Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chainless Bikes? Yikes!

Ever 10 years or so a gimmick comes along to sell bikes that is supposed to be the next best thing; Elliptical chainrings spring to mind. Are belt-driven bicycles a flash in the pan or a revolution in cycling? My short answer will be that belt-driven bicycles will probably become popular for pedestrian cyclists, no pun intended, but not for high end racers.

Why Belt-Driven Cycles will likely become Popular:
For the non-professional or non-aficionado rider, belt-driven cycles could be very attractive. The belt does not need lubrication, ever. A side effect of this is that without lubrication, there is no chance to get black chain marks on your brooks brothers or Levis. It is argued that they are quieter than chained-bicycles, although my fixed-gear bike is virtually silent with a chain; this might have to do with the switch to a single gear pattern. It is argued that there is no maintenance needed for the belts, but this seems to be a self-fulfilling prophesy: if a belt fails, you replace it, there is no way to fix it. Others say the operation is smoother with a belt because of the wide gears and the noise-dampening properties of the rubber. Belts can't rust and they are supposed to last longer. Previous belt systems were prone to slippage and loosening after a long period of riding. The new, carbon-fiber-and-rubber belts are quite strong and stretch resistant. If Harley-Davidson thinks belts are bad-ass enough to use on their motorcycles, there is clearly no issue with the strength of belts. In sum, the ease of maintenance and lack of lubrication will be the biggest selling points of this system.

But wait, its Not All Roses:
There are a few disadvantages to the belt system. Right now, they are not as widely available. Trek Cycles is offering a number of bikes with belts, but they are not yet widespread. The gears that engage the belt are plastic and therefore not as strong and robust as typical metal chainrings. Another problem is shifting. There is no derailleur-style shifting possible. Any change in gear ratio must be through internal hubs. This is not necessarily a downside per se, as internal hubs are cleaner and robust, but they are not as widely available, again. Finally, and sadly, you cannot retrofit your chain-bicycle to a belt-bike. You know how you need that chain tool to take your chain off your bike because it goes through the back triangle? Yeah, belts don't come apart. This means that if you want to try and really evaluate a belt bike, you have to buy one. Ouch.

So What's Wrong with Chains?
There are clearly some things that nobody likes about chains. They are dirty, greasy, can stretch, need special tools, and can rust. On the other hand, they are very efficient mechanically, often measured in the high 90s percent-wise. Chain stretch doesn't happen over night, either. You need to log lots of hours before you will see a drop in performance with your chain. This mechanical advantage hopefully insures the survival of bicycle chains in racing and performance bicycles. I have heard a lot of people commenting on the feeling of "really feeling the bike" i.e., your pedaling is efficiently transferred into forward motion. I got the same sensation when I started riding fixed gear. Might it be that these people are excited about fixed gear feeling, not just the belt? Who knows.

Some links:
CNN's Story on Belt Bikes
Blog on Belt with lots of Comments
Another Blog

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Do you wear Headphones? What? Do you.. What?

Let's face it. The ride in can be boring and an mp3 player or radio can really break up the time. On the flip side you won't here that truck running the red light.

No Headphones!
There is a lot to be said for not wearing headphones. Just like wearing a helmet, using a light at night, and signaling your turns, being able to hear is a feel-good way to ride. I rely heavily on my ears to warn me about cars behind me or approaching hard-to-see corners. Also, if you are in a confrontation with a motorist, they might get you for wearing the headphones, just as they were on their cell phone.

Headphones Sometimes!
Alright, there are some times and places where headphones might be OK. Riding on your stand during the winter, obviously is no problem with music. Some people rock the 'phones on public bike trails. The argument goes that because there are no cars, there is less we need to listen for. I would say, sure, maybe, but when I go to pass you, I will call out, "on your left" and if you can't hear me and swerve and hit me, I am going to be really angry. My worry with listening to something on a straight, boring bicycle path, is that people zone out. This can obviously be dangerous. I have heard more than one horror story about people wearing headphones on bike trails. I know I have passed people, calling out hello before I pass, and the people still look surprised to see me.

Headphones Quietly!
Some folks wear headphones but at a very low level. If I wear headphones, I keep them way turned down. If I cannot hear my bike, they are too loud. This can be ok, depending on your riding environment. Not wearing headphones is best, still, as you can still zone out even at a low volume. Another problem is that if you are in an accident with a car, they can still get on you about wearing them.

Just one Headphone!
Here is a solution that might make both sides happy. Plus you get to look like a secret service agent. One side will obviously be blocked but it is infinitely better than both ears plugged up. Even better, get a phone/mp3 player/radio and use your hands free for all of them. The cons for this derivation are a much lighter shade of headphones quietly. 'Nough said.

Headphones Blaring!
It sounds absurd, but I have definitely heard a few people riding, especially on the trails, with headphones so loud I could hear what they were listening to. Obviously all of the previous cons apply to this: zoning out, not hearing contra-traffic, problems with drivers after an accident, etc. I really don't see any positive to listening to your music that loud on a bike. Go for a walk if you need to have it that loud.

"Bike-Safe" headphones.
Tips about headphones and other ways to be cool on your bicycle.
VA has a law against riding with two headphones in, I will try to find out about more states.
Sad news stories about accidents with headphone-wearers.
More blogs.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

$20 per Month for Bicycle Commuting?!

Check out this blog talking about this legislation.
This bill would give companies a $20 tax credit each month for each bike commuter. This $20 is supposed to be passed on to the Bicyclist. Even if that money isn't passed directly on to the commuter, it would build an environment of support for bicyclists at work. Not to mention a healthier workforce.


P.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer wears a bike pin instead of an American flag. His congressional website is a bike site. He is from Oregon, big surprise!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Build Yourself a Bike Trailer!

Do you need to carry large loads that wouldn't fit on your racks or in a pack? A bike trailer might be the answer for you. Basically these can be as big and strong as you want to make them. I have heard tell of folks hauling couches! There are a few ways to get a bike trailer, you can buy a bike-specific trailer, convert a child-carrier, or build your own from scratch. I built mine from scratch and am going to tell you what I learned and how to do it below.

Figure Out Your Plan
There are a few different designs out there. One-wheel designs are nice because they are narrow and glide well behind the bike. The problem is that they can be unstable, needing two mount points on the bicycle to keep from tipping over. Two-wheel designs are more stable and have a tighter turning radius than the one-wheelers. I originally made a one wheel design but could not get it stable enough and modified it to a two-wheel design.

Here is a schematic of the design I settled on:

A few components you will need to figure out in your design: wheels, frame, box, and bike mount.

Is bigger better? Well, I think larger wheels will be smoother and will give you a higher ground clearance. Also, the trailer will be more stable if it is mounted lower on the wheel, so a smaller wheel will put it underneath the trailer and thus less stable.

I made my frame out of wood. If I make another one, it will be out of 1" square metal pipe. It is lighter and more weather resistant. With wood, I used two screws and "L" or "T" brackets on each corner and join.

The box can be whatever you like. Mine is a wood frame with rope webbing making up the sides. I used plywood cut out into smooth corners to create the curves of my box. I laminated them together, three thick.

You can go even easier though, buy a stout plastic box with tightly-attaching lid. Really, anything that will fit between the wheels, will be just fine.

Bike Mount
Connecting your trailer to your bike safely gave me the most logistical difficulty as my track bike does not have good mount points on the rear drop out area. First, make sure your connecting arm is long enough that your back wheel will never reach the front of your box. Also, the bent-arm design keeps your wheel off of the connecting arm when you turn right (which kicks the end of the back wheel out to the left. A good way to make the angle strong is use a big hinge and plate to keep it steady. To connect the end of the arm to the back of your bike, you should get creative. I used 8" metal plates to make a strong eye-bolt mount point off my back left side. I mounted the plates using "P" mounts, which are basically a piece of thin metal bent into a "P" shape and covered in rubber. I used lock-nuts to attach the eye-bolt so that it is not 100% tight, but can swivel in its mount. Then I used another metal plate off the top of the connecting arm. I drop a bolt down through the top plate, then the eye-bolt, and a large washer on the other side, before tightening it down. Again, I used a locking nut to leave the front mount slightly loose so that it can swivel left and right.

Other Issues
There are a few things that you should keep in mind with a bike trailer. The materials used should be weatherproof. If you use wood, varnish it with marine spar varnish, for instance. Another problem is that trailers are low and sometimes hard for cars to see. You might want to get an orange flag on a 2-m flexible pole, as they have on kiddie trailers. Reflectors on the back couldn't hurt either. It also takes getting used to. Ride around a safe area before you take it on busy roads. Give yourself plenty of room to make corners and not clip cars.

Be creative! Look around, there are a number of different designs out there. Here are a few. Enjoy!

Woah, lots of designs here!
A blog dedicated to bike trailers!
Another design, here, and six here, too.
An entry about dog trailers.
More basic info at Wikipedia.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rant: Try Not to Hit Me, Jerk.

Sorry for the slight rant but I was almost hit three times by the same guy within one block.

Here we go.

I was riding on my usual route into school and about three blocks from school, I was passed by a brand new car. It turned down a street into the university property. There is parallel parking on the right, and slanted, nose-in-first parking on the left. I was riding up on his passenger side. I was about 1 meter behind him when he pulled off to the right into a parallel spot without signaling. My theory is that he couldn't signal because he was on his cell phone. So, I swerved off to the left and yelled out, "Hey, watch out!"
As I passed him on the front driver's side, he pulled out and I had to swerve to the left to avoid being hit by him. So I called out again.
About half a block later, he pulled in front of me to park again, without a signal! As I pulled past him he kept going around the parking lot so I followed him to give him a piece of my mind.
As he got out of his car, still on his cell phone, because boy, this guy could drive, almost hit bikers, not signal, AND talk on his cell phone all at the same time!
So I said, "Hey, would you mind using your blinker?"
He said, "Why don't you watch where you are going?!"
I responded, "If I wasn't watching where I was going, I would have hit you!"
His biting reply was, "whatever."
I left it with, "Boy that must be an important call!"

He walked away and I took down his license number and reported him to public safety.

If I had thought about it, it would have been a low speed crash, and his new car would have looked good with a nice scrape along the back passenger side as my bike ran into it.

Ok, I am pissed off, and I probably wouldn't want to have scrapped up his car, but if I am really tired of being ignored by drivers, especially on cell phones!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Oh Bags, How do I Love Thee...

There are lots of ways to carry your things on your bicycle. In panniers, trailers, baskets, balanced on your head, or in a back pack. There are great things about all of them (except maybe balancing things on your head) but this entry is about bags that go on your back. Although having a few drawbacks, the variety and usefulness of these bags vastly outweigh them. Carrying your load on your back lets you control the center of gravity of your bike in a leaned turn. With a load on my bike rack, I feel like my response time is sluggish and laggy. Another plus is when you get off your bicycle, your things are already with you, no carrying panniers around.

Traditional Backpacks.
A traditional backpack has a compartment with two straps that go over each shoulder evenly. This is probably one of the most common bags for carrying a moderate amount of things. The great thing about a backpack is the stability and even load bearing over both shoulders. Especially with a waist strap these bags can be cinched down tight to keep things from shifting. There is a wide variety of size, quality, and price. There are bike-specific backpacks but any functional backpack will work. I prefer these bags over satchels for carrying especially heavy loads. Be careful loading large backpacks for a bike ride. Do not pack as if you are going hiking, placing your heavy things on top to give you better balance. On a bike, you want a low center of gravity, so put the heaviest things at the bottom. Whatever your load, make sure it is a comfortably snug fit. Your load shifting around while riding can be dangerous if it throws you off balance.

Satchels. OK, OK, Messenger Bags.
I have loved this style of bag since I got one in 6th grade. The best part about a satchel is that you can swing it around and access your load while underway. Never fear though, they have secondary straps to keep them securely on your back the rest of the time. Although they can carry quite a lot, very heavy loads might be more difficult to distribute evenly, unlike backpacks. It takes a bit of practice but just make sure you pack so you have a flat side against your back. They do come in a wide variety of sizes and setups.

Things to Look for in a Bag.
Get a bag to fit your needs. One bag will not fit all situations. I suggest getting a daily commuter bag, either a backpack or a messenger bag, depending on your preference. Make sure it is large enough to carry your daily needs but not over-large, because that can become awkward. For backpacks, one nice feature is some system to let air circulate between your back and the bag. This avoids sweaty-back syndrome. For a messenger bag, find one that fits you and feels comfortable snugged down on your back. Make sure it has closing straps to keep the top closed. Lots have Velcro but I find straps more useful and secure. Some folks prefer a release on the front strap. My first one did not have one, but my current one does, and I do really like it. Be careful with overly-clunky snaps, such as those made of seat-belt buckles, as they tend to smash onto whatever you set it down on. For all bags, look for comfy should snaps and the ability to snug them down. You don't want your load shifting. Another thing to think about is waterproofing. Though not necessary, it is a big peace of mind for me to know my things will stay dry. You can get a waterproof bag by design, or by buying a few small "dry-bags" and putting them inside your non-waterproof bag. Make sure you get a chance to try on some bags before you buy. It has to be comfortable. If you want to buy online, go around and try the bags at a local store before shopping online.

The Bad.
Ok, backpacks and messenger bags aren't perfect. There are a few things of which you should be aware. A backpack will raise your center of gravity, possibly making you more unstable, depending on how strong of a rider you are. I find that with my load on my back, rather than my bike rack, I have more control over the weight in a leaned turn, etc. If you take a spill, the things in your bag might get banged up, but this is true for most carrying solutions on a bicycle. Another problem is the hot back. Having a big heavy load against your back can lead to a sweaty backpack footprint left behind. Some people prefer carrying their load on a rack for that reason.

Things to Avoid in a Bag.
Don't go cheap. A good bag will last you a long time. It is better to get a good bag you are happy with, than a cheap one that will fall apart at the worst possible time. Be careful of bags with the waterproof fabric on the outside. Some people like it because it sheds water more quickly but on the other hand, it does make your back wet more quickly than a fabric-covered bag.

Don't like the price?
Make your own! I made my own commuter bag. It turned out quite well, as you can see from the photo. I based on on the large-sized Chrome bag (Kremlin, I think). It is waterproof with an internal liner. It is HUGE and I have had little I can't carry. The duck fabric on the outside keeps me a bit cooler than if it was the PVC fabric as it wicks. I love telling the folks with the $200+ Chrome bags that mine cost about $25. Be creative and have a sewing machine with a strong needle.

Some Bag Reviews:
Banjo Brothers
Chrome Bag
Lots of Bags - good side-by-side comparison

Some Popular Messenger Bags (these sites also have backpacks; definitely shop around):
Timbuk2 - ballistic nylon covering, waterproof liner, padded strap, $85-135+
Manhattan Portage - ballistic nylon, straps, ergonomic, some waterproof, $50-100
Chrome - tough, waterproof, expensive but lifetime guarantee, $120-180

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Red Lights and Stop Signs: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

It happens to all of us while riding bike. We come up to a red light with clear visibility, and there are no cars coming. So do you stop your momentum and wait for the light or do you roll it? Well, I think there are about three things you can do. One, run the light without slowing down much. Two, slow down and stop to double check it is clear before rolling through. Or three, stopping to wait for the light to change. Let's lay out the pros and cons.

Pros for stopping at red lights and stop signs:

Its the law. Stopping and waiting at a stop sign or red light is the law, first and foremost. But, as you know and I will talk about below, there are a myriad of reasons and conditions under which rolling through isn't the same as a car doing it. Nevertheless, it is illegal to run the light or stop sign. Check and know your local laws.

It is safer. Clearly you will be more protected when you go through intersections protected by the light.

It makes bicyclists look bad. It can raise the ire of motorists and lower the perception of bicyclists. Just as cars which don't use their turn signals bother me, bikers running red lights probably really bothers some cars. Think about this next time you want to occupy the whole lane (as you are also legally entitled to do in many states). If you want the rights do you have to follow the law, too?

Good time to catch your breath and take a drink! This way, you don't feel like a bum taking a break if you are stopping for a red light.

Cons for stopping at red lights and stop signs:
For this, I am assuming it is a completely visible intersection where an approaching bicyclist can see if there are cars coming and it would be theoretically safe to roll through the intersection. I would NEVER advocate flying through blind intersections unless you have a death wish.

You can't trip the lights. Bikes are too light and have too little metal to trip the light changing sensors. You might be waiting for a good long time before you can ride through on a green.

"until the laws protect the bicycle, the laws do not apply to the bicycle" can be a well-made argument. Bikes won't just run lights or signs without looking. We have no crumple zones to protect us so we will be more careful going through an intersection. What about the cars running red light? What about the car that speeds past you and then cuts in front of you to turn? What about the car that pushed me into oncoming traffic because it made a right on red as I was coming through the opposing green light at about 20 miles per hour? Until cars start respecting me, why should I stop?

Could be dangerous. Depending on the part of town you are riding through, you might not want to stop. If this is the case, maybe you should reroute!

Loss of momentum. It is much easier for a car to step on the gas than for you to get back up to 20 miles per hour.

Why Wait? Because it is a grey area of bicyclist etiquette, and many pedestrians cross against the light if it is clear, running a red on a bicycle doesn't seem that bad. Also, a car can easily make up a few minutes from waiting at a long light by going faster, you might not be able to. This is especially true if it is raining; why just sit there waiting in the rain?

My Personal Stance:
Alright, my personal philosophy on this matter is that if I am not going to affect anybody around me, I will roll through a light. That is, if nobody will have to step on his or her brake or swerve or anything to avoid me, I will go through a light or stop sign. This is of course assuming that I can clearly see far enough down the cross street to make sure nobody is coming. Also, this is when I am riding alone. With a pack I will generally follow the lights or at least come to a complete stop and wait for everybody to form up before going through a clear intersection. Coming to a full stop is rather annoying, especially with a medium-high-ratio fixed gear bike.

Other blogs weigh in:
Two Cities Two Wheels
Out Here in the Middle

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Miles Per Gallon?

I couldn't pass this up. Thank you to for turning me on to this one!

Use your mouse to drag the map around and zoom in and out. Pretty cool. Makes you even happier to ride a bicycle, no?

Gas Prices provided by
Click here to add this map to your website.

Just remember how much you are saving on gas when you buy those bicycle tools and parts!

Inclement Weather: the Right Equipment Goes a Long Way

Rain shouldn't slow you down too much. Your bicycle, however is a machine that is best kept dry. There are a few things you can do to keep it in good working order. Some prevention, some clean-up, and some repairs are all you will need to keep your bicycle running smoothly in the worst weather. Keeping yourself clean and dry is the subject of an upcoming blog entry.

Fend off that water
Keeping yourself dry in a downpour is difficult but having the right equipment can be a big help. Water comes from up and down when one is riding a bike. The wheels throw up rooster-tails of water which land on the rider's back and front, especially on a slight turn. Unlike rain, this water is full of grit and grime, getting the rider and bike nice and wet. The most obvious fix for this is fenders. Fenders can range from minimalistic blades to wrap-around wheel-covering jobs. Some are mounted permanently and others can be attached at will.

For the removable fenders, I recommend something like the SKS X-tra Dry rear fender. It is light, the angle is adjustable, and it attaches to the seat-post with a secure strap (thus it attaches to any sized bike), no permanent mounting is needed. Just be sure not to leave it in a shady area, as it is easily detached. If it is stolen, no worries, they are generally available for $15 or so. Now, that being said, these are only useful because they are convenient and sexy, they do not provide the protection of full fenders.

For full, more permanent fenders, you have more choice (as well as more protection). First, one must figure out if a bike has fender mounts. Look for small eyelets (holes for screws) near the dropouts (where the wheels attach to the frame). Not all bicycles have fender mounts. With fender mounts, look for how much clearance is between the brake mount and the wheel. Look online for fenders to match your wheel size. The fenders to be used with mount points will have longer metal rods tracing the radius of the fender curve. Don't despair if a bike does not have these mounts, you can still have relatively full, permanent fenders. If your bike does not have fender mounts, they can be attached to the seatstays (tubes from seat post to rear axle) and fork (arms that hold the front wheel), usually with quick-release wrap-around mount solutions. They can be made more permanent with zip-ties.

Another option I have used is mounting a plate (of plastic or other lightweight, waterproof material) on the underside of a rear rack. It functions similarly to a proper fender.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Another consideration is tires. Traction can be an issue riding in the rain. Therefore knobbier tires might seem like a good idea. On the other hand, the knobbier the tire, the more water that will be trapped on the tire and thrown up on the rider. Slick road tires will throw up less water, but may provide less traction. So it is a give-take relationship. I ride slick tires and have never had much of a problem but every rider is different.

Keeping Your Bike Happy
How is a bike affected in the rain? If a bike is ridden in a rainy area, it will need to be serviced more often than a bike ridden in a dry one. The chain is the first and most exposed part of the works. Dirt is thrown up from the front wheel directly onto the chain. There are two basic types of lubes: petroleum- and wax-based (such as tri-flow or white lightning). I will not go into cleaning chains here (that belongs in another blog) but here is how these lubricants are affected by rain. The petroleum products tend to get washed off more quickly. Not only that, they are dirty, especially when wet. Wax-based lubricants (including hot waxing) tend to fair better in the rain, plus they are not dirty when wet. Remember, do not switch lubricants without degreasing the chain first as the oil and wax repel one another.

The bottom bracket and axles are also prone to water damage. The bottom bracket gets attacked from the inside and out. Water can run into the bottom bracket from the frame tubes on many bikes. It is also taking on water from the spindle and external joins. Prevent water getting into your bearings by using a good waterproof grease (such as Phil Wood). I grease all parts of the spindle which are internal (i.e., not the crank-mount area). I also run grease around the entire inside of the bottom bracket to repel water. Learn how to overhaul your bottom bracket, don't be intimidated.

Depending on the material your frame is made out of, you may have to deal with water damaging your frame. Keep your frame dry, park under an overhang if you can. Have a cloth by your bike parking spot at home and give it a quick wipe down when you get home wet. Be careful with rust. If you have it, and it is only slight, sand it out and paint over it.

Careful with that pretty leather seat; comfortable but less weather resistant. The easiest solution is parking under an overhang or tying a plastic bag over it. Be aware of the water being thrown up from underneath (especially if you don't have fenders). The back underside of your seat can get gritty quickly. Also, that water can run down the seat post into the seat tube and then into the bottom bracket. Some, such as Sheldon Brown, suggest lightly greasing the seat post, which would also form a seal to keep water from running down as well.

A further issue is the gear train. Whether you have a derailleur, fixed gear, or internal hub, rain and water can be an issue. With a derailleur, all of your works are exposed. Expect to clean gunk off with a toothbrush periodically. Check the cog wheels and in between the sprockets of the cassette. Park makes a tool specifically for cleaning this. I use a piece of rag twisted to fit between the gears. With a fixed gear, it is a bit easier, just keep the cog wheels clean and wipe down the surfaces, done. Internal hubs are also easier than derailleurs, because they are so robust. Just make sure they stay oiled. Shifting problems are usually due to cable issues, not internal ones.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Inclement Weather: Get Your Head in the Game!

What to do when a tropical storm has moved into town unexpectedly but work still starts at 9am. Unlike driving a car or taking the subway, one will not be protected in some micro-environment. How is it possible to get to work while still staying dry? Many times, it is possible to make it all the way dry as a whistle, other times, more drastic measures are needed. There are a few ways to help out-think the weather.

Keep an Eye on the Weather
First off, don't be surprised by the weather. Many times we go through life just experiencing weather through a window. Bad weather is something that just happens between the front door and the car. On a bike, one cannot avoid bad weather. In that light, know what is coming. Having a weather site as a homepage on one's web browser is a start. or are some of the most popular. One of the most useful aspects of these sites, besides the forecast, is the up-to-date radar. If it is raining, checking out one's local animated radar is a great way to spot lulls in rain showers. Rain often comes in bands, by looking at an animated radar, it is possible to start one's ride between heavy bands.

Have a Flexible Schedule
This is not always possible, depending on one's job, but the flexibility to head to work an hour later might by enough time for the weather to subside. Letting one's boss know about this new crazy bike-commuting plan and how it might affect one's schedule is a good idea. If there is bad weather forecast for the next day, think of bringing work that can be done from home for an hour or so. Even better, telecommute! This can be difficult if one works in the service industry or has an uncaring boss. Just remind him or her that some days, you might stay an hour later to avoid rain, so it goes both ways. This can be a difficulty for more control-minded folks who are dogged about their schedules. When biking, one must realize that the world (especially the weather) cannot be controlled, so be prepared.

Plan a Route
Not all routes are equal. The shortest possible route might not be the best bad-weather path. Think about low-lying areas, storm drains, and pot-holes. It might be better to spend the time taking a smoother, higher road, even if it is a bit longer. For example, here in New Orleans, there are some streets that can flood higher than a bottom bracket in normal rain. Also, it is best to avoid busy roads as visibility is reduced significantly (see below) and not only that, more cars can cause more splashing. Playing with routes has never been easier than with the internet. Mapping programs such as Google allow users to draw lines, areas, points, etc on their own maps. It would be possible to shade low-lying areas and plan different routes to avoid them.

Extra Careful Biking
Biking in bad weather can be potentially dangerous due to environmental and human factors. Clearly "slippery when wet" applies in this situation. Things that are not usually a hazard become dangerous, such as pine needles, which act like roller bearings (read: very slippery) when wet. Another variable is the reduced visibility caused by rain or fog. Drivers are not looking for bikers in good weather, so how much worse in rain! Use blinking front and back lights, even during the day. A brightly colored rain coat can also help. Be proactive, pay more attention to crossing intersections (stopping length increases in the rain!), maybe even avoid busy streets with little to no shoulder.

Stay tuned for other inclement weather-related posts dealing with equipment, snow, and others.

Can't Stand Ya, Costanza, Dealing with Sweat.

A problem, especially in the Summer, is keeping your cool in your brooks brothers while you pedal through 100-degree heat. Modifying one's clothes, at least for the ride, is one way to beat the heat. Another is to be flexible in one's schedule. There is no magic way to keep cool while riding fully clothed in the hottest part of the day. Bikes don't have air conditioning, wind helps but makes for harder work.

Prevention is the Best Medicine?
Instead of worrying about dealing with sweaty clothing, one can change his or her riding habits to sweat less. Leave earlier in the morning. Leave when it is cooler, even by 9 a.m. it is hot enough to cause problems. Assumedly, the ride home during the hot afternoon isn't as big of a deal because one is going home, where there probably isn't a dress code. Also, something that can be psychologically difficult, ride slowly! Pushing hard and going as fast as possible will cause more sweat. Sometimes, however, when wardrobe modification is not possible, this is one of the only ways to keep cool.

Be Lucky: Have a Job with a Shower
The easiest way to deal with biking heat is to be lucky enough to have a job with a shower. Some employers have an on-site gym and locker room. With this, it is possible to just ride to work in any clothes, shower at work, and change into fancy clothing after that. This requires transporting work clothes, but for more on that, see below. Also, not everybody is so lucky. If there is no shower, bringing a washcloth and whipping oneself down quickly in the bathroom goes a long way.

Don't be Self-Insulating
If possible, do not wear suit jackets, or other heavy, superfluous articles on the ride. Also, it takes a few minutes for one's body to cool down after the ride has stopped. Waiting a while after arriving before putting on the rest of one's clothes will stop the Costanza effect (George Costanza on Seinfeld complains about sweating long after he has stopped working out and even after a shower). If the dress-code at work is flexible, wear a t-shirt for the ride, wait a few minutes, then one can change into a work shirt, jacket, smock, or what have you after one's body has cooled off.

Transporting Work Clothes
I advocate not wearing heavy, hot work clothing while riding. This necessitates having work clothes either waiting on-site or transporting them there. If clothes are kept at work, get them cleaned somewhere nearby so they don't have to be brought home between wearings. If one has the luck to be able to store a variety of clothes at work, consider oneself lucky, but most of us will not have this luxury. A good idea is to transport a small garment bag. Do not be intimidated, I do not mean the large garment bags often brought on airplanes. Try to find a small tri-fold garment bag. I have one that came from inside a suitcase. This can easily fit on a bike rack or inside a good-sized back pack. See an upcoming post on transporting stuff for more on carrying solutions.

What to Wear
Although it sounds counter-intuitive, I have heard wool jerseys wick sweat away better than traditional synthetic bicycle jerseys. There are other synthetic shirts that are designed specifically to wick sweat off of the body (less sweat on the body, the less for bacteria to live in, the less smelly one gets), underarmor or similar types spring to mind. Some people like a handkerchief wet with cold water and tied around the neck to help keep cool.

On a non-clothes related note: stay hydrated. Not drinking water will not keep one from sweating less, it will be dangerous! So, drink water. Cool water will absorb some of your body heat, cooling down your core temperature. Some folks recommend insulated water bottles.

For More:
A review of a cooling vest.
A bandana to keep your cool.
Wool Jerseys and a review.
Wool-blend Jerseys.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Go Bikes Go: Starting Out.

Hello there!

This blog is all about bikes and integrating them into your life. America's culture is all about driving and cars. If one has grown up depending on a car for all local transportation, weaning oneself off the dinosaur-sauce can be difficult. A bike is not just for a relaxing ride or exercise (although these are great fringe benefits). A bike is one's ticket out of traffic jams and high gas prices.

Yes, there are pitfalls: keeping cool enough to wear a suit, dealing with inclement weather, fixing a flat when already running late, and others. The world changes on a bike, however. One sees things speeding motorists will miss. One's town will stop being a series of disconnected locations to which one drives, but an interconnected microcosm of houses, streets, small local businesses, and people.

With this blog, I hope to address the perceived difficulties of riding a bike instead of driving each day. I will also include many other topics which are useful for the daily biker: defensive biking, equipment maintenance, and more. Well, that and fun bike-related items picked up from the internet and around town.