Wildcard Wednesday: Cycling

Since my next computer post isn’t ready yet, I think it’s time to kick off what Joey and I are calling

Wildcard Wednesday!

Basically it’s a time for us to break from our regularly-scheduled posts on fiscal responsibility and computing to talk about one of our other interests. But, I missed the deadline yesterday.  So our first Wildcard Wednesday post is on a Thursday.  Turns out blogging is harder than I thought haha.

Enough blabbering, let’s talk about Cycling!

The story begins in my preschool days when my Dad took me to the local bike trail. He had his favorite set of rollerblades, and I was kitted out with my first bike with some trusty training wheels. We’re having a blast and end up going too far for my little legs to get back. So Dad and his wheeled shoes end up pushing me and my little bike faster and faster, until suddenly we smell burning plastic. Turns out training wheels melt if you run them at Dad-on-rollerblade speeds. After a good laugh, he says, “well, I guess it’s time to take the training wheels off!” I got the hang of a 2-wheeler after a few lessons over the next few days, and I’ve been hooked on cycling ever since.

Types of Bikes

Photo of each type of bike
From Left to Right: My full-suspension Mountain Bike, Joey’s Road Bike, and my Hybrid Bike

There are 3 types of bikes: Mountain, Road, and Hybrid/Commuter. And I own one of each because I have a problem.1The number of bikes you need is n+1 where n is the number of bikes you currently own. Alternate form: n-1 where n is the number of bikes you own when your roommate kicks you out for having too many bikes.

Mountain bikes are off-road machines, designed to grip into mud and bounce over roots all day long. A good mountain bike will take the punishment of jumping off rocks and the vibrations of rough trails. These requirements mean heavy, durable frames, usually with front and sometimes rear shock absorbers. The tires are wide and grippy, and are usually kept a a low pressure of anywhere from 15-45 psi so the tire can deform to the irregular shape of a rock. They’re meant for slogging through mud or powering up a hill, the gearing on these bikes are typically really low making it slow but easier to go up hills. All this means heavy frames and inefficient tires. And, mountain bikes are set up for maximum short-burst power, so sitting geometry usually isn’t particularity comfortable for long rides. That said, all the equipment that makes riding over roots possible means riding these things in the city feels like riding on a cloud.

Road bikes are designed for long-distance, high-speed travel on smooth paved roads. All the parts of the bike are meant for maximum efficiency with super lightweight frames, handlebars promoting aerodynamic body shape, and hard tires with low rolling resistance. While these all make for a fast ride, it also makes for a relatively delicate bike with an extremely uncomfortable ride. Lightweight frames have no margin for shock absorption (except for really expensive ones), aerodynamic riding position means hunched over, and efficient tires means 100+ psi inflation pressures that are as hard as a rock. The small, thin tires are prone to (explosive) flats if you hit a pothole, and the pressures are so high you need a special compressed air canister to refill them after a roadside repair. The gearing is also typically very high, so going up hills are quite difficult. But if you can find a right type of road, these bikes are nimble, fast, and with a little training, you can easily go for miles and miles and miles.  Ultimately road bikes are like sports cars: an absolute blast to drive … if you have the space and ability to drive them properly.

Hybrid bikes, as you might expect, split the difference between efficiency and comfort. These are designed for the paved city streets with potholes. Their tires are somewhere between soft mountain bike tires and efficient road bike tires. The frames typically have some shock absorption qualities built in, either through mountian-bike style fork shocks or crazy geometry in the frame itself. They probably won’t set any speed records, and will be fairly useless once the pavement ends, but the upright seating position will keep you unstressed for your whole ride.

My commuter bike is more mountain than road: it has big wide tires, hill-climbing gearing, and a heavy steel frame with shocks. But unlike a Mountain bike, my tires have flat, efficient tread that I keep inflated to a respectable 60 psi. I find that between the wide tires and the middling pressure, I can get reasonable efficiency without having to worry about blowing a tire at every pothole.

If you’re taking Joey’s advice and getting a bike for city commuting, I highly recommend looking for a hybrid bike. If you can’t find one, go for a mountain bike. The extra durability and comfort will be more important to get you into the cycling habit than top speed or maximum range.

Safety

Bicyclists are considered pedestrians, but that doesn’t mean you should follow the same rules as a walker. So, here are the tips that I use on a daily basis.

1) Ride on the Street

Ooh, starting right off with a controversial one.  In my opinion, if you are going faster than a jogger, you have no right to be on the sidewalk. Many people, including Joey, don’t agree with this statement, but in my 15 years of cycling experience, I have had far more close calls riding on the sidewalk than I have riding on the street despite almost never riding on sidewalks. Drivers are looking for other cars on the roads, not for someone riding 15+ mph on the sidewalk.

If you’re going for a ride or commuting, always plan your route. Look for back roads, roads with shoulders or protected bike lanes, and try to cross major roads at a traffic light. A little planning might make your ride a little longer, but it’ll be far safer, and far more enjoyable.

2) Follow Every Rule of the Road

Riding on the street is safer only if you follow the rules. I think the vast majority problems while sharing the road stem from someone, whether cyclist or car, broke a rule of the road. My Dad always said “Pretend you’re a car”. If you’re in a car, do you cut across 4 lanes of traffic? Hop between the sidewalk and the road? Drive on the wrong side of the road? Blow through red lights or stop signs? Of course not! So why would that ever be acceptable on a bike? Crashes happen when people do the unexpected, so be predictable by following the rules.

Beyond that, always make your intentions clear by using hand signals to show where you’re going. And I don’t mean the stupid ones you learned in driving school.  If you’re going Left, stick your whole Left arm out straight to your side.  Going Right? Right arm out straight to your side.  Simple and unambiguous.

3) Make Eye Contact

Crashes happen when someone does something unexpected. So start predicting the future. Make eye contact with the drivers at intersections when you have the right-of-way. If you make eye contact, the driver has acknowledged your presence and you can take the right of way. If they’re not looking at you, get ready to stop. This is a bit of a simple one, but I use it every day.

4) Be Seen

For the love of god all things secular and non-vulgar, do not wear dark clothing while riding at night. Don’t wear grey clothes when it’s cloudy or raining. Lights are important, but are absolutely not a replacement for dressing to be seen.  Definitely not riding at night? Sure, wear black. Beautiful sunny day? Wear grey to your heart’s content. Don’t want to take 2 seconds to match your shirt to the day’s weather? Then get a high-vis water-resistant jacket for riding in the rain or your commute home during winter. I have one that I carry around all the time in case of unexpected rainstorms or overtime.

Next, make sure you have a white reflector on your handlebars, a red one somewhere on the rear of the bike, white ones on both wheels, and yellow/orange ones on your pedals. Make sure you match the color standard of cars so drivers are not confused which way you’re facing.  Make sure they’re clean (so light an actually reflect) and unobstructed. Obviously these only work at night, but they are a foolproof failsafe safety device for night riding.

Finally, get some lights with different flashing modes. You’ll want one mode that’s mostly off that blinks on very brightly for daytime use, and another mode that’s mostly on that blinks off for night use.2I am quite fond of my Cygolite 450 (~$40 on Amazon) and Knog Blinder taillight (~$18 on Amazon).  They’re a little on the pricey side, but they are extremely bright, USB rechargeable, and have both the modes I talk about here. Why the different modes? In broad daylight, you’re pretty easy to see. The flashing lights brings the motorists’ attention to you, then they can easily see where you are as they pass. Constant light is pretty easy to filter out during broad daylight, so it doesn’t help much with visibility. Now, at night, the opposite is true. Here, the light is more to broadcast your position than to grab attention, so use a mostly on mode with some small attention grabbing off-blinks. A super bright flashing light will certainly grab their attention, but actually makes it more difficult to focus on where you actually are and will put you at a higher risk.

tl;dr:

  1. Road bikes are like enthusiast cars; occasionally rewarding, but usually persnickety and maintenance-heavy
  2. If you’re in the market for a first bike, find a hybrid if you can, mountain bike otherwise
  3. Riding on the street and following the rules of the road is safer than the sidewalk
  4. Flashing lights are important to safety, but dressing visibly is more so

Well, that finishes up our first Wildcard Wednesday Thursday. What do you think about riding on the road? And how do you like this off-topic post? Let us know in the comments below!  Or don’t.  I’m not your dad.

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