alternative press serving the lower columbia pacific region

The Bike Madame

The Comforts and Controversies of Ergonomic Bike Seats

The first time you cycle farther than the corner store, you learn how a comfortable seat makes the difference between an exhilarating and an excruciating journey. The seat has always been the first bike component I’ve modified, as I have less than fond memories of the hard plastic banana seat of my otherwise cool first bike.

Exactly what makes a seat “ergonomic” is a matter of debate. Does the comfort factor come from extra padding, suspension, a special shape, or the angle of the rider (upright, leaning forward, or recumbent)? To me, the only rule of bike-seat nirvana is that our very individuality of form and preference require you to test what’s available rather than relying solely on others’ advice and claims from manufacturers.

Some riders appreciate extra padding in the form of either a thicker seat or a gel cover. However, others find the padding as aggravating as too-soft couches that cause you to sink down into the seat, where you get overly familiar with the harder structural components. (Hence, some long-distance riders actually prefer a hard but anatomically correct seat.) Some seats feature central channels that purportedly take pressure off sensitive parts of the anatomy. Unfortunately, for some riders, these channels can trap soft tissue and decrease rather than increase ventilation. That’s why the relationship between the bumps and recesses of the seat and your individual shape is more important than whether or not the seat is padded or channeled. Is the seat wide enough to support your “sit bones”? Does any part pinch or squash a part of you? Does the seat force you to pedal like a cowboy to keep pressure off sensitive areas (risking injury to your knees)? Do the seams leave imprints on your tush? It may take a few miles of riding for these problems to appear, so don’t hesitate to take your potential new seat for a test ride.

Don’t overlook the possibility of the seat being set too low or high for you. I’ve encountered many a rider who could wear his/her knees as earrings because of a seat that’s too low. Have a friend hold your handlebars steady so you can put both feet on the pedals and spin backward. At the lowest point of the pedal’s arc, your knee should be just about straight, but not locked, without having to point your toe. Novice cyclists may set their seats too low because they want to stay seated when they come to a stop and are afraid of falling over. This is where practice, rather than a fancy new seat, comes in.

Adequate suspension is important for those who ride on rough roads, and not just gravel or dirt roads. Many paved roads have sketchy pavement on the shoulders, plus potholes and gravel and other debris. If your travels take you through a velo-minefield, consider a mountain bike or hybrid to give you some bounce as you navigate the craters.

Recumbent cycles have the ultimate in comfort: a chair-like seat that supports your back and puts you into a reclined position. Once you get used to the new demands on your leg muscles from this angle, you may never go back. Just make sure the seat is far enough forward or back for near-full leg extension and absence of torque on the knees (a potential problem with models where your buttocks is below your feet).

When it comes to being in the (bike) saddle, what’s beneath your posterior should not be beneath your notice!


The Pregnant Lady Express: The Final Frontier…Um, Trimester

The group of touring cyclists passes me at the bottom of my favorite three- mile hill. As the hill steepens, I expect to catch up, as I usually do, for I know this hill well. It’s tempting to put a sign on my back saying, “You’ve just been passed by the pregnant lady express,”  but such pride could invite disaster, such as getting passed en masse by rac- ers in gorilla suits.

The decision of whether or not to keep riding into late pregnancy is an individual one and should be made on the basis of how you feel and what your health-care provider recommends, neither of which a newspaper column can predict. In the third trimester, your passenger is more exposed to the world than ever, and that includes your handlebars, the road surface, and anything else you’d hit in case you had an accident. Risks you’re willing to take under other circumstances should be reevaluated in light of the safety of your offspring, which is why I wouldn’t be rid- ing at this time if I lived in a city and had to mingle with traffic.

Equipment makes a difference too. My folding bike gives me an upright seating position, like a cruiser, so my belly doesn’t get in the way of pedal- ing. This is even less of an issue on our recumbent tandem. Neither of these setups compromises my balance. If you want to keep riding but find yourself getting in your own way, consider switching to a steed with a more relaxed seating posture and that does not compromise your balance (definitely not a racing-style bike). With the added weight of your little one, what was once slight exertion can cause shortness of breath. I stick with the rule that if I can talk to my husband  and co-rider, I’m not working too hard. You might also notice practice (Braxton-Hicks) contractions while exercising (cycling or otherwise). For me, if they persist, I rest, drink water, and wait for them to subside.

They can appear from exertion or dehydration (to which mothers-to-be are susceptible), as well as from the uterus’ efforts to stay toned before birth, but you don’t want them to develop into early labor. Again, please talk with your healthcare provider about your unique circumstances; mine go away after a short rest, but yours could behave differently. It’s essential to stay aware of what your body’s doing so you know when to take a break. If you’ve been active before pregnancy, you probably have a good idea of your limits, but you’ll need to adjust your expectations to your changing state, with your provider as guide and sounding board. If you and your provider decide you should put your bike away for now, don’t worry: walking is a superb form of exercise you can continue until you’re ready to give birth, as long as your provider agrees that this is safe.

Staying active (even if you can’t do it throughout the pregnancy) has been demonstrated to lead to shorter labor times, reduced discomfort in labor, and fewer interventions—as well as babies who are more easily soothed and more interested in their environment (and hence learn more readily). When you’re ready to return to physical activity after the birth, you may end up becoming fitter than you were before pregnancy—hauling that extra weight can turn you into IronMom, and folks trying to pass you on a three-mile hill had better beware.


In Search of a Pedal-Powered Camping Trailer

Camping trailers enchanted me as a child. On my family’s annual tent-camping trip to Lake Ontario in central New York, I rode around the campground on my ten-speed and stopped to visit with elders in the electric-hookup area. Their life of year-round travel in their cleverly designed miniature houses (bus-sized RVs had not been invented) enthralled me with the promise of carefree adventure.

Now RVs the size of Imperial Star Destroyers whiz past me on the road. Their presence prompts me to wonder if a pedal-powered alternative exists: a pull-behind sleeping place. A visit to the Internet revealed a variety of designs to make travel more comfortable for people for whom packing a tent isn’t an option. Most were individual creations on the part of handy individuals rather than the work of commercial producers.

Tina Gallagher’s Yahoo! Voices article “Bicycle Travel Trailers Are Becoming Reality” provides links to You Tube videos where inventors show their designs in action. A video called “A biketrailer” shows an elderly gentleman pulling a tube-shaped trailer behind his recumbent bike that’s just large enough to sleep inside. He has equipped it with two support stands and can close its mailbox-like door from inside or out. Artist Kevin Cyr, a jaunty older fellow, has designed a pull-behind trailer that looks more like a miniature fifth wheel than a launch tube for a spaceship. His video presents the trailer in several settings; it’s evident from the riding scene, though, that the additional space comes at the cost of a heavier load. (The looks on the faces of cyclists he passes on the road are priceless.) Ms. Gallagher offers her own design ideas at the end of the article.

Alternatively, one may be able to adapt a commercially available small pull-behind model to cycle towing. A website dedicated to pint-sized travel trailers (Teardrops and Tiny Travel Trailers or www.tnttt.com) has entries depicting the trailers’ owners hauling them by bike or trike.

British cyclists can purchase the QTVan, specially made to be towed by cyclists or motorized scooter users. This compact craft fits a bed, cooking kettle and drinks area, wall-mounted flat-screen TV, and a radio. Manufactured by the Environmental Transport Association, this nifty device is not currently being marketed in the U.S. You can see it at the company’s website,www.eta.co.uk (accompanied by a young fellow lounging under a quilt with an eye-searing pattern). It was marketed to elders wanting to secure an overnight spot for viewing the royal wedding procession without sleeping on concrete.

Hauling such a massive load requires specialized, durable connectors (imagine one of these things tipping over in traffic) and a custom gearing system. While all of the riders appeared comfortable pulling their trailers, none of the films I saw showed them going up or down a hill. If you want to try cycle-caravanning, make sure you practice in a safe place (like a parking lot early in the morning) to learn your new tolerances for braking and steering. I’ve hauled as much as 100 pounds with a bike trailer specially made for such loads, and I discovered the hard way just how much clearance you need to stop safely—and how easily you can tip over on turning.

Carbon-neutral trailers would be great projects for handy people…or a scout troop. (However, trying to fit the whole troop inside will require changes in the laws of physics that would challenge Star Trek’s Scotty.) For the less mechanically inclined, we can hope the QTVan soon crosses the water (on its own pontoons).


Cycling For Two, Part One: Internal Passengers

Lest the subtitle “internal passengers” conjure up visions of beneficial intestinal bacteria pushing microscopic pedals with their cilia, let me clarify: I mean human offspring who have not yet emerged from the cushy safety of the womb. For the past four and a half months, I have experienced the ups and downs of cycling for two and am ready to share my wisdom-in-progress with anybody considering a partnership of bike and baby-to-come.

Please do not take my ideas for medical advice. The decision whether to continue cycling while pregnant is a joint one between you and your health-care provider. If you’re uncomfortable, fatigued, or otherwise feel worse from riding, don’t force yourself even if your provider has given you the green light. The third trimester is particularly concerning, as your front-heaviness can unbalance you and the baby’s less protected in case of a fall. That’s why some providers suggest you stop riding as you approach your due date.

Fatigue is a common concern, particularly the in first trimester. If you’re a competitive cyclist or just like to challenge your physiological limits, you’ll have some adjusting to do. You want to find a level of intensity where you can hold a conversation with a fellow rider and don’t get out of breath. This may feel like a casual weekend amble, but burning calories isn’t in your best interests or the baby’s. Take your time with hill-climbing. Does your steed have a good “granny gear”? This is a good time to swap the fixie—temporarily—for a multi-gear ride.

As you get heavier in front, you may develop discomfort in the abdominal muscles (which are stretching to accommodate your girth), and pedaling can aggravate this. Now in the second trimester, I find my recumbent bike more comfortable than my upright bike, as I’m in a relaxed position with my back supported and I don’t have to hike my legs so high. You may have to adjust your seat and headset to find a comfortable position. If you’re finding it difficult to stay balanced, consider an adult tricycle. Recumbent tricycles look cool and don’t shout “old lady.”

While fatigue, increased bulkiness, and difficulty balancing are common concerns, miscellaneous peculiar symptoms may also provide you with unexpected hurdles. Most expectant mothers develop a keen sense of smell early in the pregnancy (this might even be your “giveaway” of your condition prior to the missed period). This transforms the flatulence of smelly trucks from an annoyance to a struggle against revisiting the contents of one’s stomach, and I won’t even mention other stinky objects one encounters on the road. Temperature-regulation weirdness can cause you to swim in sweat one moment and freeze the next, so bring layers. Some of us experience a decline in visual acuity. If you’ve noticed a change in your vision, get an eye exam and possibly new glasses or contacts. It’s even more essential now to glimpse upcoming road hazards and avoid falls and collisions.

For as long as you’re comfortable and you and your offspring are safe doing it, cycling is a superb way to retain the stamina, strength, and flexibility you’ll need for giving birth. Just don’t start riding while pregnant if you haven’t hopped on a bike since you were twelve. Wait until after your little passenger is out in the world before you try riding off that post-pregnancy paunch—when your health-care provider (and your own comfort) gives you the “okay.”


Don’t Let the Bright Sky Fool You!

rain_fall

www.bikehugger.com

There comes a time in spring when dazzling dry days lure unsuspecting cyclists into ditching the rain gear. Inevitably you get a mile down the road and that innocuous puffy cloud has developed a menacing gray underbelly. A patch of blue sky remains enticingly ahead of you while the cloud bestows its blessings. That’s when you regret your impulse to forego clammy rain pants in favor of what are now waterlogged jeans.

Our coastal weather is rapidly changeable; what starts out as a clear day may transform to a full-blown storm by afternoon. The sight of Tillamook Head collecting clouds, which I glimpse from my office window, warns me to suit up for sideways rain.

As the weather warms, rain gear can become intolerably warm and you end up getting wet from inside the clothing rather than from nature’s gifts on the outside. This mini greenhouse effect can convince you to leave the waterproof stuff behind. I’d advise you to carry rain gear in your basket or bag just so you can slip it on in case the sky opens and sends you for an unexpected swim.

Water-resistant garments each fall somewhere along an imperviousness-breathability scale: maximally breathable garments are the least protective against the R Word and the most armorlike garments can become your own personal sauna. I like testing water-resistant gear on a warm but damp day, when I’m most likely to perspire beneath them and I’m not going to get critically chilly if they’re more breathable than warm. Features like pit zips (zippers that go from the chest to the forearm on jackets, allowing for ventilation in a spot that’s hard for water to reach) can assist you in striking the balance between waterproof and breathable.

Some vapor barriers require periodic re-application. Observe whether water beads on the surface and rolls off or gets absorbed into the garment (that’s time to use a spray-on or wash-in product to restore the vapor barrier). Others are part of the material and wear out over time. Some garments have taped seams. The tape wears out after a while and needs to be replaced. If you see it fraying and separating from the material, then your seams could experience a hull breach from rain, if not Romulans.

Well-made rain gear can be expensive, but I wouldn’t skimp by purchasing those heavy rubber pants or a jacket that’s basically a glorified garbage bag with holes for your head and arms. Cheap rain gear is less durable, its waterproofing degrades quickly or is insufficient, and it’s rarely breathable, leaving you just as damp as you’d be if you didn’t have any weather protection at all. You also have to hear it flap as you ride along.

Besides the obligatory jacket and rain pants, you can also accessorize with booties that zip over your shoes, gloves, and helmet liners. I haven’t yet mustered the courage to spend $50 on those rain booties, but a daily dose of foot-prunes is getting old.

The ultimate in rain protection comes with full fairings: a custom process where the bike is enclosed all around, like a small pedal-powered car. You’ll see this most often in specialized races of human-powered vehicles. It’s out of my price range, but sometimes I dream of stepping, dry and crisp, out of my bike/space capsule, wowing all those poor dripping folks who share the river-like road with me.


Riding Etiquette with Guillaume de Tour Landry

WHEN I was a teenager, I rolled my eyes at my elders’ paeans to the well-mannered youths of yesteryear, who never draped toilet paper in trees or used their underarms to produce bathroom noises. Now that I can legitimately begin a sentence with “Young people today…”, I still roll my eyes when I hear us ill-mannered children of the ‘70s described as paragons of etiquette. However, I have grown to appreciate good manners, especially on the road.

One night, after accidentally consuming caffeinated black tea instead of my usual herbal tea, and under the influence of a glitter ball and a bad SF novel, I discovered I’d summoned the spirit of Guillaume, Le Chevalier de Tour Landry. The medieval French knight wrote an etiquette book for his daughters, so I took advantage of his spectral presence in front of my cat-hair-covered papasan chair to ask him to share his advice on cycling etiquette. After I showed him what a bicycle was, he rose to the challenge. After that, he rose into the ether, never to be seen again, except in a mysterious pattern of tea leaves at the bottom of my ill-fated cup.

For your pleasure and edification, I have translated his remarks from medieval French.

“How wondrous are the ways of Fortune! Verily, I was tilting my lance at a target when I was unhorsed and struck my head—I had recklessly doffed my helm, which one should not do—and now I am transported in a vision to the future, where people travel about on metal-framed wheeled monstrosities! Yet even as the ways of the future are passing strange and wondrous, still we remain human and the duties of courteous life are incumbent upon us.

“In my rightful time and place, carts, horses, and pedestrians often collideth upon the roads because we travel in whichever direction we so desire. To stayeth safe upon the roads, prithee travel in the same direction as the horseless carriages do go and followeth diligently the same regulations, such as coming to a halt when the magic red light doth manifest. This renders your movements predictable to pedestrians and those who pilot the horseless carriages. It may seemeth expedient to weave between parked carriages, the syde-walk, and the road, but beware lest the 18-wheeled conveyance shalt flatten you.

“While we speaketh of that, many a high-spirited rider leapeth the curb and zippeth along the syde-walk where pedestrians do take refuge from the slings and arrows of the street. Rememberest that thou hast a vehicle and belongeth in the street. If you needs must go upon the syde-walk, I pray, dismount from your metal horse and walketh it beside the foot traffic. The exception is young children, who wobbleth too much to travel safely in the lane.

“When encountering others upon the road, whether afoot, in a carriage, or on cycles, it is well to alert them to thy presence with a bell and with devices that revealeth you to the eye, such as yonder magical lamps and bright, reflective clothing. You do not wish to surprise others.

“Betimes you come upon another cyclist who rideth slower than you do. Pray alert the other to your presence in a genteel manner and passeth safely upon the left. Some goeth around in a startling, loud manner or ridest amongst pedestrians to get around the leisurely obstacle.”

My knightly visitor then started to discourse upon the uncouthness of wearing skin-tight Lycra garments, so I was compelled to bring our interview to a close.


Riding Etiquette with Guillaume de Tour Landry

When I was a teenager, I rolled my eyes at my elders’ paeans to the well-mannered youths of yesteryear, who never draped toilet paper in trees or used their underarms to produce bathroom noises. Now that I can legitimately begin a sentence with “Young people today…”, I still roll my eyes when I hear us ill-mannered children of the ‘70s described as paragons of etiquette. However, I have grown to appreciate good manners, especially on the road.

One night, after accidentally consuming caffeinated black tea instead of my usual herbal tea, and under the influence of a glitter ball and a bad SF novel, I discovered I’d summoned the spirit of Guillaume, Le Chevalier de Tour Landry. The medieval French knight wrote an etiquette book for his daughters, so I took advantage of his spectral presence in front of my cat-hair-covered papasan chair to ask him to share his advice on cycling etiquette. After I showed him what a bicycle was, he rose to the challenge. After that, he rose into the ether, never to be seen again, except in a mysterious pattern of tea leaves at the bottom of my ill-fated cup.

For your pleasure and edification, I have translated his remarks from medieval French.

“How wondrous are the ways of Fortune! Verily, I was tilting my lance at a target when I was unhorsed and struck my head—I had recklessly doffed my helm, which one should not do—and now I am transported in a vision to the future, where people travel about on metal-framed wheeled monstrosities! Yet even as the ways of the future are passing strange and wondrous, still we remain human and the duties of courteous life are incumbent upon us.

“In my rightful time and place, carts, horses, and pedestrians often collideth upon the roads because we travel in whichever direction we so desire. To stayeth safe upon the roads, prithee travel in the same direction as the horseless carriages do go and followeth diligently the same regulations, such as coming to a halt when the magic red light doth manifest. This renders your movements predictable to pedestrians and those who pilot the horseless carriages. It may seemeth expedient to weave between parked carriages, the syde-walk, and the road, but beware lest the 18-wheeled conveyance shalt flatten you.

“While we speaketh of that, many a high-spirited rider leapeth the curb and zippeth along the syde-walk where pedestrians do take refuge from the slings and arrows of the street. Rememberest that thou hast a vehicle and belongeth in the street. If you needs must go upon the syde-walk, I pray, dismount from your metal horse and walketh it beside the foot traffic. The exception is young children, who wobbleth too much to travel safely in the lane.

“When encountering others upon the road, whether afoot, in a carriage, or on cycles, it is well to alert them to thy presence with a bell and with devices that revealeth you to the eye, such as yonder magical lamps and bright, reflective clothing. You do not wish to surprise others.

“Betimes you come upon another cyclist who rideth slower than you do. Pray alert the other to your presence in a genteel manner and passeth safely upon the left. Some goeth around in a startling, loud manner or ridest amongst pedestrians to get around the leisurely obstacle.”

My knightly visitor then started to discourse upon the uncouthness of wearing skin-tight Lycra garments, so I was compelled to bring our interview to a close.


Advanced Tips on Cycle-Dog Relations

dogs-and-bikesTHE FUZZY brown object on the porch of the yellow house may look innocuous, like a bath mat or a discarded wig, but as I approach, it comes alive! The hairy monster barrels across the yard and onto Route 26 after me, barking and growling as he skitters at top speed for an out-of-shape canine. No amount of shouting “Go home!”, “Bad dog!”, or “Hey, fuzz-brain, I’m not a deer!” deters the mop-like menace.

As a rural cyclist, I’ve had my share of being chased by dogs, but this guy is the most persistent pursuer I’ve ever experienced. Cyclists are attractive to dogs because they’re just fast enough to trigger their chase instinct, not too slow for a challenge and not too fast (which is why cars at highway speeds elicit a response of “Why bother? Let me just bask on the porch.”) All of my other canine pursuers turn back upon hearing a human voice emerging from atop that tasty-looking metal deer with wheels, ashamed to be caught menacing a potential dispenser of food and petting. This scruffy adversary, however, is going to require more extreme measures. Here are some I’m considering.

One of my friends advised me to carry dog biscuits and toss them at the offender. Dogs think with their stomachs, so the enticing combination of food and something else to retrieve might keep the marauder at bay long enough for me to make my escape. There are several drawbacks, though: dispensing treats could reinforce the misbehavior (as Fido’s getting rewarded for trying to run you down), dog biscuits aren’t free, and it’s difficult to throw something while riding a bike (especially if you’re me).

Another friend of a more dour turn of mind (and Puritan heritage) suggested aversion rather than reward: a squirt gun. As soon as the enemy gets within range, I’d deploy the old water Uzi and give him a good high-pressure soaking. There are also holes to be poked in this method. Once again, it’s difficult to aim a water gun while riding (especially if it’s the “machine gun” type that requires two hands—and a delicate water pistol won’t pack the wallop necessary to discourage the dog), and this guy puts up with rain and hail to come after me, so I doubt it will dissuade him.

A host of others recommended communicating with the dog’s guardian. This ended up happening one morning when the dog started his usual Big Game Bike Hunt and I heard someone calling him. I stopped (whereupon he got hold of my trouser leg and worried it; so much for assuming he was just playing) and saw a lady in a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers holding another yipping, squirming bundle raring to get at me. I explained that her cute little pal has been chasing me daily. I don’t know how much she heard, as the offender was barking the whole time, once he’d decided not to rip up my pants or my leg. My words probably ended up sounding like “Your bark bark chasing bark bark day bark bark bark.” I could write a letter and stick it on her door…if the dog permits me to get that close to his domain.

If I had an inventive bent, I’d design a special ray gun that gave the dog an instant embarrassing haircut, at the same time removing the characteristic wet-hair-and-dead-frog odor dogs are so proud of. Until then, I can only resort to a journalist’s favorite weapon: embarrassment in print. (Alas, Fido has other uses for newspapers.)


Be Seen And Heard

Bike shirtStanding out may not be everyone’s favorite thing, but it’s essential when you’re a cyclist on roads designed for and occupied by larger, higher-speed vehicles. This truth finds its most tragic illustration in cycle-auto accidents where a motorist protests, “But I didn’t see the bicycle!” Being pilloried by second-grade classmates for wearing that beer-can-and-crochet vest sure wasn’t fun, but you want to shine forth on the road. Even if you don’t ride a double-height mutant bike, you need to be brightly lit and sonically equipped.

Bike lights come in two basic types: the ones that enable others to see you and the ones that allow you to see the road under the cover of darkness. If you ride on well-lit streets, you need only the first kind. If you ride on rural roads with minimal illumination, you need both. I ride with a 250 lumen front light (about as bright as a headlight), which reveals gravel and grit ahead as if it were daylight.

By law, cyclists riding at night need a white front light and a red rear light, both of which can be seen from at least 500 feet away. I prefer multiple rear lights, each with its own position (near your seat, on your rear rack, etc.) and flashing pattern. Check your batteries before hopping on; lights can fade out mid-ride and you won’t realize you’ve suddenly become the Invisible Cyclist. Some lights fasten to your axles so they flash every time the wheels turn (no batteries required), but they can get loose and rattle around, making you sound like an oncoming train (tighten before leaving your station). Be sure your lights aren’t blocked by bags on racks and other obstacles.

Bright, reflective clothing is crucial for rain, fog, and darkness. Water-resistant clothing designed for bicycling usually has reflective components in the right spots, but consider whether items like a backpack will cover them. (Recumbent riders, be aware that these items are designed for upright bikes; your seat may hide the reflective tape on the back of a jacket.) Clever accessories such as reflective or battery-powered flashing ankle bracelets keep baggy pants at bay and get you noticed.

Auditory recognition aids are most helpful for alerting pedestrians and other cyclists to your presence. Although I still ring my bike bell at unaware motorists emerging from parking lots, the combination of road noise, being enclosed, and the radio can conspire to mute that tinny sound. Some cyclists resort to loud horns, with the ultimate in sonic blasts being an air horn-like device fueled by a bike pump. (It might end up startling you more than the motorist, though.) Elders are more accustomed to bike bells than someone shouting “Oh your left!” However, some have high-frequency hearing loss, hence the attractiveness of a bell with a deeper tone. I’ve heard everything from cowbells to retro “oogah” horns. The one thing you don’t want is to rely on your squeaky chain or other untended components to notify others of your imminent arrival.

Being seen and heard extends beyond the road itself. Whenever community meetings touch upon road design and maintenance, a cycling contingent needs to make its presence felt to ensure that new or expanded transportation corridors take the non-motorized population into account. I’ve found community planners to be open to pedestrian and cycling concerns, and a positive attitude and focus on safety can win over avowed non-cyclists. That SUV-driving politician might even dust off the 1960s clunker and roll up behind you…with a flashlight and a doorbell tied onto the handlebars.


Stuff On My Bike

Delibike in Buenos AiresUnless you can pull whatever you need out of a space-time pocket, you’re going to carry things on your bike. An array of options exist—not including the Star Trek transporter—for every kind of cargo and every kind of cyclist.

The schlepping options start with the cyclist’s own body. For small to medium loads, my preference is for a backpack equipped with a hydration bladder. It’s easier for me to get to the hose valve thingy than a bike-mounted water bottle while riding, and the water-carrying capacity is greater. Messenger bags are a fashionable riding accessory, but I gravitate to the backpack for its even weight distribution. Look for cyclist-specific models with padded straps, durable materials, and a waist and sternum strap to keep your load from sloshing around as you climb the hills.

You can save yourself a backache by making the cycle rather than you do the carrying. Cheapest is the shopping-bags-on-the-handlebars experience, but this awkward method can result in bruises, broken bags, and bags getting tangled in gears or spokes. A rack is a low-profile system: you can strap a package on top or mount panniers on either side. Be sure to obtain a rack that fits your cycle and panniers that fit that rack—it’s annoying to smack into your luggage as you pedal. The heavier the load, the more you’ll have to work to stay in balance, so be careful when stopping, starting, and turning.

Racks often come with elastic bands to attach your load. I always add a couple of Bungee cords going in different directions so I can keep my load stable all around. Bumps in the road can jolt your cargo loose, so wiggle it around before you start riding to check for stability. We often find nice outerwear because it slipped off somebody’s rack.

Baskets are a classic style. The shape keeps loads stable, but they can’t be too huge or you lose the advantage of the basket’s multi-sided design for keeping stuff in place. On my recumbent bike, I have a sturdy metal basket mounted behind my seat. On my folding bike, I have a rack, which doesn’t get in the way of folding the bike.

Cycle trailers are an excellent choice for handling big loads, whether you’re going on a tour, taking dogs or little children along, or transporting colossal items like building materials. There are many different kinds available. I have a trailer designed for carrying cargo but not living beings, which I’ve used for shopping trips. It carries up to 100 pounds of groceries. Any time you’re significantly laden (with trailer or panniers), remember to give extra room for stopping and turning.

The ultimate pack mule is a cycle that’s designed to carry things, whether it’s the nifty (and pricey) imported Bakfiets (“bucket bicycle,” an extra-long cycle with a bucket in the center that holds small trees, groceries, or children) or custom-designed recycled bikes used to bring take-out food to customers, which incorporate a big container. I’ve never ridden one of these land yachts, but suffice it to say that they require specialized gearing systems to get moving—and once that’s taken care of, you can schlep mattresses across town with a smile and minimal perspiration. (Be aware of your extra length and width, though; you will stick out into the road.)

Horses, elephants, camels, and other big creatures are wonderful beasts of burden the world over, but nothing beats a bike that can do the same thing…and it’s not going to search your pockets for sugar cubes.


Mile-High Cycling (and Beyond)

Every few years, Seth and I visit his family in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. Boulder has a well-designed system of cycling lanes and trails, including the fantastic Boulder Creek Path, a scenic pedestrian/cycle path that connects riders and strollers to different parts of the city with minimal contact with motorized traffic. Since Boulder receives sun much of the year, a sizable outdoors-loving population (including students at a big Colorado University campus) keeps the city cycle-friendly. The roads leading from town to the mountains also make for enjoyable recreational rides.

Much as all of these inviting features cause these cycle commuters to get excited about our periodic visits to the Rockies, one factor always gives us pause: the altitude. It’s a challenge, to say the least, to make the transition from our coastal home, rich in sea-level (and sea-smelling) oxygen, to the rarefied heights of the mountain West. Should you be considering a similar adventure, I would like to share my alpine riding wisdom with you. Please note, however, that the following suggestions are general in nature and are not medical advice. For recommendations suited to your individual health history, please speak with your health care provider.

Soon after you hop off the train, plane, or bus and start breathing that bracing mountain air, you’ll notice how thin it is. Adjust your plans accordingly, giving yourself time to acclimatize. On your first day at a higher elevation, go at a leisurely pace and set the distance bar low. You’ll notice that hills that seem mere hiccups of the landscape at home become epic Everest-like ascents, so instead of chastising yourself for being out of shape or anxiously checking for flat tires, be aware of this physiological response and treat yourself kindly. This is all the more important if you have a load to carry, when you’re going to be working harder anyway.

Your body compensates for the decreased oxygen by cranking up red blood cell production in the bone marrow and releasing more of these oxygen-carrying cells into the bloodstream to deliver their load to hard-working muscles and other tissues. Remember to drink lots of water (don’t wait until you’re thirsty—you’re already starting to get dehydrated then), as you need to increase your fluid volume to transport all these new blood cells around. An electrolyte replacement beverage can be handy in these often hot, arid places. Hematopoiesis (the process of making red blood cells) also demands protein, so carry along some nuts, seeds, salmon jerky, or other favorite protein-rich foods.

Acute mountain sickness is a common response to altitude changes. The symptoms, which tend to occur within ten hours of getting high…up, include headaches, nausea, lightheadedness or dizziness, thirst, and sore muscles. If you can, sleep at a lower altitude than you ascend to during the day. All of these signs indicate that your body is adjusting to the new environment, and they should resolve within a day or two. Rarer but more serious altitude-related illnesses include high-altitude pulmonary edema (AMS symptoms plus shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, and muscle pain and weakness) and high-altitude cerebral edema (AMS symptoms plus a more severe headache, loss of coordination, and changes in consciousness—either loss of consciousness or delirium). These two illnesses are life-threatening and require immediate medical treatment.

Now that you’re well hydrated, tossing back those almonds, and not scolding yourself for a pokey pace, you’re ready to enjoy your ride into the sky. Just be careful: singing lyrics from “The Sound of Music” as you ride may be illegal in some areas.


A Bicycle Goes On Vacation

ColumellaHELLO, I’M COLUMELLA, a workhorse commuting bicycle who contends stoically with the worst wind, rain, hail, junk in the road, and ugly pavement the North Coast can throw at me. When my rider told me we were going on a weekend trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, I spun at the opportunity! Vacation riding required some adaptations from a workaholic like me, though, so I had to prepare both mentally and physically.

First there was the weight issue. I’m a chunky folding cycle who’s used to carrying my rider and her lunch, work clothes, and water. This trip was the first time I wore panniers, which caused me to gain a few pounds and wrought havoc with my balance. That’s why you and your rider should practice with a load (whether it’s in panniers, a trailer, a big backpack, or some combination of these) before starting on your trip. Not only will this help you both to adapt to a different balance point, but you can also adjust the panniers, rack, and other things in case your rider gets whacked in the leg while pedaling or your fenders rub against your tires. If you have a two-sided packing system such as panniers, be sure your rider puts items of roughly equal weight on each side so you don’t list to port or starboard and send the rider overboard.

Cruising under a load also alters your braking and hill-riding experiences. Because you’re now Atlas shouldering the weight of the world, your rider will need more time to stop (and with the extra bulginess, it’s also easier for him or her to fall over if you come to a quick halt). You’ll also speed down hills and need to use lower gears to crawl uphill. A long trip with lots of ups and downs ideally calls for a cycle suited to such terrain. Luckily, none of the hills we traversed were especially steep, for I don’t come equipped with many gears.

Once I got used to the idea of recreation, I enjoyed my vacation. Vancouver Island is beautiful, and the city of Victoria is bicycle heaven: you can ride in the street and motorists don’t crowd you, and the dedicated walking-riding Galloping Goose Trail provides a nice connecting route throughout the city and its environs. I got to cruise past magnificent scenery on highways where cycles are permitted on the wide shoulders, and signs aimed at us direct us on and off the highway and onto local bikeways. I had one phobic moment crossing a metal bridge, but a sign reassured me and my rider of our right to stay in the center lane and not get passed by motor vehicles. Amazingly, we never collected the honks, rude gestures, and yelling we’ve gotten all too familiar with on our daily rounds while sharing the road with other vehicles.

The ferry from Port Angeles, Washington to Vancouver Island was also cycle-friendly. After twiddling my chain on a customs line, I was rewarded with a front-row seat from a bike rack on the bow of the ferry to smell the salt air (extra lube helped my sensitive components to avoid the bike equivalent of a sunburn), watch a humpback whale spout, spy-hop, and dive, bask in the admiration of other passengers who’d never seen folding bikes, and flirt with a sleek touring bike who shared the rack with me.

Next year, I hope to take a longer jaunt. Until then, I’ll roll alongside the RVs and log trucks while dreaming of new pavement beneath my wheels.


Screaming Mimis

CYCLING IS a source of multisensory pleasures: the crisp diamond-on-fire fragrance of autumn leaves, the melodies of birds, the soft peach radiance of early morning sunlight on grass in seed… Then there are the less pleasant sensory influences: the searing scents of burning trash, the ragged horizon line left by clearcuts, and that most dreadful of summertime road noises, the screamers.

Screaming MimisA phenomenon of warm weather, increased visitation, and youthful high spirits without the benefit of complete myelination of the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that gives us insight and good judgment), the screamer is a motor-vehicle passenger who sees a cyclist ahead and thinks it’s the height of
hilarity to roll down his or her window and yell. I don’t know what goes on in the swampland of these individuals’ brains—they probably think putting toothpaste on the toilet seat for midnight pit stops will impress a new partner—but their high-decibel hijinks are startling and can cause accidents.

The screamers usually zoom by too fast for me to hear what they’re shouting, but as far as I can tell, many of them just scream incoherently—sound and fury, signifying nothing. Occasionally, someone vents his or her rage at having to share the road with me by exhorting me to perform acts impos- sible with a human anatomy and while on a bike. Mostly the goal seems to be to shock the hell out of me and cause me to land in a ditch.

There’s no defense against screamers except to be aware of the situations that attract them: hot-weather weekends when people from inland want to cool off at the coast, any activity happening in the region that attracts the incompletely myelinated members of the community (such as Fourth of July fireworks: why pass up an opportunity to watch things explode?), and the traffic congestion that tends to arise at these times. Screamers often bleat out their battle cry when moving slowly enough for them to be heard, yet not so slowly that you can catch up to them and exchange choice words. The more frustrated people get at being stuck in traffic (and watching a cyclist breeze by next to them), the more likely these delightful individuals are to take it out on the handy target.

With all of this in mind, keep alert to vehicles that come close to the shoulder so they can fire off their verbal missiles, as well as for erratic, speedy driving and the other lapses in judgment common to Homo screamaticus. These folks are probably already tailgating the elder in the land yacht in front of them, brawling over the choice of radio stations, and tossing beer cans onto the shoulder. If you see that kind of thoughtless stuff happening in your rear-view mirror, brace yourself for potential misbehavior toward you.

Should an approaching driver bellow at you, try not to let your alarm translate into movement until they’re past so you don’t end up in a car’s path or a culvert. Then you can defuse the startlement by doing what animals do when they escape a frightening situation: shake off and do a little screaming of your own (as long as this doesn’t endanger you). Alas, as long as there are obnoxious people, there will be screamers, but you can protect yourself from being injured by staying alert to approaching vehicles and keeping in control of your own, even as your temper flares at this nasty act.

Then again, maybe you can toss at them the myelin they so desperately need.


Construction Reconstructed

Bike Madame construction photoWITH THE arrival of longer, brighter, drier days, many things spring out of our super-saturated ground: flowers, giant slugs, lichen-studded RVs, and bright orange construction cones. To paraphrase The Canterbury Tales, the sweet breezes of Zephyrus entice people to don neon yellow vests, hoist stop/slow signs over their shoulders, and rip up the roads near you.

Road repairs benefit cyclists by filling in epic potholes, re-painting bike lane stripes (discouraging bulky vehicles from entering our sanctum), and adding amenities such as buttons you can press to indicate our presence in a tunnel or on a bridge. However, the confusion generated by detours, shoulder closures, flaggers, loud equipment, and other features not usually present on the road can present (literal) roadblocks to a smooth ride.

Because construction zones alter traffic patterns and present all road users with obstructions to a clear view of what’s ahead or to the side, it’s doubly important to be visible when your route takes you through these areas of asphalt upheaval. Road crews wear bright, reflective clothing; so should you! Your lane might be full of cones and equipment and drivers might not see you as easily with all that clutter. Avoid the temptation of weaving in and out of the stuff in the bike lane; when you pop out, you might startle someone.

Choke points like bridges and tunnels already force cyclists to get up close and personal with motorized vehicles. With construction, these pinch points can show up abruptly, without giving motorists much time to react to your presence in the lane (especially given some people’s tendency to enter a trance while driving or riding). Use your judgment about each individual spot. Some places have enough visibility that you can get into the lane when cars are approaching in the distance and drivers will be able to see you. Others have low visibility, so it’s better to wait until the speedy vehicles have passed.

Bike lanes and shoulders are notorious for collecting strange, often sharp objects, but construction zones abound in unique flotsam: scoops detached from back-hoes, giant drill bits, exotic strains of gravel, pulverized concrete bits… Be on the lookout for these threats to your tires and let the wacky variety of space-alien artifacts entertain you!

Miscellaneous construction hazards include loud sounds (like those huge things that pound the earth, for what reason I don’t know), flying debris (a big piece of gravel from a paving truck hit my shoulder once), and slick or oily roads (a new road often gets a good scrubbing to start the day). I’ve considered taking earplugs for those earth-pounders.

My favorite thing about riding through a construction zone is having the opportunity to chat with the workers. Route 26 played host to a construction crew for a month this spring and while waiting for our lane’s chance to go forth, Seth and I got to know the regular flaggers, Bonnie and Kim. We only got to converse for a few minutes at a time, but it felt wonderful to hear them say over their walkie-talkies to the flagger on the other end, “The last vehicle is a blue Honda, and then there are Margaret and Seth on their bikes.” When we arrived on the other side, the flagger always cheered us on as if we’d just won the Tour de France.

Construction areas require extra alertness and care, but they result in more pleasant roads for all…and you can even make friends and influence people (Bonnie’s considering riding her bike to work now!).


Triumph Over Lycra: When Commuters Get the Urge to Compete

At the sight of a brightly colored, faster-than-light object growing larger in my rear-view mirror, I resign myself to being passed by a competition cyclist excited to be on the road after a winter confined to indoor training. My husband, Seth Goldstein, has a different reaction. Deep in his normally mild-mannered brain, a velocity gland releases a chemical that smells like burning rubber and activates the urge to race with the jet-propelled rider.

Riding and racing vintage styleHaving spent his youth training with Olympic cycling hopefuls and endowed with a greyhound’s physique, Seth is equipped to give the speedsters a run for their money. I, on the other hand, travel at a single speed—cruising—all day with no ill effects or need for glowing green energy-renewing concoctions.

If the need for speed comes upon you at the approach of a human missile, here are Seth’s tips for coming in first and defending the honor of commuters everywhere.

Shift strategically. For me, shifting gears has always been a pragmatic matter: lower gears for going uphill or fighting wind and higher gears for going downhill or cruising on flats. As the masters of spin like Seth know, using a lower gear, and hence adopting a higher cadence, produces rapid acceleration. Upon reaching the desired speed, you can shift to a higher gear for more power—and less effort at maintaining your speed. Familiarizing yourself with your gears will yield the best combination for you.

Develop your cruising speed. Seth has found that many racers are sprinters: they’ll accelerate to zip by the pokey (or so they assume) commuter in waterproof clothing but then slow down once they’re a blur in the distance. Seth’s secret to keeping up is to train for endurance. Practice accelerating to a comfortable cruising speed and see how long you can keep it up. Your aim is to encourage your competitor to drop by the wayside because you can maintain that speed longer than he/she can. Depending upon the kind of race your Spandex-wearing compatriot is preparing for, as a commuter, you might already have an endurance edge from riding longer distances on a regular basis.

Practice tactical eating. A pre-ride meal that emphasizes complex carbohydrates (vegetables and fruits), protein, and healthy fat will give you the long-haul energy you need, but bring along something for a quick spurt of energy, such as dried fruits or an energy bar. (Always check with your health care provider before adopting a new diet.) The sprinting style of riding requires more frequent refueling so you can summon those reserves.

Stand up for yourself. When accelerating, Seth leans into his pedals for more power. If he’s on his recumbent bike, he sits back and pushes against the seat (counterintuitive for upright bike riders but ergonomic for a reclining bike). Leaning forward, rather than standing fully, can be enough to blast off without going off course if you have concerns about balance.

Alas, genetics plays a role. The aerodynamic people who zip by me (but not Seth) have more fast-twitch muscle fiber, which makes racing come naturally. Sports-specific training can improve your chances, but with my mesomorph body type and years of attempting to go faster than the “mellow” setting, I’ve accepted that cheetah cycling isn’t my forte. When the rainbow-colored projectile explodes over the horizon, I watch Seth take off and eventually catch up to him as he’s enjoying his well-deserved energy bar at the end of the impromptu competition.

Then there’s the jet pack you can purchase online…


Cycling Power to the People!

Bikes Theater ValetWhile waiting on line for the restroom at Powell’s City of Books, I perused some books on a nearby shelf. One offered an ironic critique of affluent urban fashionistas through their favorite objects (probably written by affluent urban fashionistas). Guess what one of the trendy accoutrements was? Yup, right up there with color-coordinated espresso makers was the humble bicycle.

I’ve seen this charge in other venues too: that cycling is an elite activity, while Everyman and –woman are ensconced behind the wheels of their salt-of-the-macadam autos. This notion fits a larger misperception that environmental friendliness is the preserve of the wealthy (at least until “green” stops being the latest style). My childhood experiences in rural Pennsylvania attest to the popular rather than elite origins of reusing items, reducing consumption (or not consuming much to begin with), and relying on low-tech solutions to the challenges of daily living…long before these common-sense ideas gained currency among Hollywood stars. The authors of that book might hold up pricey custom bikes as hipster accessories, but human-powered vehicles can be embodiments of the power of the people, for several reasons.

BIKES ARE CHEAP. Even if you go for that high-performance beast made out of NASA-approved materials, it’s still cheaper than a new car (and many used cars). Used cycles can be incredible bargains, especially if you’re a do-it-yourselfer. My father purchased a road bike from Goodwill for $8. I cleaned up the drive chain, replaced the busted tires and tubes, lubed and greased everything, and he was ready to roll. The replacement parts brought the total to under $50. You also don’t need to fuel the bike (and hopefully you’re fueling yourself anyway!) While a bike isn’t practical for a long commute, most people’s driving patterns (to and from nearby work and errands in the local area) are actually perfect for cycle travel. Just add a trailer and you can do most kinds of shopping (although building materials might be a challenge).

BIKES ARE EASY TO MAINTAIN AND REPAIR. Unlike a contemporary car, cycles are entirely mechanical (with some battery-powered accessories like lights). They also have few moving parts in comparison with a motorized vehicle. Therefore, even if the rider isn’t an engineer, he or she can do most routine maintenance and repairs. It’s rewarding to take maintenance matters into your own hands, and you can also make custom changes to fit your unique riding needs and experiences. What could be more empowering?

BIKES ENHANCE COMMUNITY LIFE. The slower speed of a bicycle, its complete openness to the surroundings, and many riders’ preferences for riding on less-traveled neighborhood streets, all make human-powered transportation an excellent way to enhance one’s participation in community life. It’s easier to wave to people and engage them in a brief conversation while cycling than while driving. (The construction workers on Route 26 know me by name.) Slower travel also means the rider notices more, including local issues that need to be addressed.

BIKES EXERT MINIMAL IMPACT ON INFRASTRUCTURE AND THE ENVIRONMENT. Cycles are the original zero-emissions vehicles, and their light weight means they don’t tear up roads like larger vehicles do. Dedicated non-motorized transit routes are excellent investments: they’re long-lasting (as pedestrians and cycles have a gentle footprint) and reduce air, water, and soil pollution by getting more people out of cars. Many people would like to ride but are concerned about the dangers of motorized traffic; pedestrian and bike corridors alleviate that problem and reduce those big-budget highway projects.

BIKES ARE FUN. And who couldn’t use more of that?


Dreams of an Amphibious Bicycle (and Other Odd Human-Powered Vehicles)

Amphibious bicycleIf the ditches turned Venetian canals at the side of the road and the curtain of rain were not enough, the flashing lights on that yellow “Check Out the Hideous Weather!” sign on Route 26 westbound confirmed that the floodplains south of Seaside had opened up their gates again. Upon arriving at the 26-101 junction, I would have to fold my bike and hop on the bus, since ODOT is careful not to let cyclists venture into the enhanced version of the Necanicum River, even with drysuits, snorkels, and/or scuba gear.

Waiting for the bus gives me ample time to fantasize about a cool amphibious bike. Imagine the niftyness: while ODOT employees are busy turning back drivers of small cars and SUVs are braving the wakes created by larger vehicles, I press a button, a raft hidden in the bike frame inflates, and I pedal gracefully atop the waters. Or maybe a hydrodynamic bubble forms around the bike and I cut through the water with the speed and sleekness of Jaws, except I’m not in search of tasty humans. Best of all, maybe wings emerge from either side of my seat and lift me high above the murky mess.

Inspiration emerges from my childhood in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where my neighbors on Heart Lake jerry-rigged a combination bicycle and paddleboat. They sat atop these funky contraptions and paddled around the lake. Alas, these unique conveyances would not do well in the Necanicum, as they are water-worthy but not roadworthy. (They did have cool low-rider ape-hanger handlebars, though—oh, those funky ‘70s!)

A search on my good friend the Internet provided me with more options for land-and-sea cycling, from the plausible to the outrageous. A You Tube video called “Amphibious Bike: The Ultimate All-Terrain Vehicle” shows an elder serenely crossing a tropical river on an ordinary road bike with pontoons attached to each wheel. After showing off how he can ride backward and do circles in the water, he emerges on the other side, to the acclaim of curious children, folds the pontoons into panniers, and hands the bike off to a young man, who returns to earthbound riding down a dirt path.

A sleeker version is the Amphibious Bicycle, a finalist for the 12th annual International Bicycle Design Competition, created by Chinese designers Bin Yu and Jian Wang. This stylish, streamlined vehicle converts from land to water use via extra wheels to either side of the terrestrial wheels—just inflate them and hit the waves.

A website called Good Design showcases a contraption by Li Weiguo of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, using the big water bottles from water coolers as pontoons. It’s propelled by his daughter, Li Jin, a smiling lady in bare feet and a skirt. (She gets extra points for staying dry on her way to work!) The (empty) water bottles lift out of the way to ride on the road. To power it through the water, instead of spokes, the rear wheel is equipped with weather vanes.

PSFK, another website focused on design, touts the Di-Cycle, a wacky-looking beast with two huge wheels that lean inward and a seat suspended between them. One uses joystick-like levers to steer. It’s the offspring of GBO Design of the Netherlands, a region even more familiar with flooding than ours.

After seeing how many of these vehicles were assembled out of ordinary materials and generic bikes by regular folks, I have no more excuses. Once my one-of-a-kind SurfBike hits 101 Lake, North Coast cyclists will truly rule the waves.