Saturday, July 27, 2013

Beautiful Day for a Bike Ride

The weather in St. Louis the past few days has been unseasonably cool, as well as a stark contrast from last year's unseasonably warm -- nay, HOT -- temps. So after brunch with friends, I grabbed the hubster and we rode our bikes to Grant's Trail. Hubby made it through most of the trail (he rides a little faster than I do -- different type of bike and more gears) and I turned around about a mile before the end so we'd get home around the same time (I caught him a block from our house).

Grant's Trail is great. It runs through South St. Louis City and County past, among other things, Reavis Barracks and Grant's Farm. Grant's Farm is where Anheuser-Busch's Clydesdales are raised and bred! (A-B makes Budweiser beer, just in case somehow that fact escaped your knowledge.) We also passed some softball fields. The trail has a ton of access points, so if you live within a few miles of it and want a safe and fantastic stretch to ride, check it out! I'd love to see more trails like this connecting Clayton to various county neighborhoods. Biking is great, and that would give folks a safe way to try commuting.

Friday, July 26, 2013

PicTuTorial: Avoiding Helmet Head

Soooooooooo... I am one of those lucky ladies that if I scratch my skin lightly, it turns bright red and stays that way for many, many minutes, prompting people to ask if I've been recently mauled. I also tend to stay red-faced after exerting myself physically (which is so much worse when I wipe the sweat from my face versus letting it evaporate). The reason? I'm am so freaking pale. Any change in blood flow below the surface of my skin is super-obvious. So, it should come as no surprise to you that when I wear my helmet to ride my bike, at least so far this summer, I reach my destination hot, sweaty, red-faced, and with an enormous dent that lasts something like 15-20 minutes. (No, seriously. I really enjoy being all cooled off but having a freaking dent in my forehead. That's brilliant.) I have read before about people using bandannas under their helmets to minimize helmet dents in their hair and to help keep sweat from running into their eyes and I thought to myself, huh. If it works for those purposes...

So the last 3-4 times I've ridden, I've worn a bandanna under my helmet. You could really style it any way you want, but this is how I've been using it. A pictorial tutorial, or "PicTuTorial", if you will (please excuse the ridiculous faces I make in photos).

Step one: Place your helmet on your head to get a sense of where the pads come in contact with your forehead. Dorky face and photo is just a bonus.

Step two: Grab your bandanna. Any type will technically do, but I recommend something easily washable, like a basic cotton (as opposed to, say, your pretty silk scarves).

Step Three: To fold the bandanna, lay out out flat. You can just roll it up, but sometimes the triangle ends poke out, which bugs me. It might not bug you. Here's how I fold my bandanna (though, you could just wear it wrapped over your head, I think -- the extra padding from multiple folded layers might discourage forehead-denting better, though).

Step four: put on your bandanna. This summer, I've generally biked with my hair at least part of the way up (it's cooler, since my thick hair is very long right now), and that gives a secure spot to tie the bandanna. From other blogs I've read, and from my running experience, securing the bandanna this way has a triple benefit: protects your forehead from helmet dents, keeps your ears warm, and if you want to cover your ears completely, keeps wind out of your ears. The latter benefits are more applicable to cold-weather riding (or running), but I know some folks who get headaches when they are in the wind with their ears uncovered (including my mama). So, note it if it works for you!

The alternative is to tie it above the bump/hairstyle. This should work with most helmet styles. It definitely works with my Yakkay helmet, as well as my Giro helmet, but it might be to lumpy for a helmet with significant back coverage (Nutcase, Bern, etc). This offers less ear coverage.

Step five: secure your helmet. You can adjust the bandanna so more or less is showing -- this is how it looks with my Yakkay, with is a super-minimal helmet.

And here's how it looks with my more traditional Giro vented helmet.

(As a side note, mini-helmet-review, I prefer the style of the Yakkay, but the Giro feels much more secure and is a little more comfortable from a pure fit perspective. The Yakkay is appealing because it comes with "hat" covers, which I plan to try out in the fall. I find both helmets to be significantly hotter than not wearing a helmet at all [which would be my style and comfort preference - but don't we all feel that way?], but I'm not willing to risk my noggin or its contents to avoid a bump or look chic. At least, not until Americans view bicycling as a legitimate alternative to motorized vehicles. Also, I have the Yakkay Smart One, and the ones currently sold in the US are the Smart Twos. The principal difference is that I have a velcro-close soft strap that wraps around the back and collapses into the helmet when not in use; the Smart Two has a double-metal restraint with a dial-in sizer, which might make the helmet feel more secure. The padding in the Giro is softer, in part because the reason the Yakkay is not as bloody hot as some of the other sleek helmets -- again, see Nutcase, Bern -- is because the rigid pads hold the helmet away from and above your head a bit, allowing air to circulate around your scalp and through the four vent holes in the top. Honestly, it works, and though my head sweats -- it would if I weren't wearing a helmet -- it does not sweat more than in the Giro.)

But I digress...

So, upon reaching your destination, remove your helmet and your handkerchief, and you'll be bump-free! I can't promise no red face, but it's a step in the right direction! Also, unless you've been riding in very hot conditions for a long time, most of the bandanna will be pretty dry, so you can use it to pat dry any super-sweaty spots on your face, chest, or arms. Or to rub at that little bit of chain grease on your calf. Whatever. 

When you're not wearing the bandanna, I recommend untying and unfolding it so it can dry. You can probably get two uses out of it if you weren't exceptionally sweaty, didn't have to use it as a towel after your ride, and your back-to-back uses are pretty close together (within a day or two). Whatev. (I should probably note that I have a pretty high tolerance for sweat, non-stinky human smells, and general grime. Maybe it's all those summers in Europe, or at our cabin at the lake in Kansas growing up. I may do a post revealing what a weirdo crunchy hippie I am about most personal care products at some point.)

Finally, after a ride or two, for the love of all that is good and holy, wash the damned bandanna. Head sweat doesn't smell like underarm sweat, but sweat of any kind creates a really hospitable environment for bacteria and it's the bacteria that gets stinky. I used my bandanna for two very short, not-too-hot rides on Thursday and then on Tuesday, and it was fine for both... but when I modeled it for this tutorial, I could tell it was ready for a bath. Et voilà

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Post script: You may see some changes as I futz with the layout. My primary blog is in Wordpress and so this is a different blogging format for me. For now, I've decided on the photos - you can click on them to see the written post. Cheers and happy riding!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

How I Ride (So Far)

OK, so it's Saturday, but I think I've decided I'd like to try to post most Fridays, for any of you who stumble upon this and hope to guess when there might be new content. It's a new blog, and not my primary one, so I'm still figuring out how much content and how often to post.

Today, I thought I'd focus on some of the minutiae of my riding far.

I think a kickstand is a must. This single kickstand came with my Linus. It works well, but if the bike is carrying significant weight, it can easily tip over (such as when I attach a bag/pannier to the rear rack). Also, as you can see from the photo on the left, my front wheel is turned hard to the right. This is because the basket weight throws off the balance of the bike so significantly that the wheel has to be in this position for the kickstand to keep the bike up. This is fine for now, but I intend to upgrade to a double kickstand (like this one) soon. The double ("Copenhagen") kickstand makes the bike significantly more stable for loading and unloading. All for about $25. Just because it may generate questions, in my front rack, I have a bandanna and my helmet and bag. The bag is referenced below. The bandanna goes around my forehead and seems to help with "helmet forehead" (the attractive dent). It also seems to keep sweat from running into my eyes. This sucker will need to be laundered frequently in July in St. Louis. The helmet is a Yakkay Smart One (newer model, here). It's a much sleeker and simpler helmet than most on the market. It's just as cool as my vented Giro (which has a sportier look), because the padding keeps it up off and away from your head in spots and air can go through it. This helmet also comes with "hat" covers; the one I have came with the Paris herringbone cover, and I anticipate using it more in the fall/winter/spring, when the decreased ventilation won't be as much of an issue (cover here).

 Instrumental to my bike's friendliness toward daily use and "car-alternative"-ness are racks. Right now I just have my rear rack and front basket. I "permanently" use bungees on my rear rack, since they hold my lock more on that in a sec) and can be configured to hold packages or containers. I do want to get a couple of Wald folding rear baskets, which would hold more, and because bungees are great for some things, but I wouldn't want to use it to hold produce or bread, which it would squish. (For now, those smaller things work find in the front basket).

And here's how I hold my lock. I was keeping it in a bag that I attached to the rack, pannier style, but this is even nicer, and so easy. For short rides, I just slip the lock through the under side of the bungees, so it's flush between the bungees and the rack. For longer, bumpier rides, I run one of the bungees through the U of the lock, ensuring it cannot fall.

Comfort and convenience are key, and my mirror and gloves go a long way in that department. I have a big, dorky mirror on my bike that I use to see traffic approaching from behind. This is especially handy with heavy loads in the front basket, because that affects the handling of the bike and I can face forward more consistently. Just like in a car, the mirror doesn't eliminate your need to be aware and check your blind spots, but I can keep a closer eye on approaching cars (ensuring they see me) and have a better feel for traffic generally.

The gloves absorb shock from riding. The crochet backs keep my hands from feeling hot and sticky on July rides. I will probably try to wear them under mittens or gloves when it gets chilly, rather than buying a different pair. I wear them on my 6mi ride to work, but don't for the 2mi ride to church.

These are inexpensive items that improve my ride experience. Each is priced significantly under $10.

{Mirror. Gloves.}

Then there are the items I won't leave the house without. These live in my work bag, my backpack, or any pannier-type bag I use during the day. They include my wallet (similar here) and a little make-up bag (similar here, though mine was one of those freebees that came with a purchase of travel-sized Aveda stuff). I repurposed to hold random items, such as make-up, feminine products, my bike tools, and, when I'm locking up my bike, my lights. 

I keep the essentials in a purse or bag (mine is ancient; similar here), which I just flop in the front basket, generally. I also keep "permanent" bungees here, and in this case, snapped the purse around it so it was extra secure. I pop the purse out and go about my business when I reach my destination. Sometimes I prefer a backpack or other larger tote, so it will hold my helmet, if I don't feel like screaming "I rode my bike" with what I'm carrying.

Finally, lights. Mine are by Serfas. They were expensive, but when I ride at night, I don't want to wonder if I can see or be seen. I lost one of the straps to the rear light (they are secure when on the bike and terribly easy to drop and lose when removing from the bike; one casualty less than a month in...). They are very bright, have different brightness options, and can either be steady or blink. I generally opt for "blink" to increase my visibility; this also uses less battery power. They are rechargeable via USB cord, and have a red indicator light to suggest 30 minutes or less of battery power remaining at the current use level. I haven't had to reacharge them yet, and I've used them for about 3 rides over the month since I bought them. The front light is bright enough to use as a flashlight in a's brighter than my hubby's Maglite

So that, in a nutshell, is what I have with me when I ride. My bike came with fenders, but I also think they are key, for they keep the road dirt and debris off your clothing (especially your back). The chainguard helps, too, and reduces the risk of fabric getting caught in the chain, but I still wear skirts/shorts or roll up my right pant leg, just to be safe. Not worth the risk to body or trouser...

Until next time, cheers!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Women's Bike Riding Events in St. Louis! {July 2013}

There is a great local resource for riders in St. Louis called Missouri Trailnet (here). There is a specific suborganization that supports women cyclists in the Metro STL area. The group is called "Arch Women" (link here).

I subscribe to the Arch Women email to receive updates about events, such as Women's Bike Lunches and Happy Hour Bike Rides. (Hat tip to Melissa for referring me to them!)

Here's the email, word-for-word (links intact for ease of clicking):

Dear Arch Women,
Next week's Arch Women meeting will be on July 17, from 12-1 p.m. Hope to see you there! Details as follows:
When: Wednesday, July 17, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m.Where: The Railway Exchange Building, 12th floor lobby (611 Olive St.)Topic: Running errands by bike. Bring your lunch, and bring a friend!
We're also thrilled to announce the details for an Arch Women Happy Hour Ride. Even if you can't join us for the ride, meet us at Sasha's for a drink!
When: Wednesday, July 31, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.Where: Meet at the Downtown Bicycle Station (1011 Locust St., 63101). We will then ride as a group to Sasha's on Shaw (4069 Shaw, 63110)Distance: 4.5 milesCost: Free! Click here for more information.

You can sign up for emails at the Arch Women link above. I went to the June lunch meeting and enjoyed the company and discussions! Looking forward to trying to go again next week. Meetings are generally the third Friday - was every other month, but this month is 2 in a row, so that's a good sign re: interest levels.

I am going to scoot - the weather is really lovely today (85 with moderate humidity) and I might try to get a bike ride in before the sun sets.

Happy riding!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Summer Bike Riding Goals

It's generally quite hot in St. Louis in the summer! I have pretty modest goals as a result, but this makes for a nice and easy time to transition back into biking without trying to do too much all at once. Here's where things stand and what I'm currently working on

Goals and current status:

  1. Ride to church for meetings and worship
    So far, so good! I have attended worship three times since I started riding* and have had one meeting schedule at the church, and I'm 3 for 4 so far! The day I drove was only because I was playing in our volunteer orchestra and have a rather large and unwieldy instrument case. I might figure out how to bike with it at some point, but I don't want to do too much too soon in terms of testing my balance or tethering skills. 
  2. Ride to work when the weather permits
    So far, I've ridden to work twice - once on a test run on a Saturday morning (June 15) and once for real (July 1). The remaining days have had heavy rain or storms in the forecast (I don't mess with lightning) or have been hot and quite sticky (again, sometime I'm game to navigate as my comfort level increases, but when it's as muggy as it gets in St. Louis, figuring out how to dress** and how early to leave the house are things I'm still figuring out). Last Monday, it was 63F when I rode to work and 78F when I rode home! Unheard of for July in St. Louis. 
  3. Get a bike basket...or baskets
    Part of my hesitation to ride to work was having the right places to store stuff while I'm riding. I have been riding with a diaper bag*** which works better than expected, but still leaves much to be desired. For example, it's soft-sided, and sometimes little bits would knock against the spokes (never loose enough to catch, but the sound is distracting), and it was the only place for a drink on my bike, so I had to come to a full stop to get water. Not the end of the world, especially since I'd probably stop to drink even with easier access (still getting comfortable on the bike - I'm just not at a place where I feel stable with my right turn signals). But hardly ideal. I received a front basket for my birthday last week and installed it myself the same day! Next step will be to get two rear, folding Wald baskets for the back.
*I sing in the choir at my church from August or September to May or June, and am very active in leadership, and so when things slow down for the summer, so do I. It's a chance to keep my batteries charged so that it's good for me and I'm good for it! I attend about every other week in the summer, unless I'm traveling, which I also do extensively during summer weekends, since I'm not missing choir as a result.

**I participate in a limited wardrobe project called Project 333 (I do a modified 2-month project) and so swapping out what I picked for May and June on a whim was not practical. However, incorporating biking into my life definitely informed my choices for July and August!

***I read several years ago that diaper bags make great camera bags because the bottle slots are great for camera lenses. So that is why I have a diaper bag. The stroller straps clip right on to my rear rack, which is awesome, though I had to play with placement, since I was kicking the front side of the bag when it was hooked all the way forward on the rack. 

Here's the new front basket! I am looking forward to sharing more bike adventures with you. If I can get into a rhythm, I might try to update every Friday (Fiets Fridays or something).