Category Archives: Cycling

The Transportation Experiment: Phase 2

One big part of cutting back for me was taking the bus. Last summer I was great about biking to campus most of the time, but fell out of the habit when I had an unexpected minor surgery last fall. By the time I recovered, it was the middle of the academic term and what we call winter was starting, and driving or riding the bus became easier.

Now the weather is nicer, the academic year is wrapping up (yay!) and my excuse for not biking is that riding the bus is just easier: I get to sit and read a book, drink my coffee, or take a quick nap. But, it is more expensive and actually takes longer than biking. Plus, I really need the exercise. So, for the time being, I’m going to try to bike to campus at least 4 days a week. I’ve done the math and while I might spend more on gas, it will be less than gas plus a bus pass.

Wish me luck!


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What to Pack for a Bike Commute

Oh man, this has been an insane week: when I started to write this post, I automatically opened Excel rather than Word. But it’s over with, and I feel I can go back to more of my normal level of craziness next week. One thing I’m particularly excited about is the arrival of May and the start of Bike Month. With the newly gorgeous weather, I can’t wait to get back in the habit of bike commuting. Also, my university is offering prizes for those who register as bike commuters and log in their mileage. More exercise, save money, less pollution, and prizes? I’m pumped.

Anyways, with the beginning of Bike Month, I thought I’d share my essentials for bike commuting longer distances, when you show up at your destination a little less than fresh and sparkling. I’m lucky enough to have a locker room with a shower around the corner from my office, where I keep a set of toiletries and towel. But, when I started, I didn’t have that luxury, and came up with a pretty good system for freshening up in a shared work bathroom in just a few minutes.

Let’s start with getting clean. I’d throw a bar of facial soap and a washcloth into a Tupperware container. Use the soap to wash your face (surprise!) and dry off with the washcloth. Next, get that washcloth wet and soapy, and hop into a stall (preferably a large one) and wipe under your arms and any other sweaty area. Wet soap and washcloth can go back in the Tupperware and keep your gym bag from getting too mess-y. A friend of mine swears by baby wipes (bath in a box), but I’m too cheap for disposable products. From there I’d apply fresh deodorant and sprinkle on a little baby powder.

Obviously, pack a complete change of clothes and shoes, including underwear. Actually: especially underwear. It’s so much easier to be happy and enthused with fresh underpants. Pack clothes that don’t get wrinkly, or that are supposed to look rumpled. I’ve got limited space in my bike basket between school stuff and my lunch, so I also avoid bulky clothing.

Finally, I throw in a small bag with a few key pieces of make-up, jewelry and maybe a headband or scarf. For once this pasty girl doesn’t need blush, but a little pressed powder doesn’t hurt to deal any leftover shine or redness. With lighter hair, I can also run a little baby powder through my bangs and along my roots, and then pull my hair back. If my bangs just don’t want to cooperate, I grab the headband or scarf.

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Adventures in Cycling VII: Riding in the Rain

One thing I love about living in Northern California is that the weather is fairly predictable. We have hot dry summers, during which we can go 6 or 7 months without rain, and cool wet winters. This year the rainy season has been a little more erratic: instead of wading our way through December, January, and February, we’ve had a very soggy March and April, so I keep having to deal with biking in the rain.

Obviously, your base layers are going to depend on what temperature it is outside.  Since rain and cold are synonymous here, I stick with the basic outfit I described last week. The key part here is to wear synthetic fabrics. They help keep moisture away from your skin, will keep you warm(er) even when sopping, and dry quickly.

When it’s 50 and pouring or I’m wearing nonathletic clothes, I throw a pair of rain pants on. They’re noisy, they feel funny against any bare skin underneath, but man they keep me dry. On top I wear the same waterproof jacket I mentioned last week. It has mesh under the arms so any sweat can evaporate and is slightly longer in the back than in the front so it covers my butt and prevents rain water from dripping down the back of my pants. It also has reflective tape on the seams, so that drivers can see me better. The one thing this jacket does not have is a hood. To me, cycling in a hood isn’t fun: when it’s up, it blocks your peripheral vision, and it’s hard to keep up, unless it goes under your helmet, which I find uncomfortable. When it’s down, which is more comfortable and practical, the hood can fill with water, which by the way, doesn’t feel good when you get where you’re going, flip your hood up, and then let all that rain water run down the back of your neck. Not that I’ve ever done that or anything.

While I prefer the rain pants and jacket combo, since both items can be multi-purposed, I’ve seen a number of cyclists around town wearing specialty ponchos. They’re big enough to fit a backpack under, and long enough in the front to drape over your handlebars so that your hands and legs stay dry.

For me, biking in the rain means I have to wear a helmet. Visibility is lower for me and for drivers, plus bicycle brakes don’t work nearly as well when it’s wet. I also always wear my sunglasses, since they keep the water out of my eyes. If it’s dark enough that I can’t wear the sunglasses, I slow down, or suck it up and walk or drive.

As for the bike itself, make sure you have working lights, which goes back to the visibility thing. I figure if drivers need to use lights, then I should use mine in the same situation. Also, if you don’t have a rear mounted rack or basket, look into getting a rear fender, which are usually around $10.  The back tire kicks up a lot of water and muck, and without something to block that, you end up with a nice line of mud up your back.

Finally, for the commuter or errand runner: how to protect your stuff. Since I don’t have a bike poncho and my budget doesn’t run to the fancy waterproof panniers or backpack covers, I have a surprisingly low-tech solution. I wrap my backpack in a Hefty bag and throw it in the basket as usual. It’s the one time I use top of the line  garbage bags.

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Adventures in Cycling Part VI: What to Wear When it’s Cold

I know we’re heading into spring in the Northern Hemisphere, but around here, it’s still pretty cold in the mornings, usually around 40. (Before you make fun of my definition of cold, keep in mind I’m a Southern girl transplanted in California, just to give you more ammunition.) I’m sure at those temperatures, rational people would choose a warmer way to commute, but I’ve never claimed normality. And honestly, with the proper layers, once I get going I’m not cold at all and enjoy the refreshing air. Plus I get to feel tough, which is not a common sensation for a petite, girly, science geek.

Let’s start with the toes and move our way up. Not surprisingly, socks are pretty important. I go with synthetic socks that cover my ankles. Not the coolest look ever, but warmer. If it’s really cold, I go with two pairs of thin synthetic socks.

As for the legs, the bike shorts are still a very important base layer for the cushion effect. I usually wear my running tights over the bike shorts for the extra-spandex-y look, but my usual buddy wears sweats over hers.

For my torso, I start with a fitted synthetic tea, topped with a synthetic long sleeve shirt. If it’s around 50 to 60 and not too windy, I top that with a lightweight fleece, preferably one that can be unzipped if I start to warm up.  Below 50, or with considerable wind, I replace the fleece or even top it with a windproof jacket. I invested in a $25 waterproof, windproof jacket from the cycling shop that has mesh under the arms so I don’t get too warm. Plus it closes in the front with Velcro, so I can unfasten it with a minimum of fuss.

I typically stick with fingerless cycling gloves. If it’s 40 or windy, I might top them with a loose fleece pair of gloves, but after 20 minutes, I usually take them off because my hands get too hot.

Finally, for my head, I go with a fleece headband that covers my ears, and doesn’t interfere with the fit of my helmet. I know some people prefer thin fleece or wool ski caps, but my head gets too warm, and that’s saying a lot for this cold-phobic girl.

Next week, I’ll face another favorite cycling challenge: what to do when it’s raining. Super fun!


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Adventures in Cycling V: Bike Tools

For this week’s post on cycling, I’m going to cover the basic tools for taking care of your bike. This won’t fix any major problem, but will help for the simplest of maintenance and repairs. I’ve included a number of links to R.E.I. for examples, but if this is your first time seriously cycling, please stop in at your local bike shop or ask a more experienced friend for how to use all these things. It may seem silly, but when I got my road bike I had NO IDEA how to unlock the valves and reinflate my tires.

First off, a bike pump, preferably with a pressure gauge. Your bike should have written in the owner’s manual, the tire or on the rim, what the optimal pressure is for your bike. Unlike cars, it won’t destroy your bike to ride on a flat, but it’s hard and not a lot of fun. I got an upright pump to help me get the downward pressure to properly inflate my tires (110 psi), which cost me less than $50.

Next, a bottle of chain lubricant. When I’m cycling a lot (75+ miles/week) I add a drop of lube to every link in my chain once a week. Otherwise, I do it about once a month. A bottle of this will cost at most $10 and last you for a long time.

Beyond maintenance, every once in a while you’ll probably get a flat. If so, you’ll need a spare inner tube. Once again, check the dimensions needed, which should be on your tire or wheel, or listed in your owner’s manual. A spare tube usually costs in the $10 to $12 range.

If you find yourself getting a lot of flats, like I do, consider investing in a set of tire liners. I was getting at least 1 flat a week, and while I really enjoyed practicing changing my inner tubes on the side of a busy road and becoming an expert tire patch-er, these things were worth the $20 for the piece of mind and increased safety. Since I bought them over 6 months ago, I haven’t changed a single flat.

When it comes to tools, there’s a lot of options in a lot of price ranges. For the utmost basics, pick up a set of tire levers, like these, which should cost under $5. When that flat tire happens (and it will!) use these to get the tire off so you can replace the inner tube.

If I get a flat while out riding, I don’t have my big pump to re-inflate my tire by the side of the road and I find those hand-held bike mounted pumps to be frustratingly slow. Instead I have a CO2 cartridge with a reusable attachment, like this, so I can fill my tires in just a minute or two. Once the cartridge is used, I throw it in the recycling and grab another.

After you’ve replaced your inner tube, the thrifty cyclist carries it home and patches it rather than just throwing it away. I keep two of these kits around, also less than $5 apiece, one at home and one with my bike just in case. I’ll reuse tubes until they develop an untraceable slow leak, they bust a previous patch or I hit 3 or 4 patches on the same tube.

The last few tools I listed are ones a smart cyclist carries around with them for all rides. In order to keep it all together, plus have space for my ID, keys and cell phone, I use a saddle bag (or what I refer to as my bike’s fanny pack), which attaches to the back of seat and can be found for less than $20.

I’m working on some videos to demonstrate how to do these things (and so you can judge my Minnie Mouse voice), but in the mean time, once again, please check in with your local cycle store, your favorite friend who rides a lot, or even YouTube.

And coming up next week in Adventures in Cycling: how to ride in the cold, for those of you in colder climates or who are chicken like me.

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Adventures in Cycling IV: What to Wear for Longer Distances

So, last weekend I covered what to wear when you’re riding your bike around town, which is how I started. But as I fell in love with cycling, I started biking for longer distances and times, just for the fun of it or to reach further and further places. With the longer distances, my regular clothes were no longer quite so comfortable.

To begin with, I can’t say how much I love my padded bike shorts. Yes, they’re skin-tight. Yes, they make me feel like I’m wearing a diaper. And yes, they certainly make me look like I’m wearing said diaper. But they are so comfortable and my rear says “thank you” every time I wear them. I found a nice pair on the half off rack at the fancy bike shop for $25. I found a second pair at the discount sports store for the same price, and while they’re not quite as squishy, they’re more than adequate for rides of an hour or so.

I know some cyclists wear the fancy tops with pockets on the back for gu-packs or whatever else they want to carry, but I’m not that hard core and more than a little poor. Whatever I need usually gets thrown in a bag that rides in my basket and I wear my more all purpose technical athletic shirts. Under that, I go with a relatively supportive sports bra. Generally cycling is low impact, but I’m well endowed and bumpy stretches of road can get a little uncomfortable.

Since I don’t have clip-in pedals, I just wear lightweight athletic shoes. I found that wearing my running shoes actually is uncomfortable and can make my feet go numb on a long enough ride. But, my usual cycling buddy has never had that problem, so that’s probably just me. Most times I wear my Vibrams, which make me look like a dork, but they’re comfy, I don’t mind.

Less important on the what to wear check less, but something I always use, is sunglasses. Squinting is not fun, and leaves a girl (or guy) with wrinkles. Plus, they keep your eyes from watering from the self-generated breeze. And, what I consider most important, they protect you from the oh so comfortable bugs flying into your eyes. Ick. Mine were $20 from the clearance rack at the cycling store, but any athletic-y pair will do you.

I also invested in a $20 pair of fingerless cycling gloves. The weather only has to be a little cool for my hands to be freezing, but full gloves are too much while riding. Plus they’re padded at the pressure points, which keeps my wrists from hurting, and wick away the sweat so my hands don’t get too gross from the handlebars. Now I wear them for any ride over 30 minutes.

Finally, and I know I’ve said it before, a helmet. Anytime I’m deliberately riding fast, or along busy roads, or out on country highways, a helmet is a must. I think mine was $50, but it’s a few years old, so don’t quote me on that. The key part is to replacing it after any crash or fall.

Next week, basic bike tools: because if I can maintain a bike, anybody can.

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Adventures in Cycling Part III or What to Wear for the Casual Cyclist

So now that you have the bike, the question is what to wear for the casual cyclist.

For running errands around town, or a quick commute, no need to wear anything athletic-y. If you wear wide-legged or boot cut pants and don’t have a chain guard, fine some way to keep your pant leg out of the chain. In warmer weather, I roll up the pant leg on that side. In colder weather, I pull out the cuff clips. I have these flexible metal semi-circles that fit around my ankle and minimize pant flap-age. Other people have fabric circles with Velcro ends and a strip of reflective material. Either of these options should cost under $10.

If you prefer wearing skirts or dresses, keep in mind pencil or mini skirts tend to ride up, so you might want to wear leggings or even shorts underneath, for that middle school flashback. As for a-line or circle skirts, I use a clothespin to hold together the front and back hems. I learned from experience that fuller skirts and the breeze you generate by biking or comes off passing cars might force you into a Marilyn Monroe impression. Also, long flapping fabric can create a hazard.

When it comes to tops, I steer clear of anything low cut. Most bikes have you lean forward slightly, and when combined with the occasional bump in the road can create quite the show.

As for shoes, once again, just about anything goes. Technically you should be pedaling with the ball of your foot pushing down on the pedal itself. Therefore, it’s perfectly possible to bike even with heels. I’ve only done it with wedges and low pumps, but I’ve seen pictures of French women biking in stilettos. The only shoes I really steer clear from are sneakers whose laces come untied easily: I’m paranoid that one day my shoelace will get stuck in the chain and cause an accident.

Finally, in general wear layers. As I said before, you create your own breeze, and I often end up a little chilled. Then again, you are exercising, and in the summer I often strip down to a tank top.

Next week: what to wear for a long(er) ride.

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