Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Commuting on Vacation

Bike commuting doesn’t have to be limited to riding to and from work, or running errands around town. In fact, I have professed, on numerous occasions, that my favorite method of exploring a new country, state, city or town - is on a bike.  

Many European cities are exceptionally bicycle friendly and make commuting by bicycle easy.  In fact, Amsterdam and Copenhagen are notorious for their bike friendly culture. But, to my surprise, urban metropolises like Tokyo and Chicago are also making efforts to encourage transportation by bike.

Although both Tokyo and Kyoto have mass transit systems, they also have designated and well respected bike lanes. In Tokyo, a technologically advanced and modern city with over 13 million residents, you can join the masses funneling into the city’s complex subway system, or you can hop on a rental bike at one of the many rental kiosks available around town. Like the popular cycle rental kiosks available in the United States, Japan, and many other countries, have a similar bike rental kiosk system. You can rent a bike from a kiosk for a few minutes, or several days. In addition, many large cities, like Tokyo, have a myriad of bike shops that cater to tourists and rent a variety of bikes, from electric bikes to road bikes, perfect for exploring the city.

Limiting your travel transportation to the subway or mass transit system when  in a new city can be confining. Last summer while in Kyoto, my husband selected a hotel because it had electric bikes available for its guests.  We checked the bikes out every morning and returned them, with dead batteries, in the evening. Each morning, the bikes were returned to us with charged batteries and ready for our next daily adventure. While in Kyoto, we never took the subway or a taxi. On bikes, we were able to explore the city in a depth that we would have missed in a taxi or on the subway. We found incredible bakeries on side streets that we surely would have missed in a taxi, and we discovered ancient shops on secluded side streets and alleyways that we would have passed right under on the subway.

Finding a hotel with bikes available has become a priority in our vacation travels. In Charleston, our hotel had cruiser bikes available for all guests. Pedaling to our dinner reservation was far more enjoyable than trudging the cobblestone streets in the city’s infamous humidity. In Charlotte, although our hotel did not provide its guests with bikes, but a bicycle rental kiosk was conveniently located right outside. 

It’s surprising how many hotels now make bikes available to their guests.  Just check online before you book your hotel and ask if bikes are available.  And, many cities both in the United States and abroad offer bicycle rental kiosks. Check out www.bcycle.com/top-nav-bar/bikes-stations for a list of cities in the Unites States with bike rental kiosks.

In addition, with so many hotels now offering bikes to their guests, there are now online directories for bike hotels. Check out http://www.bikabout.com/lodging/ before your next vacation.  Not only can you save yourself the hassle of navigating a new city by car or subway, you can also get your lungs, heart and legs pumping while exploring sites that would be otherwise overlooked in standard mass transportation.  

Friday, May 18, 2018

Getting started Commuting - Riding to the Ride!

Before I get started with Aimee's commuting experiences and my tips with getting started communicating, let me provide you some background context.

I have never considered myself a "bike commuter", a cyclist of varying disciplines, yes, but bike commuting seemed different or foreign to me. And when it all boils down I love riding in the dirt, whether it be on my mountain bike or my new found love for gravel grinding I just feel at home and happy when my two-wheels hit the natural surface.

Needless to say, I love cycling and I take a lot of pride and have the best experiences when I can help others drink the cycling kool-aid like I have. To help others see the amazing benefits that can come from a life on two-wheels is what makes me believe in the Bike Ambassadors mission.

Each year I set my sights on a goal that is both physically and mentally challenging for me and my bike. Over the years I've challenged myself to events like the Dirty Kanza (100 miler) and the Bailey Hundito, but in 2018 my focus is a bit different. And while I still plan on doing a couple long, physically challenging cycling events, I've challenged myself to a life of commuting by bike more often and practicing what I preach; #ridemoredriveless.

So how does one tackle a life of riding more and driving less? Finding ways to incorporate commuting that are consistent with me. This is where my journey starts and believe me I don't have all the answers and I'm stoked to share my progress, my tips and tricks that I learn this year with all of you.

It's all about one day at a time and staying consistent with who I am. I live in an area where we are fortunate to have double-digits worth of singletrack trail within a short commute from my back door.

Aimee's getting started commuting tip number one:

  • Ride to the Ride - I love mountain biking (have I mentioned that?). When I started thinking about how to get myself accustomed to commuting by bike I really adapted the mantra of "commuting in ways that stay consistent with myself". I knew first hand that if I could connect commuting with something that was already really ingrained in me, I might be able to make it stick. So here is where I've started. Unless I've been invited on a group ride in a neighboring community I ride my mountain bike to every ride. Not only does it help me warm up so I can really enjoy the singletrack, it takes me back to being a kid, when times were simple and my bike was the only way I was going to get anywhere and every time I ride to my ride I feel that same empowerment I did 20 some odd years ago when my bike opened up a world of possibilities. 
This is a work in progress, so stay tuned to our blog for more tips and tricks as I embark on building a lifestyle focused on riding more and driving less.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Route planning tips for bike commuting

Planning your bike commuting route can be challenging. When commuting, you want to get to work or home as fast as possible and you don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of time on a longer detour. Of course, you would like to be safe too. Fortunately, there are different tools and websites available to help you out.

Just like a car route, Google Maps is a great way to start: identify your home and your destination and GO! Make sure to look at the bicycle overlay, which will show green (or brown) lines as bike friendly streets and trails, and use the bike search option, versus the standard car search. Google bike routes are considered in beta version, but the data behind the maps are usually directly fed by municipalities and do give a great first approach of the route to tackle… After a first result, I often check the satellite images for bike lane signs or use streetview to get a lay of the land. It is always good to know if you are on the street, if there is a bike lane, or if you are directed to a poorly-maintained sidewalk that only in name has just been upgraded to bike route. Would you be better off in the street in that case, or should you reroute? Another great way to get an idea where others ride is via Strava heatmaps, which is free and can be accessed without an account. It is fun to see what other riders prefer, and maybe you can optimize your route.
Be aware and prepared, a bike lane or trail can unexpectedly end.
There is a personal touch to each bike route. Not everyone likes or is comfortable riding in the same streets. Some people wish to avoid bike lanes at all cost and are willing to take longer routes to be completely off street on a bike path. Some quirks, like unfriendly intersections, you will only find out by trying your route, which is done best when you are not in a hurry for a 9 am meeting. I usually keep optimizing my routes to be faster and safer for a long time after my first attempt. Bike infrastructure in Colorado keeps improving rapidly, and new bike lanes or trails show up all the time. I also like to ride with colleagues and friends, just to learn new ways. I even have different routes depending on the time of year. In winter, I will partly use a bike trail that is nicely plowed after each storm, has no cars, and is safer and off-street in the dark. In summer, I won't dwindle and go the shortest route, which is unfortunately along a busy highway. A bonus gravel trail along the way makes up for it and is a shortcut and quiet.
If you have the luxury, trails are a wonderful and safe way to commute off street.
Denver, as most other Front Range municipalities, has a network of designated bike trails across town. In Denver these are labelled as D-routes and they are a great way to start plotting your commute. It will be worth to check out what your own city or county has listed as bike trails and routes. Bicycle Colorado has a nice list to get you started for most communities (link below).
A GPS, your smartphone or just a plain old map can be handy to take a peak when you are lost, have an unexpected flat and need the nearest bus stop, etc. And.. rule number one when riding your route for the first few times is to give yourself enough room before your first morning meeting.
Happy pedaling!

Useful websites:

My summer morning commute is unfortunately on the shoulder of a busy highway. It is very scenic and by far the quickest way to work, but I try not to ride here in the dark.


Friday, February 9, 2018

Dressing for Winter Riding

Perfect clothes for a windy 25 degree gravel ride: skull cap, thick buff, fleece-lined coat,
thick gloves, windproof tights, and insulated boots. 

I've recently moved from Golden, CO to a different biking mecca: Harrisonburg, VA. As the temperature dropped, I was reminded that 30 degrees in Virginia feels like 20 degrees in Colorado.  This meant rethinking my usual wardrobe choices, and buying in some new riding boots.

Investing in a winter riding wardrobe can be expensive, and is best handled by adding a bit each year, especially as technology improves.  You'll figure out what you need pretty quick, and the local bike shop and riders will have good ideas for the particulars of your riding area.

The basics of a good wardrobe are: head cap, buff, winter jacket, wool under-garment, winter gloves, windproof pants, and good boots.  As temperatures drop, garment thickness increases as do layers.

Always err on too much gear and too thick of gear.  Being cold sucks.  You can always take things off or adjust as needed.

For the head and neck, a head cap and buff are critical.  A good fleece-lined jacket is perfect for cold temps, keeping out the wind and keeping in the heat. You can vary a t-shirt, light wool, or heavy wool under the jacket depending upon the temperatures.

Head & Neck: Upper left: thick buff. Upper right: thin buff.
Mid-left and right: Head caps, with and without brim
Mid-bottom: Balaclava
Very bottom: Helmet rain cap 
Upper garments: Top left: Mid-weight wool. Lower left: light-weight wool.
Upper right: Fleece jacket. Lower right: Long sleeve jersey.

There are a zillion options for keeping the hands warm.  Light gloves, light gloves with mitten covers, heavy gloves, over mitts, heavy-duty mittens, and finally, handle-bar mitts.  I prefer heavy gloves if the weather is below 40, and light gloves with mittens otherwise.

Handle-bet mitts. These are amazing in very cold weather.
Different assortments of gloves and mittens.
For the bottoms, there are windproof tights, leg-warmers, and 3/4 leg-warmers with high socks.  Or a combination if it is really cold.  And for feet, there are toe covers for shoes, full covers for shoes and insulated boots.  In my opinion, boots are the best investment one can make for winder riding; nothing else will keep your feet quite as warm.

Wind proof tights, full leg warmers,
and 3/4 leg warmers with tall socks.

Top: Toe booties. Middle: Shoe booties.
Bottom: Insulated boots

The now-departed Steve Tilford offered the following winter riding rule: 1 mile for every degree Farenheit.  He was professional bike racer, so I adjust to weekend warrior level and for sport. For mountain biking, I adjust this by .4 and for gravel, by .65, and for road, by .75.  Still, good advice.

Finally, keep the possibility of mechanicals in mind.  Unless you are super burly, stay reasonably close to safety with options for rescue.  Changing a flat in 20 degree weather gets you cold real fast, and is both a miserable and memorable experience.  And one not worth repeating.

Stay warm and happy riding!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Commuting in the dark...

Commuting in the dark is a whole different ballgame than commuting by day. You need a whole different set of gear and some forethought to get where you're going and back home again safely and comfortably.

First of all, the goal is to be seen. If cars can't see you, it won't be pleasant for you (or them!) A minimum of the following is necessary:

A bright headlight, especially if you're taking dark paths or streets;
A red tail light, the more blinking and obnoxious the better - you want the cars you encounter to be able to see you when they're coming up behind you.
Preferably a white helmet - the better to be seen with.
As much reflective gear as you can! 

If it's cold, as it tends to be when we need to ride in the dark, a warm jacket, hat, gloves, and warm shoes (hiking boots work well!) go a very long way to make you comfortable.
Here's my setup:

Another thing to keep in mind when commuting in the dark is the route you're going to take. I've found it helpful to ride it once or twice in daylight so I know where I need to turn, etc., as well as random things I might encounter that I may not see in the dark. When riding a bike path that goes under bridges, it's good to keep in mind that sometimes there are people sleeping under them! They're not always so visible in the dark...

At the end of the day, the views you see if you're willing to think things through a little bit can be beautiful. Sunset is one of my very favorite times to ride. Look at that sky!

Christmas lights can be kinda pretty, too:

With a little planning, you can get all the pretty views, too!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Health Benefits of Bike Commuting

Health Benefits of Bike Commuting

There are many reasons to bike to work, and it should be no shock that biking to work improves overall health.  There was one particular study done, involving over 200,000 people in 5 years.  It looked at those who only bike to work, people who bike and drive to work, biking and walking, walking alone and driving alone.  It was found that people who biked to work experienced a 41% decreased risk of dying than those who took public transport or drove.  People who solely biked to work had a 46% lower risk of developing and a 52% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who used public transport.  Bike commuters enjoy a 40% decreased risk of dying from cancer as well.  

People who biked and used public transport also retained a benefit of 24% decreased incidence of dying from any cause, as compared to those who used public transport.  The above benefits increased as the distance traveled to work increased as well.

Image result for biker made out of vegetables and fruit
Biking, which is known to be great exercise in of itself, will result in better cardiovascular health overall.  Even bike commuting short distances with improve baseline metabolic rate and cardiovascular output.  This improves cardiovascular health, decreases blood pressure, and leads to improved lean muscle mass and weight loss.  Additional benefits of bike commuting include improved digestion, better sleep, decreased anxiety and depression, and an boost overall sense of wellness.  Those who bike commute are less stressed overall,  and more productive  than their non bike-commuting counterparts.  These benefits are seen both at work, and in the household. 


Giving yourself the extra time to bike to and from work allows for some mental down time in between work and home.  One's ability to immediate focus at work is great, and to relax once home, and let work go, is enhanced.  Interactions with coworkers family members are more pleasant.  It is impossible to be in a bad mood after even just 5 minutes on a bicycle!  No matter how long or how short a commute is, making a least some of it on a bicycle is always worth it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Commuting with your Dog! It's not only possible, it's so AWESOME!

Commuting is bliss.  Adding a dog to the mix well... that's heaven.  How awesome to get to where you're going, and for your pup to get a workout in at the same time.  It's the best.  

Tips: Start small at first.  Start with a traditional short, non-stretchy, non-retractable leash.  Ride slow on an open path or road where people, dogs, cars, bikes won't be an issue.  Ride with the dog to your right side, get them used to the bike and the spinning wheels.  Learn to ride the bike with one hand while the other (right hand) manages the leash and keeps the dog off to the right side.  Having them right next to you while learning is best.  This keeps them from taking out your front wheel or getting a paw in the spokes.  Keep the speed slow and if things go wonky on you just remember to let go of the leash and bring things to a stop.  

What I've learned, at least for my dogs, is when they are running alongside me on my bike, they consider it "time to work" and they aren't distracted by things like dogs, people, rabbits -as they usually would be on a regular walk.  Dogs really like this higher-speed exercise fix.  

I've talked to my vet about this practice and she advises to always let the dog set the pace and dictate breaks and water stops. Don't ever pull the dog behind you or drag them along (obvi!).  Check their paws often to be sure their paw pads are doing ok, and if it's hot, stop often and give them water.  (They will usually gladly drink from your water bottle when they get thirsty enough).  As with any exercise, build up and work into it slowly.  If you have a puppy, ask your vet about this -it may not be wise with a young dog until their joints are fully developed.  

Another key item to teach the dog is "stop" so they know what is happening when you come to a stop sign or red light or other hazard or obstacle.  

The next best step for my dog and me was to graduate to an extendable-leash clipped with a carabiner to my waist- either to a fanny pack or to my backpack.  This frees up both hands to focus on handlebars and brakes and allows the dog to run ahead, next to you, or slightly behind, while avoiding a slack leash that can get easily tangled up.  

Here's a video to show that to you in practice: