congrats, California! 3-foot law passes

California finally joined 22 other states with its own 3-foot passing law today.  Jerry Brown signed it!

From SF

The proposal from Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, is intended to better protect cyclists from aggressive drivers. It states that if drivers cannot leave 3 feet of space, they must slow down and pass only when it would not endanger the cyclist’s safety.

The law will go into effect Sept. 16, 2014. Current law requires a driver to keep a safe distance when passing a bicyclist but does not specify how far that is.

At least 22 states and the District of Columbia define a safe passing distance as a buffer of at least 3 feet, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

Bradford’s bill, AB1371, was sponsored by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, an avid cyclist who was injured in 2010 after a taxi driver abruptly pulled in front of him. It also drew support from several cyclist groups, such as the California Association of Bicycling Organizations.

Whoo hoo!  Go out for a ride to celebrate!


shorter days and early nightfall

Sigh.  It’s Fall. No longer can we ride late into the evenings with daylight that seems to last forever.  Now that the days are getting shorter it’s time to dust your lights off and take stock to see if you need to add to your collection.  Most states require the use of a headlight and a taillight when cycling after dark.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • You need to be seen as much as you need to see.  Use your lights as soon as the shadows start to get long.  It can be difficult to see you if you’re riding in the shadows and you’re riding in and out of waning sunlight.
  • Cloudy days seem darker when the sun isn’t as high this time of year.  Use your lights even on cloudy days.  When it’s daylight but not bright I set my headlight on blinking.
  • You need both a headlight and a taillight.  Additionally, a light somewhere on your person can help you be seen from the side as well.

Lights don’t have to blow your budget. For headlights, you may want a light that runs on alkaline batteries or you may invest in a rechargeable light.  One big benefit of a rechargeable light is the ability to plug it into your computer at work via USB and charge it up before you leave for the day. REI has a good guide on how to choose lights and what to look for.

Keep in mind where you’ll be riding. If you’re riding on well-lit streets your headlight probably doesn’t need to throw a lot of light on the street but you do want to be seen.  If you’re riding on dark streets or unlit trails you will need to light up the night.  Lights usually are anywhere from 40 to 500 lumens.  In addition, some beams are narrow and focused and light up a path far in front of you (good for city streets) while others offer more peripheral lighting (good for unlighted streets and trails).  Again, where you usually ride should be considered.

You may prefer a helmet-mounted headlight or one attached to your handlebars.  Maybe both!  Keep in mind that with a helmet mounted light, the beam is focused where you’re looking.  With a handlebar mounted light the beam is only focused where your handlebars are facing.  This can get tricky when you’re making turns in unlighted areas – I almost hit a jogger on an unlighted path one morning because I didn’t see him until my handlebars started making the turn and my headlight lit him up.   To be honest it would have been great if he had a light or even reflective clothing (he was in all black) but my headlight did light him up at the last minute and I was able to avoid him.  He yelled at me anyway.  Sigh.

Taillights are so others can see you and they are getting brighter all the time. Keep your taillight on its blinking setting – it catches motorists’ eyes better than a steady beam.  Again, there is a plethora of taillight designs available and include lights that run on alkaline batteries and rechargeable taillights.  Most have a steady setting and a blinking setting.  Some have various blinking patterns.  A friend gifted me with a taillight that also projects an LED bike lane onto the pavement behind me!  Pretty cool.

There are clip-on lights you can attach to your jacket or backpack, dangly lights you can hook onto the back of your helmet, lighted bracelets, lighted pants cuff clips, lighted zipper pulls, clip-on lights you can attach to just about any part of your bike.  You can get lighted valve caps for your wheels, lights to attach to your spokes, and wrap-around flexible light strips you can attach to your bike frame.  All of these help you be seen from the side; for instance, when you’re crossing an intersection.  The more you can be seen the safer you will be.

I usually ride with a taillight attached to my rear rack, a blinky light attached to the back of my helmet, and sometimes even a blinky light attached to the rear pocket of my cycling jacket.  For a headlight, I have both a handlebar mounted light and a light I can attach to my helmet but since I ride in well-lit areas these days I just use my handlebar-mounted headlight.  One of the best compliments I received was when I was told I could be seen from way down the street.  That’s the goal: to be seen.  But it’s a good precaution to assume that others can’t see you and to ride defensively.  How many times was I positive someone in a car could see me yet they turned in front of me anyway?

Don’t let shorter days keep you inside.  Gliding silently through the dark can be glorious.  Light yourself up like a Christmas tree and keep riding!

the scourge of fall riding in northern California

Yes, it’s goathead thorn season:


These little nasties are all over the trails and they treat your bike tires as if someone threw a handful of thumb tacks onto the trail.  Grr.  I hate ’em!

a women’s Tour de France update

Check out Le Tour Entier – a campaign to improve women’s cycling, starting with the Tour de France.

Momentum is building for a women’s Tour de France and it’s got some pretty amazing names behind it: Marianne Vos, Emma Pooley, Kathryn Bertine, Chrissie Wellington.  These impressive women are tops in women’s pro racing and competitive sports. They say:

We established this campaign to help support the growth of women’s cycling and build a sport with greater consumer, media and commercial appeal – starting with a women’s race at the Tour de France.

In the link you’ll find their manifesto, a petition, news & media links, FAQ, and a kit/jersey for sale to support the cause.  It’s inspiring!

They hope to have a pilot race going in 2014, alongside the men’s race.  This would be a shorter race than the traditional men’s Tour de France and would give race fans a nice taste of what a women’s Tour de France could be.

It won’t be easy; women’s races are not as popular as men’s races.  But with exposure and support I hope this momentum builds and we will soon see more media coverage of women’s races.  I’d love to find women’s races in my channel lineup!

Would you watch a women’s Tour de France?

shifting basics

Bicycling Magazine just put out a handy post on the basics of shifting that everyone should read.  Unless you’re a pro, you might learn something helpful.  There’s a nice graphic in the link as well.

In a nutshell:

  • It’s okay to look down at your chainrings to get a visual.
  • Shift up or down before you need to; in other words, anticipate hills and even the wind if you can.
  • Start in the middle – choose the middle gear in the front and back and make adjustments from there.
  • When you’re just starting out, use the middle cog in the front and experiment with the gears in the back.  When you’re comfortable, experiment changing both (but one at a time, please).
  • Let up on the pedals ever so slightly when you’re shifting into a harder gear to put less stress on your chain.

And a couple of my own:

  • When downshifting both front and back cogs, downshift the back first, then the front.  It’s much more comfortable.
  • If you’re in a relatively high gear and you need to stop at a stoplight, downshift into a lower gear before you stop.  Starting up again when the light changes will be easier.

You may find that if you ride the same route frequently you’ll have a favorite gear ratio.  For me it’s what feels pretty effortless but still allows me to maintain a good speed.  I ride on hilly terrain and sometimes I’ll pretend my bike is fixed-gear and I’ll stay in the same gear up and down the hills, just for a fun challenge.  And then there are days when the wind in my face – especially uphill – means I need to move into my granny gears.

Experimenting means you’ll be able to shift effortlessly without even thinking.  Play around and have fun.  You may even discover a more comfortable gear!

sharing the bike love – some handy advice (to pass on)


An acquaintance recently asked a group of cyclist friends for advice because she’s thinking of buying a bike.  You know cyclists – everybody’s got an opinion.  The group came up with some wonderful and varied ideas.  We’re a diverse group of all ages and abilities and styles of riding so each woman had her own spin on what’s important.  And bike people just love to share the love.  I still smile when I think back on the times when someone has asked me for cycling advice or told me I inspired them to ride more.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?  Passing on the bike love.

So here are a few ideas.  Feel free to pass them on – or even use them yourself if they apply.

Go to a good bike shop and tell them exactly how you ride or how you want to ride.  Beware if they try to steer you to a bike that doesn’t seem to match the style of riding you want to do.  In other words if you want a commuter bike for everyday commuting, you might not need a top-of-the-line carbon frame road bike with super skinny performance tires.  If the bike shop doesn’t seem to be listening to you go elsewhere.  A bike shop that doesn’t listen doesn’t deserve your business.  If you’re being steered to a particular shop because of a friend who rides, pay attention to the type of riding she does and what her needs are.  They may not be the same as yours.

Make sure you’re honest about your abilities.  Don’t tell them you’re faster than you are and don’t downplay your abilities if you’re already an experienced rider.  Sometimes you’ll run across a bike shop tech who makes assumptions about a woman’s abilities – if you feel you’re being misread, try to clarify, ask for another tech, or go to another shop.  Bike shops want happy customers.  Insist on having your needs recognized.

Go for test rides.  Several test rides.  Long test rides. Uphill and downhill if you will be riding on hills, so you can see how the bike behaves.  If the shop doesn’t allow you to ride, go elsewhere.  Most do, though – they realize you need to try out a bike before you buy.  Make sure they adjust the seat and check the tire pressure. Run through the gears.  Try to ride where there’s little or no traffic so you can feel the bike rather than having to watch out for cars. Keep in mind that brakes can easily be adjusted so don’t freak out if they seem grabby or loose on the test ride (but you might want to mention it to the tech when you get back).   How do the gears feel when shifting?  Do you like the ratio?  Is the ride too stiff?  Too bouncy?

Keep in mind the little details.  An upright stem and riser bars will cause you to sit more upright and put more of your weight on your seat, so you  need to love your seat.  If you ride more aggressively flat bars or drop bars might be better for you.  A road bike with drop bars will put you in a bent posture so make sure that’s comfortable for you.  If you want to really easily see around you, upright is better.  If you go for MTB type bars, pay attention to your hand placement and see if the width feels comfortable.  You may want your hands closer together or farther apart.  Paramount over all, you need to be in a comfortable posture that you can maintain and feel good about, and where you can easily see around you.  You don’t want to be fatigued because you’re not riding comfortably.  No matter how cool you look.

If you’re riding purely for pleasure you may think about a cruiser with fat tires.  Fatter tires absorb shock more than skinny tires but they take more effort to pedal due to greater surface contact of the rubber touching the road.  Conversely, skinny tires will allow you to go faster with less effort, as will larger wheels.  Larger wheels will also generally seat you higher and your center of gravity will be higher.

Frame geometry is important.  For example, I needed a top tube that’s horizontal or nearly horizontal because I sling my bike over my shoulder to carry it upstairs every day.  I don’t have difficulty swinging my leg over to mount my bike – if you’re less flexible you may want a step-through frame (what we used to call a girl’s bike).  You may be comfortable  with a “flat-foot” geometry.  The crank is set forward of the seat so that you can stay seated and put both feet on the ground, i.e.  the pedals are a little in front of you rather than directly under your seat.  Keep in mind that it’s harder to generate power with your feet forward.  And on any bike when you’re seated with your feet on the pedals, your knee should be ever so slightly bent when fully extended.  If you’re riding with your knees in your chest you’ll be unable to generate much power and you’ll probably have knee issues.

Frame material is a consideration.  Aluminum is lighter and thus takes a little less effort to pedal along  but a lot of experienced cyclists feel that an aluminum frame has too much vibration.  Steel is their preference but it is a heavier frame.  Carbon is super-light but comes at a premium cost.

Saddle – do you want a plush cushy ride?  If so, you can get a nice wide padded seat with springs.  You may find, however, that a skinny seat allows the perfect comfortable ride.  Women-specific seats sometimes have a cutout to take a little pressure off your girly bits.  Whatever is comfortable is the right seat.

You may want a rack over your back tire to carry items.  Even if you’re only going out for dinner it’s a good way to carry home  a doggie bag. Don’t forget a bungee net to hold items to your rack.  Good bike shops sell them.

You’ll probably want lights – front and back.  Most states require them after dark.  But if you’re only going to ride in the day, purchasing lights can wait.  However, the days are getting shorter now so having them for just in case is an excellent idea.  I also recommend them on cloudy days so you can be seen. You can buy pretty cheap lights that run on regular batteries or you can buy high quality, super bright lights that recharge via USB.  If you’re riding on well-lit roads you need to be seen more than you need to see. If you’re riding on dark trails you definitely need to see as much ahead of you as possible as well as be seen. The more lights, the better.  In any case a really bright taillight – or two! – is essential.  I tend to be lit up like a Christmas tree, even with lighted armbands. I’ll cover different types of lights in an upcoming post.

If you’re only tooling around the block you may not need to carry many supplies with you.  However, if you’re commuting to work every day you definitely need a seat bag with some basics: a spare tube, a patch kit, tire levers, a good multi-tool (in case you need to adjust something on the fly). One tip: take your spare tube out of the cardboard box and put it inside a ziplock baggie – the cardboard can wear weak spots in your spare tube.  You might want a frame pump if you change a tube and need to pump your tire.  Sometimes a pump can just give you enough air to get home if you have a slow leak.  Another tip – put a dollar bill in your frame bag.  If you have a blowout you can put it between your tube and your tire and it will hold together well enough for you to limp home or to a shop.  Look for an upcoming post on changing a tube and fixing a flat.  These are basics that we all should learn.

Bonuses:  I bought a spill-proof insulated coffee mug that could fit in my water bottle cage so I could sip some coffee at stoplights when I was commuting in the morning.  It’s nice to have a warm sip of coffee on a cold morning!  I also have an insulated water bottle – cold water is refreshing in the summer and warm water is pretty wonderful in the winter.  Neither are necessities but they’re nice to have.  You can get various small frame bags that will hold your keys and a few items or go for more sophisticated equipment to carry necessities such as your phone. 

Keep in mind that you probably won’t need all of these extras when you’re just starting out. You can accrue what you need over time and as your budget allows.  When you’re just starting out keep a phone number of a friend handy in case you have a flat and you need a ride home.

Do you have tips or advice for those who are just getting into biking? Do you bike with some must-have accessories?  Please tell us in the comments section.