Saturday, January 11, 2020

Winter Cycling Tips in 2020, Part 2: Hands, Feet, and Head

John's cycling glove collection and approximate temperature range
post by John Burnham

In part 2, we review keeping your extremities happy.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

        1. If your shoes are too tight, your feet will get cold.
        2. Cotton is not your friend.
        3. If your gloves are too tight, your fingers will get cold.
        4. Cotton is really not helpful at all.
        5. Keep hydrated!
        6. Hydrated cotton stays that way for a long time.

DISCLAIMER  This is intended to be a set of guidelines based on personal experiences and other sources of information dredged from the internet. If you find alternate methods that work well for you, by all means keep doing them. Don't say I didn't warn you about cotton.

DON'T FORGET HANDS AND FEET   The funny thing about your body is it will sacrifice blood flow to your hands and feet to save the vital organs in your torso, otherwise known as your "core." If your core is sufficiently warm, your body will keep the blood flowing to your extremities. That being said, you can take additional measures to ensure your feet and hands stay warm.

​The same rules apply to feet- keep heat close, moisture away. For socks, absolutely choose wool or alpaca over cotton. You also need sufficient space around your feet, too- even thick wool socks will lose their ability to insulate if your shoes fit too tightly (the air pockets get compressed). If you can’t wiggle your toes, you may need to go up in size or go with thinner socks. What about multiple layers? I have seen differing advice on this, and it may be a matter of what works best for you, given your physiology and the shoes you wear. One source says absolutely only one layer of thick wool or alpaca, another says wear a thin moisture-wicking liner sock with a second layer of wool (if your skin is sensitive to wool, which can be itchy). Everyone agrees that cotton is to be avoided at all costs. For what it’s worth I have tried both methods, and am leaning toward the single layer of thick wool or alpaca socks. I have also swapped out the standard insoles of my shoes for wool felt insoles.

The shoes you wear in warmer weather may be unsuitable for winter riding. There are shoe covers of various types which have taken me down to the low 30's, but I still get numb toes after 10 miles. Recently I have swapped out my clipless pedals for platform pedals and ride in waterproof hiking boots and wool socks. There exist somewhat expensive winter boots by 45NRTH and LAKE with SPD-compatible soles that have excellent reputations.

I have given up on shoe covers below 40˚F and cannot justify the cost of 45NRTH boots, so I ride in waterproof hiking boots (1 size bigger) and thick alpaca socks.

Mitten vs. Glove

ENOUGH ABOUT FEET! WHAT ABOUT HANDS?   Generally speaking, mittens are warmer than gloves when comparing similar materials and construction. Keeping your fingers together in the same space is the key factor in this difference. However, cycling requires frequent use of brakes and shifters, which may prove more difficult while wearing mittens. If you can operate safely wearing mittens, by all means use them and your hands will be happier in colder temperatures. Gloves provide more dexterity, but separating all the fingers exposes more skin surface is to heat transfer through the fabric, which gets worse as the temperature drops.

A good compromise is “lobster” (three-finger) gloves which group some fingers together but are not completely mittens, giving you back some of that missing dexterity. I have had positive results with thin wool liners in looser fitting insulated gloves (again, there are differing opinions out there on the benefits of glove liners). Like with socks, if a liner makes your gloves fit tighter, the insulating properties will be diminished. You may need to go through some trial-and-error to determine what works best for you in what temperature ranges.

Types of pogies

For very cold conditions (below 20˚F) another option I recommend are “pogies.” These odd-looking accessories borrowed from the kayak community and perfected by early Alaskan cyclists (and oddly named for an Atlantic forage fish) are essentially sleeping bags attached to your handlebars. Their primary function is to block the wind, making even minimally insulated versions surprisingly effective. They also allow you to use lighter weight gloves in colder temperatures. A quick internet or Amazon search will reveal a world of options from $20 to $200 (or more!) for flat handlebars.  For drop bars, the pickings are slim. Bar Mitts (what I use), Portland Pogies, and Dr. Ops are the only three drop bar options I can find so far.

KEEP YOUR HEAD   ...warm. Contrary to popular belief and your mother's advice, we do not lose most of our body heat through our heads. We do lose more heat through the head relative to other body areas if the rest of the body is covered, so covering your head and face become important as the temperature drops. This is where a thin skull cap/helmet liner comes in handy, or a balaclava in colder temperatures. I have a thin "micro sensor" fabric balaclava by Pearl Izumi that is surprisingly effective all by itself into the 20's. A snow sports helmet combined with ski goggles can take you into the single digits and lower, although you lose some peripheral vision with all that extra structure. Your eyes and ears stay toasty warm, though!

HYDRATION   It's a no-brainer to stay hydrated when exercising in warm weather, but you need to do it in cold weather, too! Water is essential to your body for regulating temperature, and as we have said, you still perspire when you're exercising in the cold. Since proper layering technique will draw perspiration away from your body, your skin has less opportunity to reabsorb lost water and electrolytes. Bring water with you on your rides and stay hydrated!

In Part 3, I'll wrap up with bicycle maintenance and other miscellany.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Winter Cycling Tips in 2020, Part 1: Heat and Moisture

January 1, 2020 on the Illinois Prairie Path, Batavia Spur
post by John Burnham

The following is two part re-hash of an article on winter cycling first posted in 2017.

Having experienced snow on Halloween followed by the second warmest Christmas Day in Chicago (since the beginning of record keeping in 1871) we have started settling into more winter-like weather; still, it's a little on the warm side for the month of January. At least today (as of this writing) there is a trace snow on the ground so it looks like winter.

It's overcast with the temperature hovering around the freezing point- not exactly pleasant weather for doing anything outside, let alone riding a bicycle. Or is it? There may be a few perfectly legitimate reasons for not riding, but cold and inclement weather should not deter you if you really want to get out on your bicycle (or snowshoes, or cross-country skis, etc.). Here is a basic guide, distilled from multiple sources and personal experience, for riding in not-so-perfect conditions.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

        1. DO NOT wear cotton next to your skin. Just avoid it altogether.
        2. Layer your clothing!
          ⇨ Synthetic (polyester) or Merino wool base layer next to the skin
          ⇨ Insulating middle layer
          ⇨ Windproof outer layer
          ⇨ Add or remove middle/outer layers as needed
        3. Avoid cotton
        4. Keeping your torso warmer will help keep your extremities warm.
        5. Cotton? Just Say NO.

Heat and Moisture Management!

"There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing." - Alfred Wainright, A Coast to Coast Walk

Probably the most important aspect of winter riding, or any activity outside, is clothing. You need to protect your body from the cold, but increased physical activity generates additional heat (and sweat!). Your main goal is to keep heat close to your body and moisture far from it. Your body sweats in order to keep you from overheating; when perspiration evaporates, skin surface temperature drops through evaporative cooling. However, keeping that moisture close to your skin when the temperature outside drops can cool you faster than your body can keep you warm, leading to discomfort (think of entering an air-conditioned building in a sweat-soaked shirt) and possibly hypothermia.

You can manage all this by strategically layering your clothing. Layers create pockets of empty space that act as thermal barriers (. You can adjust the level of insulation by adding or removing layers as your activity changes in intensity. Wear only one heavy layer and you risk overheating. Wear only one light layer and you risk freezing.

The materials used in each layer are important for managing heat and moisture generated by your activity. Remember, the goal is retain warmth and move moisture away.

BASE LAYER   The first layer, right next to your skin, should be a wicking material such as polyester ($), nylon ($), or merino wool ($$$). These materials wick moisture away from the skin and do not retain it, unlike cotton (here's why). Other synthetic materials such as rayon, viscose, tencel, lyocell, bamboo and silk are more like cotton; they can retain water and will lose most of their insulating properties when wet.

The most important base layer is your top- protect the core (more on that in Part 2)! A base bottom layer may be necessary, depending on the temperature and your tolerance for cold down there. My legs generally need less insulation than my upper body, so I save my merino wool bottoms for really cold conditions (below 20°F).

MIDDLE LAYER   The next layer is for insulating. This can be a sweater or jacket made of synthetic fleece or standard wool, both of which are very good at trapping air while retaining very little moisture. Middle layers can be shed or added, depending on the temperature and/or activity level (how you carry around layers you are not wearing is a topic for another time).

OUTER LAYER   The outer layer at its most basic is a shell for blocking wind and precipitation. Better shells will have "breathable" properties that allow water vapor to pass out while keeping rain from getting in (think: GORE-TEX® and similar materials). Some jackets include zippered vents under the arms and in the torso that can be opened as needed to further expel moisture and manage heat.

Windproof tights complete the ensemble, but if tights aren't your thing, wear some kind of windproof/water-resistant pant. Again, and I can't stress this enough, AVOID COTTON FABRIC. Shell pants over a wicking/insulating base layer are a good call when the temperatures get really low.

In Part 2, I will go over hands, feet, head, and bicycle.

Monday, October 7, 2019

What is a "Road Diet?"

post by John Burnham

A road diet is generally described as "removing travel lanes from a roadway and utilizing the space for other uses and travel modes." (Rosales, J., Road Diet Handbook: Setting Trends for Livable Streets, Institute of Transportation Engineers, Washington, DC, 2006.)

The Batavia Bicycle Commission supports the transformation of Batavia Avenue (Route 31) by way of the most common 4-lane to 3-lane reconfiguration illustrated above.

This particular road diet plan typically converts an undivided four-lane road into two through lanes and one center turn lane, with the remaining space used for bike lanes and/or pedestrian safety islands. With enough space, parking spaces can also be retained or added where feasible.

The primary objective is safety through traffic calming and increased visibility. This means safety for all roadway users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and car drivers.

Batavia Avenue was not originally sized for four lanes- there are very few times you will see cars traveling side-by-side in the same direction at the same speed- the lanes are too narrow to feel safe doing that. Few people would feel safe passing a bus or commercial truck, let alone driving alongside one, for fear of being nudged into oncoming traffic or brushing the right curb.

A center turn lane provides safe left turns for cars, reducing the incidents of rear-end and side-swipe collisions at intersections and driveways. Dedicated bike lanes separate bicycles from the flow of car traffic. Pedestrian safety islands provide a haven at busier times of the day. A center-turn lane also serves as a safety zone for pedestrians who choose to cross mid-block.

The white diamonds in the figure below indicate the possible crash scenarios involving turning vehicles (blue arrows) and other vehicles (red). The road diet does not eliminate crashes, but removes some of the situations in which they could occur:
Reduction of possible crash scenarios
Here is a real-world Batavia example: consider what has proved to be an awkward intersection at McKee Street and Batavia Avenue. With a center turn lane, not only do northbound drivers making a left turn have better visibility, but southbound drivers have a better view of PEDESTRIANS crossing Batavia Avenue at the currently designated crossing. And cars turning from McKee on to Batavia Avenue will have an easier time doing so.

Visibility Improvement with a Road Diet at Batavia Ave. & McKee St.

This is only one example. There is no intersection along Batavia Avenue that is comfortable for pedestrians to cross without additional means to slow or stop traffic. A four-lane to 3-lane conversion will render the roadway visually narrower, which will tend to slow down most traffic. 

Bicycle lanes will promote the use of bicycles for transportation and utility between the East and West Sides of Batavia. The Fox River Trail is a great resource, but it doesn't always take people where they may need to go if they choose to go by bicycle.

Our neighbors to the west have implemented three lane conversions statewide. The Iowa Department of Transportation is a strong proponent of road diets and has devoted a section of its website to information on road diets including a myth-debunking fact sheet, and has also produced the video below to help educate people on the benefits of the four-to-three-lane conversion.

Hungry for more? There is a wealth of additional information on road diets available from the Federal Highway Administration's Road Diet Informational Guide.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Can I ride my bicycle on the sidewalk in Batavia? It depends...

post by John Burnham

There are three items in the City Code that specifically address riding a bicycle on sidewalks in Batavia:

  1. No person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk within the central business district except on those sidewalks designated as bicycle routes. 
  2. No person fifteen (15) or more years of age shall ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk in any district except upon those sidewalks designated as bicycle routes. (1972 Code § 77.045; amd. Ord. 93-58, 9-20-1993) 
  3. Whenever any person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk, such person shall yield the right of way to any pedestrian and shall give audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian. (1972 Code § 77.045)

So this means if you are 16 or older, which includes all adults, you should not be riding on any sidewalk in Batavia that does not specifically permit bicycle riding. This is especially true on Wilson street, between Route 25/River Street and Shumway Avenue/Island Avenue (referenced as the "central business district" in item 1, above). No one, including those 15 and younger, is permitted to ride on the sidewalks here.

Wilson Street, Central Business District looking west
"But it is too dangerous to ride on Wilson Street between Route 25/River Street and Shumway/Island Avenue," you say. I agree completely. Unless you are a cyclist with confidence riding among distracted drivers, the Wilson Street street is not for you.

North side of Wilson Street looking east at the signs, planters, lamp posts, fire hydrants, and parked cars.
If you are uncomfortable riding on Wilson street, walk your bike on the sidewalk for a block.  Even if there are no pedestrians at the time, you don't know when someone will step out of a store into your path. Add signs, planters, lamp posts, fire hydrants, and parked cars, and you have a recipe for an accident you could have avoided.

You say you avoid riding on the street to avoid getting hit by a car? What is a pedestrian supposed to do to avoid getting hit by a bicycle on the sidewalk?

"But there are some sidewalks where bicycles can be ridden, right?" you ask hopefully. As far as we can tell, the only sidewalks all cyclists can ride on are:

Houston Street

1. Along the north side of Houston Street, between Island Avenue and the Fox River trail. This is really a "multi-use path" specifically constructed to accommodate both cyclists and pedestrians.

South River Street

2. The sidewalk along the west side of S. River St. (Rte. 25) between Wilson and Webster, which is considered a connector for the Fox River Trail when it is flooded north of the Donovan bridge. WATCH FOR CARS exiting the parking lot!

Wilson Street in front of Batavia High School

3. The sidewalk on the south side of Wilson St. between Feece Dr. and Western Ave. (in front of Batavia High School). There is a sign directing bicycles to the sidewalk, but you don't see it until after you have passed any way to get on the sidewalk (without hopping the curb). Nice. Just get on the sidewalk anywhere between Randall and Feece and you'll be fine. There is no sign to indicate when to go back on the street, so...
Donovan Bridge: No!                                   Riverwalk: No!                                 Houston Street: Yes!
In every case, whether on the street, trail, or sidewalk, cyclists must always pay attention, yield to pedestrians, announce when they are approaching from behind, and SLOW DOWN when it is crowded with people and Pokemon GO! players.

 Yield to Peds Sign at

Batavia is a pretty easy city to ride on the streets. We're no Amsterdam,  but for a few main cross-town routes which are easily bypassed, most of the streets are calm and safe for riding bicycles. We need to help keep the sidewalks safe for pedestrians.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

What is the best bike to use for ... ?

Post by: John Burnham

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels
"What kind of bicycle should I buy?" is a question I occasionally get from friends who want to start bicycling more. It may be for recreation, fitness, commuting, or other reasons to get around by bike.

If you know you need to purchase a new bicycle, this guide (for example) provides a basic summary of all the types of modern bicycles available and their typical usage. A simple internet search will reveal a wealth of additional information, should you want to go down the proverbial rabbit hole.

"But" you remark, "I already have a bicycle! Do I still need to buy a new one?"

Not necessarily. Depending on what your goals are, the bike you already have is the best bike to use. The key: it is in good working condition. This means checking the bike over to make sure all the main components are functional.

1. Wheels:

  • Tires can be properly inflated (and stay inflated for a reasonable amount of time)
  • Tires have no bald sections or cords showing in the tread and no cracks in the sidewalls (dry rot)
  • Rims are straight with no cracks or dents
  • No loose or broken spokes
  • Nuts or quick-releases can be tightened securely (wheels stay attached while riding!)

2. Brakes

  • Brake levers squeeze easily without binding or resistance in the cable
  • Brake levers can be squeezed completely without contacting handlebar
  • Pads apply even pressure to rims when brake lever is squeezed
  • Pads align with the rim on contact and do not hang over
  • Pads contact only the rim and not the tire when applied
  • Pads have sufficient material left (usually there are wear indicators) and are not hardened or glazed over
  • Cable is not rusted, ends are not frayed 
  • Functional coaster brake, for single speed bike that brakes by back-pedaling

3. Seat & Handlebar

  • Seat can be securely positioned at the right height
  • Handlebar & stem can be positioned securely for a comfortable reach while riding

4. Drivetrain (chain & gears)

  • Chain turns freely throughout travel around front chainring(s) and rear sprocket(s)
  • Chain is lubricated
  • Ideally, chain is free from any rust. Sometimes a chain will move freely even if there is some minor surface corrosion, but it should be replaced once it starts showing signs of binding.
  • Front and rear gear shifters move freely without binding, and chain moves through all available gears without binding, slipping, or falling off.
  • Chainring & sprocket teeth are not worn down (resemble "shark fin" shape)
  • No excessive grime, built-up dirt
Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash
If you do not feel comfortable inspecting your bicycle or making the necessary adjustments or repairs, any Local Bicycle Shop (LBS) can perform a safety and maintenance check, and can offer tune-up and repair services to get you safely cycling.

Next up: Basic Tools for Home Bicycle Maintenance

Saturday, May 4, 2019

May is National Bike Month

Batavia has miles of scenic bicycle trails that make easy and enjoyable to enjoy Batavia outside!  May is National Bike Month, a chance to showcase the many benefits of bicycling — and encourage more folks to give biking a try.  Whether you bike to work or school, ride to save money or time, pump those pedals to preserve your health and the environment, or simply to explore your community, National Bike Month is an opportunity to celebrate the unique power of the bicycle and the many reasons to ride.  Head to a Batavia bike shop for a spring tune-up or visit a bicycle-friendly business for a trail map.  Watch for cycling events like bike week (May 13 - 19) and ride to work day on May 17.  We will post more information at about events as they become available! 

2019 AUG 24 2nd Annual Ride the FFRLG

Bicyclists get onboard with the second annual Fox River Ride from Batavia to Lake Geneva (affectionately known as the FRRLG) 

Start: Saturday, August 24, 2019, 7:00 am 100 N. Island Ave. Batavia 
End: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (62 miles) 7 pm

Bus back to Batavia $50 (Spots on the bus must be reserved by July 31) (Bus is non-refundable and cannot be canceled due to weather)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Winter Cycling?

"There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing." - Alfred Wainright, A Coast to Coast Walk
As I look out the window on this mid-November afternoon, I see rain changing to snow as the temperature drops from its early-morning high of 46°F. Winter seems to be settling in early. Not exactly pleasant weather for doing anything outside, let alone riding a bicycle. Or is it? There may be a few perfectly legitimate reasons for not riding, but cold and inclement weather should not deter you if you really want to get out on your bicycle. Here is a basic guide, distilled from multiple sources, for riding in not-so-perfect conditions
Probably the most important aspect of winter riding, or any outdoor activity, is clothing. You need to protect your body from the cold, but physical activity generates excess heat. You can better manage this heat by layering your clothing. It is easier to add or remove layers during a ride than to wear one heavy layer (and risk overheating) or wear too little (and risk freezing). Avoid cotton, especially right next to the skin, as it retains moisture and then ceases to insulate. Outer layer fabrics that are waterproof and breathable are ideal for winter activity.
Don’t forget your hands & feet
​Your body will protect your coreEven if you are keeping your core warm, you can take measures to ensure your feet and hands stay warm. For socks, absolutely choose wool over cotton. Add thin moisture-wicking sock liners if wool is too itchy (or choose merino wool, which is less itchy). Use multiple thin pairs of socks (if they don’t make your shoes fit too tight). The same strategies apply to your hands. Glove liners are ideal for adding extra insulation, as long as they don’t make the fit too tight. Again, avoid cotton! 
Borrow from other activities
A “snow sports” helmet makes a great cycling helmet when the temperature drops. Ski goggles keep your eyes warm and your vision clear. Insulated, waterproof hiking boots can make for a perfectly comfortable and safe ride. Use ski gloves, battery-powered hunting socks, hand-warmers- whatever works!
Maintain your bicycle
You don’t need a special bicycle for winter riding, but you must have a functioning one. Wet, slushy, and salty roads can wreak havoc on your drivetrain. If possible, wash or at least wipe down your bike after a sloppy ride. No outside water source? Use a bucket of soapy water and a sponge. A lubricated chain will also prolong the life of your drivetrain. Your LBS (Local Bike Shop) can advise you on the type of lubricant (wet or dry?) and how best to apply it. Most tires are fine and really are a personal preference, unless you expect to ride on actual ice. There are studded tires available for that.
The onset of colder weather should not mean the end of riding season. I can’t convince a generally cold-adverse person to start riding in the winter, but if you enjoy winter sports, why not include bicycling? Here are some of a myriad of good resources if you want more information (or encouragement):
From :
You will get cold. You will get frustrated. You might have close calls or even fall. Just know that all-weather cycling does get easier with experience. Let the freedom, convenience and other benefits of two-wheeled living motivate you to roll up the learning curve. And when all else fails to lift your spirits after a particularly bruising commute, boil up some tea or grab a flask, pound your chest (might help the feeling come back to your fingers) and take pride in your sense of adventure.