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?
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!
- Women to Compete at Tour de France
- La Course by Le Tour de France – a game changer for Women’s Cycling
- Pooley calls La Course by Le Tour de France a great platform for women’s cycling
- ASO announces women’s race at 2014 Tour de France
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!
- A Brief Guide to Cold Weather Cycling (vomaxtechnical.com)
- How to Exercise in Cold Weather (health.usnews.com)
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 Bicycling.com 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 Repair Your Bicycle – The Best Way To Take Care of a Flat Bicycle Tire (kevinhtrb.wordpress.com)
- Skill Builder: Fixing a Flat (makezine.com)
Usually I dread this time of year. The days are getting shorter, the sun is weaker and at a more extreme angle, and it’s getting pretty chilly. I would see each falling leaf as fresh sorrow that long sunny days are over. And I’d dread the cold months ahead. I wouldn’t stop riding – I’m lucky to live in a climate favorable to year-round riding. But I would sigh with resignation as I pulled my long cycling tights out of storage and made sure my jacket is clean and ready to go. Where did I put my full length gloves?
But something interesting happened this fall. I’ve been wanting to write about the change of seasons but I didn’t know what to say that didn’t sound like complaining. So I decided to take my camera out with me and really look at the change of seasons.
Seeing my environment through a camera lens has given me new appreciation for the beauty around me.
The days are crisp and the sky is a bright vivid blue.
There’s music in the sound of the leaves fluttering in the breeze and skittering across the path.
However, some trees appear confused – some of their branches are vibrantly changing color and some are tenaciously still hanging onto summer.
The birds are much quieter than they are in mid-summer. Maybe they’re listening to the breeze rustling through the leaves that remain.
And now I realize there are some things I really enjoy about cycling through the winter. The trails are deserted, giving me the temporary feeling of owning my little corner of the world. There is peace and serenity in the crisp blue sky and an empty trail in front of me. Bare branches make for better sightlines around the twists and curves along my route. The few people I see now are the trail regulars and we know each other, fostering a feeling of community. We nod to each other in recognition.
I learned to accept this seasonal change and to appreciate it. I hope your rides allow you the same. Because we all know that cycling doesn’t require warm summer days in order to be good for the soul.
I’m usually riding the trails by myself, sometimes enjoying some fine tunes as I pedal along. But I’m never truly alone. It isn’t just the human trail regulars I encounter every day – there is a whole network of wildlife regulars as well. Riding the same daily route gives me the opportunity to encounter my network of critter friends regularly.
Along my ride I see bunnies, squirrels, quail, field mice, wild turkeys, snakes, lizards, coyotes, and deer. There are the neighborhood cats, some of whom are so used to me they don’t run away as I pass. I lectured one today, telling him that he knows he can trust me, but maybe not others so he needs to be careful. There’s the big dog sitting in his back yard watching me go by. I can always tell when someone in the neighborhood just moved in or got a new dog because it barks. My buddies are used to me and they just watch me go by. I wave as I glide past.
I watch the seasons reflected in the wildlife I’m fortunate enough to see. The Spring is full of bunnies. Mid-summer is when the mama quail have their little baby quail with them. It seems like there are dozens of tiny quail. I have narrowly missed them as they run across the trail, their little legs a blur. Now that it’s Fall the baby animals are grown. The snakes and lizards no longer sun themselves on the hot, sun-drenched pavement. However, the deathwish squirrels are active, running in front of my tires with mouths full of acorns. I call them deathwish squirrels because inevitably when I see one at the side of the trail, it will run across my path just as I near it. Crazy knucklehead squirrels.
I have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a river otter sliding back into the creek as I approached early one morning and there were a few times I saw bobcats watching me from small bluffs at the side of the trail. Above me soar hawks, looking for prey. And I see lots of red-winged blackbirds clinging to the reeds in the marshy areas.
Seeing a critter makes the ride so much more enjoyable. Imagine people in cars, never getting the opportunity to see a river otter silently slide back into the water or never noticing the coyote standing in the middle of an open field, intently watching for field mice. They miss out on so much. They miss hearing the birdsong along their travels.
One of the truest joys of cycling is feeling in harmony with all the critters I know are just over in that clump of trees or down that riverbank. Sometimes they make themselves known and sometimes they don’t. But they’re always there. And I feel honored to share this little corner of the world with them.
I’ve been thinking a bit more about cycling style. Some think there are two distinct styles: “Militant Cyclists” and “Civil Cyclists” as described in this article. The Militants are the aggro dudes – fully decked in lycra emblazoned with logos, on fast, high-performance road bikes. The Civils are said to be the people wearing regular street clothes and regular shoes riding commuter bikes on flat pedals.
I think most of us are a combination of the both. If I’m going for a ride just to ride I’ll most likely wear my lycra bike shorts, sports bra, and a tech fabric top. If I’m tooling around town on errands I’m likely to be found in street clothes. I always wear my helmet and gloves anyway – I feel naked without them. But sometimes I wear a combination of cycling lycra and street clothes. Most jeans have bulky seams where I don’t want them and they sure don’t give in the knees when I pedal!
Lately I’ve been seeing more cycling-specific, fashionable clothing for women. Some are projects that are just starting out and they haven’t been funded yet for wide commercial availability. Others are readily available now. Below are some links for you to enjoy. Jeans, trim skirts, casual pants – we can now enjoy the benefits of cycling-specific clothing that looks like regular fashionable street clothing.
I’m thinking we need a third category of cyclists. Along with the Militants and the Civils, we’ll now have the Hybrids? What do you think?
Let’s start with the undergear:
- Chamois Panties – two styles to cushion your bum; they look like regular underwear.
- Club Ride Women’s Rale Jeans – these don’t have a chamois pad but they do have nice touches like a higher waistband in the back so they don’t ride down when you’re pedaling and reflective accents.
- RYB Denim jeans – these have a loop for a u-lock, higher rear waistband, reflective touches, and a nice chamois. Really nice.
- Grey Bike to Work Jeans – These also have stretchy denim for flexibility and reflective touches, including on the inside of the cuff when you roll the leg up. No chamois.
- Ladies Slim Fit Jean – These have a light chamois, stretchy denim, and are water-resistant!
And a nice skirt:
- Women’s Reveal Bike Skirt – This is a tailored straight skirt with a unique hidden zipper and additional fabric in the back to allow movement when you’re on the bike. It also has a higher back waist. Classy looking.
All of these are made with technical fabrics that stretch or give so you can feel comfortable moving in them. They all have a higher waistband in the back so you don’t have that uncomfortable gap when you’re leaning forward. Many have chamois but even if they don’t, the cycling underpants can provide you with cushioning. Most of these have extra pockets or hidden pockets for your keys, phone, wallet.
I am so heartened to see the smart and stylish cycling clothing now coming out for women. No longer do we have to make do with men’s items or wear street clothing that gaps at the waistband or doesn’t have enough give in the knees for pedaling. We can cycle in in comfort and style!