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.


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!

how to crash


If you ride a lot, accidents and mishaps are inevitable.  Hopefully with the following tips they won’t be disastrous.

Today I had a minor crash with minor injuries.  Thankfully they were minor.  I have had more serious crashes in the past, including one where I was knocked unconscious (some discussion is here).  I’ve been reading up on crash techniques lately and I tried visualizing how to put them into practice if needed.  I visualize myself tucking and rolling, trying to go limp, and not locking any of my extremities to brace my fall.  As I ride along I imagine myself doing exactly that.  And you know what?  It works.  I’m scraped up and my ribs are pretty sore but my head never hit the ground and I haven’t broken anything.

So here’s my advice:  as you’re riding along, try to imagine how to react if you crash:  think relax, tuck, and roll.  Don’t try to stop yourself from falling; go with it.  Don’t hold your arms straight in front of you to brace your fall; try to tuck them into your chest and land already rolling, with your body relaxed.  Tuck your head in so you don’t land on your helmet. Let  momentum carry you until you stop rolling, staying relaxed the entire time.  Skinned knees and elbows heal rather quickly; bones take a lot longer to heal.

Stand up and take some personal inventory to see how you are – if you have grit embedded in road rash you can use your water bottle to flush some of it out.  It’s also helpful to ride with some band-aids and a wet wipe or two.  Hopefully you don’t have any broken bones.

Check your bike.  Your handlebars may be askew.  Are your pedals okay?  Is your seat crooked?  Do your wheels look to be relatively in true or are they wobbling?  Are any spokes loose?  In today’s crash I bent my rear derailleur; I managed to un-bend it enough to limp to my REI and the wonderful mechanic there straightened it out for me at no charge.  I have only accolades for the bike mechanics at my REI – they have always treated me so very well.

Since I am car-free and my bike is my only transportation, getting my bike fixed was my  priority.   Only after it was back in good working condition did I ride home and pop two ibuprofen before cleaning my road rash and jumping in the shower.  My bike is ready for the next ride although my ribs may need a couple of days to heal before I can lift my bike to carry it up and down my stairs.  But at the end of the day I’m so glad all the time I spent imagining crash techniques paid off and my body automatically did what my mind trained it to do.  Try to visualize these techniques as you ride along – they may help you avoid more serious injuries.

Ride safely!

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!

AB1371, CA’s 3-Foot Passing Law Passes Senate

Good news!


SACRAMENTO, Calif. —The state Senate has approved a bill that would require drivers to stay at least three feet away from bicyclists when they are passing in the same direction.

Lawmakers approved AB1371 by Democratic Assemblyman Steven Bradford of Gardena on a 31-7 vote Monday, despite Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of a nearly identical bill last year.

The governor had said he is worried about the possibility of increased crashes if drivers cross the center line or slow down too much to pass cyclists.

Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, who carried the bill in the Senate, said California is one of 32 states that have so-called “safe distance laws” to protect bicyclists, but at least 22 states specify the three-foot buffer as a safe distance.

Read more:

How many times have you been nearly run off the road?  Have you had drivers swerve towards you in order to intimidate you?  Have you even had your handlebars clipped?

I hope Jerry Brown doesn’t veto it this time.  I have to say, his reasoning last time was bullshit.  If you have to cross the center line to pass a cyclist when there’s oncoming traffic, wait until the traffic clears.  It isn’t rocket science.  If you’re too stupid to figure that out, how’d you get your driver’s license?

We have a right to the road.  Respect us and we’ll respect you.