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)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Taking the Lane! Deciphering the Lingo: Cycling Specific Clothing

The clothes we wear are a personal choice. Gender specific, different styles, and uses are just a sample of the factors that come into play when choosing what to wear. As a new commuter or even the seasoned veteran perfecting your commuter ready outfit can be trying. This post will touch on the lingo associated with cycling specific clothing and hopefully get you pointed in the right direction to refining your commuter get-up.

First and foremost you should run what you have. Your commuter outfit does not need to be cycling specific. Most everything I wear on my daily commute is not made for riding. I have made a valid effort to find clothing that is durable enough for daily riding. Some of my favorite pants are Carhartts and they finally made a ladies slim fit! As far as tops go I am slowly converting a majority of my clothing to wool and merino wool layers. Icebreaker and Ibex are becoming mainstays. Yes expensive, but I wash these items half as much, the wool keeps me warm if I get wet (i.e, sweat, rain), and it helps with odor.

Next up are places where I get a little more specific with my clothing choices. Rain gear is a great example. Rain pants and boots are simple and easy to invest in. I rock a cheap pair or garage sale boots and a pair of O2 original rain pants to get me to and from work in the chance of rain. Not the most flattering, but they work well and are cheap.
My rain get-up. Posted previously but just a reminder of how goofy I look.

Next up in the line of more specific clothes are jackets. This is where I also start to splurge a little more money wise. Some of the benefits of wearing a cycling specific jacket is first the cut. The jacket will have longer arms, a lower back, and possibly a hood large enough to accommodate a helmet. Some other features that are good to look for are wind-proofness and water resistance. During the winter months I can get away with using a wind proof shell, it will block the chill while allowing your body heat to keep you warm. This will also prevent you from overheating and sweating. A water resistant jacket will with-stand a quick ride home in the rain and will keep you dry. A water-proof jacket will resist water entirely. There are different level of water proof, along with added features like breath-ability these jackets become a quick go to. They are typically the most expensive though. Gore Bike Wear is a great place to start looking for these jackets. My go-to winter shell is the Element Gore-Tex Lady Jacket. Roomy enough to fit a layer underneath, but not so bulky it flaps in the wind.

Some other cycling specific lingo to look out for are things like a gusseted crotch, extra reflective bits, and places to hide bike locks, tools, or to route headphones. My personal favorite casual cycling specific clothes are Giro and Club Ride. They hide pockets and reflective material all over their clothes, while maintaining an awesome look.

In the end the most important thing is to be comfortable and stick with your own style, but you already knew that! Spluge where it counts, but use what you have! Cycling specific clothing can only go so far, personalizing, mixing, and matching really makes commuting that much more comfortable.
My biking dress and staple hoodie!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Taking the Lane: Where to Buy Cycling Clothes

Pedal Savvy bicycle fashion show 2010 during t...
Pedal Savvy bicycle fashion show 2010 during the San Francisco Bike Expo. [] (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Emily wrote a blog post a few weeks back about commuting in “kit”, or fitted cycling specific clothing.  I want to fill you in on how to find the best kit, specifically fitted Lycra cycling shorts.

I had a conversation with a lady at work about clothing choice and riding the bike.  She started commuting to work this year.  She lives out of town, and drives to the nearest trail located just on the outskirts of town.  She parks her car and rides her bike to work from there.  On this particular morning she commented about the clothes I choose to ride to work in.  We both bike over 10 miles to get to work.  She had been wearing shorts and was curious about the comfort of the cycling shorts that I wear.  I informed her that I prefer to wear cycling shorts because they were much more comfortable.  I also told her my preference is triathlon shorts with a minimal pad.  Zoot brand being my favorite, but they aren't found in stores locally, I have to find and order them online.

A week or two later I ran into her again in the locker room at work post morning ride.  She informed me she had purchased some bike shorts.  The kind with no pad.  She stated they were indeed more comfortable to ride in than shorts.  So if you think you might want to try cycling shorts for the first time here is my advice.

There are tons of great cycling wear outfitters across the web and in your town.  I own cycling shorts and shirts purchased from local bike stores.  I also own an equal amount that I have purchased online.  As I stated above, Zoot triathlon shorts are among my favorites and I have only found them online.

How do you know which brands and which styles of bike shorts to choose?  There are so many brands and styles out there.  My first recommendation is to try on various shorts available at your local stores. There is a very good chance you will find a pair you really like. Do you think you need more padding in your seat to be comfortable on the bike, then chose a style with padding. If you are comfortable on your seat and don’t feel the need for padding, then choose a thinner model, like a triathlon short. The more panels a pair of Lycra shorts have the more comfortable they will likely be on the bike. Check that they fit well, grip well, have the right amount of padding for your comfort level, have smooth seams, and have a comfortable waist.  Sit in them, move around in them, run with high knees.  Do they still fit and feel OK? I always do this in the dressing room. I’m sure people wonder what I’m doing in there, but I like to be sure they will work.

Each brand is sized different.  My closet has small, medium, and large cycling shorts.  Each manufacturer has their own unique sizing system.  For the most part you will likely choose a size similar to your current clothing size, but don’t be shocked if you need to size up or down.  Sizing down is always a moral booster.  If you end up buying online ALWAYS refer to the manufacturer's sizing chart, not the seller’s sizing chart.  Often the seller’s sizing chart is a general chart and not specific to any single brand they sell.  Also, measure your waist and your hips and your chest.  Don’t guess.

When you find a pair you like, buy them.  Try them out.  Ride in them multiple times (without underwear).  Decide if they are indeed exactly what you want in a short.  If there is something you don’t like, perhaps they gather in the crotch while riding and cause chafing issues, the waistband digs in, or you want more or less padding, then try a different style or a different brand.  And note, if you end up hating them some manufacturers like De Soto let you return them.  All other shorts you don’t like can always be sold on eBay.

Which brings me to my final point.  eBay is a great place to find cycling shorts at great discounts.  I have found some killer deals on eBay, and be aware there are many not so killer deals.  And it also lets me try different brands I can’t find locally at prices I don’t mind paying should I not like them. That’s how I came across Zoot shorts initially.

Other websites worth browsing:
Team Estrogen
The Climb

7 minute video demonstrating common cycling clothes from the last 100 years.

Happy riding!