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Tuesday
Aug212012

High Hopes

How I Set My Expectations Too High When New to Recumbent Triking(or How I Fell Off Cloud Nine)

 

Pure exhilaration. Incredible joy. Instant infatuation. I think it is a pretty safe statement to say we all feel that when we fist get the new recumbent bike or trike. After sitting on my rear for 25 years, I felt like I was given a new lease on life with a recumbent trike. There isn't a gauge  that goes high enough to register my excitement.

Even though I still have to wipe the bugs off my teeth each time I ride (the infamous "recumbent grin" we all have when we ride is similar to a windshield catching bugs). I definitely went through a period of putting too much focus on how I THOUGHT I should be riding and stressing like crazy trying to figure out how to "ride like everyone else." Come on, admit it. We all feel like others ride a lot better then we do -- faster, longer, more frequently. I beat myself up mentally worrying how on earth could I keep up. Big mistake. I hope this will help newbies to recumbent cycling realize that however they ride is just fine.

What were my unrealistic expectations? First, it was thinking I had to ride fast because I have one of the fastest trikes made. I chose a Catrike 700 for myself for a myriad of reasons, but my husband insisted I get that model for one main reason: safety. We went to a bike shop and rode every recumbent trike they had. I had no intention of sitting my rear end on a 700. That recline looked crazy to me -- almost lying flat on your back. You would never catch ME on one of those things.

Like most newbies, I thought I would be a lot happier with a more upright sitting position. As I test rode all the trikes, I liked every one I rode - some more than others, but nevertheless I liked them all. But Greg was setting higher standards when he rode them - he wanted me on the safest trike he could find. He was riding like a teenager all over the parking lot trying to get each trike up on two wheels. He could get every trike he rode on two - except the 700.  He was not real thrilled about paying that much for a trike, but it was a cheap insurance policy when you think about it. When the salesman made me get on the 700 to ride just a few feet so I could see how it was different from the other models, it was love at first ride.

It was a real thrill to feel the pep of that 700. So the 700 it was. Boy did I get some looks every time people saw me on a 700 -- what was a deaf, blind, pudgy, 40-something lady doing riding on BoyRacer's trike? So you guessed it - I started putting self imposed pressure on myself to be fast. I spent a good year trying to find the magic formula to be fast. I worked hard trying to develop speed. I begged for advice on the Catrike forum - please help me get fast! I rode every day trying to do sprints to develop speed. Although I was respectable, I was by no means "700 material."

Then there was the subject of distance. I will be truthful here and tell you I have never ridden over 25 miles at a time. I will not do it. Why? I told myself that the day I start riding so far that I start wishing I was not riding was the day I would end my love affair with recumbents. I have never felt like I have ridden too much at 25 miles. Something tells me it would start to test me after that number. So I set 25 miles as my max. But I have to tell you, I felt like a huge slacker when talking to other riders who felt like 60 miles was just about the "acceptable" distance.

It was not until about the end of my second year of riding when I woke up and got in line for some sense. What on earth had I been doing to myself?  I thought I was smarter than that - I knew on a certain level that I had limitations that would make it all but impossible for me to ride like an alpha triker. The number one factor is I have legally blind vision. It is not smart for a person that is peripherally blind with 20/400 vision to try and ride as fast as those with 20/20 vision. I cannot see approaching cars. I cannot see obstacles in the road to avoid.  I have no business cruising at 18+ mph. Reality check time.

Secondly, after 25 years of inactivity, it was impossible to think I could just get on a trike and ride like I did when I was 20 years old.  Add a head injury that whacked my internal body thermostat, making it impossible for me to tolerate getting hot or high humidity (this is HOUSTON), and I was playing Russian Roulette pushing myself physically.

So I chilled big time. I don't know when that wake up call finally got my brain to answer, but goodness gracious, the pressure I took off of myself made all the difference in the world to my quality level when riding. I read some where that about 40 minutes of good aerobic exercise is the ultimate to derive the most benefits from exercising. More than that has little extra benefit.  Well 40 minutes of riding about 12 mph felt wonderful. I never felt tired, overheated, or guilty for spending too much time riding a day.

The result? A true sense of pleasure and satisfaction every time I ride. No longer do I care if I am "riding like others do." I did not buy a trike to "keep up" with this or that person. Don't get me wrong - I am the biggest cheerleader of a lot of my friends who ride ridiculously long routes at ridiculously fast speeds. Granted, I always have a slight fear for their safety, but I get a huge smile on my face when reading their super human accomplishments. But now I am truly thrilled -- I don't feel any less of a rider than they are. I am doing what is best for ME. Best of all, I feel I truly found my groove to reap the most benefits and pleasure from cycling.

So if you find yourself worrying about how to ride like this or that person, calm down. Ride the way that YOU want to ride and that you feel comfortable with. I no longer care if I am as fast as I "should" be. I am not embarrassed to tell everyone I always sign up for the shortest route at organized bike rides. Afterall you get first whack at the food if you are the first ones back!  I love rooting my friends on that do the super long routes. If things were different, I would probably be right there with them on those treks.

In short - do not put unrealistic expectations on your riding ability. If you do want to do the really long rides at really fast speeds, it will come with concerted effort.  But riding 50 miles at a time at 18 miles and hour doesn't make you any more of a recumbent enthusiast. Ten mile (or less, or more) jaunts at a speed that you are comfortable with puts you in the "avid cyclist" column as well. Find what feels good to you.

p.s. Take a pack of those Wisp tiny tooth brush deals to get the bugs off your teeth -- they work great!

Tuesday
Aug212012

What Shall I Wear?

No, this is not just a piece on cycling fashions. What we wear when we ride can make a tremendous difference on many levels, Sure we want to look good, but what we wear plays a major part in our safety as well.

The most critical factor we need to address first is protection from the sun. No matter where you live or how hot or cold it is, sun protection needs to be your top priority. Of course there is sunscreen, but many of us have had clothes ruined from the staining (there are some laundry tricks to get that yellow staining out by the way), and who likes slathering that ooey stuff on everywhere? An alterative for both the drop dead heat of summer or the rear end freezing cold of winter are arm coolers and warmers. These ingenious little sweethearts just slip over your arms like a footless sock. In the summer, they have a cooling effect that can be magnified by wetting them. When I first tried them, I thought, "wow are these going to be uncomfortable." I will admit I was totally surprised than within minutes they "adapt" to your arms and you won't even be aware they are on.

And to take it up a notch, add LEG coolers!

Arm warmers work on the same principle, but of course are made of fabric that warms. The major sportswear companies make pricey arm warmers, but you can do the cheap route on this one. I purchased a pair of leg warmers (super soft fuzzy black ones) from a discount store. These warmers are made to really just cover your ankle and calf, so they are a perfect fit on your arms.

The best part about the arm and leg coolers and warmers is you can pull them off super quick and easy without any "wardrobe malfunction" and stick in a small bag. You won't have to try and find a way to carry a spare jacket you have to pull off when you warm up.

And on the subject of sun protection, I have found a great alternative to that nasty sunscreen being smeared on my face. Many make up companies are now adding sunscreen to the their foundation and powder. And for you men reading this, please do not roll your eyes when I suggest this: Buy the women's facial powder that has sunscreen and use. No, you will not be a drag queen putting powder on. This powder is translucent and no one will know you have it on. The reason for powder as opposed to lotion? You won't look like you dipped your face in a vat of oil with this powder on. MUCH more comfortable (and attractive).

As for clothes, another top priority should be visibility. I think high viz yellow rocks!! Or high viz pink , or orange, or green. You can find shirts in these colors rather easily -- from pricey cycling jerseys to inexpensive t shirts. They make them in wicking shirts that are oh-so-comfy to wear.

Cycling jerseys are extremely popular. I have mixed feelings about these. Not meaning to be a sexist, but some men look better in these things than others. They are not the most forgiving when it comes to those of us with "more to love".

Regular cycling jerseys really are not practical for recumbent riding. What good is a pocket on the back if you back is plastered to your seat? And bike jerseys are cut for people that are having to hunch over a bike frame to ride. Recumbent riders do not have to worry about this inconvenience.

I am a little surprised some one has not taken recumbent riding fashion to a more individualized level. I personally don't want to looked like a stuffed roll of sausage in my clothes when there is no reason to look that way! I wish designers would come up with something that would fit the recumbent attitude and playfulness. There are some recumbent exclusive bike attire lines. Reverse Gear Inc whose jersy are pictured here, has some really nice, jerseys and shirts for recumbent riding. The pockets that zip on the sides and front of these jerseys are really practical.

Don't even get me started on bike shorts. Even a 23 year old with a perfect body doesn't look exactly perfect in bike shorts. This, of course, is a personal observation. I think recumbents are really hip and anti-establishment, and I think hip clothes go with this image. Cool looking cargo shorts and a neat shirt fit the image for a recumbent in my eyes. I know there are a lot of BoyRacers out there who prefer the standard bike clothes, but it says a lot that we finally have so many other options.

For women, the choices are even more diverse. Shorts, capri's, and even skorts (a combination od a skirt and shorts). There are endless possibilities from the expensive choices down to the Wal Mart alternatives. They all look good. A friend of mine wore a precious skort (for lacrosse or something I think) that was purple to match her trike. WOW! I had to get some of those.

However, I did not want to pay $50+ for a skort. I found a skort made of wicking fabric in luscious colors at walmart.com for $12. And they FIT - I am "ample". These skorts are so comfy and are light and cool and fit my needs perfectly. Bike shorts are not my friends. I even have a pair of capri length overalls (yes overalls -- the denim kind farmer's wear) that I get a kick out of riding in. I even bought some high viz yellow fabric I want to make a pair of skorts out of if I can just find a pattern.

In winter, the main concern is keeping the bottom of whatever pants you are wearing from becoming close, personal friends with your chain. They make gizmos to put around your ankles to keep the fabric from meeting the chain, but I bought some "slap bracelets" at the 99 cent store and made a cover in the fabrics to match my trikes. I even iron reflective tape on them to add visibility. They work great at keeping the chain from eating my pants. I could give Heloise a run for her money on money saving tips for cycling contraptions.

I picked up some thermal underwear on clearance last spring to wear under my clothes for the winter. Super soft and lightweight and not bulky at all.

And last, but not least, are the feet. Two alternatives here - sandals or shoes. Where I live, you can wear sandals just about year round. Just throw a pair of socks on when it is cool out. Sandals agree with my feet a lot better than shoes do. My feet have more movement in sandals and that works best for me. It is highly recommended that you clip into your pedals when you ride. I have heard horror stories about people who were not clipped in and their foot slipped off the pedal. OUCH!

 

The bottom line here is to dress in a way that makes you comfortable. Think outside the box. Don't be afraid that you won't "look" like a cyclist. Be bold. Express yourself. Life is too short not to have some fun with your wardrobe.

Saturday
Aug042012

See and Be Seen 

Do you have trouble seeing? Or have trouble being seen?  These can definitely kick up the stress level when riding. I am a card carrying blind person. I was furious when the doctor handed me the letter to get a handicapped parking tag. ME? Wait a minute -- I am so blind I can't drive, why do I need a parking permit? He informed me that I was sitting duck walking in a parking lot and not being able to see approaching cars, cars backing out, etc. Granted, today I am grateful because my friends gladly take me to events or shopping because we get to park in the handicap spaces close to the entrance, but when I was first told I was officially handicapped, it burned me up. 

I am really rather foolish in some ways when I ride. I have a tendency to forget I can't see that well. I get going a little too fast. Two examples of some very near close calls happened at night. I know, I know -- what am I doing riding at night when I can't see well in broad daylight? This awful Texas heat and Gulf Coast humidity tends to make one take risks to avoid dropping like flies. So riding after the sun goes down is the answer for me. I do NOT ride alone at night. I may be a risk taker, but I am no idiot.

Before you start preaching to me, let me assure you I am WELL LIT when I ride. I will get into that in another post, but I have more lights than a Christmas tree. No one could ever truthfully claim they didn't see me at night. In fact, I am more visible at night than in the daylight.

We ride in a really great location. Our neighborhood is very quiet, with almost no traffic. Many times when I ride, I will see one or two cars the entire time I am out riding 10 miles. The streets are reasonably well lit, there are lots of houses, and the streets are smooth as glass (with no glass on them).  So ideal, I tend to forget safety and ride a little too fast. I will start slowing down a tad at intersections -- never coming to a full stop unless absolutely necessary. One night Greg and I were clipping along at a really  quick pace (we were both riding our Catrike 700's), and we were approaching a unlit three way intersection in the neighborhood.  I could ride this area with my eyes close I know it so well. We were approaching the turn and weren't even braking. Greg was ahead of me. All of the sudden a truck turns it's lights on IN THE MIDDLE OF THE INTERSECTION.  Greg threw his brakes on. Remember, I cannot hear when riding, and cannot see far at all.

So I come up on Greg at a very fast pace and have to turn while braking as hard as I can. My rear wheel flew WAY up in the air. But incredibly, I didn't flip. I immediately wanted to kiss Paulo Camasmie (the designer of the Catrike) on the lips for designing a trike that could take that and not flip. My wheel crashed down, bending it so badly it had to be thrown in the trash, but I did not have a scratch on me. I was actually smiling as I crept back to the house thinking of how that 700 saved my life.

The second time I was NOT smiling. Once again, the scenario was the same: Greg and I flying along too fast for night riding on a very dark section of the street. This time I did NOT see Greg stopping for an armadillo crossing the street. I rear ended him HARD.  As we pulled the trikes apart words were being exchanged (most of them consisting of four letters), I was trying. to keep a stiff upper lip with the injuries I had gotten from the crash. I realized right then I had to find a method of hearing him so when something was coming up, I would be aware BEFORE I WAS ON TOP OF HIM.  That will be in another post too, but for right now, let's just concentrate on the visual mistakes.

What is the cure  to prevent these kind of accidents? Well, it probably wouldn't have happened if I could have heard him yell to stop. While I am all but totally deaf when riding (the cochlear implant is pretty useless when riding), I know that people with mild hearing losses are technically not a whole lot better equipped when riding than I am.  And in today's world where the majority of people have grown up listening to music too loudly, failed to wear hearing protection when mowing, shooting, etc., and been exposed to high levels of noise in their jobs (Greg is not far behind me hearing wise now from hearing deterioration due to his work), the majority of people will need hearing assistance as they age. For you young people, don't say I didn't tell you to turn the music down and wear ear protection in loud situations.  The best way for those accidents to have been prevented would have been for us to SLOW OUR REARS DOWN.  Anytime you are riding on routes where there is a chance for any traffic, SLOW DOWN. I know the urge to kick up the speed is uncontrollable at time, but don't do it. We are not the big fish in the pond. We are minnows swimming with whales (cars). I don't care what the laws are or if we had the right of way and the car didn't, they win. Period. They outweigh us by tons. They are always going to have the right away and you cannot argue with them if you are six feet under because you were run over.

Improving your visibility so that cars can see you is CRUCIAL.  At night, I have a powerful headlight, two tail lights, on a 700 some lights called Hokey Spokes that definitely is an expression of my inner child (http://www.hokeyspokes.com/). These things are a BLAST. I look like a carnival Ferris wheel rolling down the street at night. People nearly wreck because they cannot take their eyes off of the Hokey Spokes.

Not only are the FUN, they are about as visual as you can get.  I have added reflective tape to my shoes, helmet, clothes. I found those need kid slap bracelets, and applied reflective tape to them and "slapped" then all over my trike at night -- they can easily be "unslapped" and removed. We have people in the 'hood tell us all the time "I saw you riding the other night." You can't miss us.

I find that being seen in the daytime is the big challenge. You have to compete with the landscape to be seen during the day, and that is big competition.  To help my odds in the day, I usually wear high viz yellow. This color is a blessing in disguise. The state doesn't require all it's road workers to wear it for no particular reason -- it WORKS to increase your being seen. Wear BRIGHT COLORS when you ride. The last thing you need is to fade into the scenery.

Some people, especially those with a need for speed, have a real problem about using a flag on their bike or trike to be seen. Whether it be for reasons of vanity or speed reduction, like it or not you need a flag. As a mother I would make you use one, but as a rider I can understand your not using one. However, I want to point out that unless you are in a controlled environment where you are safe to pedal your brains out without having to worry about becoming road kill, you are just raising your odds for being a statistic if you do not have a visible flag. Hate to say I warned you, but I warned you. If you ride with cars, ride with a flag.

Now that I have the lecture over with, I'd like to share with you some of the flags my Mom and I have concocted. I get a HUGE kick out of designing and making my flags.  I have made about eight of them. A flag for all of my moods. And I have about a million more in my head I want to make. Here are some samples:

 

After I took the above photo, I added more reflective tape to the second flag. 

The above is the flag for Leadfoot, my graphite colored Speed. The graphite doesn't exactly reach out and grab you color wise, but I LOVE the snakeskin print! I put a lot of reflective tape on it though so it is VERY visible at night. 

Couldn't resist this leopard print for a white CATrike!

 

 

This is the Pugtrike flag. No comment necessary :)

The main factors I want in a flag are a large size with plenty of reflective tape on them. I also put streamers on the top with reflective tape so it looks like a lit up swarm of gnats buzzing at night when car lights hit them.  I like flags to match my trike, but that sometimes means they are less visible. I recently acquired a new graphite colored Speed. I am a stickler for wanting my flags to match my trike. Unfortunately, graphite doesn't exactly reach out and pop your eyes. I did go heavy on the reflective tape though. I also have a tie dyed flag, a University of Texas flag (Hook 'Em) and I have forgotten what else.

In closing, the ultimate thing to consider is you are a dot in the big picture. Always be on the defensive when riding. Do whatever you can to be seen.