BikeCommuters.com

Author Archive: andrew "doc" li

ArroWhere Backpack Cover and Vest Review

As most of you are well aware, visibility can make a big difference in terms of the well being of cyclists on the road, particularly at night and other low light environments.

Enter ArroWhere ™, a company based out of Canada whose specialty is to produce “quality, high-visibility apparel and accessories that help improve the visibility, safety, and control users have when sharing the road with cars and larger vehicles or trails with bikes and runners.”

What sets them apart from other reflective outerwear and gear is their utilization of super bright 3M reflective material into the shape of an arrow to indicate to drivers in what direction to move to avoid the cyclist. The simplicity of its design contributes to the efficacy of the product, in my opinion.

Bikecommuters has had a good history with ArroWhere™ thanks to Jack “Ghost Rider” Sweeney who spearheaded this relationship back in September 2014 at Interbike.

Following which, ArroWhere ™ was gracious enough to let us review a high visibility cycling jacket

Khyle from ArroWhere ™ recently reached out to us to review another 2 items in their product line. Before I knew it, a fluorescent yellow cycling vest and bag cover were at my doorstep.

In so many words, I was an instant fan. The visibility of the products was intense, to say the least. The construction of both was robust and with high quality materials. They both felt like items that would last for many years of hard use.

The backpack cover (standard size 35L) fit relatively well over my Maxpedition Sitka gear slinger (I think the design of my single sling backpack made the cover a little less of a good fit as you will read later). It folded up to a nice small volume and was easily stowed in the backpack without taking up too much space.

My Maxpedition Sitka GearSlinger

My Maxpedition Sitka GearSlinger

 

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Buttons came popped open at times.

Buttons can pop open at times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cover is held in place with elastic bands attached with snap buttons. The addition of the the upper zipper was well designed, making accessibility of the backpack pockets possible without having to remove the entire cover.

Furthermore, since it was made with waterproof fabric, it served as an additional barrier for waterproofing the bag (although I was unable to test out this feature since here is southern California, we are having a horrible drought).

But it wasn’t just a backpack cover; the versatility of the design made the cover useable on other items as well. In particular, I was able to put it onto my kiddo’s bike seat. It fit securely and did not come loose at all.

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This made riding with the kiddo feel a lot safer. We even took the cover for a trip to Catalina Island where we got around by bike 100% of the time. The cover was very reliable.

After about 4 months of use, I also noticed that it was quite stain proof and was easy to wash off. It looked like new; the visibility was not compromised one bit.

The only cons that I noticed on this cover were that the buttons securing the straps were not that strong, and during my rides they would at times pop open, particularly when I filled up my bag. I thought that a better design would replace the elastic straps with adjustable nylon straps and the snap buttons for standard plastic side release buckles. In this way, I feel that the cover could be used on bags of other sizes and would be even more versatile and secure.

Difficult to access the main side pocket with the cover was attached.

Difficult to access the main side pocket with the cover attached (note: the orientation of the cover is incorrect in this image, however difficult side pocket access still holds true in the correct orientation)

My Maxpedition Sitka GearSlinger (Easy front access)

My Maxpedition Sitka GearSlinger (Easy front access)

It would also be nice to have some molle webbing on the cover to allow for attachments of lights and other accessories, while not covering the visibility of the arrow.

And finally, I thought that an additional zipper allowing side access to the pack would also be advantageous, and a feature that I feel would not compromise the functionality of the product. I say this because a single strap backpack can be easily accessed during riding by rotating the bag from the back to the front, where a side access zipper would allow access to the bag while riding.

The vest was also a treat to use. I personally love vests as they allow for more mobility and allow for better ventilation. Despite it being a vest, it was pretty warm and windproof. It was surprisingly comfortable and was designed with a good fit.

After riding in 70 degree weather, I will say it got a little warm in the vest, at least for me.

20150624_115644

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Overall, I would recommend the company and the products. If you like riding with a backpack, the cover is a good deal and makes commuting that much safer by making you significantly more visible. It doesn’t take up that much space when stowed away in your backpack and is very light. Being the shape and size that it is, the cover can also be placed on other things as well such as a rear child bike seat.

Do good and ride well.

About the author: Andrew is a full time physician and enjoys bicycles, both riding on and writing on. He has been commuting since 2000.

To Helmet or Not to Helmet; that is the Question.

Actually, it’s not that simple. The issue of bicycle helmet use and practice is complex. That probably explains why no one agrees on it and also why we will argue about this until the end of time. Admittedly, I am a bicycle helmet advocate. I use one myself. As a physician, I see many head injuries from bicycle accidents; many without helmets, some with. And as I researched for this article, I started appreciating the complexities of bicycle helmet use.

What follows is an overview of the main points of contention that I have encountered in my readings. It is neither an argument for or against helmets. As a free thinking adult, you must decide for yourself, unless you live in a helmet-mandatory region.

thumb_main_to_be_or_not_to_be

Theoretical versus Real World Benefit

From a theoretical standpoint, helmets make sense. Much like an airbag for your head, a helmet reduces the extent of deceleration that your head and brain experience when an impact occurs.

Force = mass x acceleration.

The lower the magnitude of acceleration (or deceleration), the lower the force experienced, meaning less injury. There are standards for designing helmets, which are met through testing. These include drop tests involving blunt impact as well as penetration tests with sharp objects. These tests are often performed at different temperatures, in different moisture conditions etc, in an attempt to simulate reality. But of course, these are simulations.

Consider the following when a bicycle accident occurs in the real world:
1. Condition of the helmet (is it already broken, is it the right size, fit)
2. The way a helmet is worn
3. The speed at which a person is riding
4. The type of object and speed of the object into which the bicyclist is colliding (an 18 wheeler going 40 miles an hour vs. a wooden fence)
5. What parts of the body gets injured in the accident (a helmet is not going to protect the cyclist from chest or abdominal trauma).

badhelmet2

These are just some of the issues that can make a huge difference when we are considering the question of whether or not bicycle helmets translate into real-world benefit from head injury.

As a thought experiment, let’s consider two worlds, A and B, both in which everyone correctly wore new helmets and were 100% compliant with their use.

However, in world A, 90% of bicycle accidents involved collisions with 18-wheelers travelling an average of 80 MPH. I can almost guarantee you that a bicycle helmet will make zero difference in preventing head injuries and fatality; with or without a helmet, chances are you will have a devastating head injury if you are involved in such an accident.

Compare that to world B where there are no motorized vehicles, the roads are soft and cushioned, and no one rode above 8mph. Helmets would probably make minimal difference in this world as well; with or without a helmet, chances are you will have no head injury if you are involved in an accident.

Somewhere in between these two extremes is a “sweet spot” where helmet use makes a significant difference in preventing head injury. Where that sweet spot lies on the spectrum of bicycle accident severity remains elusive.

How-to-Wear-a-Bike-Helmet

Show Me the Evidence

So on that note, can we definitively prove or disprove that wearing helmets prevents significant head injury in the world we live in today? The short answer is “probably not, and probably never.” Why? Because we cannot run randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to assess whether or not helmets can statistically significantly lower head injury rates.

Briefly, a RCT is an experiment commonly used in assessing new interventions (e.g. medications) to treat specific diseases. Basically, people with a certain disease are randomly assigned to one of 2 groups: one group that takes the new medicine, and one group that gets a “control” treatment or placebo. At the end of the trial, the outcomes are assessed, i.e. how many in each group are cured. Statistics are then run to see whether or not the new medicine significantly cures more people than the placebo.

To run a RCT on bicycle helmets would be unethical.[i] Such a trial would involve randomly assigning people into two groups, one with helmets, one without, then making these people ride their bicycles into planned collisions. Outcomes would then be assessed, i.e. how many in each group develop head injury, how many end up in comas, how many people end up dead.

Instead of RCTs, what we have are case-controlled studies (a type of retrospective study). Basically, the study looks at cases (people with head injuries following bicycle accidents) and controls (people without head injuries following bicycle accidents).  The cases and controls are then compared based on the exposure, in this case, helmet use. The study then calculates an odds ratio comparing the odds that a helmeted rider ends up as a case versus a control. It is important to note that such a study can only suggest causality and never prove it.

On this note, a recent Cochrane review [ii] found 5 well designed case-control studies and analyzed the data from these 5 studies. They found that helmets provide a 63 to 88% reduction in the odds of head, brain, and severe brain injury for all ages of bicyclists. Helmets provided equal levels of protection for crashes involving motor vehicles (69%) and crashes from all other causes (68%). Injuries to the upper and mid facial areas were reduced 65%.

The main problem with retrospective studies is that an innumerable number of confounding factors can mess with the data, which is why these studies can never prove. For example, one confounding factor might be that people who wear helmets just tend to be more careful and less reckless compared to those who chose not to wear helmets. Therefore, by being more careful, the helmet wearers may have been less prone to accidents in general, or at least less prone to accidents that required a trip to the ER.

 prove-it

Mandatory Helmet Laws

Currently, mandatory helmet laws are enacted for people of all ages in Australia, New Zealand, Finland, several states in the U.S [iii]., and Canada, while the Netherlands only enforces a helmet law for competitive cyclists [iv].

Mandatory helmet laws are far more prevalent for minors in the U.S. and around the world, and for the most part this issue is not as contentious, perhaps because there is more powerful evidence to suggest greater benefit for minors than helmet use in adults.[v] Furthermore, some policy makers would argue that minors may not yet have the ability to make an informed decision about the issue.[vi]

It is the debate over these laws that is particularly engaging because it not only involves the argument of the utility of the helmet itself but also of the encroachment on freedom and liberty.

In a 2012 editorial in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Hooper and Spicer[vii], two authors from the UK, argue against the idea of a mandatory helmet law in the UK. Salient points in their article include their cited figure that overall bicycle related death and injury in the UK in 2008 made up a small fraction of the total number of bicycle related casualties (104 deaths and 2606 injuries out of 17,064 reported cycling accidents). As such, a nationwide mandatory helmet law might end up costing more to implement than would benefit the UK public at large.

Another point that Hooper and Spicer bring up is whether or not a mandatory helmet law actually deters people from cycling, whether due to the financial burden of having to purchase an additional piece of equipment, or the sheer inconvenience of having to wear it before each ride. They mention this point in counter to a 2008 Cochrane review, [viii] which found that mandatory helmet legislation did increase the use of cycle helmets and decrease the head injury rate after implementation. Hooper and Spicer argue that the studies included in this Cochrane review did not look at the total number of cyclists on the road after the mandatory bicycle law was implemented.[ix] Indeed it is conceivable that helmet laws may in fact reduce the total number of cyclists on the road, thereby decreasing the overall frequency of bicycling accidents. This is a point that the Cochrane review article also concedes.

Australia potentially illustrates this phenomenon of lower numbers of cyclists after mandatory helmet laws. When helmet laws were passed in the early 1990s, cycling trips in fact decreased by 30-40% overall. Furthermore, a recent survey from University of Sydney found 23% of Sydney adults would ride more if helmets were optional, which is a significant number given that only about 15-20 per cent of Australians ride regularly.[x]

Interestingly, a “safety in numbers” trend has also been shown such that the injury rates for each cyclist in a given area is lower when there are more cyclists.[xi] This might be because with more cyclists on the road, drivers will be more accustomed to driving safely with cyclists. So decreasing the number of cyclists on the road, even if because of a mandatory helmet law, might end up hurting us in the long run.

strength-in-numbers

The Other Effects of Helmets

The effects of helmets may not just be physical, but also psychological. It has been proposed that drivers may be more cavalier in their driving habits when they drive around helmeted cyclists[xii], one explanation being the faulty logic that a helmeted cyclist is more protected, therefore drivers don’t have to be as careful around them. On the flipside, a cyclist might actually feel that with a helmet on, he/ she is more protected and so is more prone to cavalier cycling habits [xiii].

Other Factors as Important

A recent 2014 paper from Denmark[xiv] reviewed such factors, and determined the most significant ones that are associated with bicyclist injury. Being that Denmark is certainly one of the leading nations in the international cycling community, I found the findings of this paper particularly interesting. However, as mentioned above, this is also case controlled, so it doesn’t prove anything; it just reveals associations. Furthermore, being that it looked at data from Denmark, the noted associations may or may not correlate with other parts of the world. The following is the list of factors listed in this paper:

Age: younger cyclists had a higher probability of lower injury severity. At age 40 years or older, riders had a higher proportion of higher severity injuries, while elderly cyclists had a spike in high severity injuries and fatalities. My take on this is that the older you get, the less hits your body can take.

Intoxication: The study looked at four categories of riders: i. Sober with helmet, ii. Sober without helmet, iii. Drunk with helmet, iv. Drunk without helmet. They found that sober people wearing helmets had 7-10% lower association of severe injuries and fatalities compared to sober people without helmets. Interestingly, compared to sober riders without helmets, drunk helmeted riders had 60% increased odds of death, while drunk riders without helmets had a 457% increased association of death.

Collision partner: In decreasing order of injury severity, collisions with trucks were associated with greatest injury severity, followed by cars, followed by mopeds and other cyclists. Interestingly, drunk drivers were not significantly associated with increased cyclist injury severity possibly because there were so few cases.

Movement conflicts (Note that people drive on the right side in Denmark): In decreasing order of injury severity, collisions involving cyclist going straight and the collision partner turning left had the highest injury severity, followed by both parties going straight, followed by cyclist going straight and collision partner turning right, followed by cyclist moving straight and collision partner not moving.

Infrastructure: Higher speed limits were associated with higher injury severity. Bike lanes were associated with decreased cyclist fatalities, but interestingly were not associated with decreased minor or severe injuries. Multi-lane roads were associated with 10-15% increased association of severe injuries and fatalities compared to single-lane roads.

Environment: Slippery roads were associated with a 21% increase association with light cyclist injuries and a 48% increase in cyclist fatalities compared to dry roads. Darkness had a 10–13% lower association with severe and fatal cyclist injuries, interestingly enough. No significant difference was found between the effect of darkness and artificial illumination.

bicycle-accident-flooded-road

Conclusions

I haven’t given you any proof of anything. But I would still recommend a helmet. They can be pretty inexpensive; and even the most expensive ones for me have costed $90 each. I usually keep a helmet for a good 3-4 years, by which point one of the straps breaks, translating to $20-$30 a year. Not unreasonable. For me, I have already formed a habit of it, so it’s easy to continue wearing one. If you live in an area without a mandatory helmet law, then it’s your decision.

In terms of other factors, try to ride in quiet areas with low speed limits if you are starting out and unsure of yourself on the saddle. Be wary when riding in wet and slippery conditions. Be wary of cars turning left into you as you ride through intersections (for right sided driving areas).

Oh yeah… and don’t ride drunk.

Do good and ride well.



[i] Yilmaz et al. Comparison of the serious injury pattern of adult bicyclists, between South-West Netherlands and the State of Victoria, Australia 2001–2009. Injury, Int. J. Care Injured 44 (2013) 848–854.

[ii] Thompson et al. Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in bicyclists (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 1999, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD001855. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001855.

[iv] Yilmaz et al. Comparison of the serious injury pattern of adult bicyclists, between South-West Netherlands and the State of Victoria, Australia 2001–2009. Injury, Int. J. Care Injured 44 (2013) 848–854.

[v] British Medical Association. Promoting Safe Cycling. London: British Medical Association, 2010.

[vi] Spicer et al. Liberty or death; don’t tread on me. J Med Ethics 2012;38:338e341. doi:10.1136/medethics-2011.

[vii] Spicer et al. Liberty or death; don’t tread on me. J Med Ethics 2012;38:338e341. doi:10.1136/medethics-2011.

[viii] Macpherson A, Spinks A. Bicycle helmet legislation for the uptake of helmet use and prevention of head injuries (Review). Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008;(3): CD005401.

[ix] Macpherson A, Spinks A. Bicycle helmet legislation for the uptake of helmet use and prevention of head injuries (Review). Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008;(3): CD005401.

[xi] Jacobsen PL. Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling. Inj Prev 2003;9:205-9.

[xii] Spicer et al. Liberty or death; don’t tread on me. J Med Ethics 2012;38:338e341. doi:10.1136/medethics-2011.

[xiii] Hilman M. Cycle Helmets: The Case for and Against Them. London: Policy Studies Institute, 1993.

[xiv] Sigal Kaplan, Konstantinos Vavatsoulas, Carlo Giacomo Prato Aggravating andmitigating factors associated with cyclist injury severity in Denmark. Journal of Safety Research 50 (2014) 75–82.

Training to Commute, Commuting to Train

A buddy of mine once told me that the only way to get better at any craft is not just practice but perfect practice. He was and remains one of the most technically superb surgeons with whom I have thus far had the privilege of operating, and his advice is applicable to so many aspects of life, including cycling.

I have personally suffered from this situation, and to the reader, please mentally acknowledge if this has not happened to you already:

I am riding a new route that is longer than what I am used to, and by the end of the ride, I am feeling fatigued. However, over the next week the ride gets easier and easier….until the 8th or 9th day and I feel like I have hit a plateau. From there on out, it feels like the same ride every day, some days feeling stronger, and other days feeling weaker. This continues until I switch up the route again, and the whole process repeats itself.

So what do my buddy’s aphorism and this situation have to do with each other? It’s the notion that commuting to work, while an excellent form of exercise, is not necessarily a consistent form of training. Sam Shaw wrote a good piece on this topic, “Riding your bike and training are two different things.” The title of the article pretty much says it all, and Sam goes on to describe his thoughts on riding with a “specific focus” of training in mind and sticking to that plan unwavering.

I do acknowledge that not all bike commuters are trying to train. But I have yet to meet a bike commuter who didn’t want the commute to get easier, faster, and stronger feeling. While I am a big proponent of technology, I feel that as a society, we have become ever more reliant on technology to improve our lives… I suppose rightly so, given that were it not for our advancements, we might never have made it out of the Stone Age. But the spark of these advancements was our desire to improve, an energy that came from within, a will for self improvement.

So how can we improve ourselves in the bike commuting department?

1. As the scenario (italicized) above illustrates, something as simple as switching up your route every so often not only freshens up things mentally, it can also freshen the activity of the muscle groups firing during your commute. Granted, depending on where you commute, changing the route might make zero difference in terms of the number of hills you encounter, the number of traffic stops etc. etc.

2. Interval training has become a popular concept, and its use is illustrated in the “Cross Fit” craze. Interval training can be incorporated into your daily commute, as long as it is safe!!! Part of the difficulty in training during your bike commute is that often the tempo and rhythm of the ride is punctuated by the fickleness of traffic lights. But if you have the luxury of a stretch of safe road and have warmed up, you can try an “on” “off” interval scheme, e.g. 90 second high intensity sprint, 30 seconds low intensity pedaling, for 4 sets, or as long and as safe as the stretch of road will allow. Bicycling magazine has some suggestions about incorporating interval training in your ride. Adjust the intervals based on your own level of comfort, but as a general rule, start with something doable. 

3. Personally, I keep my bike commute a bike commute and focus on getting to my destination quickly, efficiently, and above all, safely. However, I do train off the bicycle in the form of circuit training using free-weights. Here is my routine most recently.

a. Monday and Thursday (total training time 30 minutes each of those days)
i. Squats, 10 reps, low weight
ii. 10 crunches, 10 leg lifts
iii. Bent over rows, 8 reps
iv. Powerclean and standing military press, 4 reps

v. Squats, 5 reps, higher weight
vi. Same
vii. Same
viii. Same

ix. Squats, 2 reps, max weight
x. Same
xi. Same
xii. Same

xiii. Squat jumps (6 reps, 4 sets, low weight, 30 second rest in between sets)
xiv. Same
xv. Same
xvi. Same

b. Tuesday and Friday (total exercise time 30 minutes)
i. Bench press, 10 reps
ii. 10 crunches, 10 leg lifts
iii. Weighted, pronated pull ups, 20 reps, low weight

iv. Bench press, 6 reps
v. Same
vi. Weighted, pronated pull ups, 8 reps, high weight

vii. Bench press, 2 reps
viii. Same
ix. Weighted, pronated pull ups, 8 reps, high weight

x. Bench press, 10-12 reps
xi. Same
xii. Non weighted, pronated pull ups, about 10 reps.

A few notes: I choose to lift alone without a spotter (saves me time). Therefore, the weight and rep count I choose is such that I go to failure threshold; that is, my last rep of any given set is the one such that any other rep done after that would probably not be possible for me to lift. I have developed this sense of my limits and currently “max out” my bench press and squat weight each at 215lbs (For reference, I currently weigh 165lbs)

You might ask what military press, pull ups, and bench press have anything to do with cycling, a very valid question. First of all, my routine incorporates the standard “power lifts,” namely squat, bench, and dead lift (powerclean includes a dead lift). The addition of pull ups and military press helps activate some of the antagonistic muscle groups. The end focus: core. A strong core means an all-in-all stronger more resilient person. Added benefits with core strengthening pertinent to cyclists include balance and stability, among other benefits, and the geeks at Harvard agree.

The key is that whatever strength training, interval training etc. that you do, KEEP IT CONSISTENT, BUT DON’T KEEP IT THE SAME. Overall, with this supplemental training for the past 6 months, I have definitely noticed that my commute has become even easier than before. But I feel that I may be due for a change…

As with any physical activity, consult your personal physician before embarking on a new routine.

Please post with your own training routines, or if you feel that training is bogus and a waste of time, let us know your opinion as to why.

Do good and ride well.

Night Riding: personal observations and experiences

From a Darwinian standpoint, it may be that fear of the dark is an inherited trait, passed down since the beginning of time by those humans prudent and afraid enough of the dark to avoid being eaten by nocturnal predators.

Lamppost, Gateshead Request for condition reports on street lighting. One of these is on every lamppost. Photo borrowed from http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1199747

Lamppost, Gateshead
Request for condition reports on street lighting. One of these is on every lamppost. Photo borrowed from http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1199747

There is definite wisdom in being wary of traveling in the dark. However, humans are able to learn and adapt, and riding in the dark is no exception. Having made some errors and sustained injuries during night riding, I have kept some strategies for riding at night that have helped me avoid major trouble thus far (knock on wood).

RL had posted an article a while back about riding at night and below are the comments taken from that article. I have them summarized below:

Be safe, first and foremost: wear a helmet; find a route that keeps you away from the major streets…even if it means extra miles or time…it’s worth it to find a quiet back street with little or no traffic; wear clear or amber sunglass lenses after dark; put in a little extra thought…use your own super tuned senses and hyper alert riding habits to keep yourself aware of any other moving objects, as well as upcoming potential hazards.

See and be seen: reflective vests; orange reflective triangle pinned to your back, blinkies, DOT reflective tape, reflective stripes; the goal is to light up like a Christmas tree…better a geek with a heartbeat than a macho fixie rider without one; run two headlights (one steady, one blinking); helmet-mounted light to shine into the eyes of oncoming drivers; consider a product made for motorcycles called the “halo helmet band”;  have a good back up light.

Be prepared: may get flats at night…so carry a head lamp to make bike repairs a lot easier.

One way to get noticed and seen.

One way to get noticed and seen.

Below are some of my own tips for night riding, some of which echo the advice given above:

1. Slow down. The less you can see, the less time you have to react, so the higher likelihood of crashing if you go at your normal daytime speed.

2. A key distinction with bike lights is being seen versus seeing. Both are equally important. When cars see you, they avoid you. But if you don’t see your surroundings, you risk the chance of an accident.

Example: my blinkies did not help me see a piece of car tire in the middle of my bike lane late one night. It got caught in my spokes when I rode over it, and my bike stopped dead in its tracks, and I catapulted forward. I was also going pretty fast that night.

I use a yellow reflective strip, a white reflective plate, and a red blinker (Blackburn Flea)

I use a yellow reflective strip, a white reflective plate, and a red blinker (Blackburn Flea)

Solution

– As stated above, you can run more than 1 headlight on your bicycle, one flashing to be seen, one steady to see.

– There are a wide range of powerful bike lights, like a 4000+ lumen lamp for a pretty penny.

– Try slowing down just a tad; if I had ridden just a little more slowly, I feel that the severity my accident would have been reduced.

– If all else fails, and you just cannot make out the road ahead of you, try what I call “vicarious lighting.” This technique basically takes advantage of cars’ bright headlights as they pass you or drive towards you from the lane of opposing traffic. By looking at the road as illuminated by these headlights as the car drives ahead or towards you, you can gauge if there are any major debris or potholes lying ahead for the next 10 meters or even further, depending on the circumstances of the car, the curviness of the road, etc. You just have to train your eyes to track the area of the road illuminated by the car and estimate when your bike will reach any area of potential concern or danger. However, use this technique with caution because in the few seconds when the road is not illuminated, you cannot guarantee that a cat, for example, has not scurried in front of your bike.

Using a car's headlights to help illuminate the road ahead.

Using a car’s headlights to help illuminate the road ahead.

3. Usually, I bring only one pair of lights (front and rear) and have a USB charger to charge them up at work. But sometimes, I have picked up a riding buddy on the way home who doesn’t have any lights. Or, I am biking in a group and one person’s lights have died. In this situation, I “split” the one set of lights between two people: put the front light on the front cyclist and the rear light on the rear cyclist. Of course, the pair now has to be much more careful about keeping a safe distance from each other.

How I use a pair of bike lights for 2 bicycles.

How I use a pair of bike lights for 2 bicycles.

4. Dooring sucks during the day time, and I’m sure it sucks even more at night. To reduce my chances of dooring at night, I slow down. I also keep a distance from the parked cars on the side of the road and am especially vigilant when a parked car’s lights are on or if I see any movement inside of the car.

5. Last, but probably the most important, in my opinion, is planning. If I am thinking of biking a new route and know I will likely be riding at night, I try to drive the route before biking it. Sometimes, I even drive the route at night if I feel it necessary to scrutinize the surroundings before committing.

Questions I consider while driving and surveying the route:

– Do other people bike this route? If there are and I can safely drive by them, do they seem very cramped for space?

– How fast do cars drive on this route?

– Does it seem safe in the surrounding areas at night? Is it a busy street at night and well lit, or is it desolate and scary?

– What is the quality of the road? If I can feel lots of bumps while driving, it will probably be about 500 times worse on a bicycle. And you run a greater risk of pinch flats, among other bad things.

Thinking about these sorts of issues is critical to preventing major trouble during a commute, especially at night when bad can get worse very quickly if you are not prepared. If any of these questions cause concern, time to look for another route.

If you have any other tips about biking at night, feel free to comment. Do good and ride well.

Easy Bike Cleaning

Disclaimer: What follows in this article are personal practices based upon casual research, others people’s advice, and my own experience over the years as a bike commuter. Here at Bikecommuters.com, we realize that each person does things differently, and we encourage diversity and constructiveness of thought. So if you have some of your own methods on bike cleaning/ maintenance, feel free to comment.

RL put it quite well for me when I suggested a refresher on this topic: “…be prepared to get some people saying that your technique is wrong. Chain lube and lubing, as the “Elder Statesman” (Jack) had once said, ‘is like the topic of religion, everyone does it differently.’”

A perusal of the current online content regarding “bike cleaning tips” (1) will generate an enormous array of practices, products, and recommendations. However, an initial review of the literature, including an excellent article by our own Jack “Ghost Rider” Sweeney (2), reveals a few common themes in the arena of bike cleaning. Throughout the years, I have practiced these themes on my own bike, and with the same components over the past 3 years (7000+ miles), the bike has been running pretty smoothly. That being said, those of you who ride double, triple, quadruple or more the distance of what I do may have a different cleaning routine, and appropriately so.

So looking at the top 3 relevant hits on Google.com (1), I lay out some of the techniques that “many” people will agree on (3,4,5)

1. Avoid jets of water for the initial “rinse down.” If you must use a hose, use a gentle SPRAY.  Jets of water can force water and debris into bearings, the drive train, etc. making them wear down faster.

2. Use a degreaser. Lots of brands.

3. Wash down your bike with water, soap, and a soft bristled brush.

4. Use chain lube. Lots of brands.  Brief explanation about dry versus wet lube:
– A dry lube’s basic purpose is to be applied wet but dry off to form a smooth, dirt-repelling coat on your chain. They can be wax-based or teflon based. However, these lubes can wash off in wet weather.
– A wet lube is a hydrocarbon based lubricant that stays “wet” on the chain and is more resistant to washing off, so it is better for wet weather. These can be petroleum or plant based.

The frequency of cleaning is critical; cleaning your bike once the symptoms of severe drive train wear appear is moot. The entire point of cleaning is to perform it frequently and consistently enough to delay the onset of component wear. The past year has allowed me to commute about 80 miles a week (16 miles a day, 5 days a week), and with these distances, I found that I cleaned my bike about once a month (~every 300 miles on paved roads, SoCal weather, a.k.a. no weather). The first signs I pay attention to that signal the need for cleaning comes from the drive train:

1. Chain starts to get noisy
2. Shifting is not as smooth.
3. The beginning of a grime layer depositing on my chain and cogs.

Once these start to appear, it’s time to clean. Here is my routine:

Materials:

Bucket
Water
1 large soft bristle brush
1 old toothbrush
Large sponge
Soft lint-less cloth
Screw driver (Flat head)
Latex gloves (to keep your hands cleaner)

Degreaser (Simple Green featured in this article)
Gentle dish soap (NOT dishWASHER detergent)

General bicycle lubricant (Tri-Flow)

Chain lube (Finish Line Dry)

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1. Degreasing: I like Simple Green. I spray it on thick along the drive train (chain, front gears and derailleur, rear gear cluster and derailleur). It stays on as a very satisfying foam layer. I let it sit for 5 minutes, and in the meantime, you can prep for the next step.

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2. Get some soapy water ready in a nice big bucket. Some are proponents of warm water, and I agree that this definitely helps loosen dirt and grime better. But for me, cold water is easier to get and cleans fine. I use a gentle dish soap like Palm Olive (NOT dishwasher detergent). I then get a large brush and toothbrush ready.

3. Take large brush and scrub the chain, rear and front derailleurs with the soapy water. Use the small toothbrush for detail work in the drive train. Do this several times. Change the soap water in between washes as needed.

4. Change sides on your large brush to the cleaner side (the side that hasn’t been scrubbing the drive train as this side will be dirty) and use the cleaner side to scrub wheels, frame, basically everything else. Or you can always get a different brush.

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5. Change water in bucket. Do not add soap this time. Using your large sponge, soak up a bunch of water and squeeze the water onto your bike, rinsing away the soap and debris. I find that a sponge allows me to direct a gentle stream of water for effective rinsing without generating any potentially damaging jets. Sponges also help me conserve water instead of pouring bucket after bucket to rinse the bike.

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6. Get your bike clamped to a work stand.

7. Rear derailleur detail: Personally, I have never needed to diassemble the pulleys on a rear derailleur for cleaning.
– Using a screw driver, gently place the flat edge flush onto the walls of the pulley and freewheel as you do this, allowing the screw driver to gently scrape off the grime that has accumulated. Do this for both pulleys and both sides.

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8. Clean and dry your bike with a soft cloth towel. Use 2 different towels: one for the drive train and another for everything else.
– To dry the chain, freewheel the chain as you hold the chain with your towel.
– Pay attention to detail: use this opportunity to look at your bike more carefully. If you see any dirt or grime on the frame, wipe it off with the towel. Clean the wheels, spokes etc.

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9. Lube time:
– lube your chain: wet or dry, freewheel the chain as you drop the lube onto each link. Wipe excess off! Dry lube should dry, but wet lube stays wet, and if you have too much, it will spray everywhere, especially your rear wheels when you start pedalling fast. This will make for ineffective and very NOISY rear braking.
– Apply bicycle lubricant to front and rear derailleur moving parts and springs, moving parts of your braking mechanism, as well as your CABLES. To apply lube to cables, just put a couple drops of lube onto your gloved thumb and index finger, pinch the cable, and run your fingers along. Don’t overlube, and if you do, wipe away excess.

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10. Test run your bike by riding around the block a bit, making sure your shift through all of your gears, allowing the lube to settle in and penetrate the moving parts.

11. Enjoy the smooth ride. Tailor the frequency of your cleaning based on how much you ride.

Do good and ride well.

 

References

1. Google search terms: “bike cleaning tips.” Search performed August 17, 2013
2. http://www.bikecommuters.com/2007/07/09/regular-maintenance-for-the-bicycle-commuter/
3.http://www.bikemaine.org/biking-resources/maintenance-tips
4.http://www.bikeradar.com/gear/article/workshop-how-to-clean-and-lube-your-bike-18259/
5.http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/5-bicycle-cleaning-tips.htm