Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bicycle Birding Basics


In the last three years I have done a fair amount of bicycle-birding and have learned the following lessons (many the hard way):

1) Watch for cars, watch for cars, watch for cars (especially the ones with little cyclists painted on the side). Drivers do the most stupid, dangerous, inconsiderate, and asinine things. Watch for it and be prepared to react - it may save your life! Modify your behavior, especially if you are a male with elevated testosterone when you cycle. Its kind of like dealing with cops - try not to curse drivers or have an attitude (especially when they are completely wrong) because they have all the power. Avoid dangerous roads (e.g. Highway 41 from Cerro Alto to Morro Bay where there is no shoulder, falling rocks, and poor visibility due to curves), especially when the traffic is heavy. Pull well off the road when looking at birds - it is easy to focus on the birds and forget the cars whizzing by.

2) Wear a helmet!!! (Even for short trips.) I know several cyclist who have cracked helmets in cycling accidents, and so avoided cracking their heads.

3) Observe the rules of the road, especially stay on the right side, come close to stopping at stop signs, don't run lights, and signal your turns. Not only might this save you a ticket, but it gives drivers one less reason to hit you. When necessary in town, ride in a way where you are visible even if it means you are not all the way to the right. Do not weave around cars, be predictable and visible. When outside of town, stay as far right as possible in or out of bike lanes as some cars ride on the edge of bike lanes or off to the right more than is necessary. Pull into pullouts on narrow highways or whenever else it would allow fast cars behind to pass.

4) Don't wear cameras, binoculars, etc. around your neck when riding - it gets in the way and is uncomfortable on long rides. It may seem nerdy, but a handlebar bag that locks onto the handlebar is the best place to keep such items and cell phone where they are safe and handy. Especially avoid wearing binoculars in areas where rednecks or others are hostile to birders or nature lovers. It identifies you as a target!

5) Keep the weight of your load as light as possible (it makes a big difference on hills) and try to balance it so not too much weight is in the back or to one side. I f you use only one pannier, hang it on the ride side as wind will tend to push you to the right and not into traffic. If you don't need a scope on a particular trip, leave it at home.

6) Bring plenty of food and fluids for the road, and use them. Don't underestimate how much you should eat and drink on a long ride - take 2-3 times what you would normally eat in the same time period and drink more fluid then you think is necessary (don't wait till you are thirsty). Bike shops and Internet sites sell specialty endurance drinks and food. "Bonking" is no fun! Also make sure your water bottles are full before you leave a town with a long subsequent stretch that may have no water.

7) Progress slowly when increasing mileage or hills. It's like running or lifting or any other exercise - ease into it. Especially if you are an old fart like me! Even take it easy on a brand new bike; don't take a really long trip on a new bike till you are used to it.

8) Make sure your bike fits your body. Buy a bike that is the right height and length for your body. Have an expert at a bike shop help you select a bike and set the seat height, cleat placement on your clip-in shoes, and handlebar height.

9) Keep your bike well lubricated and adjusted (brakes and derailleurs). Have at least an annual tuneup by a local bike store. Learn to do basic maintenance such as adjusting cables, adjusting the derailleur, changing a flat, patching a tube, changing a spoke, etc., so you can do it yourself on a ride. On long rides especially, make sure you carry all the needed parts and tools for basic repairs. Flats are a drag. I have been using Bontrager tires with Kevlar belting with success. You can also try tire liners or tire sealant which you inject into the tire.

10) When purchasing a bike or panniers, or other cycling equipment and clothing, consult experts at bike stores and online. Many employees at bike stores know little about bike touring, so find one who does. ( see thetouringstore.com )

11) Wear appropriate clothing for cycling so that you are comfortable cycling and birding. Cycling shoes, shorts, jerseys, leg warmers, tights, gloves, jackets. etc. protect your body, make you more aerodynamic, wick away sweat, keep you from getting too hot or cold, make you more visible, and generally feel comfortable when cycling. Wear full gloves for cold weather (not cutoff finger tips). I wear a bicycle jacket with zip-up pockets and a color called "screaming yellow" which makes me highly visible for drivers. I take along a dull green shirt to put over it or change into (depending on the weather) so I am not birding in screaming yellow. An extra sweater or thermals are useful when birding along the coast, especially with a cool onshore breeze. In redneck areas, bike jerseys with an American flag may reduce abuse from drivers (not kidding). I have an equipment list for bike birding in another post.

12) Carefully check out bike routes before a trip for the shortest, safest route. "Google Maps" and other sources make it easy to check distance and terrain. Google maps are not always accurate about bike routes so check with local cyclists or bike shops when biking an unfamiliar route. Also, check weather reports carefully before rides, especially multi-day ones, and don't forget to check on wind direction and velocity as this can greatly effect cycling. Wind and rain suck big time.

13) When not cycling, it helps to lift weights for leg and overall body strength, cross train by running and rowing, stretch (also after rides), and keep your weight down (long rides help with this!).

14) Pace yourself on long rides. Take breaks, stop and smell the roses or look at or listen for birds, or take photos. Enjoy the rides!

15) Lock your bike to a pole or tree when it is out of your sight. Use a U lock that cannot be cut. Lock the pannier and helmet as well as a wheel and frame with the lock. Lock both wheels if you are going to be gone for a while. If hiking, bring a light backpack that fits a pannier so you don't have to leave it and the stuff in it. Have a handlebar bag that locks to the handle bar and don't forget to take valuables out of it when you leave.

16) Check your bike and other equipment right before each day's trip and after significant breaks. Make sure that the wheels are on tightly, that the tires are fully inflated, the brake pads don't rub the rims, derailleurs are adjusted, and rack bolts are tight. Make sure that your tool bag, panniers and pockets on your clothes are all zipped up and securely closed to prevent leaving tools, money, keys, etc. along the side of the road.  A few quick tweaks before a trip can make a trip much more pleasant.

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