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?

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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!


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

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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.


the joys of lycra

I used to be one of those women who said, “Nope, huh-uh.  You’re never gonna catch me wearing lycra bike shorts.  No way.”  The usual neuroses that have followed me all my life were at play:  My thighs are fat.  I don’t want anybody looking at my butt.  You’ll see all my cellulite.  I’ll be so exposed.

Then I tried padded bike shorts.  Hoo boy, what a joy they are!  For one thing, they’re constructed so they fit best when you’re actually sitting on a bike saddle, so the waistband doesn’t pull down in back when you’re riding.  For another, having your tender bits cushioned is a comfort every cycling woman should enjoy.  It’s divine to be comfortable and to feel cushioned.  Nothing’s more uncomfortable than cycling in regular jeans with a big fat seam chafing right there.  Ugh.

But what if you’re still not comfortable with the idea of skin-tight lycra bike shorts?  What if you feel too exposed?

The good news is you have more options today than ever.  I started with a cycling liner, much like padded underwear.  A liner can convert any pants or shorts into cycling shorts.  I even wear mine under skirts.

There are cycling skorts, which have the liner built in.  These are stylish and functional and you arrive looking good; not feeling like a jock.

Or maybe you want shorts to look like regular shorts, perhaps some with pockets? They’re available as well.

For me, what I wore on top has never made too much of a difference as long as I had a sports bra underneath to control discomfort when riding over bumpy terrain.  I tend to buy brightly-colored tops made out of technical fabrics for running and yoga rather than cycling because I’m cheap.  However, there’s a lot to be said about having a pocket in the back of a cycling jersey for your ID or a kleenex.  Just make sure you can be seen, so avoid all-black or dark clothing.

Whatever you wear, you need to feel comfortable so you’re not thinking about your clothing rather than having fun and watching the road or path in front of you.  But as someone who swore up and down I’d never be caught dead in “ugly” cycling clothing, I’m glad I explored lycra bike clothes.  I vastly prefer wearing them now.

What about you?  What do you prefer to wear when 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:

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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.

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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.


because who puts sunscreen on their feet?

who puts sunscreen on their feet

I’m obsessive about sunscreen everywhere.  Everywhere but my feet, apparently.

Here are some good sunscreen resources:

I realize it’s nearing the end of the summer but if you cycle year-round you will always need sunscreen.  I better take my own advice and start putting it everywhere!


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!