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.