Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Last Post

Since August I have worked to fully emerse myself in the world of cycling. In this time, I have learned so much. Some I had time to document on this blog; other lessons never made it to the Interwebs, but I will never forget.

I have realized that both cycling and blogging are two elements in my life I want to hold on to. So, in this spirit, I have decided to close down this blog so that I will have more time to focus on my other blog mgregueiro.com

There I have been blogging about my 30 Day Challenges, random thoughts, politics, pop culture, and yes cycling. 

So if you have enjoyed this blog, check our mgregueiro

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tip 4: Don't ride on the sidewalk

Now, I will openly say that this is a rather controversial tip. Best case scenario, you live in a bike friendly part of the city, and your tax dollars have gone towards painting and maintaining bike lanes. Worst case scenario, you are given two choices: sidewalk or street. In that case, I almost always choose the street.

Although Florida, among other states, allows cyclists to ride on the sidewalk, there are very few circumstances where this is the best decision (for Florida state bike laws, click here). The sidewalk is not designed for moving vehicles. It is not regularly maintained in the same way that streets are. And it is filled with many physical obstacles for a cyclist: street signs, bus benches, random poles, and pedestrians. Plus, as you can see in the image I have shared, a motorist turning into traffic isn't looking for quickly approaching cyclists on the sidewalk (if they are looking to the sidewalk at all).

If there is no bike lane, there are two alternatives that are better than the sidewalk: take an entire lane (legally justified) or take half of the lane. My first few months on a bike, I took the entire right lane. Although I definitely felt safe, I was constantly heckled by passing motorist. After many trips attempting to ignore the ignorance of inconsiderate motorists, I decided to only take half of the lane.

Taking half of the lane has significantly lowered the number of altercations with motorists, but it has its own drawbacks. When I am only taking half of the lane, many motorist attempt to zoom by me without changing lanes; this has caused many close calls. If that isn't enough, poorly kept roads are usually worst along their edges. This is where I have come across the worst erosion and also where all the  glass and medal from accidents is brushed to...

At the end of the day, it is all about being aware. No general strategy works in every case. It is really important that all factors be taken into consideration to ensure that you safely get from point A to B.

So read up on your State laws, stay alert, and enjoy your ride : )

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tip Three For Safely Cycling Crazy City Streets

So here is a huge pet peeve of mine. I'm safely enjoying my ride on a busy Miami street, when all of a sudden I see a cyclist coming right at me... jack ass. Since I ride on the road, this leaves me with two options: hug the sidewalk and force the other cyclist into the street or move myself into the street and allow the other cyclist to stay clear of traffic.... Don't be that person.

Riding with traffic is not only safer for other cyclists, but also makes you more visible to motorists, especially those pulling our of drive ways. When a motorist turns into traffic, their attention is directed towards oncoming traffic. Though they may give a quick glance in the other direction, to spot any nearby pedestrians, their glimpse is not going to be long enough to spot a cyclist traveling at ten plus miles per hour. If, however, this same cyclist is moving ten plus miles with traffic, they will be easily be spotted by an attentive motorist pulling out of a driveway : )

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tip Two For Safely Cycling Crazy City Streets: Make yourself visible

Once I purchased my helmet, the next step was to increase my visibility on the road: a driver is less likely to hit me if they can see  me : ) This is the head light and tail light I purchased from a local bike shop. I have used both of the lights for a few months now and I love them. Rain or shine they have given me no problems. Whatever light you decide to purchase, be sure they are placed somewhere that is  visible to motorist. Also, be sure to keep them on the "blink setting," this will make you significantly more visible to motorists.

On this same note, it is important to increase visibility for day time commutes. Lights are great at night, but in the day increased visibility means bright clothing. Whenever possible, wearing bright colors, or reflective materials, will make you more visible on the road.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Week Three: Tips For Safely Cycling Crazy City Streets

As I complete my third week cycling to work, what better topic to discuss than bike safety. A recent survey by Travel+Leisure ranked Miami's driver as the worst in the nation. In these three weeks cycling I have definitely come in contact with many of the drivers that put Miami at the top of this list. Although the road can be a dangerous place, there are five steps every cyclist can take to make their ride much safer. For the next few days I will post a new tip for safely cycling crazy city streets. Here is tip one : )

Tip One - Wear a helmet!
Though rather obvious, I see very few cyclist wearing helmets on my commute to work. Clearly their childhood was not bombarded with video footage of watermelons crashing into city streets. I once heard it said, The most important part of a bike is its engine. A cyclists bones and muscles can heal, but a severe accident without a helmet is a death sentence. Cycling is truly one of the most liberating hobbies I have adopted and I hope to continue my cycling adventures for a long time to come. Many cyclist have been in accidents and come back from it. Wearing a helmet significantly increases the chances that I will not only survive a serious accident, but be able to ride another day.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Week Two: Cycling to Work

My single-speed enjoying the beautiful Biscayne Bay

After two visits to the chiropractor, and a long discussion with a physical therapist on the impotence of hydration and stretching, I took on week two cycling to work : )  

So it turns out, jumping from twenty miles a week to one hundred miles was not a good idea. My muscles were not only over worked, but under stretched and under hydrated. Lesson? Drink tons of water, stretch before and after each ride, and add miles to your week carefully. 

Livestrong.com has a super specific breakdown of how to measure your body's water needs. Personally, I started with a commitment to drink at least one cycling bottle of water a day. If after my workout, my urine wasn't clear, then the next time I would drink more water. Simple. Currently, I am cycling about 14 miles/day and averaging 2-3 cycling bottles of water. 

Similarly, stretching is also super important. Two weeks ago, I over worked my back because I only stretched my legs. Now, I know that cycling works out the entire body, especially the back. Here are a few full body cycling stretches, with images and descriptions, from About.com. Since learning about the importance of these stretches, I have made sure to stretch lightly after warming up, then fully at the end of each trip: once when I get to work and then again when I get home.

The last major change to week two, was the number if miles I committed to. Although one hundred miles a week is a short distance for a veteran rider, I am a novice: one hundred miles a week is something I need to build up to. So this last week, I committed to cycle to work every other day and gave myself extra time for each trip. Not only did it allow me to stop and take in the beauty of my ride, but even to snap a few pictures in the proces : )

At the end of week two cycling to work, I am happy to say that I feel much healthier. Properly hydrating, stretching, and pushing my body has left me feeling stronger and more confident as a cyclist. It is interesting to see my body develop along side my mind as I push myself as a cyclist.

Safe riding. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Picking the right bicycle helmet

In my first post on bike accessories, I discussed the importance of purchasing a helmet. Here I want to focus on how I selecting a helmet that fits my needs. With prices varying from $10-$300, and a variety of brands to choose from, this decision can quickly become overwhelming. But as I learned, when it comes ti gear, the first question is What do I need? 

No matter what any bilboard of magazine advertisement claims, all brands average the same in crash tests. No study has shown a relationship between a helmet's cost and its safety rating. In fact, the only thing you want to make sure is on your helmet, is the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sticker. This proves the helmet has been tested, and meets all safety standards. Besides that, it is all about needs and looks : ) 

For me, I was looking for a simple helmet, that would provide ventilation as I commute to work, without breaking the bank. In the end, I went with a $30 entry level Giro. I have had this helmet for about three months now and couldn't be happier. In retrospect, the only thing I would change is my helmet's color. I haven't researched this, but I imagine that a lighter color would not only increase my visibility on the road, but absorb less of the suns heat. Just a theory. 

To finally decide on which helmet was right for me, I watched dozens of YouTube videos and read even more articles. The video below really helped give me a general idea of the types of bike helmets on the market and how to correctly fit one to my size. After watching it, I went into a few local bike shops to be sized and feel the difference between the various brands and price tags. Though I love my helmet, that does not mean it is the best helmet for your individual needs. I hope my experience and the video below will help you find what is right for you : ) 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How to clean your bike chain

Below are two bike chains. Bike chain one (left) is clean, and in good shape. Bike chain two (right) is in dire need of a good clean.

Clean Chain
Dirty Chain

If you are anything like me, you may look at the left bike chain and say, That's a brand new chain. Clearly no one has riden it. Whereas, chain number two is the chain of someone who is regularly on the road. After having a heart-to-heart with my local bike mechanic, and searching the endless stacks of YouTube bike maintenance videos, I now know this thought process to be false.

Turns out a 'healthy' bike chain should always look like the example on the left. A chain that is allowed to develop serious grime, like example two, will not only scuff up your favorite pair of pants, but also significantly hinder your bikes performance and live a short life. (The same is true for rust. If your bike chain is rusted up, I recommend purchasing a new chain asap at your local bike shop)

This lesson on proper bike chain maintenance led to another question, How do I clean my bike chain? It's actually a simple, albeit messy process (be sure to always work on your bike outside, or in a garage). All you will need is a clean rag, chain degreaser, and bike lube.

Step One - Clean Chain
Before you can lube your chain, it is important to clean off all the grim that has built up on it. Here is a great video that walks you through the process. (Materials: Rag and chain degreaser)

Step Two - Lube Chain
Once your chain is nice and clean, you are ready to lube it up : ) Here is a great video that will walk you through the steps.

Once your chain is clean and lubed, you are ready to take on your next adventure. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Week One: Cycling to Work

This week I took on the seven mile trek to work on my single-speed. In the grand scheme of things, a round trip fourteen mile ride is no big deal. For some reason, however, I was intimidated enough to put this trip off for more than a month. But that was then and this is now : )

In the now, I feel so empowered by my decision to take on bike commuting. It is crazy to me the many ways innovation in the fields of mechanics and technology have caused an inflation in my perception of mind power and a deflated of my perception of body power. I am now more set than ever on one say cycling across the united states. 
But as my mother always said, "Pride comes before a fall." And boy did I hit a low this week the equally matched the high of pushing body to a new level. 

Few, if any, activities are risk free. This week, I learned cycling is no exception. Besides dodging cars and inhaling exhaust (specific to urban settings), cycling has some health risks that are not obvious, or even discussed. After waking up last friday unable to walk, I began doing some research on these unspoken risks. Hopefully, this blog will help you avoid some common mistakes made by cyclists of all experience levels - including myself.

Lesson One: Stay hydrated! 
The first major lesson I have learned about bike commuting is the importance of staying hydrated. If you decide to begin cycling to work, be sure to significantly increase the amount of water you consume each day. This week I made the mistake of judging my water needs by my feelings. FALSE. Drink water whether or not you feel like it. The end of my story turned out something like this: super dehydrated, super nauseous, sleepless night wishing I had taken the time to drink more water. Lesson learned. 

Lesson Two: Buy a great saddle
It is no secret, the average bike saddle (seat) is super uncomfortable. What is less known, is the average saddle is actually bad for you. Why? Because the forward riding position of most bikes, especially road and mountain bikes, places all of your weight on a bone that is not designed to handle it. That bone also contains the nerves and blood vessels that connect to male and female genitalia. Who new cycling could heart your sex life? In fact, many studies have shown that extensive time on a traditional bike saddle leads to sexual disfunction for male and female riders. (For the details and studies, check out this great New York Times article)   

So how do you keep everything down their working at its best? Buy a new saddle : ) Here are some saddles I am looking at that do a better job of correctly positioning a riders weight: Selle San Marco Caymano Arrowhead,  ISM Adamo Podium, Sella Italia, and Specialized BG

Lesson Three: Cyclist are at a higher risk for bone loss than other athletes
So bones become stronger the more often they have weight put on them - ironically the opposite of joints. This is the reason astronauts come back with significantly weaker bones. Space's zero gravity climate, puts no weight on an astronauts bones, causes them to adapt by thinning out. The same goes for exercise. The fact that cycling, particularly on the road, places as little weight as possible on bones, makes it so that as a cyclist ages their bones dramatically thin out. 

This situation is made worse by two other cycling realities. First, the average cyclist burns many more nutrients than they usually consume. This translates to your body working at a deficiency: not being able to give your bones and muscles the nutrients they need to work at their best. Second, for cyclist that regularly take on longer treks, this extensive exercise causes their bodies to produce less hormones (testosterone in men and estrogen in women). Though many female athletes are happy to give up their period every month, which is often the case for professional female athletes, testosterone and estrogen play a key roll in preventing bone loss. (For further reading on this topic, check out this great LA Times article

So what can a cyclist do about it? Diversify their exercise. It is not enough to just cycle. To keep your bones strong, it is important to take on other types of workouts. Examples of these could be volleyball, running, basketball, etc. (I've decided to keep it simple and take a run every weekend to keep my bones strong. 

Thinking about "Week Two: Commuting to Work"
It's crazy what one week cycling to work has taught me. Unfortunately, I did not learn these lessons before injuring myself : ( 

As some of you know, my first week cycling to work I hit a record high of 75 total miles! But since I failed to meet my body's need for water and nutrients I ended up severely straining my lower back. The weakness of my muscles paired with a horrible seat, and Miami pot holes, led to me severely misaligning my pelvis - I couldn't stand straight for three days...

Luckily though, after a few visits to the chiropractor and some readings on riding safety, I should be up and ready to go next week. This does mean, though, that "Week Two: Cycling to Work" will be postponed a week. Hopefully though I can fill the gap with another informative post on bike maintenance and wicked pics of my messed up pelvis : )

As always, happy and safe riding everyone. 

*Have your own commuting to work stories/lessons? Share them below!!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bike Accessories

Once I bought my bike, the next step was to purchase the accessories : )

The first, and most important, accessory I purchased was an entry level Giro bike helmet. Cycling the streets of Miami, I wanted to make sure to be as safe as possible. Even though there are helmets that go for hundreds of dollars, I am not yet astute or committed enough to tell the difference, so why break the bank? (pricier helmets are not safer, just lighter and cooler)

Next I went out and purchased lights for those late night commutes. I went with a Topeak headlight and  Planet Bike taillight. Thus far, both of these lights have worked great. Not only do they make me visible in the dark (which I am a big fan of), but they are super easy to remove and transfer to another bike.

Once I felt safe riding day and night, I looked into increasing the practicality of my bike as a primary commuter vehicle. (Who needs a car?) With my eyes set on a rear rack, I went weeks looking for the perfect rack and bag. I was unimpressed by everything I saw, until I came across this YouTube video on the Topeak MTX Trunk Bag. It was love at first sight. Not only does this bag have tons of storage space, but its sleek design and slide-and-lock system makes removing it from my bike and throwing it over me shoulder a breeze. But all these perks didn't come cheap.

The rack and bag totalled more than a hundred bucks. If the price wasn't enough, a two month back order meant a long time until the whole in my bank account was filled with a drastic change to my riding habits. However after months of waiting, I can truly say this is the best purchase I have ever made. I highly recommend this to any commuter that is sick of riding with a backpack in the Miami heat (which is not only a sweat issue, but ass issue on those longer rides)

All in all, I would say the biggest lesson I learned in all of this is to calculate accessories as part of your initial purchase. If you are not prepared for all of these extra costs it can really break your bank. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Why my first bike was a single-speed

The most stressful decision I have faced entering the world of cycling was purchasing my first bike. There are so many different types of bikes for every imaginable purpose, deciding which was best for me took weeks. Did I want the rugid strength of a mountain bike, the versatility of a hybrid, or the refined speed of a road bike? After reading dozens of descriptions/reviews and honestly reflecting on the type of cyclist I wanted to be, I purchased a single-speed.

Single-speed v. fixie
Now before I begin my soapbox on the merits of single-speed road bikes for first time cyclists, it is important to explain how they differ from a fixed-gear (fixie). Although both single-speeds and fixies lack the gearing system of the common road and mountain bike, fixies are the simplest and oldest type of bicycle. As long as the bike is moving, so are a fixie's pedals, leaving riders unable to 'coast.' Here is part one and two of a great video made by two novice cyclists - like me : ) - converting a geared bike into a fixie. Not only do they visually explain 'coasting,' they also highlight how easy it is to convert an old road bike into a fixed gear drive train (if you so desire).

Why I went with a single-speed
In the end, I found fixies to be more restrictive than liberating. The idea of shooting down a Miami bridge with my pedals moving faster than my feet seemed like a simple recipe for a broken leg or accident. A single-speed bike, however, would allow me to 'coast' down bridges, keep a simple design, and give me an opportunity to learn the basics of bike maintenance anxiety free. Plus lets be honest, $200 was a much less risky investment than the $700 for the average entry level geared road bike. Once it was clear what I wanted, I went to my local bike shop and decided on the bike above (it was love at first sight).

Selling a single-speed
After about three months on my single-speed, I have loged in 100 to 200 commuter miles. In this time, I built up my legs to handle an average flat speet of about fifteen miles per hour. Also, through YouTube searches and tinkering I have learned how to clean and lube a chain, adjust handlebars and breaks, and the importance of storing a bike inside (away from the elements - rust is no joke).

As I near my fourth month, I have begun seriously considering making the jump to a geared touring bike. I am getting more and more excited about the idea of cycling across the country, and although a single-speed is phenomenal for short distance rides (less than fifty miles), the inability to switch gears translates to more energy on the side of the cyclist. This was great in the beginning to get me into cycling shape, but as I look to long distance cycling trips (200+ miles), a geared touring bike seems ideal.

But the best part is single-speed bikes are super easy to maintain, and therefore super easy to sell back at, or near, equal value! Even though I am beginning the transition to the world of geared cycling, I would never trade in the lessons I learned on my single-speed. I highly recommend single-speed bikes to anyone that desires to test the waters before making the jump into the world of cycling.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Buying your first bike

The first step to entering into the word of cycling is buying a bike. Whether you plan to be a weekend beach cruiser or a rain or shine commuter, a bike is essential. 

WARNING: do not get so caught up in researching a bike that you forget to buy one. Remember, you are a beginner. If you eventually decide to compete in le tour de France you will not do so on your first bicycle. You are looking entry level: something to test the waters, something you can tinker with without fearing the wrath of the cycling gods. 

For years, I waited for the perfect scenario to start cycling. Finally I decided it was time to just set a deadline, do my research, and buy a bike - and I have never been happier. And the best part is, if you buy your bike and are unhappy, you can return it : )

If you are still in the research process, here is a great article for determining the right bike for you. (It is really more about you than the bike)

If you learn better through people's stories, here is a great video on taking the necessary steps to purchasing your bike through the story of a San Franciscan cyclist.

Hope this is helpful : )

*If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment below.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Beginning

For as long as I can remember, I have always been intrigued by kayakers, runners, long distance swimmers, and cyclists. There was something about people crossing entire continents, or oceans, with nothing more than a resolve to do so that fascinated and challenged me. This summer, I finally did something about it: I went out and bought my first bike : )

I am only a few months into this adventure and I am loving it. Miami is a beautiful city, and on a bike I have seen vistas that I used to drive past without noticing in my gas guzzling Chevy S10. Not only that, but in a matter of months I am almost back to the shape I was in high school! With every trip I feel stronger and more empowered to take on a new adventure. Who knows, maybe one day I will take on a continent.

Thus far I am averaging about four miles a day - nothing crazy. But hopefully, if weather allows, I will soon begin commuting to work (about seven miles each way). Truth be told, I don't know how deep I will ride into this rabbit whole. Thus far I have loved the time spent on my bike and with my friends riding through the streets of Miami. So I thought, Why not share this experience with others? Hence this blog: a journal of my journey into the world of cycling.