Tag Archives: bicycling

Bicycling in Rain and Mud

I recently posted here about bicycling in the mud and rain, and got some good suggestions (and also on the icebike mailing list). I eventually decided to replace my current bike (Trek 7.3FX) with a Specialized Tricross Sport Triple. As I mentioned in the bike store, “it seems odd to spend this kind of money on a bike only to ride it through mud and sand.” Another customer overheard and said, “It sure does — but don’t worry, it’ll be fine!”

But on the other hand, I figure that it is probably realistic for me to ride it around 3600 miles (5793 km) per year. At that rate, it will pay for itself in reduced car costs in about a year.

I picked it up last Friday, and on Saturday moved my accessories (headlight mount, tail light, water bottle cage, etc.) to it. The Bontrager Back Rack I from the 7.3FX did not fit well, so I ordered the Specialized Tricross Rack Set, which did fit well (I’m not using the front rack though).

This has been a wet week. I rode Thursday when it had stopped raining about 20 minutes before I left in the morning, and we got more rain in the afternoon. Although both the Tricross and the 7.3FX have 700x32C tires, even the factory tires on the Tricross performed far better in mud than the 7.3FX ever did — and I can still go much more wide if I feel it necessary. Actually, somewhat to my surprise, I didn’t really have a problem with kicking up mud; my enemy turned out to be kicking up sand. It didn’t really damage anything, and I had to try not to cringe as I saw the sand hitting the chain, etc. I rinse it off when I get to my destination, and clean/lubricate the chain frequently in these conditions.

I haven’t yet been on the bike during an active rain, but from what I’ve done so far, I think it will be fine. So at this point, there’s very little that will prevent me from riding.

Begin questioning my sanity… NOW

It’s been a long and wet winter here. We live down a dirt/sand/gravel road, and when it rains, it’s difficult to get a car down the road due to mud. And impossible to get a bicycle down it. As a result, I’ve only been able to ride my bicycle to work once since November, and that was in January.

Last Thursday, I intended to ride in to work, but discovered my front tire wouldn’t hold air. I had heard about a wonderful local bike repair shop, so I dropped off the wheel there. The owner replaced the tube and checked it out, and charged me, yes, $4 — including labor and the tube. Nice.

So today was my first ride of the season. I rode a total of 21.8 miles (35 km) today, which was probably unwise enough for being as out of shape as I am. It’s 9.6 miles each way to work, plus I did some errands over lunch.

But add to that the winds — 30 MPH (48 kph) with gusts to 43 MPH (69 kph). This morning, they were weaker and also mostly at my back. This afternoon, though, they were mostly a vicious crosswind. If you’ve bicycled much, you’ll know that’s less annoying than a headwind, but is still quite annoying and takes a lot more energy to battle than you might think.

So, I am now rather sore. And the question is: will I be silly enough to do this again tomorrow?

The answer to that probably depends on how late I stay up watching the Butler/Duke game tonight, as I have to get up an hour earlier on days that I bicycle to work.

I found that the bicycle rack at work — which, somewhat to my annoyance, was moved indoors last year — has been rather disused. It is in a rather dusty and dirty part of our manufacturing shop, and there were large metal bins completely blocking the path to it, which I had to move before I could park my bike.

Then, of course, it was the usual comments — which I take with a smile — about somebody that shows up to work wearing cycling shorts & shirt.

It should be noted that I change into professional clothes at work. But my commute is too long to wear them on the way in and expect to be presentable, non-smelly, and pain-free.

In any case, evidence that this may not have been the best day to start my commute: it hurts to sit at the moment.


It’s been quite the day.

This evening, Jacob had a new first. He requested I read him an owner’s manual for his bedtime story. Yes, I’m sure years from now, he will still remember how to operate a Motorola W376g cell phone. He had found the manual in its box and had been carrying it around, “reading” it to himself for days already. I can feel him following in my footsteps – I remember pulling the car manual out of the glove box on long trips and reading it. For fun.

So yes, Jacob chose an owner’s manual over nice children’s bedtime books involving caterpillars.

This morning, I set out on what would be a 43-mile bike ride – home to Wichita. It was about 28F when I left. I had been wanting to ride from home to Wichita for some time now, and finally found the right day. The wind was at my back (mostly), the sun was shining (I even got burned a bit), and the ride was fun. It took me about 4.5 hours, including the 1.5 hours I spent for lunch and other breaks. I didn’t take a completely direct route, but that was intentional.

This is my second-farthest ride in a day, behind the time I rode 55 miles in a day for charity. But it is the farthest I’ve gone in winter.

I was taking the bike to the bike shop for its free 6-month tuneup. So I even had the perfect excuse to ride it. I hope to ride it back home if the weather is cooperative.

As for the third milestone, while I was riding to Wichita, Barack Obama and Joe Biden were riding a train to Washington. I recorded it, and have been watching it this evening. Remembering all they said during the campaign, seeing how they act — it really does give me some hope in this country’s government, some hope that some important things will be accomplished in the future. One TV commentator pointed out that the Bush administration carefully avoided using the word “recession” as long as they possibly could, while Obama is trying as hard he can to be straight and direct with people about the situation. I appreciate that. What a milestone the next few days represent for the country.

Frozen Bicycling

Some of you might recall that I’ve been bicycling to work, about 10 miles each way.

Over the last two weeks, I haven’t been able to ride much because it’s been too muddy. Today I rode to work.

It was about 25F-30F out there, so this was my first below-freezing bicycle ride. It went OK, though I was somewhat on the cool side — I’ll add more layers next time.

Today, I wore wool socks, bicycling shorts, tights over that, my short sleeve shirt, a long-sleeve shirt over it, full gloves, and a balaclava. I should have worn probably one more layer everywhere, but I survived and I’m not frozen.

You may now commence speculation about whether or not I am crazy.

Biking in the dark, 45 degrees F

I’ve been telling people that I plan to keep bicycling into the winter. I think about half the people I’ve told to don’t really believe it. And the last two weeks, I haven’t been able to ride to work due to muddy roads and scheduling conflicts. But today I did.

I left while it was still dark and 45 degrees outside (7C for the Fahrenheit-impaired). I think that’s the coldest bike ride for me yet. I wore my regular shorts, shoes, and socks. I had my regular shirt on, plus a long-sleeve thicker shirt on above it.

It was cold the first few minutes, but this was pretty much the right outfit. Once I got going and got some heat built up, I was doing fine. In fact, I had to unzip my outer layer because I was getting hot.

So. I figure that if I can do 45 with shorts, then I ought to be able to take on 20 with proper winter gear.

Either that, or I’ve now dug myself a nice big hole if I wimp out.

Hurricane Bicycling

Wednesday I rode my bike to work.

So, logically, Wednesday saw me riding my bike home from work.

That was not the most pleasant task.

I rode directly into some really strong winds — I figure about 40MPH — for 2.5 miles, and for the other 8, they were crosswinds. I checked the weather about 30-60 minutes after I got home, after it had calmed down a bit, and they were saying gusts to 35. So I figure 40 or more when it was really going is about right. I was using the lowest possible gear on my 24-speed bike for a good part of that, for the first time ever.

The weather also indicated this was due to remnants from Gustav.

So now I can — almost — say I rode my bike through a hurricane.

I had to chuckle a bit today when I read a different bike blog — someone who has been doing this a lot longer than me — say he chickened out and took the bus because of 15MPH winds.

Out here in Kansas farm country, there isn’t a bus. If I ride the bike to work in the morning, that’s the only way I’m getting back home.

Kinda character-building, I guess.

Or crazy, depending on your view. I’m getting some strange looks lately as I’ve been mentioning that it’s about time for me to prepare for bicycling in the winter.

Oh, and did I mention that 15MPH is a breeze out here?

Bicycling to Work Update

Back in May, I wrote about starting to bicycle to work. My plan was to do that 3 days a week. My ride is 10 miles each way, with the first 2.3 miles on dirt, gravel, and sand roads.

It’s been going well. Yesterday was the first day that the ride really felt easy. It’s been getting more and more fun, too.

And I’ve been getting faster. My worst time lately was 49 minutes, also yesterday morning. I really was riding slower than I felt normal, just taking it easy. But I had a headwind, and when I started my normal time in calm conditions was 60 minutes or more. That’s almost a 20% improvement already.

Due to vacations, holidays, and weather, I haven’t been able to average 3 days a week. When it’s raining, or has rained recently, our roads get muddy and pretty much impassible on bicycle. Though some days, my ride is 2 miles longer because the short route is too muddy but the long route isn’t.

So, overall, I’ve been enjoying bicycling, and plan to keep doing it.

How to Start Bicycling to Work

Yesterday, I wrote about bicycling to work, pointing out that it’s a safe, inexpensive, way for many people (including office workers without access to showers) to get to work. There were a lot of thoughtful comments there too.

Today I’d like to provide some tips for getting started commuting on a bicycle. As I’m just getting started on this, these are mainly things I’ve learned from poking around online, so I’ll be including lots of links.

The Bicycle

This varies from person to person, but as a general rule: if you have a very short ride — say a mile or less — you can probably just use any old bike and a bicycling helmet. Don’t try to use a motorcycle helmet. It won’t vent your head, so you could overheat. Also, it won’t be comfortable.

Most people will have a longer ride and will want to get a bike that works specifically for them. Each model of bicycle comes in different frame sizes. It’s important to get a bicycle that is the right size for you. Also, you’ll want to get a quality bicycle that will let you be fast and won’t break down along the way.

For all these reasons, I — and every single other person I’ve ever seen talk about this — highly recommend that you buy your bicycle from a bicycle shop. Don’t buy a bicycle from a “big box” store like Walmart or Target. They may be cheaper up front, but you’ll pay for it in the long run because they won’t last as long, won’t fit you as well, and may even be unsafe. Bike shop staff will help you find a bike that fits you, which is important for avoiding aches and pains and even injury. They’ll be able to help you find appropriate accessories for your bike, as well as repair it. Here is a helpful article on this topic, written by a bike shop.

Generally speaking, bike shops can repair bikes bought at any other bike shops. However, they can instantly recognize bikes bought at big box stores. Many will repair those too, but some refuse to work on some of those bikes on the grounds that it is impossible to bring them to the level of service they expect their mechanics to do.

Aches and Pains

With any sport, when you start it, you can expect a little bit of aches and pains at first, as you start using muscles that you may not have really used at first. Bicycling is no exception, but it’s easy to deal with.

Your first stop if you have aches and pains might be the where does it hurt page. It provides detailed, helpful advice. There are also some common things that go wrong for people.

First on the list is wrong size of bike or improper adjustment of your bike. You want a bike frame that is the right size for you, and you want the seat and handlebars adjusted properly for you. A bike shop can help you get this done easily. If your feet can reach the ground while you’re on the seat, you almost certainly have the seat too low, which is a common mistake.

Sometimes the way you position yourself on the bike, or your technique, could be to blame.

Also, clothing can be a problem. A good place to start here is with some cycling shorts. Another common complaint from new cyclists appears to be blisters on the feet. This can be caused by improper positioning on the pedals, or by using the wrong type of sock. Typical socks absorb moisture and trap it next to the skin; bicycling socks will wick it away and let it evaporate. In fact, cycling clothes: socks, shorts, and jerseys (shirts) are all designed to wick moisture away from you and let it evaporate, which keeps you cooler and more comfortable. Bicycling gloves are cheap and can help your hands stay comfortable.


You can easily save thousands of dollars by riding a bicycle instead of driving a car. Bicycles do need periodic maintenance, just like a car. Usually you can do a lot of that yourself. It probably will pay off to take your bike in to the shop for an annual tuneup. If you have no bicycling equipment at all, and buy your equipment at a bike shop new, you can probably get started for around $500. Even that will probably pay for itself in less than a year if you average riding your bike at least a few times a week.


Safety on a bicycle can usually be summed up with three rules: be visible, be predictable, and ride with traffic.

Unless there are dedicated bicycle-only lanes or paths, the safest way (in the United States) to ride your bike is on the road, riding with traffic (acting like a car). Don’t ride on a sidewalk, and never ride against traffic. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it is backed up by solid research. It all has to do with being predictable. Nobody is looking for something the speed of a bicycle to emerge from a sidewalk to cross a road or driveway. Sidewalks often aren’t that visible and frequently don’t provide enough room to pass. Sidewalk-riding cyclists get into accidents all the time with cars backing pulling out of driveways, making turns, or even just driving down a road where the cyclist cuts in front of them to cross a street.

A great book for learning how to ride in traffic can be viewed free online: the Bicycling Street Smarts book. There are also some safety videos online that are helpful.

Staying visible is certainly important. In some places, like cities where cyclists are common, drivers are going to be on the lookout for you already. In my case, I’m riding on rural roads that have some hills, where cyclists are rare, so I’m putting extra effort into this.

Staying visible in the day or at night starts with high-visibility clothing. A “screaming yellow” jersey or an ANSI safety reflective vest (less than $10) are good ways to do that. Several people recommend a Cateye TL-LD1100 flashing tail light for use at night, or even for daytime use when visibility is critical (such as my situation). If you will ever ride at night, laws require you to have the proper reflectors on your bike. And, you must also have a white headlight that does not cover up your front reflector (in some locations, you may also be required to have a red tail light that doesn’t cover up your reflector). Companies like Cateye carry those products as well.

Other tips: avoid drainage covers; they sometimes have slats that a bicycle tire could fall into.


Here are some suggestions you might consider as a commuter.

Start with pannier bags. They mount over your rear tire and are cooler for you than a backpack because your back can still breathe. They’re more aerodynamic than a front basket. You can get bags suitable for carrying papers, laptops, a change of clothes, etc.

Next on your list might be a bicycle lock, to help keep it from being stolen. Your local bike shop can make suggestions here.

You might want to consider a spare inner tube (about $5) and tire-changing tools (also about $5) to carry with you in your bag. You wouldn’t want to have to walk 5 miles if you get a flat.

Along with that goes an air pump. I suggest a frame pump — it’s a small pump that can clip on to your bicycle’s frame, so you always have it handy. Obviously you will need this if you have to change a tube, but it could be handy even if you don’t.

You can find some more suggestions from bicycling.about.com and from Mike or your local bike shop.

Where to buy

Besides your local bike shop, you can buy a lot of accessories online. I wouldn’t suggest buying a bicycle online, because you really want to get a good fit at a bike shop.

When I asked at bikeforums.net, readers suggested three online stores:


You can also find some bicycling accessories at general-purpose stores like Amazon or sporting goods stores like REI. I personally wouldn’t recommend local “big box” sporting goods stores any more than I would Walmart or Target for this stuff, though.

More info

For more information, check out my bicycling links at del.icio.us.

Bicycling to Work

We hear a lot these days about the price of gas, energy efficiency, and the like. But, in the United States, outside of a few progressive cities, there aren’t a lot of people that are using the ultimate zero-emissions transportation technology: bicycles.

That’s really too bad, because bicycles are a lot cheaper to operate than cars even before you consider gas prices. They also are great exercise and are probably faster, safer, and more convenient than you think.

I live about 10 miles (16 km) from work, which includes several miles on sand roads. I haven’t bicycled in about 6 years. Last week, I got my bicycle out, touched it up a bit, and started riding. Sunday I rode in to work and back as a test. As soon as I get a bit of gear (hopefully by the middle of next week), I plan to start riding bike to work at least 3 days a week.

I’ve picked up some tips along the way. Let’s talk about a few of them.


Many people think bicycling is dangerous. In fact, bicycling is about as safe as driving an SUV. Not only that, but only 10% of bicycling accidents occur when you are hit from behind (and 90% of those produce only minor injuries). It turns out that the vast majority of bicycling accidents occur because people are not riding on the road with traffic, or are acting unpredictably. Following some basic safety advice can make you safer in a bicycle than an SUV. Oh, and don’t drink and ride; 24% of fatal bicycle accidents involve an intoxicated rider.


Think it’s too far? Think again. It’s fairly easy for an untrained, unfit person to ride a bicycle up to 10 miles without working hard at it. That can probably be done in about an hour. As you get more fit and used to the bike, you may be able to go that distance in half that time. Also, get pannier bags for your bicycle. They attach in back and let you carry work clothes, laptops, etc. without having to use a backpack.


Many people with office jobs are concerned about this. Not everywhere has a convenient shower. Check out these tips from the Tips and Tricks for Biking to Work manual.

I’m excited about it, and will be sure to post more here on how it goes.