Wednesday, May 26, 2010

falling off the bike

There was a recent thread on the Velo Girls email group that prompted this post. In that thread, a rider commented that a specific local century ride was dangerous because the roads were in poor condition and that these roads caused at least three crashes during the event. With no disrespect to the original poster, I feel obliged to share some thoughts about these assertions.

Roads do not cause crashes. Unskilled riders cause crashes.

I've had the opportunity to ride and race my bike all over the world. I've ridden my road bike on baby-butt smooth pavement, on cracked and pot-holed farm roads, and on dirt roads (including an epic 1/2 mile dirt climb on Happy Canyon just this past weekend). You can ride your road bike on sand, gravel, grass, and ice. If you limit yourself to riding on perfect pavement, you might as well just ride loops in a business park (there are plenty of them in northern CA). Some of my most memorable rides are those that took place on less than perfect roads -- these are the challenges we remember long after the ride is over.

When I first began riding a bike again as an adult, I was scared of everything. Instead of riding intuitively, I tried to manage every obstacle and bump on the road. I tried to control the bike instead of working with the physics of the bike to allow it to do what it's supposed to do. I was nervous and I didn't understand how my bike worked. And somehow, I never crashed (although I probably should have given the way I rode).

So, how do riders not crash when riding on variable terrain?

#1 -- always look where you want to go. this means looking at the horizon view and using your peripheral vision to see what's directly around you. by looking ahead, you have time to change course or respond to any obstacles on the road ahead of you. there is almost never a reason for you to look down at your bike or to look down at the road directly in front of your wheel.

#2 -- learn to evaluate what is an obstacle and what is an inconvenience. your bike, at speed, will roll over just about anything you might encounter on the road. while a bump, rock or hole might be inconvenient, most of the time it won't cause you to crash. true obstacles would be tracks or cracks that are running parallel to your line of travel or deep holes that are bigger than your front wheel (and even then you might be able to roll it).

#3 -- maintain the appropriate speed for the riding conditions. momentum is your friend. speed is what keeps the bike upright. it's basic physics. if you reduce your speed too much, it will be more difficult to roll through those bumps and holes.

#4 -- steer your bike with your hips, core, and mind, not your hands and handlebar. do not use your bar to try to steer around an obstacle. the bicycle is a rear-driven vehicle. you steer the bike from the saddle, using your hips and your core. subtle changes in direction (ie riding around an obstacle) require a subtle motion. I tell riders that you can just "think" about making a directional change and it will happen. directional changes are initiated with your body -- your hands (and bar) will follow. we only steer with the bar at very low speeds.

#5 -- learn to modulate your speed without using your brakes. brakes are designed to stop the bike. braking disrupts the physics of propulsion. so practice using other methods to modulate your speed: stop pedaling, put less torque/pressure on the pedals (aka soft pedaling), sit up a bit to create more drag. these are all very effective methods of slowing yourself down and don't use the brakes.

#6 -- if you do need to brake, focus on smooth, steady brake pressure.
do not brake during a turn, in gravel or loose pavement, or directly on an obstacle. if you need to to reduce your speed quickly over a short distance, learn proper emergency stopping techniques.

#7 -- stay alert but relaxed. maintain your focus, but keep your upper body relaxed and soft. your arms and legs serve as shock absorbers on the bike -- they're your suspension. drop your shoulders, bend your elbows, and keep a firm but relaxed grip on the bar.

I've spent the better part of the past decade studying the bike, how it works, how the rider interacts with it, and developing methods to teach riders all of this. If you haven't participated in one of our skills clinics, I highly recommend the experience. Past participants will tell you that our clinics have literally changed their lives and made riding a safer, more enjoyable experience. Riding a bike doesn't have to be hard. It doesn't have to be a painful experience (physically or mentally). Whether you've been riding for 2 months or 20 years, I can guarantee you'll learn specific skills that will make you a better rider -- and help prevent you from falling off the bike.

Details on all our clinics here:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

how can we be there if we aren't going anywhere?

Velo Girls, Michelle Goldberg and Patty Namba, participated in a unique fundraising ride. Michelle shares her experience:


A little background on 100 MILES OF NOWHERE..... Three years ago, Elden Nelson of fame, decided to ride 100 miles in honor of his wife Susan's battle with metastatic breast cancer. He wanted it to be a ride with no destination, just to ride for the sake of riding, and rode it on his rollers.

Last year, he had the ride again but opened it up for people to join him. The only requirement was that you ride nowhere, again, just for the sake of riding and supporting folks fighting cancer around the world. There was an entry fee, but all "sponsors" gave 100% of the entry to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. A special call out to Twin Six, as they have been a HUGE supporter of and Susan's battle that eventually took her life, working with Fatty to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to LAF!!!

I had registered last year, but wasn't able to do the ride on the arranged date due to having the nasty Flu. This year, Fatty has the ride again -- version 3. He loosened the requirements a bit - you still had to ride nowhere, but you could do as much or as little as you wanted to ride and you could do it on any day. I told my friend Patty about the ride and she, being as insane as I am, thought it would be a great experience. We had decided that if we couldn't each do 100 miles, we would at least do 100 miles as a team... hence Team PaMi was born.

Team PaMi started out with a warm up on the Los Gatos Creek Trail for the first 10 miles. As the trail got very crowded, we moved our adventures to the city streets of Willow Glen. After riding several streets to design a loop, we settled in on a 1.1 mile course with a minimum of stop signs and car traffic. Around and around we went... and went.... and went.

Mile 25 brought us to our first break as it was time for lunch.

Mile 35 brought us to our second break and tent setup for LiveSTRONG. Our roadie, Heather, got us set up with rocking tunes and a TV showing Lance racing in the 2005 Tour de France. We had lots of LAF/LiveSTRONG brochures available and even Guidebooks in case anyone wanted/needed one. We had some visitors, but it was generally pretty quiet for Heather, who manned the tent while we rode.

We kept riding, and riding, and riding, around and around and around, with a few visits to the Creek Trail to break it up a bit. Neighbors were starting to wonder. One neighbor, sitting on her porch, eventually fell asleep watching us go around and around and around.

At one point, I asked Patty if we were there yet. Her response was "How can we be there if we aren't going anywhere?" So very true that was.

As the afternoon winds started picking up and temperatures started dropping in anticipation of the rainstorm expected on Sunday, Team Pami had already accomplished our goal - to ride 100 miles as a team. We rode a total of 115 miles in all - Patty finished up with 60 miles, yours truly with 55 miles. Of those miles, we did about 18 on the Creek Trail. That meant about 37 times around the hood. Patty said she'd never ridden that many miles never shifting her gears. I shifted a bit on the Creek Trail to mix it up a bit.

The day was almost like a time-lapsed series of photographs. Every few minutes we saw changes in the houses we passed, cars parked on the street, people walking their dogs. Quite the experience!

Fight Like Susan!


Saturday, May 1, 2010

my Bike Month challenge

May is Bike Month. Actually, every month is bike month in my opinion, but May is the month in which we try to raise awareness of just how awesome the bicycle is for transportation, recreation, and life in general. The highlight of bike month for many folks is Bike to Work Day (BTWD), held in the bay area on Thursday, May 13th.

I've been riding a bike since 1999. Since that time, I commuted to/from work in the financial district of San Francisco (23 miles each way), commuted to school in Los Altos (22 miles each way), and commuted to my job at a bike shop (3 miles each way). I also lived car-free for two years from 2001 - 2003. I've worked at home full-time since 2006 and each year on BTWD I feel just a little left out that I can't bike to the office (unless I really wanted to ride from my bedroom to my home office).

As I've been thinking about my role in the cycling community in relationship to BTWD, I realized that my goal is to encourage other women to consider bicycling as a viable, safe, efficient, and fun means of transportation. So, I've given myself the challenge this month -- go car-free for the entire month of May! There will definitely be challenges (like travelling to races or clinics). And I'll do my best not to avoid trips because I'm not going to drive there (something I found I did while I was living car-free).

I've had a "five mile" rule for as long as I can remember. If a trip is five miles or less, I don't take my car unless absolutely necessary (carrying large loads, car wash, oil change, etc). I'm pretty good about it, but lately I've found myself rationalizing use of the car by bundling my errands or having a tight schedule.

So, for the month of May:

I plan to log my daily transportation activity to share with others.

I also plan to share bike commuting tips + tricks via my blog and the Velo Girls yahoogroup.

I also challenge Velo Girls members (and others) to join our team (aptly named "Velo Girls") in the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition's Team Bike Challenge. Go ahead, sign up, and challenge yourself to ride instead of driving. You can do it! It may take a little more planning and a little more time, but you'll contribute to a greener environment, save money, and earn a great sense of accomplishment.