My bicycle-riding season is winding down fast, now that college football is here, the days are shorter, and my first century (and all the training for it) is done.
I am back to training mostly now for distance walks, which would be distance runs if I could run (bad ankle). Forgive me for disgressing about my ankle. While I train for the Seattle Marathon Walk in November (yes, you do need to train for this!), I am hoping to do another distance bicycle ride or two. But they will be on my own — I was unable to make the logistics of another organized ride, such as the Ride Around the Sound on Sept. 15 or the Harvest Century in the Portland area Sept. 30, work.
And, honestly, after doing the Tour de Peaks 100-mile ride and the Seattle Century 85-mile ride two weeks apart in July and August, I have felt that any further 75-mile-plus rides could wait until 2013.
So, after two seasons of bicycle riding behind me now, let me list for you 20 best practices I’ve learned about riding in the Puget Sound area. Some of these are no-brainers, some aren’t. Here goes.
1. Safety first, no matter what: I try to be proactive about this, in deciding what routes to ride, time of day I’m riding, side of the street I’m riding on, and so on. I’ve seen and heard about enough bicycle accidents — and have had plenty of near-mishaps myself with cars and pedestrians — to really try to emphasize riding safely.
2. Look at every driver’s eyes, to make sure he/she sees you: I did this as a runner, and now I do it as a bicyclist. At a stop sign, stoplight or driveway, I don’t cross in front of a stopped car unless I am sure the driver notices me. Many times, he/she won’t look both ways, such as in making a right turn on a red light after barely stopping. I’ve had close calls with this; sometimes they notice you only after they start moving through the intersection.
3. Ride with traffic, not against traffic: Motorists are used to passing bicyclists who are riding in the same direction to their right. They get freaked out when they come upon a bicyclist going the other way, especially if they have to veer one way or the other to avoid a collison. Play it safe.
4. Always let faster cyclists pass you, but yell if they cut you off: Most every bicyclist gets passed in races or rides, and this should be no big deal. Polite riders pass you and say, “On your left” or something similar. If a rider zips past you with reckless disregard for your safety or your right to a slice of the road, speak up! Make them remember next time to pass people with care and respect.
5. Always try to pass on your left: This is respectful; riders don’t expect to be passed on the right (unless they are riding on the far left side of the road, for some reason). Passing on the left is also the safest way to pass someone.
6. Always try to spit to your right: For some reason, it is much easier for me to spit to my left, but I am trying to break this. It seems that I often spit to my left just when a rider comes out of nowhere to pass me on the left. I guess that’s the danger of passing me. Spitting on the right is much more courteous.
7. Ride on streets when you can, but don’t be afraid to do sidewalks when it makes sense: I try to avoid high-traffic streets with no bike lanes. The sidewalks are safer. If they are full with pedestrians, you must either walk your bike or ride on them very slowly. Riding on streets with no bike lanes in heavy or rush-hour traffic makes little sense to me.
8. Better yet, do trails when you can: When planning rides, consider routes that have trails covering part or all of the ride. It is just so much nicer dealing with pedestrians and other bicyclists than it is cars, in my opinion. The Burke-Gilman, Sammamish River, Interurban and other regional trails in the Seattle area are an incredible resource. We are extremely lucky to have them. They are safer than streets and save you time as well.
9. Always wear a helmet: Serious riders always wear their helmets. There is no state law requiring this in Washington state, but most cities have laws mandating helmets, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. No reason not to wear one.
10. Be careful weaving when climbing hills: There are two challenging hills in my neighborhood that I simply will not try, because I need to weave my way up tough hills like these. And these particular hills have twists and turns where cars can sneak up on you. Big hills are worth conquering, but avoid ones that are unsafe because you might weave into a car’s path.
11. Avoid holding up cars when riding: I’d be lying if I said I stopped at absolutely every stop sign. Sometimes, there are stop signs in the middle of nowhere, with no traffic anywhere in sight. So I don’t stop. But I always do look both ways before crossing. My rule of thumb is to always stop at intersections and coming out of driveways, etc., to avoid holding up traffic or single cars. If I don’t see any cars, I go. Remember always look both ways before proceeding.
12. When going fast down hills, have your hand ready to brake: One of the great thrills of bicycling is speeding down a hill, especially after just climbing one. It’s like a reward. I sometimes go, “Wheee!” But, I always have my hand ready to use a brake if necessary. Serious accidents happen when you lose control on a downhill or you face something unexpected. I am always ready to brake if I have to.
13. Learn your gears! My Schwinn hybrid bike has three main gears and seven speeds for each of those gears. So, really 21 gears. It took me almost a year to learn how to use them effectively, and I still am probably only at 75-80 percent. But I am much more versed than I was a year ago, and it has helped navigate hills and even flat stretches much better. The more you ride, the more you learn.
14. Once you know you know your gears, learn how to peddle through hills: One of the many things I’ve learned has been to reduce my peddling of air when coming down off one hill and facing another. Veteran cyclists know that you must keep peddling downhill to make faster work of an upcoming hill. Where I ride, you have lots of rolling hills, and you want to manage them without wasting energy and time. Using your gears efficiently helps so much here.
15. Consider stopping at every food stop: Most organized rides have food stops about every 15 miles. These often are life-savers for me. I feel riders should make it a point to stop at these, even just for a short break if they aren’t always hungry or thirsty. Stopping adds time to your ride, but more often than not, you’ll be glad you took the break — and you may be hungrier than you realize. If you’re just doing a training ride, break as often as necessary and have protein bars and water or sports drink available.
16. Be careful about using headphones: I love music when I ride. But if headphones are prohibited or discouraged, I do without them. Usually, that’s a sign the route includes lots of cars to worry about. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” by Van Halen doesn’t sound so great if I’ve got a car riding my tail — but that’s a better situation than not knowing about the car at all, such as if my headphones are blasting loud. I’ve decided that for my longer rides, I will leave the headphones in the car. If I am on trails for most of a ride, that’s different. I’ll enjoy my rock-and-roll fantasies.
17. Know how to dress for long rides: I certainly have bought into the idea that tops and shorts made for bicycle riding are smart to wear! They break the wind, absorb sweat, and don’t let you get soaked in wet weather. I now have several bicycle shirts from rides I’ve done. As in dressing for a long run, you have to prepare for rain or changes in temperature. You may need layers or to carry a light jacket. Plan for possible extremes when dressing for a long ride.
18. Watch for glass in bike lanes and shoulders: I may obsess over this. I constantly look for glass on rides. The last thing I want is a flat tire in the middle of nowhere — and I must say I’ve been lucky this bicycling season (knock on wood). But I recommend avoiding anything that sparkles, and also metal, aluminum, small branches and twigs — anything that could conceivably cause a flat. I probably should include on this list carrying a spare tire and changing tools whenever you ride. But since I don’t (I do only on long organized rides), I’ve left it out. As a result, I obsess about glass.
19. Ride leisurely when you feel like it! I do many rides where I get passed routinely because most other riders are in a big hurry. I believe in getting a good workout and pushing yourself to the max, but I also believe in enjoying a ride. If I am not in a hurry or not out to push myself hard in a training ride, I go at a comfortable pace. My hybrid bike makes it difficult to keep up with those with faster, more expensive bikes, such as riders on Mercer Island, anyway (by the way, I love that loop around the perimeter of the island).
20. If you don’t know where you are going, it takes you longer to get there: This is straight from Yogi Berra, but it’s so true. When doing rides, it’s fun to explore new places, take turns you haven’t taken before, and changing plans in midstream. But avoid getting lost, and have a plan for how long you’d like to ride, and where you might end up if you take a new route somewhere. This rule doesn’t apply if you have all the time in the world and have no one worried about your whereabouts!
I hope these are helpful. I am sure I will have a new set of rules after the 2013 riding season.
Thanks for reading. Till next time.