equipment review: Trail Rail

Trail Rail has upped their game (click here for my previous review).


They built a phone platform for larger phones.  Mine is a Samsung S3 and this platform now has an appropriate cut-out so that you can record a video of your ride if you’re inclined.


For my set-up I’d need to mount it higher to record video, but the option is there, which is nice.  Their original prototype was specific to the iphone; this is another option for larger and different makes of phones.

I bought the quick-release thumb screws to replace the original hex screws that hold my phone to the cradle.  They can be screwed on even with full gloves and I always give them an extra twist with the edge of a key or a coin.  These are fabulous because I no longer need a hex wrench to take my phone on and off the cradle.


As always, the quality is top-notch and sturdy as all get-out.  There are quite a few phone cradles out there but I haven’t seen any as solidly built as these.  It attaches most securely to your bike’s handlebars with several different configurations.  Every piece and part of the entire group of products is excellent quality – no rubber bands or plastics here.  It’s all machined aluminum and it looks classy.

I can’t recommend Trail Rail highly enough.  Not only are their products the highest quality, their customer responsiveness is beyond excellent.  Whenever I’ve had a question or an issue they’ve been more than responsive and helpful.  I lost one of the mounting arms along the trail somewhere and they sent me a replacement with all the appropriate spacers.  They make sure your set-up is optimal for your needs, soliciting photographs and descriptions as necessary to ensure satisfaction.  You can get less expensive phone holders for your bike but you can’t get better customer service or a higher quality product.

Check them out for other products as well:  GoPro mounts, headlights, tactical bags, water bottle cages, and always a variety of adaptors and rails to hold whatever you need however you need it held – all have a versatile mounting system that allows you to decide where best to mount the equipment.  For example, I have a canister of pepper spray attached to my handlebars with a quick-release mount – they designed the mount for the canister I already had.  Ask them and they’ll try to find a way to make it work.  They are fabulous!

waiting for spring

I don’t even live in a cold winter climate but it seems this winter has been dragging.  Some of the trees here in northern California have new leaves on them; some only buds.  Many of the flowering trees are dropping their petals to be replaced by tiny leaves.  I am so eager for GREEN that I’m inspecting every tree branch I pass by and looking for progress.  I can’t imagine how you who live in cold climates are coping at this point.

We’ve been fortunate to have a little more rain here, reminding me that paint surfaces on the roads are slippery and some of trail’s underpasses are flooded.  It’s a nice problem to have, since we’re looking at a massive precedent-setting drought this winter.  The first ride after a downpour brings smiles from the trail regulars.  We share how happy we are to see the rain.  We hope it will bring green things and flowers. Sometimes those little exchanges of hope make a really nice ride.

My bike is filthy with splashed-up leaves and debris.  I’ve cleaned and cleaned my bottom bracket and drivetrain, scraped mud from under my fenders, washed the slippery mud off my pedals.  I like to ride in the rain because I’ve got the trails to myself.   It’s sort of zen to ride in the rain with no one around, a lone cyclist lost in her own thoughts.

How are you surviving the winter?

La Course – a giant step for women

By now you’ve probably heard that women’s pro cycling took one giant leap towards equity by earning a stage at the Tour de France.  What makes it even better is that the women’s stage – La Course – will be held on the final day of the Tour, July 27,  on the same course as the final men’s stage.  This is huge for so many reasons, but one intangible that can’t be ignored is the exposure that racing on the Champs-Elysées on the final day of the Tour will give women’s cycling.  Pro women’s cycling will be broadcast on the biggest day of the year with wide international TV, radio, and press coverage.  The lights couldn’t be brighter.  The crowds will be huge.  What a glorious day! Thanks should go to the advocates who fought for this: Emma Pooley, Marianne Vos, Kathrine Bertine, Chrissie Wellington, and everyone who signed petitions and spoke out in support.

To be sure this isn’t a full Tour de France for women yet, but it couldn’t be a more significant start.  I am confident that women will be eventually racing in a complete Tour de France of their own.  What a fantastic step towards that!

All women who ride will benefit from this exposure, whether  they are amateur racers or casual riders or bike commuters.  This will have a carryover effect on women’s cycling at all levels.  Seeing women ride La Course will inspire countless women and girls to ride more.  More demand will mean that bike shops will better support female riders and better service for all women who ride will be an end result.

Many women are intimidated by bike shops that cater to competitive male riders.  They feel they aren’t adequately represented there (I mean really, one rack of women’s jerseys and shorts?  Is that all you’ve got?), male techs often don’t understand the goals of female riders, and we often “make do” with men’s bikes and clothing and equipment.  Respect means representation.  Representation means respect.  I am sure there will be a day when women will not feel intimidated when they go to a bike shop, when we will have a plethora of bikes to choose from, when women’s gear takes up as much retail space as men’s gear.  There will be more bike clubs for women to join and more pro races. More races will be broadcast on TV because we will demand it. More demand will increase better support.  It’s a beautiful circle.

Just this morning while I was out on my daily ride I noticed more women riders than men.  I believe that’s the first time it’s happened.  Could women already be feeling inspired?  I hope so.  The sky is the limit, ladies!

an open letter to trail twits with off-leash dogs

Yes, that was me who called Animal Control.  No, letting your pack of six dogs run free all over the trail system as if it is your personal off-leash dog park is decidedly not cool.  And illegal, but I know you know that.  The animal control officer said she’s already spoken with you about your pack of loose dogs.   Do you care if one of your mutts runs under the tires of my bicycle?

Don’t give me that look – you know you are breaking the law and endangering everyone who uses the trail system.  There are several off-leash dog parks in this city.  Use them.  The trail system isn’t one of them.

If a dog in your pack causes me to crash you will be financially responsible for my injuries and any repairs needed to my bike.  You might want to think seriously if it’s worth it; my last serious bike crash cost $50,000 in medical bills.  I do not own a car and I depend on my ability to get around by bike.  I take it personally when you endanger my safety.

I’m working closely with a particular animal control officer in our city.  She has asked me to phone her whenever I see you with your loose dogs.  I will continue to do so until you finally understand that your selfishness endangers everyone who uses the city’s multi-use trail system – toddlers at play as well as serious cyclists.  Keep your dogs leashed.

learning to live car-free

Many people make the choice to live car-free.  I admit I had the choice made for me more than five years ago.  You see, my husband and I separated and since he was working at the time and I was not, our only car went with him.  I was angry at first – I felt abandoned and stuck.  But I lived in a medium sized walkable city with access to good public transportation so I really wasn’t stuck.

I didn’t embrace using my bike for everything at first.  I walked.  I carried a little canister of pepper spray and I walked.  I bought what I call a “little old lady grocery cart” to do my shopping and I walked everywhere.

Then it occurred to me that I could get places a lot quicker on my bike. At the time I had a big-box store Schwinn.  Nothing fancy, but it was a bike and I could go farther and faster than on foot. After nearly crashing with my handlebars heavy from grocery bags I bought a rack and a detachable basket for it.  I felt almost like a serious bike person with that set-up, I tell you.

Eventually I found a job and needed to move to a completely different city.  Well, the suburbs, actually.   Work was a 3-mile bike commute, mostly on paved bike trails.  The grocery store was down the street but this wasn’t city anymore; this was suburbia and things were more spread out. I make it work but I have to be honest – living car-free is much more convenient in a decently sized city that has good public transportation.

But I found that bike commuting was freaking awesome.  I had my morning time with the quiet of a world just waking up.  Birds sang to me as I rode by.  I communed with squirrels.  A river otter silently slipped into a creek as I rode by and I glimpsed a bobcat one morning.  Dozens of tiny baby quail ran across the bike path, their mamas herding them. I loved the wildlife on my commute and by the time I rode home I was serene no matter how crappy my day may have been.  The stresses of my workday melted with each mile.

One great thing about this small city is its bike infrastructure.  While many cities have bike infrastructure that I positively drool over and this city’s infrastructure is modest, I enjoy a pretty decent network of trails and painted bike lanes on most streets.  And the city is incredible about keeping the trails in great shape. However, there are always those jerks who can’t stand sharing the road with cyclists.  It never ceases to amaze me that in a city where a lot of people ride supported by decent infrastructure, there are those completely intolerant idiots who think roads are for cars.  Morons.

Over the years I’ve embraced a car-free cycling lifestyle.  Shopping trips need to be planned a bit because I need to consider how to carry whatever I buy.  Distances need to be considered.  Riding at night is something I mostly avoid if I can even though I have a gazillion lights. Over the years I’ve equipped myself and my bike with various essentials to make us visible and noticeable.  And safe.  Also to make carrying things and doing everything by bike easier.  But no one has to spend a fortune on equipment right away.  The important thing is to ride and see how you feel doing more things on your bike.  Then get what you need, whether it’s a handlebar basket or a pannier and rack set-up.  Everybody has different needs and styles.

Being car-free and living on my bike has also made me the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life.  I haven’t even had a cold in more than five years.  Coincidence?  Naw.  I don’t think so.

I suppose rural areas are even more challenging if one doesn’t have a car.  The suburbs aren’t a piece of cake, that’s for sure.  My city ostensibly has a bus system but it is very rudimentary and hey, even if it’s raining it’s just more convenient to don the rain gear and get on my bike.  Someday I hope to move back into a decently sized city so I can walk as well as bike everywhere.  But for now I embrace my car-free cycling lifestyle,  even in the inconvenient suburbs, where everyone but me drives everywhere.

How about you? Are you car-free?  Do you want to be?  If you are, how do you make it work?

riding tips for cold weather

Okay, yeah, I live in California so my cold is nothing like the cold some of you experience.  You have my sympathy and my utter admiration.  It’s daunting to ride in cold weather.  Where I live it’s been in the 20s at night, which is unusual.  It warms up to a whopping 30 degrees F by the time I bundle up and leave the house.  That’s cold to me!

This time of year you’ll find lots of great advice about what to wear when riding in the winter.  But I’d like to share some riding tips if you’re not normally a winter rider and you’re getting gutsy enough to try.  Do try – people will either think you’re crazy or freaking awesome!   I prefer to think I’m awesome for riding in all weather; your mileage may vary.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned as I’ve grown used to riding in the cold:

  • Consider going at a slower speed but pedaling at a higher cadence to stay warm.  This accomplishes two things: 1) there will be less cold wind resistance freezing your face at a slower speed and 2) the higher cadence keeps the blood flowing through your legs and keeps you warm.
  • Take an insulated water bottle or a spill-proof insulated coffee mug with you and fill it with warm water.  You always need water to help keep you hydrated in cold, dry air, but nobody wants to drink cold water on a cold day!  Just a sip of warm water can feel really good when you’re riding in the cold.
  • As you ride along, clap your hands to keep blood flowing to your fingers.  If you’re not comfortable going hands-free for this, clap them whenever you’re stopped at a traffic light.  Who cares if you look silly if your fingers are warm?  Alternatively, a couple of things I do to keep my fingers toasty is alternately gripping my handlebar grips and flexing my fingers in rapid succession and taking one hand off my handlebars at a time and shaking my whole arm out.  You’ll be surprised how much more enjoyable your ride is when your hands are warm.
  • Keep in mind that if your core is warm your body doesn’t have to “steal” heat from your extremities.
  • Be careful for water puddles that may have frozen and look out for painted parts of the street – they can get icy and slippery.  Also, if you’re on bike paths that have those yellow rubber bumpy strips at intersections, be aware that these can freeze and become very slippery when wet. Wow, I learned that the hard way (literally).
  • Let a couple of pounds of pressure out of your tires to increase road-to-tire surface area if it’s wet or snowy or icy.  Sure, you’ll go slower, but you’ll also ride with more stability.
  • Be prepared for the brighter sunlight of winter – the sun is at a steeper angle than in the summer and it can suddenly blind you.  Go slowly if the sun is in your eyes.
  • If it’s dreary and cloudy – even if it isn’t raining or snowing – use your lights.  Better to be too careful than not careful enough.  A lot of motorists don’t expect to see people riding bikes in the winter.  Make sure you’re visible.

And when you get done riding in the cold, have a nice huge cup of hot chocolate.  You’ve earned it!

how to fix the inevitable flat

Wow, is that lucky or what?

Wow, is that lucky or what?

Are you like me and hate changing a flat so much that if at all possible, you’ll limp along for as long as you can with a tube that’s failing?  Dumb, huh?

I usually lose tubes due to punctures or eventual failure at the valve stem.  I’m obsessive about checking my tire pressure before every ride so my valves get quite the workout.  There’s no mistaking that “sssssssssss” when you press your pressure gauge onto a stem and it starts leaking.

But this time my back tire kept losing more than the 1-2 psi it usually loses overnight.  At first I thought that it had to be due to the weather.  After all, when I’m done riding my tires are much warmer than they are the next morning, when they’ve been sitting on my cold balcony all night, the rubber contracting from the cold.  Then it lost 5 psi overnight.  Then 10.  Oops, now it lost 20 psi.  Seeing that it was a slow leak I knew there wasn’t a hole to patch; the tube needed to be replaced.

Tires can lose pressure when the tire tread gets worn, and I worried it might be time to replace my tires.  I have probably 4,000-5,000 miles on this set, and although I’ve rotated them about half-way through they are getting worn.  But the cheapest way to find out if it’s the tire or the tube is to just replace the tube and see what happens.  Thankfully, that’s all it was – just a tube that had been getting weak and losing its elasticity – although I procrastinated because changing a tube isn’t the easiest thing in the world if your tires are like mine – they have a stiff bead and they’re hard to get on and off my rims.   But now that I’ve got a nice new tube in there and my “tuffy liners” are protecting it from punctures I’m happily pedaling along again without worry.  

To help you, here is a fantastic video from that shows how to change a tube.   The guy is a pro and he makes it look easy, but it really isn’t hard.  For me, the hardest part is working the tire back onto the rim.  Once you get it on your rim make sure you inflate it only part way, then check thoroughly to see that none of the tube is being pinched – you will get a pinch flat if so.  What I do is massage the tire and the tube all the way around the rim a few times, then inflate the tire a little and spin it, holding my fingers lightly against the sides of the tire and along the bead of the tire.  I visually check to see if there are any spots that look uneven. Once I’m satisfied it’s perfect then I fill it up with air and do a final spin check. Then I’ll check a few hours later to see if it’s holding.  Like I said, I’m a bit obsessive about my tires.

Of course, you can always take your bike to the shop to change a tube but I firmly believe everyone who rides regularly needs to know some basic skills, starting with fixing a flat.  A nice side benefit is that you feel a real sense of accomplishment once you fix your own flat.  Empower yourself!