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!

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.

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7 Tips for New (or Returning) Cyclists

I’m not planning on turning my site into a cycling blog, but I have had a few questions recently from people who were interested in starting to ride after having me tell them how much fun I’ve been having this summer and how it’s helped me lose quite a bit of weight.

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Riding along memory lane

Or in this case, a rail-trail.

I spent much of this Memorial Day weekend on my bike. The original motivation came from “traveling” back to some of the places I grew up in using Google Street View. As I zipped around various locations in Pontiac and Sylvan Lake, Michigan, I came to the end of Benvenue Street, where there used to be train tracks and then the gate into the playground of my elementary school. The tracks aren’t there anymore, replaced by a section of the Clinton River Trail, a rail-trail that runs from Sylvan Lake to the Oakland-Macomb County line at Dequindre Road.

When I was in sixth grade, I was the captain of the AAA Safety Patrol. In addition to my spiffy orange cross belt, I also proudly wore a silver and blue captain’s badge. Along with my trusty lieutenant, Lenny, we had to check each of the safety patrol posts each morning and afternoon, and if needed, fill in if someone was missing. One of the posts was the Grand Trunk Western railroad track at the end of Benvenue, just southeast of Avondale Avenue in Sylvan Lake.

Even though the tracks went behind my neighborhood in southwest Pontiac as well (they ran along the old city landfill, which was a marvelous place to play growing up – yes, I played in a dump!) and we sometimes saw the occasional hobo who had set up temporary camp in the old landfill (again, hard to imagine but true), where the tracks went once they disappeared out of my sight was never completely clear. More than once I imagined hopping onto a boxcar and seeing where the train might take me, but being of reasonably sound mind, I never actually attempted this.

Flash forward to 2017, and my discovery that the old tracks were now legally accessible. Pulling up TrailLink.com, I found a place to start my ride in West Bloomfield Township. The trailhead for the West Bloomfield Trail is at Haggerty Road, just south of Pontiac Trail (though there are only four or five parking spots there – many more are available a few miles east on Arrowhead Road, again just south of Pontiac Trail). I parked in the lot of a restaurant across the street, unloaded my bike from my truck bed, and started up the trail.

The West Bloomfield Trail, like the Clinton River Trail it connects to in Sylvan Lake, is a packed dirt trail with very fine loose gravel over it. This surface is generally very good to ride on; it can be a bit sketchy after a heavy rain, but overall it drains well and is mostly easy to ride on. There’s also very little elevation change along this route, so it’s good for just about any skill level.

Typical stretch of the West Bloomfield Trail.

About 7.3 miles in, the trail crosses Orchard Lake Road for the fourth time and becomes the Clinton River Trail. Following it along the southeast side of Sylvan Lake, I eventually came to the end of Benvenue Street, where I’d guarded the railroad tracks for kindergartners and fourth and fifth graders over forty years ago.

Looking east along the Clinton River Trail, at Benvenue Street in Sylvan Lake, Michigan.

End of Benvenue Street. The sign used to read “Road Ends” (still faintly visible under the red paint). Gate to the old Whitfield School playground in the distance.

The kids would cross the tracks here, then go through the gate to enter the playground of Daniel Whitfield School. The school was demolished over a decade ago and the land has remained vacant ever since. It used to look like this from Orchard Lake Road:

Daniel Whitfield School, circa 1946-47.

I walked up to the gate and stepped through onto the former playground.

The gate.

The former playground. Used to be two baseball diamonds to the right, used by the Little League in the summer. Main building would have been straight ahead, a one-story annex was built in the late 1950s and would have been behind the larger trees in the right of the photo. Looks like someone has been using the field for soccer practice recently. Orchard Lake Road is in the distance.

I didn’t spend much time there. It was many years ago in a galaxy far, far away, but it was fun to finally cruise “along the tracks,” past where I’d spent so much time in my youth. I continued into Pontiac to Beaudette Park, not far from the neighborhood where I grew up, then turned around and started back to West Bloomfield. A nice day, a nice ride, a nice memory.

(On a somewhat related note: When I started in radio in 1982, I first used the name “Tom James” because one popular choice for an airname was to use your middle name and I’m Thomas James Kephart. But “James” was a pretty common choice, obviously, and there was also Tommy James and the Shondells, of course, so I decided to change pretty quickly. In order to come up with something more unique, I chose my elementary school’s name – Whitfield – and became “Tom Whitfield” for the rest of my radio career. Thanks to Daniel Whitfield for the inspiration!)