Category Archives: basics

Wool and Leather in the Rain

This evening I had a dark ride home in light rain.  I was caught without my raincoat or any other special rain accessories, but my normal outfit worked well.

My wool trench coat kept me warm and dry.

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My leather boots served the same purpose for my feet, plus sported a reflective strap for extra visibility.

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My beloved bag was unfazed by the wet weather, thanks to dark leather and pre-treatment with Cadillac Shield Spray.

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My Brooks saddle was protected by me for the ride, but got a bit wet while I took pictures.  I know some people baby their leather saddles, but mine is holding up well, so I’m not too worried.

DSCF4171resized For the most part, light rain does not bother me much.  And soon rain will be replaced by snow!

P.S. Really hard for me to avoid a November Rain reference in this post.  :)

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Bicycling as exercise…or not?

I have been cycling almost daily for so long – over five years now! – that I do not think much about the physical aspect.  When I first started bike commuting, I could feel it in my legs for several months.  By now the act is so routine, I sometimes forget that bicycling is exercise.

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Oma and I setting off to work last week

I was reminded of this fact when I returned to bike commuting after almost a month’s break, due to my travels and other factors.  After two days back in Chicago riding Oma in the wind, my legs muscles were sore.  Really, riding a bike as heavy as Oma is more like weight training than cardio.  :-)

Years ago, I read a Dutch woman comment that because she’s been cycling her whole life, her leg muscles are too used to the motions and she has to do separate exercises to keep her legs toned.  I refuse to believe that – I hate squats!

I wonder how others experience the physical aspects of bicycling and how that has changed (or not) over time.  Anyone care to share?

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A wooden crate as a bike basket

When I posted about riding my Dutch bike last week, Trisha noticed that I have a new crate on the front.  Yes, and I love it!

As I explained in my Oma review, I purchased my bike with a heavy duty front rack that attaches to the frame, making a sturdy base for up to 50 pounds of cargo.  I was using a Hershberger’s Baker Basket on the front rack, but two years of heavy use was more than the delicate basket could handle.  First the leather strap in the front broke, causing the top to fly open in the wind, then one of the small leather straps on the back of the lid broke, making the top sit crooked.  The wicker became dried and bleached by the sun.  Basically, the poor thing fell apart.

Baker Basket

Baker Basket in better days

For a while, I detached the front rack and used a pannier on my rear rack to carry stuff.  Then one day Mr. Dottie found a wooden crate in an alley behind a Mexican restaurant, which he thinks was used for avacados.  The crate has “Made in Mexico” stamped on the side.  He attached the crate to my rack with a bungie cord through the bottom and a few zip ties all around; it does not move an inch.

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My new Mexican crate

I love the crate for both aesthetics and utility.  I can fit so much stuff in there, and I tend always to be carrying a bunch of stuff – for example, two full grocery bags and a purse.  I can also easily and quickly reach my bag when stopped at a red light.

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The crate is heavy – it’s all solid wood and nails.  But so is my bike!  When I’m riding Oma, I’m slow and steady and generally traveling no more than five or six miles, so extra weight is not a big deal.

Does anyone else use a wooden crate like this?

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Yoga on the go

My exercise goal for August is decidedly less intense than Trisha’s century ride training.  I have to attend two Bikram yoga classes a week with my friend from work.  The 90 minute classes heated to 105 degrees are not exactly fun.  The best feeling comes when the class is over and I can sail away on my bicycle for the six mile ride home along the Lakefront Trail.  The transition from the oppressive heat of the yoga room to the cool lake breeze of the trail is beautiful and makes me enjoy riding my bike even more than usual.

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Plus, there’s always this view.

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My bike set up on yoga class days is basic.  Okay, a little bag lady-chic.

 

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I strap my mat to the back rack (and then sometimes forget it there for a couple of days, creating deep indentions in the mat).

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I stuff my work bag, change of clothes, towel, water bottle and lock in my front basket.  My basket is low down and anchored to front stays, which helps this load feel light and not interfere with my steering.

My cockpit area is looking a bit too cluttered.  Perhaps I should remove my scarf or flower or handlebar bag or camera mount…

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Once the (heavily discounted) introductory month is over at the Bikram studio, I will probably go back to Vinyasa, as a more enjoyable yoga for me.  But I expect to miss, at least a little bit, the relief of escape by bicycle that practicing Bikram provides me.  :-)

More on yoga from the archives:

Yoga and Cycling – our first post about the topic, over four years ago

Fashion Friday: Biking to Yoga – a description of my biking-to-yoga routine from last summer

Pedal, Stretch, Breathe – review of a booklet on bicycle-focused yoga moves

 

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Review: Detours Ballard Market Pannier

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Recently I have been testing a new bike bag, the Detours Ballard Market Pannier, a large shopper that easily transforms from a pannier to a tote to a backpack.

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The website describes the bag as follows:

If you’re rolling up [to the market] on a bike, this is the perfect pannier to take with you. An easily hidden padded shoulder harness lets you wear the pannier as a backpack while browsing the stalls, and two simple yet sturdy pannier clips attach to your rack for the ride home. A lightweight waterproof base keeps your bag dry from street spray, and a removable rain cover protects your goods when the skies cloud over. Interior organization makes this a great option for casual office commuting as well!

The bag comes in red (shown), black and “dalia print,” which is my favorite – grey with a little flower painted on front.

The bag hangs from the rear rack by two clamps.  The system was a bit tricky on my Pletscher rack because I had to raise the rack’s clamp while attaching the bag, but once in place, the bag fit well.  The large rack on my Dutch bike works perfectly with the Detours’ attachment system.

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The bag appears to droop a bit when loaded, but always feels securely attached.

There are adjustable straps on the front, which come in handy when the bag is used as a backpack.

The long handle straps are useful when carrying the bag, but they hang awkwardly when the bag is mounted and could be long enough to interfere with the wheel.  I tied them together and tucked them into the bag as shown below.  Another option is to tuck the straps in the front pouch, but neither solution is very elegant and I wish there were a better solution.

The bag, as you can judge by its size, holds a substantial amount of stuff.  In addition to the cavernous interior, there is a small internal, zippered pocket, plus three external pockets (two small on the side, on large on the front).

The bag I’ve been using for years as a large shopper is my Basil Rosa-Mirte Shopper, but that bag must be hand-carried by a handle – super annoying when trying to shop and/or when carrying a heavy load.  The Detours bag is not as cute, but wins over the Basil for ease of carrying with the shoulder strap and backpack option.

I’d say the Detours Ballard Market is most comparable to the Ortlieb Bike Shopper that I reviewed last year.  In that showdown, the Detours bag wins hands down.  Both bags hold a lot and have smart and easy attachment systems, but the Detours has useful outside pockets, holds more, is easier to close, turns into a backpack and costs $30 less.  The Ortlieb wins only in waterproofness.  The material on the Detours is water-resistent, but the drawstring top leaves it vulnerable.  A full, neon yellow water cover is included, though, so as long as you keep it in the bag, you should be good to go in storms.

The Detours logo on the side of the bag is reflective, but I was disappointed not to see more.  I wish companies would incorporate more reflective markings on bike bags.

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The two clamps on the back are fronted by a fabric panel…

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…which can be zipped up to hide the clamps and protect you from being poked.

When carried, the pannier functions as a long, substantial tote bag.  As you can see, it has a sporty feel.  Not something I would feel comfortable carrying to important meetings or court, but suitable for a regular day at the office.

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For daily use, I prefer a more professional-looking bag like Po Campo.  I’m not crazy about the sporty/bookbag-esque look of the Detours, which does not mesh well with my professional lifestyle.  The black or “dalia print” colors are better professional options than the bright red.  That said, the Ballard Market Pannier is marketed as a farmer’s market bag that could double for casual commuting, and the design is appropriate to that purpose.

Overall, I like the Detours Ballard Market Pannier a lot.  The bag fits a huge amount, while also being easy to attach and detach and convenient to carry, either as a tote bag or a backpack.   For a bike bag that are designed to carry substantial loads, the Detours is the best I’ve come across so far.

And a HUGE bonus of the bag is its nifty transformation to a backpack.  I did not get a photo wearing the pannier as a backpack, so please watch my video to see how easily this works.

Review: Detours Ballard Market Pannier from LGRAB on Vimeo.

The Detours Ballard Market Pannier retails for $69.  The company is based in Seattle, and I’m not aware of any local Chicago stores that carry the brand.

{As always, I received no compensation for this review, other than the bag itself.  Trust me, my opinion’s not that cheap!  ;-)  You can see my entire collection of bags in this video.}

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My first flat (yes, it’s true!)

Well, it had to happen one day: On Tuesday, I left work to discover that I had my first-ever flat. Poor Le Peug!

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I considered going inside to ask my coworkers for a ride home. I considered calling a friend. But it was a beautiful spring day—the first we’d had in a while—and I had some time before I had to be at the farmer’s market in Sevier Park, so I decided to lock Le Peug back up and walk.

Once I was three blocks away, I remembered that my shoes, while not the least comfortable heels I owned, were not really the best for this sort of activity.

I was jealous of ALL OF THE BIKES that went by. And even one skateboarder, at whom I would have ordinarily scoffed. (Since when has that become a legit form of transportation?)

 

But I made it to the market, albeit a bit footsore, and partook of an Izzy’s Ice as a reward.

The next day, I drove to work. Afterwards, Le Peug and Minnie got to know each other on the way to Halcyon.

When we got there, Andrew offered to show me how to fix a flat myself. Never one to say no to the pursuit of knowledge, I agreed. I’ve always been a little embarrassed that I have never changed a bike tube, because when I first started driving, my dad made sure I knew how change a car tire, change and check the oil, replace the fluids, etc—it was part of being a responsible vehicle operator. Maybe I should be a more responsible bicycle operator? After all, they’re much simpler, right?

Well, changing a tire might be a simple task, but it’s not necessarily easy. It took me a good 30 minutes at least, and there was a lot of awkward fumbling and possibly some moderate swearing. Andrew would demonstrate a 10-second task (like separating the bead of the tire from the rim) and then I would struggle for 10 minutes. My long nails and short dress made it a challenge, and I felt especially inept since there was an appropriately dressed and extremely skilled female bike repairer working at the station next to mine…but eventually I had a new tube in a new tire and that new tire was on my old bike.

While I’m glad I have given changing a flat a shot, I don’t plan to start carrying tools with me on my bike. In an urban environment, when I’m biking short distances, there are too many other options for me if something goes wrong with a bike—calling a friend, taking the bus home and yes, walking, are all preferable to me than changing a flat in my office parking lot. That said, I really appreciated that my LBS offered me the chance to learn something even though I was a woman in business attire—a lot of people would have taken one look and automatically assumed I wouldn’t be interested. Maybe I’ll at least keep a tire lever and some extra tubes at home…although if it takes me four years to get another flat I will have forgotten everything I learned on Wednesday!

Anyone else have a flat tire story? Do you carry tools with you on your bike? Why or why not?

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A How-To Guide and Bike Events

~For people seeking tips on bike commuting~

My friend, Maria, of PoCampo put together a nifty guide for National Bike Month on how to bike to work safely and arrive looking presentable.

I recommend that you check it out and – most importantly! – forward it on to anyone who may be interested in bike commuting.  Spread the bike love!  :-)

~For Chicagoans looking for fun ways to connect with other bicyclists in the area~

This Thursday, in collaboration with local bike advocacy brewers Spiteful Brewing and local bike-coffee shop Heritage Bicycles, Chicago’s Ride of Silence (organized by my friend Elizabeth) is hosting a pre-Ride Tribute Event to raise awareness of the Ride of Silence and bike safety.  Come to Heritage Bikes on Thursday to chat and enjoy beer from 6-9 pm.   The Ride of Silence is on May 15 this year.

On Sunday, PoCampo is leading a leisurely Mother’s Day ride along the lakefront in Chicago.  I’ll be there!  The ride will start at 11 a.m. with mimosas & juice at Cricket Hill (Montrose & Lakefront) and continue south to the free Spring Flower Show at Lincoln Park Conservatory. Feel free to bring the whole family!

Hope to see some of you there!

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Video: Bicycle Bag Basics

We here at LGRAB get a lot of questions about which bike bags we use and recommend.  Over the years, I have accumulated quite a collection!  I’m constantly switching from bag to bag – usually between my two Po Campo panniers, my regular purse and canvas shopping bags.  In this video, I go through my entire collection and discuss which styles I like best.

I figure this post will be a resource for new bicyclists searching for ideas about how to carry stuff on their bikes, so please share your bike bag recommendations in the comments.

Brands:

Wald basket

Basil

Arkel

Detours

Po Campo

Fieldguided canvas

Patagonia

Chrome

P.S.  For more info on my bicycle, see my Rivendell Betty Foy video.  Also, my bungie straps and Po Campo review.

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Looking Back on Winter 2012-13

Five!  That’s how many Chicago winters I have biked through.  I counted over and over because five seems too high, but my math is correct.

Biking through my first winter, 2008-09, seemed so dramatic – I was amazed at my achievement. That was a particularly snowy winter, and I biked through all kinds of extreme weather to prove to myself that I could.

My second, third and fourth winters all seem like a blur now (except I distinctly remember bicycling the day after the great 2011 blizzard!), but it’s all documented in the LGRAB archives.

This winter started not so great, but I did not let that stop me.  And there was soon cheerful news, as Chicago celebrated the installation of its first downtown protected bike lane.

There were some seriously freezing days, when I was very thankful for my hand and toe warmers.  But many of the days were sunny and not too extremely cold.

wore skirts and dresses almost every day, along with tights, of course.

Most of all, I took time to appreciate the unique beauty of biking through winter.

 Now I am ready for spring!

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How about you – did you bike through winter?  Was it your first time?  What stands out to you the most, looking back?

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Winter Bicycling: Rational and Enjoyable

Happy February!

This morning, my friend Elizabeth posted a response on Bike Commuters to a dumb op-ed stating that winter bicyclists are “insane” and “suicidal.”  I love how her response is so reasonable.  Unfortunately, this particular poorly written op-ed is only a drop in the bucket of ridiculous stuff written and said about winter bicyclists.

My own personal response is: calm down and stop being so lame!  You sound silly.  Winter bicycling is perfectly rational and enjoyable.

So when I returned home from work this evening after bicycling 6 miles in 10 degree temps (-12 C), I made a quick video demonstrating how simple and normal the whole thing is.  Pretty dorky, but I’m embracing my inner Liz Lemon in remembrance of 30 Rock.

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My bike ride this evening could not have been better.  As I cycled along the lakefront, the setting sun turned the sky soft shades of blue and pink over the placid, icy blue lake.  Salt covered the trail, rendering the danger of ice moot.  I was not cold; I was happy. And here is what I wore.

What would you say to those anti-winter-bike goofballs?

{See also; video of cycling the lakefronthow to dress for winter cycling, and the LGRAB Winter Guide}

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Video: Cycling in a Long(ish) Skirt

As you may have noticed, I enjoy wearing skirts and dresses, which means that I often cycle in skirts and dresses.  Last summer, I posted about cycling in a long dress on a bike with a chainguard and soon made a  part II video on a “regular” bike with no chainguard.  In both cases, I was wearing ankle length dresses and had to be careful that the hem would not catch in the chain.

Recently, I found myself wanting to wear a new long(ish) skirt on my regular bike.  This skirt stops about 6 inches above my ankle.  I thought I would have to gather the skirt to keep it from the chain and back wheel, but discovered that the skirt hem stayed far from those danger zones once I’m up on the saddle.

I made a quick video to demonstrate how easy bicycling in this long skirt can be – no special accessories or preparation needed.

Bicycling in a Long(ish) Skirt from LGRAB on Vimeo.

Do you have long(ish) skirts that you can cycle in with no problem?

(p.s. I’ll be using Vimeo to post videos now; I’m tired of all the Creepy McCreepersons on YouTube. Visit our channel.)

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Warm woolen mittens…stuffed with Grabbers

I love warm woolen mittens.  They are cozy and perfect for crisp fall weather.

(and whiskers on kittens! because why not.)

But woolen mittens are not cutting it any longer, as December approaches.   My fingers and toes are extremely sensitive.  While other cyclists seem to get by fine with a regular pair of gloves, my fingers and toes start to freeze/burn after ten minutes in 30 degree temps, even wearing wool glove liners with down-filled ski mittens (fingers) and wool socks with leather snow boots (toes).

The only solution for me – I’ve tried everything over the years – is warmers.  I buy Grabber brand (made in the USA and non-toxic) by the caseload from Amazon, making them 50 cents a pair.  A fair price to avoid daily misery and still much less expensive than the L train.

A pair lasts long enough to use for the morning and evening commutes, if stored in a ziplock bag during the day.  Grabber also makes toe warmers, but they are pricier and not as warm, so I save them for my regular shoes and  stuff hand warmers in my roomy snow boots.

Now if only I could get Amazon to deliver them in brown paper packages tied up with string…

How do you keep your fingers and toes warm during winter?

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Step-through bike frames for tall women

Two years ago, Kara of Knitting Lemonade wrote a guest post for LGRAB, describing her search for a chic bike that would fit her 6 foot frame.  Today, jamonwheels, a reader taller than Kara, asked:

I am finding it impossible to find a step through bike frame comfortably large enough from my large frame. I am 76 inches tall [ed. note: over 6'3], very tall for a woman, with a 36 inch inseam. Help! Are there really no frames for women larger than 19 inches?

I do not know much about taller bikes, so I checked out a few models that came to mind.  The WorkCycles Secret Service and WorkCycles Oma come as large as 24 inches (61 cm).  The WorkCycles Gr8 and WorkCycles Fr8 have a seat tube adjustable for riders up to 6’4.  The Rivendell Betty Foy comes in 24 inches (60 cm).  Note that the Betty Foy no longer is made in the 62 cm size.  The Pashley Princess comes in 22.5 inches (57 cm).  The Velorbis Victoria comes as large as 22 inches (56 cm).

A few brands I checked that do not have step-throughs tall enough for someone over 6 feet: Civia Twin City, Heritage Daisy, Public, Linus.

I’m sure there are other bikes out there.  Please share any and all suggestions in the comments!

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Bike pump advice?

I need a new bike pump. It shouldn’t take 10 mins to top off two tires, right? But my cheap Bell pump needs a converter to work with Kermit Allegra’s presta valves, and it’s so poorly constructed that the hose keeps disconnecting from the valve in mid-pump. It would also be nice to have a pump with a pressure gauge.

Proof of the pain the lack of a bike pump can bring. (click image for source)

Can anyone suggest a quality double-header pump that won’t break the bank? I suppose this is a question more properly posed on Twitter, but it’s easier to refer to the comments section than pore through @replies.

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Just Glide

So I realized after posting about tips to beat the summer heat that  there was one thing I hadn’t mentioned: Coast when you can! This is probably because I often forget to do this myself. You know those small dogs who, when held above the water, automatically start paddling?

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That’s me when my feet are placed above bike pedals.

But here in Nashville, the upside of all the hills are all the downhills! (Well, I guess technically the downhills are the downside, not the upside, but you know what I mean.) And when it’s hot, I try to remind myself to take a break from pedaling and glide down them.

The joys of having a step-through: resting your feet on the top tube!

Are you a phantom pedaler too? Make me feel less alone here. :)

 

{ gif pulled from gifbin.com }

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Navigating Stairs with a Bike

Stairs are my biking nemesis.  (Well, after cars, train tracks, and black ice.)  My heavy Dutch and Danish bikes, Oma and Coco, are extremely difficult to navigate up and down stairs – or even impossible to navigate, depending on the number and steepness of the stairs.  My Betty Foy weighs much less but she’s also tough with stairs, since her handlebars and basket are unwieldy.  I deal with this simply by avoiding stairs, which is usually easy, since I park my bikes on the ground level at both home and work, plus there are ramps or elevators near almost all stairs, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A couple of times a year, though, I come across a small flight of stairs that presents the most convenient route by far.  For example, the stairs above in the Lurie Botanical Gardens are much faster to descend than the far-away ramp.  In those cases, I grab hold of the handlebars, squeeze the brakes, and make a spectacle of myself as I grunt my way up with a worried look in my eyes.  Not fun.

Too bad all stairs do not have convenient bike ramps alongside, as is common in Amsterdam.  Chicago has one that I know of, leading down a Lakefront Trail underpass.

The incline is so steep that the process is still a pain with a heavy bike, but it’s certainly much better than nothing.

I have a couple of friends who regularly carry their bikes up and down stairs and therefore could never buy a Dutch-style bike.  I wonder how many of you out there are in the same situation.

Do you encounter stairs regularly while with your bike and, if so, does that keep you from buying a heavier bike?

 

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Bike Lock Schlepping

A high-security bike lock is essential, but lugging around a heavy lock everywhere can be a hassle.

My Velorbis has a little detail that solves this problem: a hook that sticks out from the rear rack.  This is the perfect storage spot for my u-lock.  A rack clamp holds the lock in place and eliminates rattling.

Too bad this is not standard on all racks.  With my other bikes, I never figured out a great solution for carrying my u-lock.  I either throw the lock in my front basket or strap it to my rear rack with built-in bungies, but in both places the lock takes up valuable cargo space and rattles.

My huge Abus chain lock is actually more convenient to carry, because I can simply twist it around my front tube.

I’d love to know – how do you carry your bike lock?  Have you worked out a clever solution?  If so, please share with the rest of us!

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Sweat-free summer? Strategies for cycling

As the height of summer approaches, it seemed like time to amass some tips for cycling in the heat into one post. Here they are: my tips and tricks for riding in the heat over four summers in Nashville. None are rocket science, all have helped me at one time or another.

Something else that's good for keeping cool: Ice cream!

  • Get baby wipes, or, better yet, ActionWipes, to keep at your office and wipe down once you arrive.
  • If your feet sweat, put baby powder or cornstarch in your shoes before leaving the house, and after you arrive at work.
  • Use dry shampoo (did you know you can make it yourself? True fact!) to absorb odor from sweaty hair. Also: braids braids BRAIDS.
  • Ride slowly! It’s surprising how much of a difference this can make. Dottie talks about that here.
  • Wear loose clothing—dresses, loose linen shirts, etc. The more air can hit your core, the cooler you will be.
  • Consider a dark color or a fabric with a print, the better to hide any sweat stains (tip of the hat to Lovely Bicycle for the print idea).
  • Pick a route with minimal stoplights and traffic. There’s nothing worse than sitting at a red light, with heat radiating off cars and the blacktop. Side streets also tend to be shadier.
  • Don’t apply lotion (including body lotion) or foundation before leaving the house. It blocks your pores and will make you sweat more. (If anyone has found a body lotion that does not do this—please let me know what it is!)
  • Keep your back clear! Put up your hair, use a pannier, not a backpack, etc.

All that said, working up a light “glisten” on summer bike rides is usually unavoidable. If you have to smell like a human for a few minutes once you get to your destination, give yourself a break. Just think of all the toxins you are unloading!

Do you have a favorite trick for keeping cool while biking in the summer? Tell us in the comments!

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Fail: spandex shorts under dress

We’ve been talking a lot about dealing with unruly skirts and dresses recently.  I shared my experiences of tying my skirt and stapling my dress.  To avoid such a faux pas in the future, I decided to wear my old Nike spandex shorts (no padding) under suspicious new dresses.

Such was the case with a dress I thrifted last week (ahem, new with Nordstrom tags, I gotta brag).  The skirt was full and the fabric light, making the dress a candidate for floating-up-with-the-wind syndrome, so I threw my spandex shorts underneath and thought I managed to be both clever and chic.

Um, nope!

I realized only when I got this film photo back from the lab that the outline of the shorts was totally visible under the dress fabric.

*sigh*  The dress never behaved inappropriately on the bike, anyway.  Such is life, I suppose.

At this point, the garter-belt-pinned-to-dress idea is looking like the best.  I’m noting that for the future.  :)

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Package Delivery

Last week, I went to the post office and here is the obligatory cargo photo.  :)

Seriously, my bike was the perfect way to go because the place was only four blocks away, but the packages would have been a bit much to carry in my arms.  I continue to be impressed by the do-anything straps that came with my Oma, although after 3.5 years in the elements, they’re starting to look dry and corroded.  I should replace them soon before they snap at an inopportune moment!

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