This year, bicycling started April 2 for me – late compared to most years when March kicks off my season. The weather cooperated from April through July, so I often bicycled day after day with few breaks in the routine. Even when rain fell, part of most days cleared enough for pedaling
So many colorful bicyclists dotted roads in Maine’s bottom third, even on cool days, that it has highlighted the sport’s popularity. After a severe winter, pedalers took advantage.
Onward to the main topic: Each year casual observers rib me about my bicycling attire. Folks who know little to nothing about the sport criticize the bright, quirky colors, Spandex clothing and upturned cap visor poking from beneath a helmet, but these choices involve practical safety considerations:
• Motorists can spot bicyclists in bright colors from long distances, and chartreuse and bright yellow rank as my two favorites for visibility, even in low lighting. In my humble opinion, chartreuse nudges out yellow. Hunter-orange biking clothing in brands such as 10-Mile Cloth or Blaze Orange has a place but is difficult to find in biking catalogs or on websites. Typical orange bicycling clothing usually lacks the brightness of hunter orange. Red is awful in low light.
• Tight clothing looks weird to non-bicyclists and feels conspicuous for shy pedalers like me, but the style serves two essential purposes.
The first is safety. At times bicyclists must jump off a moving bike so they don’t smash onto pavement. Loose clothing may catch on a saddle horn or handlebar, sending the pedaler sprawling and maybe causing severe road rash, knee gash, smashed cheekbone, broken collarbone or worse.
Tight clothing also slips through air better at faster speeds, a racing or trialing consideration. However, tightness also has a more pragmatic reason for average pedalers. I own an expensive bicycling raincoat made from thin, stiff cloth that fits loosely, so it rattles hard in wind. When flying down large hills against headwind, the sound is almost deafening.
• I like a Sweatband (brand name) hat with a visor under my helmet to block sunlight from my eyes. However, my road bicycles have handlebar drops, which I hold when speeding down hills. The lower aerodynamic body profile feels more stable at high speeds. However, when I bend low over the top tube, the visor blocks my vision unless I flip it upward before the downhill plunge. And I’ve got to admit it makes the hat wearer look goofy.
This visor topic reminds me of an incident. When I was 13, Look magazine ran a spread on the Tour de France. Many images of professional bicyclists with an upturned visor made an opinionated kid like me think, “Are they weird looking or what?”
Of course, these pro bicyclists just wanted to see ahead while holding the drops and racing down mountainsides at speeds of 50 to 70 mph or more. I descend hills much slower but must still see the road ahead. Occasionally, though, folks in my town tease me about this up-visor style.
Anyway, new pedalers should know that bicycling attire and footwear make this sport so much more comfortable.
When I entered my adult bicycling phase in 1989, I learned each lesson the hard way, beginning with bicycling pants. Besides tightness for safety, there is another plus – a chamois pad on the seat helps ease the pain where skin, muscle and bone push against the saddle.
In the first three years of my adult bicycling, I wore cross-trainer footwear. Then I discovered the stiff sole of a biking shoe allows most of the energy from the legs to go into the drivetrain, allowing me to climb hills better as well as to go faster.
Another handy amenity, a simple bicycle computer, keeps track of miles pedaled, average speed, top speed, calories burned and more, and these gadgets can cost as little as $20 to $40. The more sophisticated ones run in the multi-hundred-dollar range.
I have a Garmin Edge 810 that records trips on maps that can be printed out, keeps track of elevations and has stuff I haven’t discovered yet. It truly offers a history of a pedaling day.
Now’s the time for folks to make a commitment to bicycling because July weather is perfect for the sport – on the roads or in the woods.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: