equipment review: Trail Rail

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

P1000625

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.

P1000626

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.

P1000624

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!


clean bike chain joy in the change of seasons

Previously I posted about how I clean my bike’s drivetrain and the products I use.  During the summer I prefer to use a “dry” chain lubricant because it’s dry here in Northern California and it doesn’t rain for months.  Using a dry lube (teflon or “dry” polymer) is much less gunky and allows me to keep my chain clean for a long time with a simple wipe after each ride to get the dust off.  But during the rainy season I have never trusted dry lubes and I prefer to use a more traditional wet lubricant, a petroleum-based chain lube.  A rusty chain makes a very unhappy bike!

So I went to my fancy LBS (local bike shop) to pick up some winterizing supplies.  Previously I had been using White Lightning Clean Streak Degreaser but  the LBS I visited doesn’t carry it. They sold me Finish Line Citrus Degreaser.    On their recommendation I also bought Dumonde Tech Bicycle Chain Lube – Lite.  The LBS said this lubricant was good in wet or dry conditions and I could use it year-round.  The LBS sponsors racing teams and they use it so  I figured it was worth a try.

Now that I’ve tried these two products I am switching my loyalty to the Finish Line Degreaser.  That stuff is miraculous!  As good as White Lightning is, this is even better, which I didn’t know was possible. All the gunk just melted off my chain.  It’s such a wonderful thing to run a clean rag over the chain and have nothing come off – no dirt, no grime.  The cassette is shiny and clean and I think my chain has only been this clean when it was brand new.

I let my chain dry off for a couple of hours, then I applied the Dumonde Tech.  It’s a polymer, which is intended to bond to your chain surfaces, forming a protective coating.  The company instructs you not to use it liberally, unlike other chain lubes – use it sparingly and wipe it until it’s dry.  And by all means, wipe the chain after each ride.   That’s a really good practice to get into no matter what you use on your chain. It will increase the lifespan of your drivetrain components.

So I was eagerly anticipating riding on this blissfully clean chain this morning.  I was happy – it was perfectly silent.  It was like riding on satin.  My pedaling felt effortless and shifting was so smooth I could barely feel it.

I can highly recommend these two products.  I still think White Lightning Degreaser is good, but Finish Line Citrus is better.  Time will tell regarding the Dumonde Tech chain lube but I’m pretty impressed so far.


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!


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

chain_link_heart

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.


my chain was yelling at me

My poor chain.  It complains when I don’t keep it clean and happy.  I’ve been pretending I didn’t hear its murmurs but the complaining was getting louder.  Finally it started yelling and I gave in today and made my chain happy by cleaning it.

This post is all about how I clean my chain.  You may do it differently.  You may be one of those incredible experienced people who take your chain completely off and soak it, take your back wheel off and painstakingly brush each cog, etc.  But I’m not.   I live in an apartment so I don’t have a backyard hose.  I’m not sure I could put my chain back on if I took it off.   I know how to do some basic bike maintenance and repair but I’m no pro, and I accept my limitations.  Plus, I’m lazy.  So if I don’t have to take my chain off to get it clean I’m happy.

You can find all the products I’ve mentioned here at REI.

So here’s how I do it. I use a product called White Lightning Clean Streak.   It’s a “dry” de-greaser, which means that you don’t need running water to use it.  It’s a spray-on product that dissolves grime.  The grime drips off so make sure you use it outside and make sure you put some rags or cardboard or something underneath your bike – I learned the hard way that the gunk will drip off and make a mess on my apartment balcony’s concrete (sorry, apartment managers!).

clean streak

The can comes with a fine spray “straw” of sorts to attach to the nozzle; I recommend using it so the spray doesn’t get everywhere.  It’s great at making sure it only goes where I need it.

First I spray the entire chain while slowly turning my pedals backwards:

spray the chain

I make sure the chain is dripping (hence the cardboard underneath).  Then I take a fingernail brush and I brush the top of the chain:

scrub above

And the bottom of the chain:

scrub under

I hold the pedals while I gently scrub back and forth on the same section a few times, then I rotate my pedals a little bit, gently scrub back and forth on the next section, etc.  If you can see one link of your chain that looks a little bit different, you can make sure you get the entire thing covered without losing your place.  Mine has a very bright connector link so I can easily keep track when I’ve gone one revolution.  Even so, if it’s very dirty I may have to go around more than once. I check to see if there are leaves or pieces of crud between the links and make sure I get those out of there.

I then spray the chain again as I did the first time, allowing the grime to drip off.  You may need to go through this whole sequence more than once if your chain is super grimy.

Now I check to see how well I’m doing by gently holding my chain with a clean rag and rotating my pedals to make an initial pass of my chain:

wipe chain

How clean is it?

dirty rag

Nice and dirty!  I keep repeating the above steps until it comes off mostly clean.  But before I spend too much time going over it and over it I clean the dirty cogs because I’m still ptobably transferring some grime from the gears to the chain. I start with the front:

spray front crank

I need to stick the spray extender thing in-between a lot of places to get all three of my cogs. I get on the other side of my bike and spray each ring from that side too.  I usually can see the gunk coming right off.  I keep spraying and rotating until most of it has dripped off. At this point I run the rag over the chain again to see how I’m doing.  Then I start to clean the back cog, rotating my pedals:

spray cogs

It isn’t too terribly dirty, is it?  It gets much dirtier in the winter.  Again I get on the other side of my bike and spray the cleaner from that side too, rotating my pedals.  Usually it takes a combination of repeating the above steps to make sure I’m not transferring dirt and grime from one part I haven’t cleaned yet to a part I just cleaned, but after going back and forth between the chain, front cog, and back cog, and using the rag to wipe the chain in-between, it gets pretty clean and SHINY:

shiny!

I know by the glare that it’s clean! I let it dry for a couple of hours.  At some point I rotate my pedals to make sure everything gets a chance to dry out thoroughly.  I then lube my beautiful clean chain.  In the winter when it rains I need the protection of a “wet” lube. I use T-9 Bicycle Chain Lubricant.  In the summer it’s very, very dry in northern California so I use a “dry” teflon lube.  I am trying out different products but one I like so far is Finish Line Dry Teflon Lube.  If you switch between a dry lube and a wet lube, just make sure you clean your chain thoroughly in-between.

When I lubricate my chain I hold the bottle over the chain on my back cog and I drip the lube down onto it while turning my pedals, wetting my whole chain.  I probably over-lube.  But I then let it drip and dry overnight and before my next ride in the morning I take a clean rag and wipe my entire chain down, rotating my pedals.  You want the lube to be on the little spindles of each link of your chain; not on the chain itself.  Over-lubricating your chain without wiping it off makes it a dirt magnet.  When you ride dirty your chain wears much faster and your cogs will wear out.  Save yourself the replacement costs and keep your ride clean and happy.

Tip:  When dripping anything on your chain and cogs tilt your bike so the cleaning product and lubricants aren’t dripping on your wheels.  You want your brakes to grip! 

When I’m done riding I keep a rag near where I store my bike and I wipe my chain off after each ride.  That helps it stay cleaner longer and gives me lots of free and happy pedaling in-between cleanings.  Depending on your weather and how much you ride you may need to reapply lube every week or two – run your fingers over your chain.  If it’s smooth but not sticky or gritty you’re in good shape. If your fingers are filthy when you run them over your chain, guess what time it is?  Time to clean again.  If they’re gritty you may not be wiping off well enough between rides. And by all means, if your chain is squeaky it needs lube.

Keeping your chain happy and clean is one of the best investments of time you can make for your bike.  When you get more practiced you’ll find that cleaning your drivetrain takes only about 15 minutes.  But you’ll be amazed at how much easier it feels to pedal, how much more energy you have, and how silent a clean bike chain is.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Happy cleaning and happy riding!


equipment review – Trail Rail mounting systems

I’m not being paid for this review.

phone cradle

I entered a contest sponsored by Momentum Magazine for a Trail Rail cell phone/GPS cradle.  How useful!  I always cycle with my cell phone and I’ve been carrying it in a little frame bag. But it requires stopping and pulling my phone out if I need it for anything, including emergencies. I have dropped it getting it out of the pouch.  So I entered the contest, thinking this would be a useful piece of equipment.    Much to my happy surprise I won!

I received the phone cradle from Trail Rail but unfortunately the mounting ring was too large a diameter for my handlebars.  I contacted them, asking if they carried a mounting ring in a smaller size and they offered to send a couple of different configurations for free.  They were extremely helpful and they even asked me for a photo of my handlebars so they could make sure to send the correct mounting rings.

Not only did they send the correct rings but they also sent a low-profile adaptor since I planned on mounting the cradle to my stem.  The original cradle had a platform that adjusts for viewing angle. It’s very nice  but it sticks up from my stem and I bump into it when I stand on my pedals to climb hills.  The people at Trail Rail anticipated this when I told them I wanted to mount it on my stem rather than my handlebars, so they sent a low-profile mount.  However, I couldn’t get it cranked down tight enough.  But they replaced it, with apologies.  Working with these guys has been fabulous,  At every step of the process they solicited my input, they asked for photos, and they went way above and beyond to ensure I had a set-up that worked optimally.

cradle pepper spray

When I sent a picture of my handlebars they noticed the pepper spray canister I have taped to my handlebars within easy reach.  So they asked me the diameter of the canister and sent me a holder with a quick release clamp.

pepper spray holder

I also have a small tactical bag:

bag1

It fits a wallet or small digital camera and my keys.  I can put my cell phone in the bag when it rains. There are several useful pockets inside and outside and it can be attached to your belt when you walk away from your bike.

All of the equipment is top-notch and high quality and it’s built to last.  It isn’t inexpensive, but in this case not only do you get what you pay for, you get phenomenal responsiveness and service from the Trail Rail team. They honestly want you to be happy and will work with you every step of the way to make sure you have the best set-up possible. They welcome feedback and will keep tweaking things to make it perfect.

trailrail

I’ve been riding with these products for a few weeks now and I can say that I am very well-satisfied with them.  I am incredibly impressed with their customer service.  That level of responsiveness is almost unknown these days.  The fact that they went above and beyond for a customer who won their product rather than purchased it outright is a testament to their professionalism.

Here are some pros and cons I’ve found:

PROS:

  • High quality and rugged – these systems are meant to last forever
  • Extremely versatile mounting systems
  • Almost endless configurations (stem, handlebars, seatpost, seat rails, etc.
  • Smart designs – you can mount your phone and record your ride on video using its camera
  • Extra Allen wrenches, neoprene strips, and bolts are included.  This is useful; I dropped a tiny bolt on a ride somewhere.  I now have them all cranked down tight.
  • Highest level of customer service imaginable

CONS:

  • The instructions leave a bit to be desired.  If you’re technically adept it isn’t a problem but if you’re not, you’ll need some help.  However, they’re very happy to help.
  • The glue used for the neoprene lining the mounting rings melts in hot weather, but it is remedied with superglue. Do yourself a favor and re-glue them before you mount them the first time.  Then they’re nearly indestructible.  The company is working on this.
  • Getting the phone in and out of the cradle requires the use of the included Allen wrench.  There’s a quick-release mount for the entire cradle assembly, but not to separate the phone from the cradle easily.  I’ve suggested a quick release system or even a keychain Allen wrench.

I honestly cannot recommend these products and the Trail Rail team enough.  I am very satisfied, not only with the quality of the products but the quality of the service as well.

P.S. I plan to do more reviews when I try out new equipment so watch this space.


feeling safe as a woman cyclist

As cyclists we are all vulnerable.  It’s often cited as one of the biggest reasons women don’t bike as much as men.  A lot of women aren’t sure of their ability to get out of a possibly dangerous situation; a fear many men don’t share.  Sometimes that’s a lack of confidence in physical ability: am I strong enough to pedal away from danger? Sometimes it simply comes down to plain old fear of dangers around us.

Wearing visible clothing and making sure you have lights and reflectors are things you can do to make yourself more visible.  But what about the emotional aspect of cycling safety?

The more you ride, the more confident you become in your physical fitness and the better you are able to assess your abilities.  For example, I’ve never felt strong climbing hills.  I know I have the leg strength, but I feel my lung capacity leaves a bit to be desired.  I poop out on big, steep hills.  I am left gasping for air. I hope no one ever chases me up a hill; I know I’d lose.

What about other hazards?  Stray dogs, angry people, and groups of sketchy-looking people can make you feel very vulnerable indeed.  What about the motorist you flipped off because he almost clipped you and now he’s following you?  Road rage against cyclists is real. What can you do to ride without fear so you can enjoy yourself?  How can you learn to ride like a badass?

Besides riding more to get stronger I’ve taken a few precautions to boost my emotional strength.  I never ride without my phone and ID.  I’ve stored the phone number of my city’s police department in my phone and I can always dial 911 if it’s a true emergency.  I wear an open-air bluetooth device and all I have to do is press a button, say “city police” or “911,” and I’m connected – no fumbling with my phone (check to see if it’s legal to wear a bluetooth device in your city first – most will allow you to have one ear covered, but not both).  If you ride through more than one city enter all the police department phone numbers and keep track of where you are. Also, create an emergency contact in your phone.  Enter it as “I.C.E.” (In Case of Emergency) and the contact person and their number.  Most emergency responders are aware of this designation.

In addition, if you have a smartphone with a camera you can use it in case you have an accident,  if you need to document something for the police, or to snap a picture of a license plate to report a dangerous driver.

I carry a canister of pepper spray attached to my handlebars.  Find out what’s legal in your state – some states allow mace.  If a stray dog attacks, you need it handy for defense (I’ve also entered the phone number for Animal Control in my city; I’d rather call them than spray a dog unless it is attacking).   If someone stops you and is threatening you, you need defense before the police can arrive.  I’ve only had to pull out my pepper spray once and I didn’t have to use it, but it sure made the guy who was hassling me back off. Don’t be afraid to threaten using it and don’t be afraid to actually use it if you need to. I held mine up to his face and I said, “The police know about you. Don’t f— with me.”  He backed off.   If you have to use it, try to remember to stay upwind of the stream so it doesn’t get in your eyes and you can get away.

If you’re going on a solo exploration ride to places you’ve never been before it’s a good idea to let someone know where you’re going and how long you think you’ll be gone.

If you ride the same route regularly be nice to the other regulars you see every day.  Nod to them, greet them with a hello or a good morning.  Often the people you encounter daily  will keep an eye out for each other.  That’s comforting.

Keep looking around you and be aware of your surroundings.  This includes behind you as well. It’s unnerving when someone sneaks up behind you and you had no idea anyone was there.  If you’re not comfortable looking over your shoulder consider a rear view mirror either attached to your handlebars or your helmet.

If you see a group of people who scare you, try to avoid them.  If you can’t, try to pick up speed so you can get past them quickly.  And fake it until you make it – ride like you’re a badass with an attitude.  They may choose not to mess with you.

This is not designed to be a comprehensive list, but these are some of the things I’ve done to feel safer when I ride.  Fear should not keep you off your bike.  When you take some concrete precautions you will feel more confident, and confidence makes for an enjoyable ride.

Do you have any safety tips for feeling more confident when out and about on your bike? Please share them in the comments.

Ride safe and have fun!