Repost: 7 Tips for New (or Returning) Cyclists

I rolled over 1,000 miles for 2021 this week (combined indoor mileage on the trainer and outdoors), and there are starting to be more people out on the local shared trails. You can tell the folks who use the trails regularly, because they tend to be more aware of other people approaching. But there are still plenty of people walking (or riding) side-by-side or entire families out for a stroll or a ride who tend to forget that they’re not the only people using the trail.

I’m not complaining. I love seeing our trails get used. But there are some etiquette tips for using the trails that can make it safer for everyone. I posted this originally last September, but here are my seven tips for new or returning cyclists:

bike helmet
Bontrager Starvos road bike helmet. This is the one I bought after my old one gave up its life for me.
  1. Wear a helmet. I know, why do I need a helmet? I’m not racing/I only ride in my neighborhood/I look stupid in a helmet (this is mostly guys and I’m pretty sure the same reason guys don’t want to wear masks). This is why: you only get one head and one brain and if you fall off your bike for any reason there’s a good chance you’ll land on your noggin, which may cause damage you won’t be happy about. Take it from me. I absent-mindedly tried to stop using only my front brakes a few years ago and went ass-over-handlebars onto the asphalt, landing on my forehead. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet which did exactly what it was supposed to: absorbed the shock, crushing the plastic and the foam padding. I ended up with a few scrapes on my hands and one leg (and bent handlebars) but was able to ride home without even a concussion. There are lots of potential hazards that might dump you to the ground – cars backing out of driveways, children on bikes coming the other direction who aren’t great at steering, and the ever-present squirrels and rabbits, who love to change directions and try to run under your wheels. If you prefer your head to be undamaged, wear a helmet.
  2. Learn to use your brakes correctly and make sure they’re set up right. You’ll need them. As the previous story illustrates, don’t use your front brakes until after you’ve applied the rear ones. Rear, then front. Rear, then front. If your front brakes lock up by themselves you’re going to try to fly and I’m pretty sure you won’t be any better at it than I was. Also, wear a helmet.
  3. Don’t wear headphones or earbuds. You’re going to want to hear the road or trail noise, both the tranquil sounds of nature and the guy coming up on you from behind yelling, “Passing on your left! Passing on your left!” Frankly, nothing is more irritating on a trail than someone walking their dog with AirPods in who can’t hear me coming. More than once I’ve had to come to a complete stop because their dog is all over the trail and they couldn’t hear my plea to pass them. Even worse is when they hear me at the last second (I have slowed down to a crawl already), get startled, and then are angry at me for “surprising” them. Good thing I have a helmet on.
  4. Always, but always, announce that you’re going to pass someone on a trail. Walkers, runners, and fellow cyclists. Always. There are several ways to do that, including bells or horns, but I prefer a shouted “I’m on YOUR LEFT!” If they know which hand is which (not guaranteed, I admit) they have a chance to move to the opposite side. Most people are appreciative of this – some even tell me “thank you for telling me!” which makes me think not everyone does this. You can even do this with the strap of your helmet under your chin!
  5. Consider using an app to help you track your mileage. It’s a great motivator and you can often connect with other riders in your area (and worldwide) who will help support and motivate you. I have a couple of dozen cyclists in Michigan’s Thumb area who I follow on Strava and they’ve followed me back, and we give each other thumbs up on our rides. I’ve only ever met a couple of them face-to-face (though I’m pretty sure I’ve had seen a few heading the other direction on our area’s more popular trails), but it’s a great community and can be inspirational. Some of the cyclists log thousands of miles each year and it’s fun to watch their miles add up. Also, all of them wear helmets.
  6. Hydrate! One of the mistakes I made when I started cycling about ten years ago was to not drink much – if any – water when I was on a longer ride. I figured I’d lose weight by sweating off water, right? Wrong. At some point your body will start trying to protect itself if you get dehydrated and the whole fat/calorie burning process slows down. So be sure to add water to your engine when you ride. You can fill your water bottle at the same time as you’re grabbing your helmet!
  7. In case I’ve forgotten to mention it, wear a helmet.

Now’s the time to get out and ride. Start with a couple of miles and, if you’re so inclined, add a half mile each time out to push yourself. A 10- to 12-mile ride at about 10-12 mph takes, by the miracle of math, about an hour, which is a great workout. But anything shorter (or longer!) is great, too! The point is to stay active.

And wear a helmet, of course. Have fun!

The last ride of 2020

I’d been hoping for a couple of weeks that the weather on New Year’s Eve would be good for a last outdoor ride for the year. Fortunately, it was sunny and around 30°F at noon, so off I went. Originally, I was hoping to hit exactly 20.20 miles today, but I realized I’d probably have to ride up and down my block several times at the end of the ride to make that happen, so instead I decided to ride at least 20.20 miles, which I did:

The “four cemeteries” are Woodlawn Cemetery in Marine City; Hillside Cemetery in St. Clair; Rose Hill Cemetery in East China Township; and Holy Cross Cemetery, also in Marine City.

That took my mileage total for 2020 to 1,959.12 miles over 144 rides. I was on the bike for a total of 6 days, 3 hours, and 23 minutes. I didn’t quite make it to 2,000 miles, but considering I didn’t start until Memorial Day, I’m happy with that. It also broke my old annual record of 1,043.88 miles (set in 2015) by over 915 miles, or nearly double the old mark.

If I add my walking distance of 82.44 miles (I mostly walk once a week to give my back a break on the bike), I did move over 2,000 miles in 2020 (2,041.56 to be exact).

It starts over tomorrow. It looks like as long as I get out before noon, I can start 2021 with an outdoor ride. Otherwise, I’ll be cycling through the magical virtual roads of Zwift. Ride on!

Breaking records (updated)

During the warmer weather, I plan my cycling routes based on the wind direction, trying to minimize headwinds by putting tree lines or other obstacles on the side the wind is blowing from.

Now that it’s colder out, I’ve been mostly riding indoors (though the eight days from November 3-10 were beautiful so I rode outdoors nearly every day for a total of 92 miles). Checking this week’s forecast, I see that we might get into the 60s on Friday… hopefully I can get outside again.

Wahoo Kickr
Wahoo Kickr bike trainer

My new Wahoo Kickr, along with Zwift, is a lot of fun, though, and I probably work harder riding indoors than I would normally outside. I’m already starting to recognize names in the Zwift world. So far everyone is very supportive and it’s definitely nice to still be able to get a 45 minute to an hour ride in.

I’d never ridden indoors or outdoors during November before this year. Last month, I posted my mileage records for each month, according to Strava, which I’ve been using since 2014. Here’s the updated chart:

MonthMileage recordYear
October 216.72020

I started riding this year around Memorial Day and my 2020 total is now 1,612.2 miles (2,594.6 km), with a total of 125 hours and 9 minutes in the saddle over 115 rides.

Including indoor miles, 2000 for the year is still possible.

A lovely day for an election

I took today off from work. I’ve tried to stay offline as much as possible, because the overload of election news might make my head explode. I will watch the results – however preliminary they are – this evening. But during the day I’ve been avoiding the election, with one significant exception, of course.

I’ve moved my regular road bike (my six-year-old Trek 7.2 FX) indoors onto a new smart trainer, but I want to be able to ride outside when the weather permits this late fall and into the winter. Today is a beautiful day in southeastern Michigan with a temperature around 50F and clear, sunny skies, so I thought today would be a good day to get my old Schwinn Frontier mountain bike ready and ride it to the polls. It didn’t take much work, it’s been inside most of the last few years so the tires are good, just needed some air. A little chain lubricant and a check of the brakes and it was good to go.

So I rode off to vote. In Marine City, voting takes place at the fire hall, which is about a mile away. When I arrived, I was surprised to see a line outside of the building at about 10:30 a.m. Not completely surprised, because voter engagement in this election is amazingly high, but somewhat surprised because in 25 years of living here, I’ve never seen a line to vote. Maybe a short line inside, one or two people, but nothing like this.

I locked my bike and joined the line. People were very friendly, even the folks who were complaining about Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the masks they were having to wear, and the “overreaction” to the coronavirus, which is, after all, “just a mild sinus infection.” The woman in front of me in line was wearing medical scrubs and she never turned around but just shook her head slowly as the infectious disease experts around us continued to explain how COVID isn’t serious, despite two of them knowing someone who’d gotten very ill from it, including one person on a ventilator, and that they didn’t want to get it themselves.

Voting itself was quick and efficient. Kudos to the poll workers, who seemed to be very prepared for today’s vote, as they always are. That’s one of the reassuring things for me: even though the city and township clerks who actually run America’s elections may lean toward a political party or have conservative or liberal beliefs, in the end nearly all of them will run an honest election with no tricks, despite pressure from the national and state party organizations to do so. When they say “all politics is local,” this is a manifestation of that. These people live in the towns they serve, and if something goes wrong, they’ll have to face their neighbors for years afterward. So I’m not worried about widespread nonsense at the polls.

After voting, I got back on the Schwinn and took it on a longer test ride around town, logging just over ten miles on it. It still has a nice ride. I put slicker tires on it a few years ago, replacing the nubby mountain bike tires, so it moves along pretty well despite having a fairly heavy frame. I suppose it helps that I’m putting about 40 or 50 fewer pounds on that frame.

Take a deep breath and try to relax if you can. Whether you voted early or in-person, it’s out of our control now. We’ve done what we needed to do; next it’s up to the counters to do their jobs.

An unexpectedly nice ride on an unseasonably warm day

Had a great ride today on my bike. I didn’t expect to get another nice, warm day to ride outside, but today was in the low 70s and sunny through the ride. Storms came through later and it’s supposed to get chilly again tonight, but for one October Friday, it was summer again.