Spring is coming!* Bike saddle sales will be booming soon!
* Well, hopefully.
Every spring lots of people go to bike shops looking for more comfortable bicycle seats. That’s not because their old saddles have become suddenly very uncomfortable but because their soft parts aren’t used yet to riding
Your body touches your bike in three points: your butt, your feet and your hands. Your body weight is distributed between these three points and if the weight isn’t distributed well, one of those three areas will start causing problems that may affect various parts of your body and cause discomfort and pain and make you miserable.
Perhaps many of you just want to take a break from cycling after riding to work every day, but if you want to do something more serious and interesting with your bike on weekends, here is an idea: bike touring. It’s Summer and chances are that your commuter bike is already equipped to handle short tours. I’m not a terribly experienced tourer myself, but that’s kind of why I’m saying this: it doesn’t take lots of experience, fancy gear and lots of time-off to have a bike adventure. If you have a rear rack and some panniers, you’re good to go.
Before talking about securing a bike I’d like to put forward four ideas that might help you deal with bike theft more efficiently.
First, there is no such thing as complete “theft prevention“. You can’t “prevent” theft any more than you can “prevent” accidents or illnesses. You can minimize the chances of something bad happening, but you can’t prevent it entirely. Given enough time, skills, determination and the right tools anything can be broken into, cracked, cut, and stolen. Theft deterrent is a better term and a better strategy too. What you want to aim at is not a total elimination of any possibility of theft, since that is impossible, but at making your bike difficult enough, and undesirable enough, so that chances are the thief would pass it and move to an easier and more valuable target. Basically, a bike *will* be stolen, you just want to make sure it’ll be somebody else’s bike, not yours. It’s blunt, it’s harsh, but that’s what it comes down to.
Cycling as a therapy for depression?
Well, this is not really directly related to commuting by bicycle, but I felt strongly that I need to share this. It is about how cycling is beneficial to your mental health.
Even if you don’t suffer from depression, cycling may improve your mental well-being or, perhaps, you might know someone who struggles with depression and you might help them out a bit.
The exact numbers are not known, mainly because many who suffer don’t understand what is happening to them and never seek help, but many sources believe that as many as 70% of Americans may be suffering from some sort of mood or mental disorder, mostly depression and/or anxiety or related or unrelated sleep problems, but only a fraction of those ever get diagnosed and treated. About 17% of Americans are officially diagnosed with anxiety, mild or major depression (6% for major depression).
This is a long write up including some science but I want to build up a good case for my claim that cycling improves your mental health.
Please read my “How to stay clean and fresh at work after a bicycle commute” article before reading this, as I will make some references to that.
If you follow my advice on staying clean and fresh after the commute you may be more susceptible to winter itch. That’s because washing your body frequently removes your skin’s natural oils and dries it out. Also, if you apply rubbing alcohol to your skin it will dry it even more. Applying rubbing alcohol and deodorants to skin that is already dried out may lead to rash, itching and skin damage.
This is not much of an instructional, but more of an inspirational article When you ride your bike through the city, you really see the world around you differently. When was the last time you thought on your commute “wow, look at that, that’s pretty cool!” ” or “wow, that’s pretty”. Words “cool” and “pretty” aren’t normally associated with your daily commute, are they? Yet, when on a bike, you can find those moments and they’re very calming and good for your mind and can set you in a great mood for the day.
Suggested readings before you read this article, in order to familiarize yourself with my philosophy and general attitudes as well as to become more familiar with some bike commuting related concepts: Welcome to NYC Bike Commuter, Introduction to Bicycle Commuting, The Purpose of this Site, Defensive Cycling, NYS Traffic Laws Applicable to Cyclists and We’re vulnerable, don’t rush.
I always like to be prepared
It’s the way my head works. I may on occasion get up early on a weekend and go for unplanned hike or bike ride, but that’s one trip that takes few hours. Everything that takes longer or becomes a repeated task for a prolonged periods of time, I prefer to plan for. I don’t believe that throwing a person out of a boat in the middle of a lake is the best way to teach them how to swim. Of course, not everything works as planned all the time either, but it’s definitely worth trying.
Commuting by bicycle, if the distance is more than two miles and/or involves bridges, busy roads and difficult intersections needs some preparations to make sure you can pull it off safely and not become instantly discouraged. It’s actually more likely that you will get discouraged for other reasons, than get hurt in an accident. Getting discouraged is very easy, and it’s very hard to get back. There are thousands of bikes sitting in basements, attics and garages that saw few miles of pavement before their owners gave up because they did everything wrong.
How to ride a bicycle on public roadways defensively and safely
I will discuss here some general philosophy, attitudes and defensive riding techniques that I refer to as defensive cycling, which in principle is similar to defensive driving, and I act on the road according to these myself, well… most of the time
ANSI/ASSE Z15.1, defines defensive driving as “driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others.” Just replace “driving” with “cycling” and this is pretty much it. Since a lot what is happening around is a result of other people’s actions you need to sharpen your sense of awareness and observation skills, stay focused, but relaxed, avoid problems before they happen and remain calm.
People become bike commuters gradually.
I think most people become bike commuters gradually, starting little by little, on and off, with what they have. Very few wake up in the morning and decide “I’m buying a commuter bike today and I’ll be riding to work from now on”. It’s a process, kind of organic: as the rider learns and evolves the bike evolves with him or her. As they ride day after day they find things that need to be replaced, modified or added.
At first, most people try riding in a nice weather, during the day so the need for fenders, lights or rain clothing isn’t there in the beginning. They ride on knobby tires until it occurs to them, or someone points it out to them, than smoother tires would make riding on pavement easier.
A cyclist should behave like a car and obey the same rules when riding on public streets
There is a lot of confusion and emotions among the cyclist, drivers and pedestrians when it comes to cyclists and the traffic laws. It’s really simple though: we, the cyclists, are supposed to know the laws and obey them. Ignorance of the law is not a legal excuse. Just because you didn’t know that certain action is illegal it doesn’t mean the judge will drop the charges.
The sad truth is that most cyclists in NYC are clueless when it comes to how the traffic laws apply to them or just plain ignore them “because they can”. The usual response is “The car drivers break the laws all the time, why should cyclists care?” The answer? Because the driver is enclosed in a metal cage and what for them may be just a fender-bender, for a cyclist may mean serious body injury or death. We don’t have a metal cage separating us from the traffic. We should do all we can do assure our safety, and among other things knowing and respecting the traffic laws is one thing that can help.
Cyclists and pedestrians are quite different actually, but they share one significant characteristic: we’re all vulnerable and cars present a great danger to all of us.
I really wish that cyclists and pedestrians would show more respect for one another. We’re kind of on the same boat: we have enough hard time dealing with the motorized traffic but on top of that we’re mean and disrespectful to each other. When I make a turn at an intersection I need to look out for turning cars as well as pedestrians waiting off-the-curb for the light to change. It’s really unsafe. How much time do you gain by stepping out into the street? This works the other way around as well: when the pedestrians have a green light they still need to worry about turning cars and distracted drivers blowing the light, why adding to the mess by speeding on your bike through the crowd? If a cyclist collides with a pedestrian they can both get hurt.
A good way to experience the City from your bike saddle
NYC annual Summer Streets event is a good way to experience the City from your bike saddle, sans the insane traffic. I’ve heard from several people that last year’s Summer Streets was the event that got them back into cycling. Some of them are regular commuters by now!
This event takes place during three consecutive Saturdays in August from 7am til 1pm. During this time Park Avenue is closed to motor traffic all the way up to Central Park. There is also a traffic-free connection through Soho and Chinatown down to the Brooklyn bridge. Unfortunately, there are no traffic-free connections to the other East River bridges. Check out the 2010 event map. Please note that several major cross streets are still opened and you will have to stop when directed by the Police to let the cars pass through.
There are rest stops set up along the route and several activities are available, for more information see this DOT page. However, you can stop and rest wherever you feel like it. But the additional activities are only available at the designated rest stops.
Fenders are not just for rainy days.
Fenders are not just to protect you from what’s falling on you. They’re to protect you from what your tires pick up and throw up at you. That includes more than just water, sludge and mud. That includes dog poo, urine, vomit, chemicals spilled on the pavement, oil, grease, pieces of roadkill, basically anything you wouldn’t want to step into when walking as well as small debris and pebbles and those hot, sticky bits of asphalt and tar we see in big cities in Summer.
The rear fender prevents the above stuff from being thrown onto your back and your head by the rear tire and the front fender protects your face, eyes, hand, legs and front from the same being thrown up by your front tire. Did you really think that the puddles contain just water? Silly you!
You’re a commuter, not a racer!
In order to have a decent, safe and comfortable commute you need to set yourself free from the obsession with weight and looks. Remember, you’re riding for utility, you want to get to work in a safe and comfortable manner while keeping your belongings dry and secure. A proper commuter bike is heavier and slower than most: it has a beefier frame and wheels and has more equipment and accessories mounted on it. In reality 10lbs difference in bike weight is not a huge deal. Look at the bright side: after riding your 40lbs commuter to work for a week, you will be flying on your 20lbs road bike on the weekends! Commuting is a great training for other forms of biking: road cycling, mountain biking or touring. Also, as you get into commuting you will be able to make changes to suit your particular riding style.
How to carry your stuff depends on what you actually need to carry, how long your commute is and whether you’ll be riding in all kinds of weather. If your ride is short and you only ride in nice, dry weather your requirements will be different from someone who will be riding longer distances and in all kinds of weather.
Types of bicycle bags
There are few basic categories that bicycle bags fall into. I’m partial to Axiom products so I will use images and links to Axiom’s product website to illustrate. I hope it’s OK with them. I like Axiom products because they offer a great value. They’re just as good as some bags that cost twice as much.
As a general theme of my articles I will focus on more affordable solutions. Ortlieb, Arkel and Carradice target more of the hardcore touring cyclists that require the ultimate reliability, although they have some nice commuter offerings. If you don’t mind the price you can’t go wrong with them. But for an average commuter Axiom, Topeak, Nashbar and MEC are a great value and their quality is by no means low.
These bags can, of course, be combined in any way you’d like. You may have one large bag or several smaller ones. It depends entirely on your needs.
Let’s start with smaller bags that do not require any racks, bags that can be attached directly to your bike.
Some folks are lucky to have showers at work. Most of bike commuters probably do not have such luxury. The fear of being stinky and uncomfortable at work or at school is one of top few reasons why people are afraid of bike commuting. Fortunately, there is a way to deal with this problem.
One possibility is to find a gym nearby. Many gyms would allow you to use their facilities for a small fee. If you can do that, the problem is solved.
But what to do if you don’t have access to any shower whatsoever? What if the only thing available to you is a restroom? Lucky for us most workplaces have restrooms. A restroom and a sink will suffice.