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: 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

More than Miles, Bike Commuting Delivers a Daily Dose of Joy

Just shy of two years ago, we decided to move from the trail mecca of Golden, Colo. (complete with across-the-street trail access) to Denver. While I loved having trail access out my front door, I found climbing in a car to go anywhere exhausting and tough on my carbon consciousness. We found a darling, yet woefully dated bungalow in West Highland that offered a #ridemoredriveless daily lifestyle, shaved my daily commute to 15 minutes by bicycle, and served up plenty of renovation projects to keep us busy.

Our first year was hard – city life was dramatically different than rural Golden. The parking hassles, the noise, pavement everywhere…despite my best intentions to ride everywhere, I found the adjustment to city life difficult and old car habits were hard to break. Add to that my work and travel schedule kept me off the saddle and behind a desk more than ever…the days of carefree riding, simply opening my garage door to roll out on canyon roads or dirt felt foreign and beyond distant.

Interestingly, I found a daily dose of sanity by reaching for my bike to make that 15-minute commute to work. I chose between bikes lanes, bike paths and neighborhoods roads to pedal out the day before and behind me. And despite traveling upwards of three weeks a month, I strapped on my helmet to commute 96 times. The simplicity of grabbing my bike to go to work, dinner or the grocery store is indescribable. My commute became my joy and the system of bike paths around Denver, my new stomping grounds. I finally invested in a cruiser bike, complete with rechargeable lights, a rear wheel lock, fenders, a basket and a grocery getter pannier. The neighborhood was an old friend now, and I knew it’s streets. It wasn’t the foothills of Golden, but it was pretty awesome.

When my second spring rolled around, the quiet streets of West Highland blossomed into an entirely new neighborhood. My morning commutes were fragrant with spring flowers, and train of commuters on my route home brought familiar comfort when my days ran into darkness. I was now going days without moving my car. I added Lyft, walking and begging rides from hubby to my commute mix.

Even bigger this year, my hubby and I took our first cycling vacation. Rather than rent a car, we explored Norway by bike for eight days. The experience of riding our bikes in a foreign country, along quiet roads and boarding ferries to cross a fjord was indescribable. Sitting in a fruit stand to have lunch before pedaling to the next town...pure joy.  

I also found peace with merging my professional job + commuting. I don’t have a shower at work, so the struggle with hair + sweat management + outfit selection is real. I embraced the side ponytail to make my new post-helmet hair manageable and slowed my pace to avoid glistening. I tested my “professional” wardrobe and found that most everything was bike-friendliness for the time/distance required for my commute.  Despite my crazy travel schedule, I managed 92 commutes and 331 rather stylish miles by bike, if I do say so!  

If 2017 taught me anything, it’s that a commuter mindset happens in small, every day actions, not just the bold ones. I'm so grateful for my commuter team..this team is comprised of women from all backgrounds...medical, executives, lawyers, nonprofit leaders, small business owners and mathematicians. Despite their full schedules, these ladies stay committed to the bike commuter lifestyles they want to lead and remind me of the possibilities, joy and experiences to be had by bike. It would be very hard to trade in this lifestyle, given the freedom and hours of car-free life I’ve taken back. 

So here's to 2018! I'm ready for the adventures you have in store!

Friday, June 23, 2017

On commuting...

I have to say, I absolutely LOVE that I've been able to commute to work more in the last week. You see, I recently changed jobs. No small part of my decision was that my choices for getting to work are now bike, run, or walk... And my bike ride to work now takes just as long as my drive to work used to!

I dusted off my commuter...

Okay, I took off the basket and panniers - I don't have to carry NEARLY as much stuff for a 19 minute commute! - And off I went to my first day!

It's been a couple days now, and I'm looking forward to not driving more and more. There's a kind of freedom that comes from not having to get in a car, put on your seatbelt, start it, and start driving. All there is to do is hop on your bike and go.  And if it's raining (like today), I can always walk!  But with views like these, who wants to do that...?