Sunday, May 22, 2016

6 Reasons to Run if You're a Bicyclist

As I'm nearing the end of my Master's program, I've become less active.  Where my mind and scientific writing has gotten quite the workout, my body has gotten much less exercise. To help with the metaphor of crossing the thesis finish line, I started running again as my exercise of choice when not bike commuting.  You may wonder why a bike addict would chose to go the way of the sneaker for exercise, so I compiled both biological and personal preferences as to why a cyclist should also incorporate running into their exercise regimen.

1. Impact Exercise to Prevent Brittle Bones

There is evidence to suggest that bikers may suffer from lower Bone Mineral Density (BMD) in the femur, neck, and lumbar spine compared to weight bearing exercises.  You can read the full 2011 study here. More research needs to be done, but there is substantial preliminary research that points to low impact sports like swimming and biking decreasing BMD. For anyone that rides in traffic and has potential to get hit by a car, or for off-road bikers who can take a spill from aggressive terrain, strong bones are a good thing.  Cross training biking and running is a good way to prevent unwanted premature bone deterioration.

2. Quick Boost to the Cardiovascular System

Now, this is just from my personal experience, but I find that biking in Texas does not prepare me for climbing mountains in Colorado, lung-wise. As a long-time long distance cyclist, any time I get on a bike, my body automatically adjusts to a moderate pace, which is good for enduring long distances, but it doesn't help when I really need to be building my lung power, and working on my breathing for future mountain bike climbing endeavors. Even if it's only for 20-30 minutes a day, my heart rate stays up the whole time when running.  There's no break during a downhill, when you stop moving your feet, you stop running.  This really helps me to improve my cardiovascular system quickly. This study discusses some of the physiological differences between cycling and running.

3. Building Strength in Complimentary Climbing Muscles

As you may (or may not) be able to see from the pictures above, there is much overlap of muscles used for both running and cycling. When mountain biking up steep grades in the Colorado Rockies, I was primarily standing up on my pedals to navigate large boulders and pull 100 pounds up the side of a mountain; and when going downhill off-road, you tend to stand up so your legs act as a shock and to maintain a strong sense of balance over your bike and load. When first starting out in the Rockies, this all too familiar position of standing up made me wish that I had incorporated running into my regimen beforehand to prevent muscle fatigue on long climbing days (which are most days in Colorado!). Also, keep in mind, the air is thinner at the high elevations, which is why a strong cardiovascular system that can get your oxygen to your muscles efficiently is important too (reference #2 above).

4. More Efficient Exercise when on a Short Schedule

My biking need has dwindled from about 150 miles per week to maybe 30 miles per week as I finish my thesis (yay!). Between schooling and family, I have less time for extracurriculars. If I really want to get a good workout on a bike (here in mostly flat north Texas), I have to be gone for about an hour or more. With running, I feel it right away and really notice a difference from something as small as 3-5 kilometers/day, which takes only 15-30 minutes. I can run while Neva is brushing her teeth in the morning, and be home before she is dressed. I feel somewhat accomplished, and don't beat myself up too hard if I drive that day due to time constraints (the guilt is real as a biker anytime you drive over biking!)

5. The Distance is Shorter, yet Effective

Not only does it take a while to get a good workout on the bike, you have to go quite a long distance to get in your hour-long workout. Typically you're looking at around 15 miles, and when you're in the heart of suburbia, you've very much left the neighborhood and have ventured into the next town over. That's not to say that you can't get in your weekend long-rides of 50+ miles; that's necessary for long-distance bike training. But for maintaining a daily routine, it should be something that's tangible on a daily basis, or something you can feel comfortable keeping up with.  Biking to work daily also fits the bill, but currently, I work from home, so that one is out for me right now!

6.  You Eliminate the Morning Stress of Dealing with Cars

When you don't have to leave your neighborhood, the urgency of morning traffic does not exist. Our neighborhood is a 2 kilometer course that I can run 2-3 times, and not worry about the stress of dealing with cars trying to get to work. Once you leave the neighborhood on your bike at 7am, you're right in the heart of traffic here in Texas, breathing exhaust fumes, and dealing with impatient drivers. When running, I notice that cars actually see you much better because the pace is so different from them, which takes down the stress level. Lastly, stretching is a mandatory part of post-running procedure, so a post-run 5 minute yoga and meditation session is a great way to destress your morning and start the day.

Relax like the Nevatar!

So, to recap, I am still a bike addict, and with many friends that are marathoners, I definitely cannot call myself a runner. However, I wanted to share the value I find in cross-training to strengthen my cycling performance. Neva also alternates between running and biking for her afternoon exercises, and we make a great team when I'm running and she bikes next to me. Since I cannot end a post without showing an adorable Neva shot, here's my biking running partner in action (with an iguana in tow)!


Friday, March 18, 2016

Quick Post : Neva's Ascent

Can you all feel it?  Spring is almost here, and the biking here in Texas has been great!  Neva's been putting her Beinn 20 to good use over the past month, practicing her hand braking, shifting, and overall technique on her 'big girl' bike. Here she is about to hit the trail.  (Note : sandals were not advised by mother)

Fun Fact : If you don't have a bike trail close by, the Beinn 20 fits nicely inside the car, only needing the front wheel removed. 

The easiest riding to get to from our house is a construction site a mile down the road.  On the weekends, there are no workers, and it's a tiny mountain bikers' dream! She started out walking her bike up a steep grade.  I reminded her that realistically, when you start, there may be some walking involved.

She did well going over the bumps and large vehicle "rumples" left behind, but is still working on standing up so her legs can absorb the shock of a bumpy landscape.  At the end of the trail was a large hill that looked over a small lake below.  She made it up part way, but needed to walk the rest of the way. Downshifting uphill is also another work-in-progress.

At the top, it was the first time that she had biked to an overlook under her own power.  She walked to the edge to take in the scenery. Smiling as a flock of geese crested over the horizon, honking loudly, as they usually do around dusk. 

She sat down, proud of her accomplishment.

Then it was time for the moment of truth. Now that she had gone up, could she go down?  



Neva left us in a cloud of trail dust, rapid-fire shifting, and speeding the whole way home! Luckily, she's got her hand brakes for speed adjustments, but this girl is not one to shy away from speed. Stay tuned for next time, there may be a GoPro Neva-cam video in the near future!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Neva Is-la Biker - First Impressions on the Beinn 20 Small

It came today!  The Islabike that Neva is going to test!  After the 5 year mark last year, Neva really progressed quickly in her biking.  She went from trailer, to Wee-hoo, to tandem, and she is now ready for a fully functional bike! This now-6-year-old would tell me, "Mom, do we have to take the tandem, it's soooo slow!", unbeknownst to her that the Islabike Beinn 20 Small was on its way.

First of all, first impressions couldn't be better.

Right out of the box...seriously!

As someone who used to work for an online bike company, this packaging was suburb.  First of all, it came almost fully assembled!  All I had to do was put on the front wheel and pedals. The nice folks at Isla installed the rack and bottle cage, cut to size and installed the kickstand, and installed the upgraded tires onto the wheels. Nothing was out of place or damaged, it was perfect.  It took longer to put on my shoes and gather my biking things than for me to get this bike ready to ride. 

You've gotta love the small details Isla adds for their customers.  Their 'ready to go' set-up is convenient for bike nerds, but a sigh of relief for the bike novice that didn't want to pay a shop to put a bike together. In the picture above, you can see they added little stickers which say which pedal goes on, and which way to rotate the pedal properly for installation. A manual is included as well if necessary, with a variety of allen wrenches for adjustments.

I was also very impressed that Islabikes offers the option of tire upgrades since these bikes use 20" tires. Schwalbe Marathon tires are my go-to touring tire, and I was glad I didn't have to go directly to Schwalbe to get these tires.  Also, they installed them, which is super cool of them. 

The reason we were looking at this bike is because it really stood out from any other bikes that are in Neva's age/size range.  It has front and rear V-brakes with small hand levers, it has a 7-speed shifter on the right hand (not shown here), and a cool bell on the left hand side. You can also see that there is a real headset and stem that you can adjust if necessary.

As if good brakes and shifters weren't enough, the Beinn 20 has tons of eyelets in useful places! I found some here on the front fork, giving a possible option for running a front rack. There are eyelets for a rear rack as well at the dropouts and seat stays, and a bottle cage inside the triangle. This photo also shows the high-quality, sealed bearing hubs that come on the wheels. She'll be able to ride as many miles as she wants on these wheels.

The Beinn 20 utilizes a mountain derailleur and a wide range ratio cassette, which gives Neva plenty of shifting options on different terrain.  

Here is the kickstand installed very securely on the bottom bracket.  It's a greenfield kickstand that Isla cut down to size to fit this small frame. 

The seat is a real seat with collar!  It looks sleek and comfy.  Even after all of my research on child bike seats, I had trouble finding one for Neva, and she did have some complaints of her 'gluteus maximus' hurting every now and again on long tandem rides, making bike shorts with shammy a necessity for her. This seat is adjustable front to back, and can be angled up or down, just like an adult bike seat. 

And voila! The bike all put together!  Not only is the Beinn 20 Small the best kids' bike I've seen, it's a great bike in general with all of the options that have gone into it.  It's obvious that IslaBikes has an innovative production team that really considers the wants and needs of a young person who knows how to ride and is ready for a good bike. The color is also beautiful.  It's a purpley-pink, almost shiny magenta, that really catches the eye. You can even get decals with your child's name made and put on the bike for $14.99, how cool is that! The above pictures don't quite give it justice with the inside lighting, but the outside shots below are more true to color.

I decided I wanted to surprise Neva at school today with the bike, so I packed up the Burley Nomad trailer, tied down the Beinn 20 with 3 bungee cords (front tire removed, and inside the trailer), stuffed her windbreaker and helmet in, and was ready to roll.

We made it!  (The Beinn 20 and I, that is!)

I got the bike all set up, and hid it in the corner...

She was contemplating how she would mount my bike when I called her over, camera ready, asking if she knew what this was...

She put her finger up to her mouth, in a pondering position, and asked, "Is this my bike?"

The second I said yes, she was ready to ride it!

It fits perfectly at all the smallest settings, and she has room to grow. She rode the entire 3 miles home. Walking across crosswalks, practicing her hand brakes, ringing her bell. Her first impressions were a big thumbs up!

Right before we got home, she gave me a big smile.  She felt very accomplished after her first ride on her new bike that fits her! She's already talking of the panniers she'll add on, and more, so I'll keep you all updated!  Have some questions for Neva? We will start some Neva Q&A segments, so if you want it, we will give it to you straight from the 6-year-old's mouth! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mini Gear Guide : Five Faves For all Seasons

Since I am currently in graduate school, we are down to taking one or two bike tours a year.  When we return from our travels,  we must face the concrete jungle that is Denton, Texas. This year, I'm lucky enough to bike Neva to school, and enjoy 25 miles of biking throughout the day. In going back and forth between touring and commuting, I've noticed a few pieces of gear that work great for both purposes,and in all seasons.  There are things like bike lights, a helmet, a pump and patch kit, etc. that are a given every time you ride, but this list is of the not-so-obvious must-haves for the chronic cyclist.

Two girls attacking the concrete jungle for Neva's first day of Kindergarten. A child one day asked her, "Neva, why do you always bike to school?!" and Neva replied, "Why don't you always bike to school?"

1. The Buff
- The Buff is ingenious in its simplicity. At first glance, it looks like just a stretch tube of fabric; not very exciting, but after using this product over many miles, the usefulness shines through.

For both on tour and commuting, the Buff can act as a balaclava to protect your face from the cold.  On hot days, if you're touring in the desert, your mouth is protected from sand from the prevalent dirt devils of a vast and arid climate.  When commuting in Texas, every morning on the bike path and around sidewalks, leaf/sand/pine needle cleanup uses blowers and weed wackers to keep the sidewalks looking nice (I guess?). Covering up with a Buff is just the thing to keep unexpected gnats, cold, dust, etc. out of your mouth.  There are many other ways to wear the Buff to keep your hair out of your face as well, but for me, having quick access to an instant mouth barrier provides the most useful service.

Neva used the Buff as a head scarf when commuting by subway in NYC.

2. Da Brim
- Simplicity will be a common theme with the products I use most regularly.  Da Brim is a circle of fabric that velcro tightens around your helmet, giving shade that is equivalent to wearing a 10-gallon hat.

Neva and I are sporting da Brim look.  Neva's is handmade by me, and mine is the $50 version available only online.

Da Brim is not much more glamorous than an umbrella hat, but I got tons of compliments from people on RAGBRAI, and biking on the bike path during the Texas summer, because it looks smart. The level of protection goes all the way around, protecting your face and the back of your neck.  For anyone that wears glasses, this hat addition is also helpful when it rains. The only downfall of this piece of gear is when it's really windy.  Sometimes, if the wind catches da Brim just right, the whole helmet will come up.  This is sometimes the case if you have a small head (like me) and your helmet just barely fits, or if you just shaved your head and now your helmet fits a little bit larger. Usually adjusting your helmet to fit properly will address this issue.

Neva's brim is still a work in progress, but with about $2 invested in the above recycled materials, we've had fun experimenting.

3. A Bell
- Ding ding. The universal cyclist communication mechanism.

A bell might not seem that important, but if you're ever on a shared bike path, you will notice that EVERYONE, runners, bikers, walkers, etc., wear earbuds and are listening to music. You can scream, "on your left" all day, and on the off-chance they hear you, they will just wonder why you're screaming at them. It's better to just have a bell to try and warn them of your presence.  If no reaction, just try to go around them as safely as possible.

Off-road or on tour the bell can come in handy for a few reasons.  If you're in the wilderness, sometimes it's good to have a bell just to alert the animals of your presence, if your clunky load isn't already scaring off everything in a 2 mile radius. If you're on the open road, it's a good way to say "hello!" to the elusive other-cycle tourist. Maybe they'll even stop to chat and you have made a new best friend. Good communication is key in any relationship.  Since we share the roads with everyone, the bell is the least threatening way to say, "hey, I'm here".

4. Super Collapsible Backpack
- An extra bag that is so lightweight and collapsible, that you don't even remember it's there until you need it, and then you're glad it's there.

Collapsed version
When on tour, the stashing of a tiny backpack that's smaller than my fist is best used for grabbing some groceries when you are in town.  You don't want to go fully loaded to the grocery, and most of your bags are filled with gear anyway, so you need an extra bag.  Since you won't be getting more than a grocery bag full anyway, usually just 1 or 2 meals worth of food and some snack bars, one bag works well. I prefer the backpack form so that I don't have to do the ol' 'hold it on your handlebars' thing, though a plastic bag or reusable shopping bag would work too, as they are just as light an collapsible as the backpack.

Open bag, with tiny attached mini bag sewed to the inside.
When I'm commuting, I typically use the backpack when I am going to grab lunch. Again, so I don't need to bring my school supplies with me. Sometimes I may even use only the backpack instead of panniers if I just need my wallet and phone, with the possibility of an unforeseen purchase. The great thing about it is you don't have to lug around a pannier which goes on your shoulder once you arrive, you've got your necessities comfortably on your back. The bag is so light,  I typically forget I am wearing it, and it doesn't cause the unfortunate sweaty back syndrome.

Very simple : one top main zipper, one small side zipper (made to fit keys and things), adjustable straps, and a loop on the mini inside bag so you can carabiner it to a belt loop or large bag when it's in collapsed mode.

In use for holding snacks and necessities when on a bus in Costa Rica. All the other gear is stuffed under the bus. Oh look, the Buff made a second appearance!

5. Pockets...Anywhere
-I'm not picky, pockets on your back, on your shorts, on your shoulder, wherever, I just want some pockets.

Mostly, this comes in really handy so that you can put your phone within hearing range when you're biking around a city, trying to find a place you've never been.  The most handy that I've found is the velcro breast pocket found on adventure style shirts.

Some ladies might find it uncomfortable to put anything in the breast pocket, and that's when cycling pockets come in handy, or a sleeve pocket/phone holder. Short/pants pockets can work, but you can't quite hear directions as well if you're in a high traffic situation. You of course can put anything in your pockets that you wish (Neva likes rocks, leaves, etc.) but I have found phone directions are the most useful. 

Give yourself a high five, just for being awesome, and let us know any necessities you like to always have handy when biking. My next post I'll discuss an in depth list of my first aid kit, and when some of my odd choices can come in handy.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Summer Bike Tour 2015 - Where'd we go?

Hey all, we made it through our trials on the trails! We got back a few days before school started (for both of us), with Neva starting Kindergarten, and me finishing my final year of my master's. Just to catch you up on where we went, I have a few maps to share.  First, we biked across Iowa, on the world-renowned RAGBRAI.

This was a great year for Neva's first year of pedaling.  The terrain wasn't too difficult, the weather stayed comfortably in the 80's most of the trip, with even a few welcomed showers, and we had a tail wind most of the time!  We were even recognized and interviewed by a local Iowan news, Channel 13

And that's the rig all set up.  We decided to take the Kidz Tandem for this trip. Neva felt large and in charge being up front, and both her and the bike got lots of attention. The question I got most often is "Is she steering?!". No, she is not steering, there is a long steer tube for me that goes down to a linkage bar which attaches to the front wheel, so I'm able to steer from the back.  It's a similar idea to the dutch cargo bikes.

Neva did great.  She definitely passively pedaled most of the time (don't get your hopes too high for them pulling their own weight!), but when we were going uphill, she would stand up on her pedals and work it!  If she got tired, she would put her head down on the handlebar bag in front of her to keep her eyes out of the sun, and she would hydrate herself with the easy-access water bladder tube that I attached to the handlebars. Through rain or shine, she didn't complain...much.  

Neva navigating on a rainy day.  She had the maps up front and loved pointing to the next town.

Well, she complained less than any adult, and that's pretty good. 

Neva not wanting to sleep in the tent again; confused as to why there are homes with people around us, and wondering why we are not staying in those homes.

As mentioned in the previous post, we did have some trials with transportation, but thanks to many favors of Warm Showers friends, we eventually made it to New York to start the Adirondacks tour.  Here is a rough map of where we went : 

And here are most of the places we went : 

Schenectady, NY
Speculator, NY
Indian Lake, NY
Inlet, NY
Long Lake, NY
Tupper Lake, NY
Saranac Lake, NY
Keene Valley, NY
Plattsburgh, NY
Isle la Motte, VT
Saint-jean-sur-Richelieu, QC, CAN
Chambly, QC, CAN
Montreal, QC, CAN
Ingraham, NY
Ausable Chasm, NY
Burlington, VT

The Adirondacks are nice to bike around with the picturesque lakes and forest scenery, but know what to expect!  Those mosquitoes are no joke; little syringes with wings, they hurt! And the ticks, they are smaller than the dog ticks that I'm used to seeing in CA, AZ, and TX, and Lyme disease prevalence is increasing at an alarming rate.  This is thought to be from temperature changes affecting their life cycles, creating larger numbers. 

What the locals use for small critters. This stuff is sold all over the local shops. 

The temperatures were ideal, the terrain wasn't too aggressive, and the views were nice. The shoulders, for the most part are pretty wide, but many of these areas are frequented as a getaway by many New Yorkers, so you will see a high volume of people within a tiny area in many of the lakes, especially around Inlet and Lake Placid. We enjoyed many of the things that draw the tourists, visiting the museums in the areas, kayaking when we could, and taking the time to eat lunches by the lake. 

Neva at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, NY
We left the Adirondacks, and headed up to Canada via the Champlain Islands. We had officially hit the flatlands on our trek north, with terrain that (oddly enough) looked a lot like Iowa. 

Quiz : is the above A. Somewhere in upstate NY, B. Champlain Islands, VT, C. Somewhere over the Canadian border, or D. Iowa.  Hint, it is NOT Iowa!
The answer to the above question is 'all of the above.' Corn fields, farm houses, and tractors as far as the eye could see. I knew I had raised my girl on RAGBRAI when we stop to use the restroom and Neva wants to take a picture with the corn. (And yes, the picture above does show her resting on the handlebar bag!) 

Though the populations are tiny, we did come across some bike-friendly places that cater to this common bike route (which is different than charging cyclists high prices because they're the only service around).  Luckily, on Isle La Motte, we found a quaint little community style bed and breakfast to stay at to break up the trek from Plattsburgh to Chambly.  

The Old Schoolhouse is run by Carol, one of the warmest persons I've ever met! She has a beautiful garden outback which we were able to pick from for fresh kale, tomatoes, squash, etc. to have for our dinner that night. There were also chalkboards in the rooms so you could write friendly notes for her. Carol is also an amazing baker, and we awoke the next morning to the aroma of lemony fresh baked scones. The Schoolhouse also draws a fun crowd.  There were two other couples that stayed that night, and we had a community style breakfast, and shared stories.  One man made killer eggs and serenaded us all with his melodic tunes on the violin. What a great way to start a biking morning!

We then ventured into Canada. Once we got to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, the corn fields faded away, and we were back in civilization with beautiful bike paths and buzzing town squares, centered around water and green parks. Everyone was out and about.  We were no longer the lone rangers, but joined by an extended community of active people smiling, sweating, and speaking french. 

Chantale and her family welcomed us into their home in Chambly, Quebec. They took us to the park for a picnic lunch, and we sat next to the falls enjoying the water, and looking at the tiny life seeking refuge amongst the rocks. 

 They also took us kayaking. Chantale's husband Martin had just finished building two of his own simultaneously and was anxious to try them out.

Martin teaching son Remi how to flip upside down and right himself again with his handmade kayak, in their pool in the backyard.
Afterwards, we headed back over the border, and finished our tour in Burlington, VT. It was a great way to end our tour.  We stayed in a community house of 8 people, three of which work at different organic farms in the area.  After our long day of biking, we were met with tempura vegetables over quinoa with fresh picked greens and handmade dressings. The next day, we were able to head out to the goat farm and join in the children's summer camp, focused on teaching children sustainable practices for farm life, and how to work within a community. 

Neva fit right in and instantly made friends with human, chicken, and goat alike. Also geeps.  Did you know this was a thing? Sheep + Goat = Geep.  Yes, even I learned something new that day!

This morning they had chicken chores.  Neva's group was in charge of watering the chickens. 
We then went to the ECHO museum, dropped our bike off at Old Spokes Home in Burlington, a non-profit which houses an impressive bike museum in the attic, and then we had dinner with our good buddy Ed, a long time friend from our days in Flagstaff, AZ. 

Me at Old Spokes Home bike shop, basking in the coolness of old ordinaries, safeties, chainless bikes, early tandems, and the like. 
We ended our tour visiting family in NYC and Philadelphia.  Neva talked about seeing Grandma Stephanie the whole trip, and got to end with some much needed grandma spoiling, after 5 weeks of a rigorous 1000 mile biking schedule. The grandparents threw her an un-birthday party since we probably won't see them on her actual birthday this year. Stephanie pulled out her cake making tools, and we all had a ball making her cake. Here's the result :

 In the end, I think Neva concluded...

(and VT, PA, and QC)...but, I'm ready to go home...for now.

Total trip; planes, trains, bicycles, etc. 

My favorite [bike] things coming up in the next blog...