremarkable.

And driving home from work? Don't get me started. I've been known to have such road rage I make up new words. I've tried to curb it-rage must be sang along to the song on the radio, combine your dirty word with the name of a cute animal, nothing worked. Leaving work, everybody just wants to get home. It's a ride of necessity that nobody wants to be on, and we're all kind of mad about it. Maybe you're still thinking about that comment your boss made, or a rude customer, or that problem you hadn't quite solved yet-or you are until someone cuts you off.
Biking to work is different. Aside from those times you have to get a bit defensive because of the aforementioned sleepy drivers, it's often just you and the path. You get some great sunrise views from the saddle, and you get a chance to prioritize your day. True, sometimes I wish I had coffee in those bottle cages and not just water, but for the most part-I get to work happy, refreshed, and ready for the challenges ahead. I've also got a couple of routes I can take depending if I've got time to take the long way or not.
The ride home from work is different too. My route is entirely made up up bike path, and I know I'm lucky for that. This does mean that the way home is often decidedly more crowded than the way to work. We've got people out for their evening jog, a bit of campus traffic to deal with, and other cyclists getting their ride on. However, this traffic is far different than the other maniacs in cars on the road. These are your people-the fitness people. I've arrived home sweaty, tired, ready for a snack before dinner...but very rarely do I get home as angry as I can get in the car. Another bonus-time on the bike has always been able to sort out things in my brain and put them in their proper compartments. That comment the boss made? Eh, he's just cranky. The rude customer? See previous. That problem-hey! I've got it! Things just resolve themselves when you can get physically reactive instead of just driving the same route you've done a million times.

This doesn't mean it's all rainbows and sunshine, floating to work like Nyan Cat. Getting my stuff together usually takes some forethought-usually the night before takes about 5-10 minutes of decision making. I work out over my lunch hour or immediately after work most days, so I have the option to wear my gym clothes to work, change there, and then repeat at lunch and then again on the way home. This gets a little dicey in the Summer when sometimes repeating that sports bra more than one exercise session is an unpleasant experience. I have to do laundry a bit more often in the Summer. But generally, I get my biking clothes laid out, my work clothes packed in the bag, add in my snacks and lunch for the day, and hope the backpack fits on my back without toppling me over. On occasion, I'll ride in work clothes but I've found that living in Nebraska, there's about 10 days a year I can make that work without sweat becoming a noticeable factor. Sorry, ladies, but I know we all sweat.
So, why do it? Why do we get up a bit earlier than normal, lay out our clothes like it's the first day of elementary school, and search for a magical thermos that will fit in our bottle cages? For a little "me time". For that extra bit of exercise when your day is simply too packed to fit anything else in. For the environment. To make Lincoln #1 in that commuter challenge. Everyone has their reasons. Finding the one that spurs you into the saddle instead of the seat on a sleepy April morning may take some time, but boy, will you enjoy the view once you get there. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Taking the Lane: The Transition to Spring, 5 tips for conquering the new season!

Finally spring is right around the corner. This new season brings about great changes! Daylight savings is leaving us with more dusk light, the weather is above freezing regularly, and the snow is melting away. The changes also happen in daily life, and one of those big ones might be the way you commute. Winter is a tough time and many of us will choose to commute by car, but now we have more options. Commuting by bicycle in the early spring is a great way to change up your old routine and get out of a winter funk. Spring commuting also faces some challenges, but they won't be faced alone! The 5 tips below are just a start, but they will get you going.

Fenders are the first range of protection for you and your bike from the exciting new changes that spring brings. Puddles, sand, mud, and more puddles are generally the biggest enemy from March onward. Fenders keep you clean while riding your bicycle, eliminating the dreaded skunk stripe of mud up your backside. They also help keep the bicycle itself clean, keeping excessive dirt, sand, and water away from the drivetrain and other moving parts. 
My beautiful model Matt showing off his Planet Bike fenders!


The time change should be called the "let's confuse everyone about what time they should wake up because it is way too dark in the morning change. Anyways, the time change signals a change in daylight hours. Longer nights are nice, but darker mornings become more dangerous. Headlights and taillights are key! Some of my favorites are Light and Motion's urban line, Planet Bikes taillights, and Knog's super cute line of lights.     

Some Light and Motion lights...
      ...paired with the next necessity..


Wet, salty, sandy roads are a dismal place for a bike and it's moving parts. The first line of defense is a good lube for the chain of your bike. This lube should be applied at least once a week if not more. This will prevent rust build-up, premature wear, and ultimately breakage! The video below shows the easiest process for lubing the chain. Also you don't need a bike stand, just somewhere to place the bike wheel of the bike so the pedals can spin freely backward, a doorway or desk work pretty well.

As far as what kind of lubes to use I will stick with a wet lube from Finish-Line during the soggy March and April months and switch to the 1-step cleaner and lube from Finish-Line during summer. The next step for keeping your bike running smoothly is some cleaners. Simple Green bike cleaner is a gentle degreaser that is great to use all over the bike. During spring I wash my bike bi-weekly. I will spray Simple Green all over the bike and scrub off with a soft-bristled brush, followed with a rinse. After this you will always want to lube the chain and moving parts. 


While fenders are a great addition to keep puddles and mud off of you they won't do so much during a down-pour. This is where bolstering up your wardrobe will be fun! When I started commuting my rain-jacket quickly became my favorite piece of clothing. I liked the nice hood that fit over my helmet, and instead of having to bring a change of clothes I was dry. Over the years I have added rain pants and boots. The pants are oversized O2 rainpants that will fit over anything I am wearing (i am actually wearing a dress under this outfit).

 The boots are a find from a garage sale for a quarter. The one thing I did splurge on way my jacket. The cycling specifics of the jacket cannot be beat, such as longer arms and a drop-tail to accommodate the cycling position, ventilation in the back to prevent overheating, and a hood made to work with helmets.

 Any rain jacket made for cycling should have these features but some of my favorites are the Northface Downspout jacket and Gore Bike Wear Alp-X 2.0 Jacket. Some pants I have been lusting over are the Gore Bike Wear Countdown Gore-Tex Pants. 

 An added plus is that these two extra pieces of clothes pack down very small if you don't need to wear them both directions. So instead of bringing a whole new outfit, keep what you want to wear dry under a protective water-proof outer shell of cute jackets, pants, and boots!

Jacket and pants: all rolled up and ready to go!


Last, but not least, my favorite tip is a positive attitude!! Hopefully the longer days help with a good mood, but commuting everywhere is also a great treat. Even when the headwind beats on you all the way to work, just remember you will have a tailwind home! Also conquering the rain storm on the way home because you were prepared deserves a high-five! Commuting makes me more aware of what is around me and really keeps me on my toes, therefore setting the tone for the rest of the day. A happy commute=a happy day! Once you start pedaling there really is no stopping you, so just get out there and tackle it day by day!

Spring has sprung!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Molly tells it like it is. She spends a lot of time in the water -- no really, a whole lot (read about that here...) -- but this Sheclisma knows how awesome the bike feels, too.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Taking the Lane: Oh My Aching Bum (or other piece of anatomy)!

I was not going to post a blog about bicycle seats so soon into my blog journey.  I had another 3-page blog post written up and ready to go 3 weeks ago.  I do not need to write a post about bicycle seats right now. Not at all.  In fact, I should be packing my bags because I am leaving for vacation tomorrow morning. However, gosh darn it, I think this needs to be said.

Let’s face it ladies.  Bicycle seats stink.  I don’t recall them being so uncomfortable as a child, but perhaps that is because I wasn’t on them for an hour at a time, or 6 hours at a time as it seems to be these days.  I simply rode them to get 6 blocks down the street to a friend’s house, or to the pool or school.  Now that I’ve gotten older, my hips have gotten wider, and my rides have gotten longer, saddles have become a very important piece of equipment.  Let’s face it, if you have an uncomfortable seat, you just do not want to ride your bike.

What is the secret to getting a comfortable saddle?

The first thing to do is make sure your saddle is relatively straight/flat/horizontal from front to back.  This adjustment alone may solve your problems. From there you can make small adjustment to lower or raise the nose a couple millimeters at a time.  If this brings no relief it's time to look at something else.

There are three main issues that seem to affect women – or three main areas that seem to experience pain.  So let’s address them: tailbone, sit bones, and the labia/pubis area.

If you have tailbone issues it is good guess that you ride in a rather up right position.  This is easiest one of the easiest to alleviate because you can purchase a saddle with a cut out in the back for this purpose.  A quick search for tailbone comfort saddles will bring up a large selection of saddles for you to choose.

If you experience pain in the sits bone area, chances are you just need to get your bum used to being on a bike seat.  For some odd reason it takes a few rides to get that area of the body toughened up.  The good news is, after just a few rides the pain typically disappears.  If it doesn’t it may be an issue with your saddle being the wrong size (too narrow, too wide, too soft).  Wait.  Did I just say too soft?  Yes.  Too soft.  You might think softer is the way to go, but oddly enough, softer can often times be the reason your bum is sore.

And the final reason, which seems to affect women who have had children more than those who haven’t, is pain in the labia/pubis area.  To alleviate this pain and discomfort a saddle with a divot or cut out down the center often brings great pressure relief along with choosing a saddle with the right width.

If you have been hesitant to start biking due to an uncomfortable, painful saddle, know that better saddles are out there.  The easiest way to solve this problem is a visit to your local bike shop.  They are more than happy to find the right saddle to fit you and your bike.  I highly recommend it.

I have several different saddles on my bikes and it was a trial and effort for me to find one that was comfortable for me.  The saddles that came on my bikes were NEVER the right one for me, so odds are yours probably isn’t right for you.  If you are curious, right now I have a Selle Royal Respiro on my mountain bike, Specialized Oura on my cross bike, and Adamo Typhoon on my triathlon bike.

Check out the video below for some more tips.