Biking while short and considering a new commuter

At 5′ 3″, I’m really not all that short. The average height for a woman in the US is 5′ 4″ so I’m just shy of average. Tell that to bike manufacturers, though, as they seem to cater to riders of the average male height of 5′ 9″. Depending on geometry, I ride bikes between 46 and 50 cm and feel more comfortable with the smaller end of that range. It’s tough to find frames in that size locally and it’s really frustrating.

Fancy Bike is a 50 and I wonder if that’s just a bit too large. I’m not 100% comfortable on that bike even after riding around 250 mi. I feel wobbly and I have an unexpected small-person issue: the brifters are actually too large for me to comfortably pull to brake and I feel unsafe. I don’t have a solution for that except for trying smaller brifters, and since I’m not doing the RSVP I now wonder if I should sell this bike.

In other news, I’m planning to replace my Kona Dew Plus commuter and have had my eye on the Surly Straggler for several months. I was really excited to learn from the owner of Free Range Cycles that Surly’s rolling out the Straggler 650b in 2015, as the smaller tires might remove the pesky toe overlap problem that’s an issue with 700s on smaller frames and made me hesitate on buying a 2014 model when I test rode one recently.

Why the Straggler? It nicely fits my requirements:

  • Comes in smaller frame sizes
  • Can mount fenders with plenty of clearance
  • Disk brakes
  • Eyelets for a rear rack
  • Eyelets for front panniers, because maybe I’ll go bike camping some day
  • Steel frame for durability and longevity
  • Accepts a variety of tire widths
  • Drop bars with brifters

Surly suckered me in with their marketing approach. “Fuck it, let’s go ride bikes” is a mission statement I can get behind. In addition, it’s a well-respected brand known for quality. I can’t wait to try one out.

On being a quitter

After much discussion, we decided to drop out of the RSVP in late June. I waited until last week to cancel to make sure that I didn’t regret the decision. If I do, there’s always next year.

Neither one of us was enjoying ourselves on the training rides, but we didn’t talk about it until after our last ride. That one was really rough on my boyfriend and he decided to drop out about 60% of the way through (after I dropped him by several miles, oops). We ended up riding to the nearest P&R with a slower pace group then busing back to my car. I wanted to just take it slow and easy on the Burke Gilman, but he was done. I was finding the rides challenging but achievable, but as the rides got longer they began to feel more of a slog and I wasn’t enjoying myself. It was clear at that point that the training rides were boring us both and that neither one of us was excited enough about RSVP to focus on that as a goal. I’ll admit that I felt the same way about the training rides last year, but I was definitely excited about the STP and that kept me going.

It’s been really nice having my weekends back.

The boredom factor was pretty huge. One or two weeks before that disastrous training ride we’d taken a weekend off to do our own thing, just riding out to Redmond and back on the Burke-Gilman and SRT. That was when my boyfriend brought up that he really wanted to stop and do things instead of just pedal along. I’ve felt that, too; the feeling that I was just doing something by rote instead of enjoying myself. I think we would both enjoy 30-40 mi rides with stops for food and activities, so I’ll try planning a few.

Leave it to the professionals

2014-06-08 15.55.59

Whenever I see this sign at the entrance to the Fremont Sunday Market, I picture spandex-clad cyclists taking people’s bikes and walking them off through the crowd. It’s best to leave these things to professionals.

I skipped Flying Wheels

I was supposed to cross Flying Wheels off my bucket list today, but skipped it because it seemed like a bad, stressful idea.

Here are my excuses:

  1. I needed to be at the start line in Redmond at 7:00 am and was having a lot of trouble falling asleep Friday night.
  2. The 520 bridge was closed, requiring a long detour around Lake Washington.
  3. Last year it was apparently not a good time.

Most riders, of course, didn’t pee on other people’s yards, liberally apply the middle finger, or start brawls in coffee shops. Most drivers were probably irritated at worst. But, there’s something about being on the road in any kind of vehicle that turns people into monsters and leads to problems, as Louis CK perfectly describes. When you’re vulnerable, it’s scary and leads to being defensive and confrontational.

I’ve ridden on the roads through which Flying Wheels passes, and while it’s a beautiful area the experience is stressful. There are a lot of high-traffic, two-lane roads with no shoulders and no buffer for cyclists when cars and trucks try to pass. The residents genuinely do not want cyclists there and are extremely frustrated and scared by the large packs of bikes that infest their roads every summer. I can sympathize to a degree; I get nervous around cyclists when I drive, too.

The safest rides I’ve been on through southwestern King and Snohomish counties were with ride leaders that had the group do two important things. The first was to enforce riding single file, no exceptions. The second was breaking up into subgroups of four or five people with at least three car lengths between them. This provided cars with spaces in which to hang out and leapfrog their way through with much less risk of being caught between cyclists on the right and oncoming traffic. If you just have a long line of dozens or hundreds of people there’s just not much drivers can do; they’ll just get frustrated and try to speed past. The real jerks amongst them will purposely buzz you to teach you a lesson, because their irritation is worth much more than your life.

But that’s a cohesive, disciplined group. What happens when you have a few thousand people with varying levels of experience riding in these events? You get a lot of this:

  • Riding two-, three-, or bajillion-abreast instead of single file. Legally, you can ride two abreast in many areas but it’s usually unsafe. It totally prevents cars from being able to pass, and the cyclists that do it are usually completely oblivious to their surroundings.
  • Riding with headphones, thus being oblivious to surroundings. Cue the argument that plugging your ears up and filling them with sound doesn’t impair you at all. You’re so very, very wrong. You’ll hear cars and bikes behind you way before you see them, and you can tell how close something is to you through hearing. The distraction will prevent you from paying more attention to your surroundings in general.
  • Not being predictable. Always ride in a straight line. The most common manifestation of this problem is something that I see almost every day when I’m riding around Seattle: swerving in and out of the parking lane. Yes, you feel safer because you’re temporarily not in traffic, but when you swerve back in you’re likely to get crushed in between the back left corner of the car you’re turning around and the car behind you that you didn’t know was there. Or smack into the cyclist to your left—that you don’t know is there—when you speed up and lurch back in.
  • Riding too close together. When someone slams on the brakes ahead of you or doesn’t gear down enough to make it up a hill, you’re going to have a very unpleasant encounter with their rear wheel if not the pavement.
  • Not signalling. At the very least, always signal that you’re slowing/stopping and preferably call it out as well. This prevents the people behind you from ramming you because even the most observant are not prescient. I’ve had multiple conversations with my boyfriend about this one and have just given up and started keeping a ridiculous distance behind him.
  • Passing without calling out. So dangerous to the person you’re passing.
  • Ride right on the white line on a shoulderless road. Generally, take the right third of the lane so that you have space to move over if you have to.
  • Not letting people pass. I got run off the Sammamish River Trail a few weeks ago when someone decided to swerve to the left of the trail after I’d called out and started passing in the formerly-wide space to their left. On the road that would have pushed me into traffic.
  • Overreacting. If a driver is purposely trying to goad or scare you, just pull over or slow down and let them go. It’s not worth it. If another cyclist endangers you, get out of the situation, yell at them if you need to, and let it go. Otherwise, you’ll have a miserable time and be more likely to put yourself in dangerous situations because you’re pissed off.

I’m leaving “not following the rules of the road” off this list because it’s a more general issue (and following the rules of the road is sometimes a bad idea, but that’s for another day).

I’ve pondered many times how to teach people to ride more safely in groups outside of a formal setting. Modeling good behavior is definitely helpful. I saw several people learn about calling out hazards and signalling on the STP last year, and in a few cases people directly asked me about it because I am a grand master of signalling. Confrontation is alienating and doesn’t work. Having a quick rundown of SMART riding helps, but isn’t enough. A long safety lecture before a major ride will probably be paid attention to as much as the ones on airplanes. Mailing out literature along with registration packets might help. I don’t have a good answer here.

So, in lieu of the ride I was supposed to do I plan to do one tomorrow through the towns south of Seattle. There’s apparently going to be a lunch stop in Kent, and who can resist that?

Biking with Raynaud’s syndrome

I have Raynaud’s syndrome. The body’s normal cold response of reducing circulation to extremities is exaggerated in Raynaud’s sufferers, resulting in loss of blood flow and heat transfer in fingers in conditions that don’t warrant it.

Keeping your hands warm when biking can be difficult in general, but for Raynaud’s sufferers it’s much harder. I started training for the 2013 STP in February of that year and it was really rough. I had to stop all the time to try to figure out how to warm up my hands and went through many many glove strategies. Riding in the rain was especially difficult. Even with waterproof gloves my fingers would become an awesome combination of numbness and agony, leading to it being hard to use shifters and brake levers. I had some very miserable times. What finally worked was wearing mittens with HotSnapz hand warmers. I found that it was crucial to keep my fingers together to share heat. Mittens aren’t exactly safe to wear on a bike, but so are unusable fingers.

This year, I kept commuting to work by bike throughout the winter and wore lobster claw gloves. They were much better than regular gloves but not as comfortable as the mittens. However, my ride is only 2.5 miles each way these days so it wasn’t too much of a problem. I was off my bike through most of February and March so didn’t go on long rides in the coldest part of the year.

The temperatures on my rides have been in the 40s-60s so far, and my current strategy seems to be working. I’ve only had problems once, and that was during heavy rain when I hadn’t gotten my rubber gloves on.

  • Take amlodipine the night before the ride.
  • Warm my fingers up with mittens and handwarmers before the ride starts, and carry the mittens just in case.
  • Wear rubber gloves over my gloves in case of rain.
  • Carry handwarmers to warm up my hands at rest stops.
  • Just plain not riding when it’s cold or rainy.

I’ll need to invest in a new strategy for next winter. First, I’ll need to replace the lobster claw gloves I lost earlier this year, probably with this waterproof model from Terry. I’m considering Bar Mitts, but I’m concerned about being able to get my hands out in time if I fall. Something I do not intend to try is battery-operated heating gloves, since what would I do if the batteries give out and I’m not able to replace them?

Raynaud’s isn’t curable, but with some planning it should be tolerable.