What to listen for on your next bike ride

WHEN YOU RIDE A BIKE THERE ARE MANY interesting sounds that seep into your ears if you’re paying attention. Sounds that you normally never hear while motoring in a car or even taking a short walk. Take a nice long ride on your bike and pay attention to the symphony of life that is all around you.

Here are a few things I hear while riding my bike

Nature. I ride on several rural or tree lined roads in NE Florida that are teeming with wildlife. I get to experience squirrels chattering, birds singing, the screech of a hawk flying high above, the sound of horse hooves running in the corral next to me, rabbits running through the brush, and other animals including deer and the occasional alligator, and they all make noises that add to nature’s choir.


Children playing. When my ride is nearing its end, I make a final turn near my house where there’s a school yard. There’s nearly always children playing outside on the playground. There’s really nothing that can compare to a yard full of kids running, swinging, sliding, laughing and having fun together. To me it sounds like pure joy.

Commerce. I often hear jets and small aircraft flying overhead, boat horns signaling to open the drawbridge, and the ferry blowing its air horn as it departs the dock. I also hear trains clicking down the tracks, and train signals at crossings.


Voices. When I ride through the historic part of San Marco, I often stop at a red light near a restaurant with umbrellas and sidewalk dining. For a moment or two I can eavesdrop on conversations and hear the laughter of people enjoying one another’s company while sharing a meal.

Wind. I love the white noise of the wind rushing past my ears. Headphones or earbuds have become a fashion accessory these days, forcing media into your ears nonstop. I enjoy a break from the noise, a break from music, a break from the screams of advertising. Listening to the wind is a welcome relief.

My bike. When I get farther out of town I hear things closest to me. I hear bike tires rolling on pavement, chain movement when I shift gears, and the clicking of a coasting rear hub.

Me. I hear my breath. I enjoy listening to my breathing. When it’s deep and clear, I feel like I’ve done something good for my body. When its raspy or strained, like after having a cold, I know I am working to make myself well again.

Take a nice long ride or your bicycle, leave the earbuds at home, and pay close attention to the myriad sounds you’ll hear. You will gain a renewed sense of community, and it may even bring back some memories of when you rode your bike as a kid. The sounds of life are happening all around you. The symphony is free of advertising and the sounds just may renew your spirit.

A cycling trip to Moab, UT (Part 2)

Click here for Part 1.

MOAB, UTAH IS VISITED EVERYDAY BY PEOPLE FROM around the world. The Moab Century Tour is no different. There were riders from lots of interesting places, making it a great experience. We met several of them the night before the ride at Moab Brewery. We talked it up, got ourselves psyched for the event, then turned-in early -- sort of.

We didn’t really sleep well, and were awake and getting prepared for the ride before dawn.


As I said earlier (in Part 1) I’m “Mr. Prepared”, most of the time. For this ride I had my bike clean, adjusted, new tires, and with the necessary tools, clothing, food and hydration. But there were a few things I overlooked.

  • I should have considered appropriate gearing for the ride. Either a change to a triple crank or a bigger cog on the cassette, or both.
  • I should have trained more, and better.
  • I should have rewrapped my handlebars with some cushion under the tape.
  • I should have had a better, earlier breakfast.


At day break we were ready to ride. My son, Barry (a 34 year old Recon Marine) and I rode down to the starting line about a mile north of where we were staying. My other son, Sean, a commercial pilot, had the important job of managing our gear and taking some photos of our adventure. The morning air was cool, somewhere in the mid-40s.

At the start location we were pointed in the right direction by the officials, and we were off for a day of riding in Canyon Lands National Park. For years I’ve know that it takes me about 10-miles to get my body warmed up, my lungs functioning easily, and feeling comfortable and confident.

On this day, I didn’t get my 10-mile warmup
Right out of the gate we began climbing. A long upward trudge, at times gradual and at times steep. For nearly 10-miles we climbed on a trail that ran parallel to the highway. Within 15-minutes I was breathing deep, my heart racing at 170 bpm, and within 30-minutes my lungs were on fire.


I’ve ridden my bike in numerous states, including Arizona, and I’ve never had my lungs burn as they did on this ride. My throat soon felt raw also. The throat pain was exacerbated by a canker sore located far back in my mouth. That pain made sense, but the burning lungs concerned me. My only explanation was the huge differential in humidity. Florida summers were often in the 90% range, and on this ride, we started out at less than 20%. Additionally, this ride started out at around 3000 feet of elevation and climbed from there. And did I mention it was windy?

Surprisingly, we found the first rest stop as close as 10-miles out, and what a relief it was! I got off the bike and spent about five minutes getting my breathing and heart rate back to normal, and stretching the tightness out of my quads.


The next leg was painful
Back on the bike we started the next section of the ride, a 22-mile stretch up to Dead Horse Point State Park. I could see the incline ahead of us. It looked manageable. Then about a mile in, there was a road sign that read: Steep Climbs Ahead. I thought, really? We need a road sign to tell us about a climb? I had never seen a warning like that before. Well, around the next turn I began to understand. We were about to climb several leg-busting grades.

Once again my legs were feeling the strain. Barry was struggling too, but his drivetrain had a better setup, so he could have dropped me, but didn’t. He sort of hovered around me on the slower climbs, which in itself makes for a more strenuous ride.

At this point I was really upset with myself for not changing out a chain ring or cassette. I was riding alongside some folks older than me who were spinning right along with a smile on their faces, while I was struggling with every rotation of my slow turning cranks. I called out, “wish I had another gear or two!” They laughed. I couldn’t manage a chuckle.

The climbing ranged from mild slopes to steep inclines around turn after turn after turn. The entire climb took over three and a half hours before we had any significant relief. For the entire time I kept saying: Shut up legs! Shut up legs! But my legs weren’t the worst of it. My lungs were in significant pain, and every few minutes I would cough with a raspy, dry throat.

My strategy was to keep my head down, and keep cranking without letting the view in front of me destroy my will. After nearly four hours of riding we reached the summit at Dead Horse Point which overlooked the Canyonlands.


Spectacular views made the struggle worth it! And that, for me, is mostly what cycling is all about, a way to be outdoors, pushing my body, testing my will, feeling alive and experiencing the planet in a way that is unavailable by car or plane or reading books. To be close to the earth and see, and hear, and smell, and touch nature so intimately that you know you are fully alive, yet you’re aware of how small you really are. That, for me, is as close to a religious experience as I have ever had.

I’m a climber, not a downhill rider

After visiting at the top with Sean, who drove up, and other riders, we refueled, rehydrated and started our descent. And what a ride it was! It was mostly downhill for about 20-miles. There were steep downs and sloping downs and hairpin turns. There was also a crosswind that gusted to 40 mph at times. We flew, white knuckled, reaching downhill speeds of 48 mph on pavement that had occasional cracks and patches of loose gravel. I feathered my brakes in an effort to keep my speed down. On a couple of long descents I passed Barry without even trying. Later he would say, “I tried, but I just couldn’t catch you!” I told him the secret: You can never out-race a fat guy on a downhill.


It was an intense ride coming back into Moab. There was only once, on a steep, tight, hairpin turn that I almost lost it. We were focused on possible oncoming traffic coming up and around the bend. I was trying to ride with a flexible posture, and in an instant, felt my back wheel slip on the pavement. I think my heart stopped for a second! I felt a tightness in the back of my neck. It took my brain a few more seconds to realize that I was still upright. But I recovered and kept following Barry’s lead. What took over three hours to climb, took about 45 minutes to descend. Once again at the first rest stop, we saw three emergency vehicles racing up the mountain. Someone wasn’t as lucky as me.

At this point we had only ridden about 55-miles. We were now tracking back across the first 10-miles that we had started on--only this time it was downhill. We reached Potash Road which was a turn-off into a huge canyon that would be the final leg of the ride and about 40-miles to the finish.

The final leg
As we turned into this enormous canyon the headwinds were fierce. The afternoon temps had also increased significantly; the burning in my lungs and throat had never let up; and the unrelenting sun, radiating off 200 foot walls of red rock, made for a canyon that was hot, dry and windy.


I was in the lead cranking for all I was worth. The best I could do was 11 mph, while my heart rate was at 177 bpm. I was quickly becoming exhausted. We stopped once and discussed calling it a day, but we both had our minds set on completing 100-miles.  We continued for another six miles and stopped again to rest for a few minutes. Again, we played with the idea of stopping and short-cutting to the end. We were both tired, wind-burnt and sore. I said, “ya know, I think we’ve done some good work here, let’s call it a day, and go get a cold one.” Barry agreed. We turned around, and still had nearly 10-miles to ride to reach the finish.

Getting back was bitter-sweet. We had failed the century, but we won the day and I considered it a victory. I got to spend some quality time with my two sons: 3-days in Moab, UT, and there was beer and conversation involved. I was able to ride my bike in one of the most ruggedly beautiful areas on the planet. And we participated in a benefit ride for cancer patients and survivors with a share of event proceeds going to the Moab Regional Hospital’s Cancer Treatment and Resource Center. I can’t find fault in any of that.


I also reaffirmed some universal lessons

  • Be better prepared next time.
  • Keep your head down and don’t stop crankin’ till you reach your destination.
  • Know when to quit, but never give up.
  • Enjoy every ride your body allows you to do.
  • Crosswinds and downhills can be a dangerous combination.
  • You don’t have to be a hero. Live to ride another day.
  • Have a crew you can depend on.


Sean was our crew
He handled the logistics of getting me to Moab. He handled our gear, while Barry and I were out riding. He took photos of the ride and surrounding landscape. He met us at Dead Horse Point with beverages, and he had cold beer waiting at the end, when we were parched and exhausted. You couldn't ask for a better crew chief! Thanks, Sean, for your humble service.

The Moab Century Tour, I recommend it.

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A cycling trip to Moab, UT (Part 1)

(I had hoped to get this story out sooner, but the Universe conspired against me. The trip was during the last week of September.)

I’D BEEN PLANNING A TRIP TO MOAB for several months. It was complicated by the fact that I was meeting one son from San Clemente, and another son from Denver. There were grandkid visits involved, and brief pauses of family renewal. Also, Moab is not the easiest place to reach without spending my entire budget on airfare. Then, to complicate the plan even more, heavy rains that poured in the region for weeks put the red rock area in southern Utah under an almost continuous flash flood watch.


Long story short. We made it in time for the Moab Century Tour, a road ride through the red rocks of Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah, and the flash floods were deemed non-threatening to the riders.   

I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that, I, aka “Mr. Prepared” was less than prepared for this ride. That is so unlike me. But here are the mistakes I made:

I didn’t train right
Here I am, a Florida resident (our humidity is typically above 80%), riding in very dry conditions, with long, steep climbs, and altitudes as high as 6000 feet. Maybe not high by Rocky Mountain standards, but still quite high for a guy who normally rides at, or below, sea level, save for a few bridges.

I didn’t adapt my bike for the terrain
I could have installed a triple chainring. But I didn’t. Or, at the very least, I could have changed out the cassette to provide some pedaling relief. But I didn’t do that either. Why? I have no excuse other than… maybe I was consumed by logistical details?

So, my route took me to Denver for a brief stay, then on to Moab by car. FYI: TSA has made some changes at US airports. You can no longer store baggage for a few hours. Thus, I had to drag my bike box and duffle around DIA for several hours until my ride arrived. I must admit, that wasn’t much fun.

DenMewaiting (1)

The drive to Moab, was beautiful--even better than I remembered it from my 2005 trip. We took our time and enjoyed the mountainous terrain past Vail, skirting Leadville and Aspen, through Grand Junction and into southern Utah.


Sean and I arrived in Moab in mid-afternoon, and Barry, who was driving in from San Clemente, arrived within 20-minutes. (How’s that for logistical planning?) We checked-in at ride headquarters (to receive our bag o’stuff, and then made a joint decision to find the nearest watering hole, where we would enjoy a frothy beverage, and discuss ride strategy among ourselves and other friendly patrons who we met at the bar. I didn’t want to over-do the IPAs and make my ride the next day uncomfortable, so I used restraint and kept my pre-ride hydration to a minimum -- although I wasn’t in much danger of over-indulgence, because the Utah liquor laws won’t allow for anything more that 3.2 beer to be drawn from their taps.


We sat at Moab Brewery for a few hours sharing war stories with other riders and decided we needed to get a good night’s sleep to be in top form for the next day. (That wasn’t exactly a mutual decision, but the old guy prevailed.)

Back at the room we sat around talking about old times and other fun stuff, until it was getting late. That didn’t matter much, because we didn’t sleep well anyway. That’s a common problem among some cyclists. I’m sure it has something to do with pre-ride anticipation. Lying in bed, I pondered the tough ride ahead of us, but was completely surprised by the pain and suffering I was about to endure.


...to be continued.

Click here for Part 2.

When you ride your bicycle, ride it big!

STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THAT THE MAJORITY OF ACCIDENTS between motorists and cyclists are caused because the motorist “didn’t see the cyclist”. As preoccupied as motorists are these days, with all the non-driving activites that take place behind the wheel -- texting, talking on the phone, eating, reading the newspaper, flossing the teeth, removing rollers from the hair, brushing the hair, drinking a beer and reprimanding the children -- it’s no wonder that cyclists get knocked down, banged up or killed everyday.

Yes, I’ve seen every one of the activities mentioned above being done while the driver is, by law, supposed to be in control of his or her motor vehicle. Yes, I know that cyclist are not always innocent. I’ve seen many cyclists who refuse to follow the rules of the road, and many more that have adopted some very careless riding practices.


So, how do we stop “accidents”?

I don’t know.

It’s basically impossible to get all parties together and agree to do the right thing. But if you’re a cyclist and you want to remain as safe as you possibly can, RIDE BIG. And by that I mean to make yourself as visible as possible to motorists who are in your immediate area. Here are a few ways you can achieve this.

  • Never ride in the gutter of a lane. You’re out of view, in the shadows, and probably rolling through all kinds of dangerous debris, grating and broken pavement. Additionally, it’s a position that leaves you little room for emergency maneuvers. If you’re riding in a bike lane, try to ride as close to the motor vehicle lane as practical.


  • When on a narrow road, don’t be afraid to take the lane. Riding in the car lane,where a car’s right tire would go, is one of the best ways to be seen. You become the traffic and have lane control. It forces cars and trucks to pass you when it’s safe, and with a wide margin instead of trying to squeeze by in the same lane. You might get some negative comments from drivers, but at least they will know you’re there. (In the right lane in the U.S., or in the left lane in many European countries.)
  • Take advantage of Sharrows by riding in the area designated by the Sharrows. I like Sharrows because they are immediately visible to both motor vehicle drivers and cyclists. There should be no confusion regarding the cyclist’s right to the road space. (Presumably they been placed correctly.)
  • Wear bright or fluorescent or day-glo clothing. Bright yellows, oranges, reds and greens can be seen easier that most other colors. When I’m commuting in the early morning hours I often where a yellow jersey that is impregnated with reflective strands that shine brightly when headlights hit it.
  • Be predictable. Behave like a car--one with a responsible driver behind the wheel! Ride with the traffic, not against it. Motor vehicle drivers don’t expect you to be coming from the wrong direction, or flying out of side streets or driveways without stopping. Ride in a straight line. No weaving or erratic riding.
  • Reflectors on your bike, front and rear are very visible when lights are shown on them. Reflectors are often more easily visible, and can be seen from farther away than many electric lights. At night I also wear reflective ankle straps and reflective tape on the back of my helmet.
  • A white headlight on the front and a red tail light on the rear of your bike are a must for night riding and even make you more visible in daylight. I use a bright red flashing tail light on every ride, day or night.
  • Riding in a group makes you more visible to motor vehicle drivers. But get with a group that follows the rules of the road.
  • When you’re in heavy traffic sit up tall in the saddle--RIDE BIG! You’ll be much more visible than if you’re in the drops or using aero bars.

Don’t be afraid of traffic or cower in the presence of motor vehicles. Ride big and ride proud, because you have every right to be using the roadway. These simple techniques will help to keep you visible to motorists when riding your bike. Obey the standard rules of the road, as any vehicle should, and you’ll have your best chance for finishing your ride without an accident.

Life lessons of cycling

Maintain your machine

It’s always important to keep your bike in clean, working order. Lubrication, good tires and routine adjustments will keep it rolling along for years. But the real machine is you. Cycling goes a long way toward maintaining your body, the real engine that puts power to the pedals. It will help you eat better, sleep well, and stay fit. Riding a bike will help you keep your blood pressure in range, and stay youthful and energized.

MargaretSR13 700

Build endurance

We all need endurance to keep going everyday. Most of us have numerous activities and chores that must be completed on schedule. Couch potatoes are typically fatigued and lethargic. They have no energy. Cyclists, on the other hand, are full of vim and vigor. Why? Because they regularly hit the road or trail to get their heart pumping, make their lungs work and keep their muscles toned. Build your endurance one day at a time. If you’re a healthy person, try pushing your limits a little everyday. Your endurance will increase and so will your energy.

Clear your mind

Riding a bike does something interesting to your head. It makes you forget about your troubles. It has a marvelous way of erasing worry and tension. Time slips by effortlessly. Cycling can turn a garbled, dark, bad mood into clear, creative thinking in just a few minutes of pedaling. Go ahead! Just try keeping the day’s frustrations in mind while you crank out ten miles.


Of course you’ll breathe. But try mindful breathing. While you’re pedaling through the neighborhood, take in purposeful, deep, lung-filling breaths. Then, blow the air out slowly. Repeat this 2 or 3 times every 15-minutes or so. You’ll be amazed at how refreshed it makes you feel.

Slow down often

The life-lessons derived from a great bike ride most often occur at a slower place. Slow down and “smell the roses” as the saying goes. If you’re not actually smelling roses maybe you’re enjoying the breeze and salt air off the ocean, or admiring that historic home in a neighboring community, or enjoying the shade and smooth pavement under a long tunnel of trees.


Learn to enjoy every minute on your bike. Take care of your head, and your heart, and your body. Look for life’s unexpected joys. Keep the faith. Hold onto hope, and open yourself up to all the lessons that riding a bike can teach you.

What interesting lessons have you learned while riding your bike?

Surviving and thriving after a terrible bike accident

A guest post by Pearson Constantino

Growing up the bike was everything for me.  It was my entertainment, it helped fuel my imagination, it took me to school, to my friends’ houses, and was my escape. As I got older and more experienced, with a 400 mile bike tour to Cape Cod under my belt, the bike became true unbridled adolescent freedom. I would ride for the sake of riding. Without destination, I rode to feel the wind in my hair.

Pearson solo DSC_4551

After college, living in New York I rode everywhere, to work, for exercise, for fun, I felt great, until one morning a stranger changed my life. I was hit from behind by an SUV, there were no witnesses and I was left by the side of road, my bike totally destroyed, my body badly injured. After two weeks in the hospital, I had resolved to get back on my bike and ride it across the United States! 

Two years of rehab later that's exactly what I did. With the help of my brother Pete we embarked on a cross-country adventure on our bikes to encourage people to get back on their bikes, and drivers to share the road. This is my story. 

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by Julia Wrona: 

I documented Pearson’s recovery and then followed his journey with Pete across America filming their encounters with drivers, meetings with other car-on-bike victims, and the beauty of the American landscape.

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The Long Bike Back
is now fully edited, but we need some help with the cost of the final technical processes (color correction and sound mixing) so that we can release the film this summer.  Our crowdfunding campaign is quickly drawing to a close: http://igg.me/at/lbb Please consider contributing (there are perks, like a DVD, soundtrack, photo book, and more) and sharing the link with your friends and followers.

Here’s the film’s trailer, which illustrates Pearson’s spirit, the mission, and some of the amazing miles of cycling he and Pete covered. http://youtu.be/0M4Eni8GfGk

A note from Lloyd Lemons

Please consider helping to fund this worthy project. Cyclist and motorists everywhere need these stories, to learn that we must share the road. 

View the trailer here: http://youtu.be/0M4Eni8GfGk

Please make a contribution here: ttp://igg.me/at/lbb  (and time is of the essence!) 

Thank you!

Riding your bike on purpose, or just for fun

I’M ONE OF THOSE CYCLISTS WHO LIKE NUMBERS. When I ride, I monitor my heart rate, I know my speed and cadence, and I track my mileage and calorie burn. There’s nothing wrong with that, I just happen to enjoy keeping the numerical values of each ride.

But I also know the importance of riding for the shear enjoyment of it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of over-analyzing each ride, a habit that has the potential of reducing the fun and making your ride seem more like a duty.

I think about this often, and offer you a few ways to keep cycling fun and interesting, and something to talk about with the folks who aren’t interested in your numbers. Take a look at the bike rides you do from a new perspective--at least some of the time.


Do you smell rain in the air? Analyze the clouds and wind direction and plot a course to escape the rain. If it adds ten miles to your ride, great! It’ll subtract additional calories from your daily intake. And it's fun challenge!

Interval action: Crank it up past that house with the loose, barking dog in the yard. Feeling strong or just a little bit daring? Go back the other way and give Fido a real aerobic workout. Throw him a doggie bone if he gets too close.

Find an alternate route. Research and map a new course to avoid that dusty, bumpy road construction.

Elevate the mundane. Your bike can elevate tedious car trips and errands into something that's enjoyable, healthy and memorable. Did you forget to mail those holiday cards to the nieces and nephews? Ride to the post office and drop them off. Or make your bank deposit from your bike at the drive up window. Getting in the queue with cars is always good for some quizzical looks and commentary from the kids in the car next to you.

Plan for fun. Don’t waste time sitting in the car waiting on someone. Recently, I drove my wife to an interview in an area of town I wasn’t familiar with. I checked out the roads on Google Maps, threw my bike in the back of the Jeep, and delivered her to her interview. Rather than a long boring wait sitting in the car, I unloaded my bike, went for a fun ride on some beautiful open roads in the outskirts of town, and came back an hour later. By the time I cooled down and re-loaded my bike, my wife was finished and we drove home--me with 600 calories less than when we started.

Lunch rides: If I know I can’t get away for a longer ride, I’ll take a short lunch ride. Short is better than none. I generally leave after 1:00 P.M. to avoid lunch hour traffic and get in 45 to 60 minutes of riding. Back at work, I feel energized for the remainder of the day.

Bike mags700

You say your Saturday morning ride buddies cancelled? Now would be a great time to take a small camera with you on the ride, and photograph some other cyclists that you pass along the way, or the fishing boats pulling out of the harbor, or the livestock lounging in the pasture. Try to get your bike in the photo as well. It’ll make your story more interesting later.

So, is your cycling on purpose, or for fun? Your bike, that simplest of human-powered machines can be both--and more. It can help you make a statement, save fuel and money, reduce your carbon footprint, burn calories, become your fitness regimen, or just deliver fun, purposeful, memorable good times. Cycling is what you make it.


What’s your favorite part of cycling?

I ENJOY SIMPLICITY. And the bicycle is the simplest of machines, yet it provides so many benefits. For me the bike is a freedom machine. When I get on it and ride, it might as well be a space ship going on some new adventure. The most fun rides are those where my destination is unknown and I have no time limits.


Of course, I also have some practical uses for the bicycle as well. I run errands on it, and it’s my main piece of health and fitness equipment. It’s important to me to get out there and crank it up; get my heart rate up, push myself past my comfort zone. That’s a big part of how I achieve fitness.

Some folks like to race. Criterium, or crit races,  are run on short courses and often held on closed off city streets. They’re fast and furious and often filled with passionate younger riders—for obvious reasons. There are also road races. Road racing began as an organized sport in 1868, and has gotten quite diverse and competitive over the past 150 years. There are many levels of road races, and you’ll find competitors of all ages. And then there’s cyclocross. Cyclocross racing is wild and wacky, fun and strenuous, fast and competitive. I've never done it, but it looks like a blast!

Every cyclist has her favorite thing to do on a bike and her favorite reason for cycling. Here are just a few reasons that people of all ages like to get out and pedal: 

  • to free the mind and heal the psyche
  • to burn calories
  • to commute to work
  • to tour the world
  • to share quality family time
  • to promote health and fitness
  • to spend a week in France (or California) touring the vineyards
  • to explore neighborhoods
  • to spend time in the outdoors
  • to get their adventure fix
  • to get rid of their gas guzzler
  • to discover new like-minded friends
  • to ride far, as in Rando or RAAM
  • and even to tow their kayak to the river 


There are many ways to have fun on a bicycle, and everyone has their own favorite part of cycling. When I was first getting serious about cycling as an “older guy”, a friend of mine told me, cycling is a beautiful thing, you can make it anything you want it to be. He was right! It’s one of the most versatile sports I can think of. So grab a bike and start crankin’! And remember this: it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

Seven more crash avoidance tips for new road cyclists

IN MY PREVIOUS POST, I WROTE ABOUT A FEW WAYS to avoid crashes as a new roadie. This post continues that theme. If you’re new to riding a road bike, these tips will help you to keep the rubber side down.

Don’t trust bike lanes. Lots of new bike riders think bike lanes are the solution to safe cycling. That’s seldom true. It’s obvious to me that the people who designed bike lanes probably don’t ride much. In my town we have bike lanes that conflict with adjacent traffic lanes, and bike lanes that end without warning, dumping the unsuspecting cyclist amid three lanes of fast moving traffic.

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Use bike lanes with caution. Watch out for surprise endings, excessive trash like stones, sticks, glass, broken concrete, lane-wide grates and motorists who completely disregard the lanes.

Don’t ride with headphones or earbuds. When you’re riding on the road, it’s safer if you can hear what’s going on around you. Plugging both ears with loud music, or media of any kind is dangerous, and illegal in many states. If you want to listen to music use just one earbud so your other ear is available for ambient warning signals.

Know what sharrows mean. I like sharrows better than bike lanes, because they are intended to communicate with both cyclists and motorists.


Sharrows position bike riders in the lane and alert motorists that cyclists may use the full lane. Sharrows are intended to help cyclists and motorists when they must share a narrow lane, and it should help prevent getting doored from parked cars. But be aware of your surroundings and don’t let sharrows give you a false sense of safety.

Don’t get doored. New cyclists are most fearful of fast moving traffic. But parked cars can be hazardous to your health too. With today’s tinted windows it’s hard to tell if a vehicle has a driver behind the wheel.

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A parked car can move suddenly into your lane when you’re least expecting it causing a crash, or pushing you into the next lane of traffic. Another scenario is when the driver in a parked car opens her door into your lane just as you’re riding by. If you’re too close you’ll crash into her door. Make sure you leave enough space to avoid the door zone.

Railroad crossings can take you down if you do it wrong.  The metal rails are slippery, and the deep, wide gaps in the road’s surface are rough and can bounce you around. I’ve read that you should approach rail crossings at a 90 degree angle. Well, that might be the ideal scenario, but it’s not always practical. When tracks cross the road at an angle, it could take some radical maneuvering combined with bike handling acrobatics to put you at a 90 degree angle. Those types of movements will rattle motorists who can’t figure out what you’re up to. Here’s how I do it: I approach rail crossings straight on. I get a firm grip on my handlebars and tense my arm muscles so the bumps don’t jerk my steering. I raise my butt slightly off the saddle; my bent knees will act as shock absorbers as the bike bounces over the tracks. I use enough speed so that momentum will carry me across. I don’t lean. I don’t pedal, and I don’t brake. I have not fallen yet.

It’s fun to ride in a paceline. Plus, it conserves your energy when you ride in someone else’s slipstream—aka drafting. But please, gain experience on your road bike for several hours before attempting to ride with a group, and learn paceline etiquette. Pacelines operate as an integrated unit, like birds flying in formation. When a group is riding at high-speed and drafting one another there is little room for error. One false move and you could be responsible for taking out all the riders behind you in a sprawling crash. And you won’t like how that makes you feel. So get confident on your bike, learn paceline rules first, and then start out at the back of the line. You should also tell the other riders that you’re a newbie.

Avoid loose surfaces. In my previous post I mentioned the slipperiness of the painted lines when roads get wet. There are a number of other things that can make the road surface unstable, i.e., wet leaves, loose sand that may have washed across the surface during yesterday’s rain, or even the loose pebble-like residue that appears when blacktop is old and has been ground down. This often occurs in intersections and on corners. Any of these surfaces can make you fall if you’re not expecting them. If you notice the danger, but it’s too late to avoid it, don’t panic. Simply stop pedaling, stay seated to keep your center of gravity low, and coast through it. Try to keep the bike as vertical as possible. Avoid any sharp steering or hard braking.

There you have it. Seven more crash avoidance tips for new road cyclists. I hope you enjoy your new road bike, and ride according to the rules of the road. Check with your state transportation authority for a bicycle law enforcement guide. Most states publish one and give them away for free. It will give you the specific rules for your roads.

Be safe out there!

(Excerpted from my new book in progress: Riding for Our Lives.)

A few crash avoidance tips for new road cyclists

A FRIEND OF MINE JUST BOUGHT A NEW ROAD BIKE. He’s been riding a hybrid for a few years, with its fatter tires, straight handlebars and upright riding posture, but he test rode one of my road bikes a few months ago and liked it. So on Black Friday, he was able to get a screaming deal on a beautiful carbon fiber Trek.

Girl on hybrid 700

It occurred to me that the difference between casually riding a hybrid around the neighborhood, compared to mounting a faster, sleeker road bike and cranking it up on the highway, could be problematic at first. I thought I would point out a few differences that the average rider might not be immediately aware of.

Road bikes can be a little fussy

If you’re new to skinny tires and the more forward posture used on road bikes, here are few tips to keep in mind that will help you keep the rubber side down.

  • Road bikes handle much differently than bikes with fat tires and straight handle bars. For example, steering is tighter and less forgiving. Take a few days of slow easy riding in a variety of settings to get used to this new feel before trying to negotiate traffic during rush hour.
  • If there’s rain or dampness on the road surface, avoid the painted lines as much as possible. They are slippery when wet. If you do need to cross them, do so in a vertical position, preferably seated and either coasting or soft pedaling.

Group sanjose 700

  • When riding on the side of a lane, avoid that expansion joint or crack in the pavement where two slabs of pavement come together. They can make your skinny tires flinch from side to side, or if wide enough you can get the front tire jammed in the crack. Either occurrence could lead to a crash.
  • Also, avoid riding over grates in the road. Your front wheel will likely slip right through a parallel grate, and going cross-ways over a grate can be slippery. About six months ago my back tire slipped off of a steel grate. I maintained control of my bike, but the rim and tire were both damaged when they hit the jagged edge of the concrete surround.
  • Hold your line. In other words don’t weave back and forth over the width of your lane. A car or even another cyclist approaching from the rear will expect you to ride steady and in a straight line. Even minor swerving left or right could lead to disaster, or at least make others on the road very nervous about your intentions.
  • When overtaking a bike or a runner or a walker, call out, “on you left!” before you reach them. The warning could keep them from absentmindedly turning into you as you ride by.
  • When riding over speed bumps, lift your butt off the seat, bend your knees, and shift your weight to the rear of the bike. Your center of gravity is more forward on a road bike. The first time I road skinny tires, I tried to ride over a large speed bump in a casual position and was thrown over the handle bars when the front wheel came to an abrupt stop in front of the bump. You’ll want to avoid that embarrassment.
  • Ride your road bike as you drive your car. In other words ride WITH traffic, not against it. Obey road signs and traffic lights. Make no unnecessary or radical moves. Signal your turns and intentions. You’ll want others in your vicinity to be able to anticipate your movements.
  • When you ride your bike you are essentially “driving a vehicle”—you must yield to pedestrians.

These are a few tips to get the new roadie started safely, I be back next week to cover sharrows, bike lanes, listening to music and more.

Be safe out there, and enjoy the ride!

(Excerpted from my new book in progress: Riding for Our Lives.)