Over the years we've been asked certain questions about walking and riding over-and-over again so, in self-defense, we've compiled this compendium to answer them, as best we can. The compendium is a living thing - new questions are asked all the time - and we continuously make additions. Here's today's version
Rules of the Roads and Woods
Here are a few rules we insist upon for riding safely and respectfully on and off road; they're distilled from Massachusetts' Code of Regulations regarding operation of bicycles (to read the regulations, click here); from the teachings of America By Bicycle's quintessential transcontinental ride leader, Mike Monk; from the writings of John Allen (http://www.bikexprt.com/index.htm), author of a must-read manual for surviving in traffic; and from years of riding with accomplished and long-lived (read road-smart) riders associated with the Northeast Bicycle Club, Charles River Wheelmen, and the New England Mountain Bike Association:
- First and foremost, always wear a helmet. If you're on the bike without a helmet, no matter what the excuse (just warming up, just riding to the rest room, just checking the wheels, we've heard 'em all) we will, for sure, get on your case.
- Before climbing on the bike, check your front wheel and brakes. With quick release wheels and brakes it's easy to forget to tighten things. We don't want to think about what might happen if your wheel drops out or your brakes don't work once we're underway.
On the road:
- Stop for all stop signs and red lights. Check for traffic. If there is none, advise riders around you that the road is "clear," then proceed. But, no matter what anyone else says, check for yourself, especially if you're toward the back of the group. Conditions can change quickly.
- Ride single file. Massachusetts' law permits riding two abreast unless doing so obstructs traffic. We choose routes for low traffic density, but this doesn't mean we're absolutely alone on the road so, while single file certainly isn't as sociable as riding two or three abreast, it's a whale of a lot safer and much less likely to precipitate confrontation with motorists.
- Signal your intentions. The State requires this too. Give hand signals when turning or stopping. We typically point to the left or right for turns, rather than using the signals taught in driver training manuals, because this is pretty unambiguous; it’s now the preferred method for cyclists and is taught in most bicycle safety curricula. For stopping or slowing, we drop an arm with an open hand and say "stopping" or "slowing".
- Alert riders behind you to hazards ahead. Point out bumps, pot holes, gratings, broken glass, fallen tree limbs, dropped mufflers, etcetera, anything that might give riders behind you a nasty surprise.
- Get off the road when you stop to wait for others, take a drink, fix a flat, or whatever. Once stopped, make a point of looking down the road for traffic coming from behind you. If you're part of a group, assign someone the job of keeping track of what's happening down the road.
- Become a pedestrian when crossing major roadways. Pedestrians in crosswalks are a protected species; cyclists aren't. Dismounting and walking across is, given the slow start and unexpected things that can happen upon mounting a bike (can't clip in, wrong gear, you name it) by far the safest way to pass through a high-traffic intersection.
Off Road and In the Woods
- Leave a good gap between you and riders ahead. The woods are full of bumps and sticky stuff; you need enough room to see what's coming and prepare for it.
- If in doubt, balk. Better to walk a rough section or step over a log and enjoy the rest of the ride than risk a tumble and a ruined day. We're well past the point of being embarrassed about taking the easy way; we have to go to work tomorrow.
And here's a final note: In Massachusetts (as in all the other forty nine states) cyclists are subject to the same rules as motorists and have the same rights and privileges. This benefit/obligation means stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks, moving off the road and stopping for emergency vehicles, and so forth. So don’t be surprised when we ride like we (are supposed to) drive on Get Up’N Go outings!
By the way, it's a rare motorist who understands and acknowledges that cyclists are, in effect, vehicle operators, but the courts might. Better to ride defensively, however, than to contend from a hospital bed that the right of way belonged to you.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Cycling
Q. Can I join you at any time?
A. Yes but ... check the Home page for signup rules. Signing up no later than the day before a ride is required.
Q. Will this ride be hard and long enough for me?
A. Our Tuesday (easier) rides typically cover twelve to fifteen miles of roads and wooded trails in about two hours; they avoid hills and rough trails. Rides on Mondays, Thursdays, and Friday are a little more aggressive. They typically go further further, fifteen to twenty miles, climb and descend whatever’s in the way, and occasionally tackle off road stretches as difficult as what hardened mountain bike people would probably classify as “novice” trails. So, recalling that we're talking mountain bikes and hybrids here, it’s still possible to get a decent, if not a killer, workout on these rides.
Q. If I can't keep up, should I turn around and go back?
A. No. Rides are designed for a pace that'll be comfortable provided you've made a suitable choice of program. If, however, you find it too demanding, we don't recommend giving up and turning back. We never leave anyone behind; we'll return you safely to the starting point and will make on-the-trail accommodations, as necessary, to assure this happens. If you insist on leaving the group, we will detach someone to return with you, provide a map, or issue verbal directions to the starting point.
Q. What happens if I miss a ride?
A. We operate under a strict group size limit so we hope you won’t miss a ride. If you know in advance you’re going to miss a ride for which you’ve signed up, please let us know so we can give your spot so another rider if we’re waitlisting people.
Q. May I bring a child?
A. No. Our routes are not appropriate for child carriers or "tag-alongs".
Q. Do you ride in the rain?
A. We won't start in the rain; if rain is likely, we'll cancel. In New England, however, variable weather is a (delightful!) fact of life; sometimes rain sneaks up on us in the middle of a ride. Against this eventuality, we carry with us "impromptu raincoats"; that is to say, large trash bags, to distribute to otherwise unprepared riders. They work nicely and get everyone home with minimal discomfort.
Q. What about special clothing?
A. In chilly weather wear (or bring in a rucksack) several layers of clothing that can be added, removed, or adjusted as the ride proceeds. We swear by shirts with zippers, which can be opened or closed to make fine adjustments to temperature as climbing heats (unzip) and descending cools you (zip). A waterproof wind blocking jacket is a must. We insist you wear a helmet at all times and suggest an early-season ear covering when it's still chilly. We recommend cycling gloves; in cold weather (under fifty degrees), consider replacing open-fingered warm-weather gloves with a lightweight closed-finger version. If it's seriously cold, in the twenties or lower, add a glove liner. Disposable hand warmers, available in many sporting goods stores (and even Stop and Shop), work well if you have a cold-hand problem. When it's chilly, we also recommend wind-blocking long underwear or fleece-lined tights. Of course, all this depends on both temperature and wind velocity; the lower the wind chill factor, the more warmly you must dress. We also strongly recommend bicycling shorts with a padded crotch liner; believe us, your body will thank you. By May, and certainly by June, shorts and light shirts will do.
Q. Do I need special equipment?
A. No, but your bike must be in good working order and you should carry a spare tube correctly sized for your wheels, tire irons (to help with flats), and a pump properly set up for the type of valve you're using (Presta valves for high-performance bikes and Schrader for everyone else). Make sure your bike has a water bottle cage (and a bottle!).
Q. How do I know where the starting point will be?
A. Check the website's "This Week" page, which posts starting points and a click-on link to driving directions.
Q. Do you cancel because of cold weather?
A. No. It's possible to dress properly for New England weather. That's the key. We do however, end these rides around Halloween and then begin to dream of warm locations where one can cycle right through winter!
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What kind of bike should I buy?
There are three basic types of bike; namely, those specifically optimized for maximum efficiency and minimum effort on smooth surfaces (i.e., road bikes ; racing bikes fall in this category), those specifically optimized for ruggedness and sure footing on rough terrain and uncertain surfaces (mountain bikes), and an in between category that isn't optimal for either type of riding but can go almost anywhere. This last is what’s known as a "hybrid". For our rides, which have a habit of going off-road from time-to-time to avoid traffic and explore out-of-the-way places "roadies" never see, either a mountain bike or a hybrid is needed.
With that settled then, the next issue is cost. As a general rule, serviceable (we'll come back to what that means) mountain bikes cost more than a serviceable hybrid does, by roughly a factor of two. That's because you're paying for a tough bike, easily repaired in emergencies, stable, equipped with a shock-absorbing front fork to sop up the worst of the big bumps, and all of this for as little weight as possible. Mountain bikes have panache, are the closest thing there is to indestructible, but are slow on the road unless equipped with special "bald" tires to reduce rolling resistance (the downside of these tires is they reduce the bike's ability to handle mud and snow). By virtue of their smaller diameter wheels, 26 inches versus 27 for a hybrid, they keep you closer to the ground and make it easier to put a foot down. So, if money is no object but confidence in staying upright is, we recommend you buy one. We use them because they're durable and because we have fancy racing bikes for those days when going really fast is a priority.
On the other hand, for a first bike a hybrid is an excellent, maybe even an unbeatable, choice. They're affordable (if you find your hybrid's not enough bike, no need to shed crocodile tears, just unload it on the kids or your spouse and buy something else), they have as many gears as a mountain bike, are stable, can be purchased with "shocks", and most now come with cool paint jobs. By far the majority of Spoke'N riders use and swear by them. So if price tag is a concern and you trust yourself on a bike, a hybrid is the way to go.
What should I expect to pay? For a Huffy or a Toy's R Us bike, less than $200. Don't do it!! You get what you pay for (at least up to a point; diminishing returns set in above $2,500 or $3,000). Plan on something in the $400 to $700 range for a hybrid and say $800 to $1,200 for a mountain bike you'll be happy with. Feel free to spend more if you like; if you do, what you'll get is a little less weight, more durable components, and maybe fancier graphics. Here's our take on that: One, it's much more cost-effective to take a few pounds off the rider than the bike and Two, high-end components only matter to folks who plan to push the edge of the envelope; bikes in the price range we've quoted are more than adequate for our rides where, by design, the edge-of-the envelope is always far away.
Are all hybrids the same? No; in our experience, some lean toward being mountain bikes and some toward being road bikes. The former have wider and knobbier tires, straight-across handle bars, favor a more upright position, and are often equipped with a front shock absorber. On the other hand, hybrids designed for more on than off-road use have thinner, knob-free tires, stretch the rider into a slightly more "aero" posture, and may forego the shock. Our advice? Look for the hybrid going-toward-mountain-bike.
For more on the difference between "going-toward-road" and "going-toward-mountain-bike" hybrids and for some specific examples of each, take at look at the accompanying addendum prepared by the Cycle Loft, which also adds detail to our description of what a mountain bike is and what it can do. By the way, the Trek 6700 they cite as an example is the bike we're currently riding.
Does the manufacturer matter? In our opinion, not really. Most frames are made in Taiwan, no matter the brand name, and most components come from Japan. What does matter is the fit. A bike has to fit you, not some idealized average rider of the same height and weight. This is where the bike shop comes in; a good one will work with you to make a close, if not perfect, fit (there's only so much one can do with standard frame sizes; perfection requires a custom bike). A good shop will insist you test drive the bike, and then, when you find one you like, they'll put you (and it) on a rig that let's them adjust your riding position to near optimum.
Does it matter where I buy the bike? Our experience is, emphatically, yes. Buy from a shop that lives and breathes bikes and whose employees ride them. Most importantly, look for a shop with a first-rate service department; bikes break and go out of adjustment and, when this happens, you want things fixed right and fixed quickly. The Boston Area is rich in such outfits; pick one conveniently close to you. If you can establish a good working relationship with the shop where you purchase your bike, it'll be a win-win situation for everyone. You'll keep going back, and they'll happily accept your business.
Can we make recommendations? Sure, we have our favorite shops, and we'd be happy to talk to you about them. But there are plenty of other good ones.
Finally, serviceability. Webster defines this as "fit for use", and that's pretty much what we mean too; good enough to do the job. Anything more is a frill. Two things we don't consider frills are quick release wheels and brakes, things that come automatically on most bikes purchased in the price ranges given above and from knowledgeable retailers; i.e., bike shops or outdoor stores like REI or EMS. We regard them as a necessity. Buy a bargain bike at Toys 'R Us and what you'll get is wheels and brakes that require a heavy wrench when it's necessary to fix a flat on the road. These tools weigh so much and are so bulky that we don't carry them in our tool kits; nobody does anymore. This means either you must lug them or, someday, face a long walk home. The extra outlay is an investment that pays back in spades. We urge you to please, when choosing a bike, insist that it have these features.
Now here's what the Cycle Loft, has to say:
The Traditional Hybrid Bike
A good example is the Trek "7300"; it's what we would consider a traditional "Hybrid" bike. It has large diameter wheels and skinny tires like a road bike, but its upright riding position makes it a much more comfortable choice for the recreational rider. Hybrid bikes like this one typically have quite a bit of adjustability that allows for a bit of personal preference in riding position. Want to be a bit faster and more efficient? Lower the handlebars. Want to be more upright and relaxed? Raise the handle bars. Hybrid bikes typically have pretty "low" gearing, which means that you won't be going super fast, but climbing hills will be a breeze. This particular bike sells for about $450, and comes with quite a few nice comfort features including a suspension fork (shock absorber), suspension seatpost, and excellent handlebar adjustability. So what do you get if you spend a bit more? Basically, you save some weight and gain quite a bit of durability. If you're planning on doing some long distance touring, commuting, or any off-road riding, the more expensive bikes will prove well worth the money. The next model in Trek's line is the "7500", which sells for $680. Their nicest Hybrid, the "7700", sells for $1030 (note: The Loft quoted these prices and those below in 2003; they've probably slid upward since then).
The Modified Hybrid Bike
Sometimes called "City Bikes," these bikes share the upright riding position and comfort features of a hybrid, but with one significant difference: they have smaller diameter wheels and fatter tires. The tires are still slick and very smooth on the roads, but their size makes them a bit more stable in rough conditions. If you want the comfort of a Hybrid, but a little more "Mountain Bike" versatility, this is the way to go. If you find yourself off-road quite a bit, you can even swap tires for something with a bit more tread. The Navigator 300 sells for $440, and just as with the Hybrids, you stand to gain quite a bit more durability by stepping up to one of the higher-end bikes. Trek's "Navigator 400" sells for $499, and the "Navigator 500" sells for $529.
The Mountain Bike
The Evans' ride Trek "6700’s", a mid-level mountain bike that sells for $1200. Mountain bikes are a necessity for those who are doing a considerable amount of off-road riding, especially if that involves trails with lots of rocks and roots. Not only are these bikes tougher and more capable of handling abusive conditions, but the rider position is changed to allow better handling of the bike. Hybrid and City bikes are not ideal for loose or rough off-road conditions because the rider position is so upright that there is no weight over the front wheel and they become very difficult to steer and maneuver. The mountain bike is the most versatile of all bikes. It can handle the roughest off-road conditions, but will also make an excellent on-road bike (especially if you switch to a slick tire). Just as with Hybrids and City Bikes, more expense results in lighter weight and increased durability. Mountain Bikes tend to hold up to the general wear-and-tear of off-road riding better than others. As above, of course, increased durability carries with it a higher price.
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Cleaning your bike
Especially after a soggy ride, when bikes pick up a lot of dirt and muddy water (if ridden over trail segments shared with horses, other unmentionables too), it's a good idea to clean them right away. If there's no time for a complete scrubdown, at least wipe chains and cables dry; these are particularly susceptible to rusting because, by their very nature, links and rollers continuously scrape against each other, removing protective oxides (and lubricants!) to expose fresh, ferrous surfaces ripe for rusting. Immediately after drying these elements as best you can, coat them with a water-displacing lubricant to get at the nooks and crannies no cloth can reach. Most penetrating oils, WD-40 for example, fit the bill nicely, as do most "dry" chain lubricants, which are carried in a liquid base but rely on something other than oil (little Teflon particles, flakes of molybdenum disulfide, whatever) to prevent metal-to-metal contact. 'Nuff said; a smoothly flexing chain and cables you can count on to shift gears and apply brakes go a long, long way toward a happy, safe trip the next time out. What about the rest of the bike?
We follow the advice of The Cycle Loft's repair and maintenance guru, Anthony Laskaris, who points out that modern bikes, with their exotic alloy components and fancy paint jobs, aren't afraid of a little water (except as mentioned above). So, for a quick fix, just hose the bike and wipe it dry. This should remove the worst of the gook. Don't forget to wash and dry the bearing surfaces of rims, which must be kept scrupulously free of grit and oil if brake pads are to do their job and do it without behaving like belt sanders, gnawing inexorably away at the metal.
For a more thorough treatment, first put a little dishwashing detergent in a bucket of warm water and, with the help of a big brush, scrub everything, including the tires. A smaller brush, maybe even a toothbrush, will get into the really narrow spaces where tubes come together, hard-to-reach areas like insides of fork blades and chain stays, and tight spots around the headset. Does the type of detergent matter? Anthony says yes, it does; use a grease-cutting formulation like Dawn or even go to one of the citrus-based hand cleaning (also available as bike cleaning) compounds. These are all designed to allow total immersion without skin removal, so are paint-safe.
After the suds have done their work by loosening the grip of grit and grease, hose the bike to rinse them and the detritus away, then, as in the quick-and-dirty method, dry everything carefully. Bouncing the bike a few times helps to shake a lot of the water off the chain and the tires, making it easier to wipe things down. Now, once the bike is dry, is the time to deal with chains and cables, and to squirt a little (preferably water-displacing) lubricant into derailleur pivot-points, cable housings, into jockey-wheel axles (jockey wheels are the little gear-like things on the rear derailleur), brake pivot points, and, if the bike is equipped with clipless pedals, into the cleat clamping mechanisms.
And that's it! Shouldn't take more than ten or fifteen minutes and the payoff is huge; miles-and-miles of carefree riding with you and your bike working seamlessly together, never nagged by annoying mechanical glitches, just going wherever you like, whenever you like, secure in the knowledge you won't have to walk home.
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