Category: Basic Commuter Skills

Tips for Cycling in Unpredictable Weather

Although summer is well on its way, which means sunny (and sweaty!) rides, there are many places where the hottest season can be unpredictable. England for example, is well known for its constant weather variability. The typical ‘British Summer’ is characterized by unexpected showers and bursts of hot sunshine where everyone cuts back on clothing all of a sudden. If you’re one of the unfortunate ones, and this sounds like the summer time where you are, here are some important tips for cycling during an unpredictable season.

Have a Base Layer
You might associate layering with colder, winter weather but layers can also work wonders in warmer weather too. It’s worth investing in a comfortable and high-quality base layer that is both breathable and insulating, as the cutting-edge material technology that is on the market nowadays can work with your body to naturally adapt to different weather conditions. With a base layer you can also add or remove other layers on top according to your comfort level and temperature.

Arm and Leg Warmers
In the summer months, you’ll probably want to keep to cropped cycling pants or shorts and t-shirts or more sleeveless tops. These are great in hot weather but when it starts spitting or getting windy all of a sudden, you need to be able to adapt. Keep some leg and arm warmers to hand to stop off and slip on just in case it gets chilly or you need some extra coverage.

A Lightweight Mac
For any outdoor activity or exercise, it’s imperative to have a lightweight, manageable and comfortable waterproof jacket that you love. Especially when riding to and from work, you need to keep protected just in case the clouds start rolling in. Look for the right material and be sure that is has tight, taped seams to stop water getting in. Mesh lining is an important feature as it allows sweat to escape but look out for too much mesh, as this can make the jacket bulky. One of the best features of waterproof cycling jackets is the dropped tail that covers your lower back and derriere from those dastardly mud splashes, so be sure to look out for that too!

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A Protective Bag

Don’t let your important documents, clothes and snacks get soggy on the way to work! To protect you from the wind, mud and rain, be sure to grab yourself a good waterproof bag cover that fits securely over your rucksack. There are plenty of different covers on the market and you can even buy a separate waterproof bag for all of your belongings to save fiddling with the bag cover.

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Preparation is key if you don’t want to end up arriving at your destination looking like you’ve been dunked in the nearest pond. Make sure you have all the precautions in place and check-up on the weather conditions regularly for enjoyable cycling this summer.

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.

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Ever find yourself in a pickle like this:

You’re at the farmer’s market with your so-called girlfriend getting all carried away with sampling apples, debating pumpkin varieties, and haggling over prices of buckets of yogurt.  A mere 40 minutes of local-food perusing and $30 later, your limbs are loaded down with re-usable grocery bags like nobody’s business.  Good thing I spent all those evenings bouldering and I have tons of finger strength for lifting groceries, because lord knows there is no other reason for all that finger strength…! Oh yeah, and you borrowed your friend’s roommate’s bike and there’s a good 25 minute ride ahead of you.

What to DO, Bike Commuters?!

Not an unlikely situation if you are visiting your friend, Mo, in DC, the same weekend as the National Women’s Bicycling Forum, and you are a veteran Pike Place Market veggie hawker like me. The combination is ruthless. You end up with two enthusiastic cycle ladies in a pile of vegetables, and a rear rack with bungees is just not gonna cut it. Damn those floppy cloth bags and that pumpkin! Yes, we bought a pumpkin, hauled it, cooked it, and ate it like the good green-blooded NorCal hippies that we are.

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Anyway, the solution for the Farmer’s Market overload?

Enter the last-minute Veggie Hauling No-Brainer DIY Box ‘n’ Rack. Recipe below:

Prep Time: 20 minutes for collecting ingredients

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • (1) plastic cube/crate free from the bread vendors
  • (6) removable neon zip ties from the CVS across the street
  • (1) existing rear-mounted bike rack
  • (2) opposable thumbs
  • (1) friend, also with (2) opposable thumbs

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Instructions:

  • First, sit on your bike saddle and have a friend with opposable thumbs position the crate  with a couple inches of clearance for your bum, so you don’t end up crowding your bum with the Box ‘n’ Rack as you pedal. Center the box on the rack.
  • Second, have said friend hold the rack in place, as you zip tie the hell out of it in 6 different places from the bottom of the rack to permanently secure the crate.
  • Third, throw in your veggie bag and pedal on home, without grocery bags swinging from the handle bars!

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The DIY Box ‘n’ Rack is such a no-brainer, almost any farmer’s market/flea market-goer can pull it off in a matter of minutes. So worth the minimal effort for no dangerous swinging bags of groceries near your front wheel on the bike ride home.

Try it, you’ll like it!

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So the other day it was raining here in SoCal. It gave me an idea on treating my frame with some Rain-X. If you’re not familiar with this product. You usually apply it on your car’s windows to act as a water repellent. It works much like how a duck’s feathers with water…simply beads off of it.

I figured, why not use it for my bike…so I spot treated one of my frames to see if there would be a benefit to it. Here’s what I got.

This frame was treated with Rain-X
rain-x on bicycles

I poured water on it to see if it would work. No water on the treated area.

Here’s an untreated frame with water being poured.

Water is doesn’t bead off like the treated frame.

So what’s the point of this? Well if you live in a rainy area, it might help keep water off your bike. But one thing you need to keep in mind, Rain-X is made out of denatured alcohol, which means it can harm some surfaces. Best thing to do is try it in small areas first before treating your whole bike.