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Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

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Old 10-19-04, 10:21 AM   #1
Merryish
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<whinge>

Commuting these past few days has just been hellish, and I have no idea why. There have been some changes in environment and a few changes in my bike, but I would never have expected them to turn my ride as grueling as it has become. The same path I was taking in the 7th or 8th gear most days, I now can barely managed in 6th and sometimes slip down to 5th. (well... ok, I should say I don't know how to talk about gears. On my bike I've got 1-3 on the left and 1-8 on the right. I was hovering at 2-8 and now I'm down to 2-6 or 2-5 most days. The last time I rode a bike, we talked about gears in base ten. Did we lose two fingers? )

For the first month, I was doing fine. The length of my ride hasn't changed, it's still about a 12 mile round trip. I use the same route almost every day, right beside Lake Michigan from a neighborhood north to Downtown. The frequency of my commute has maintained at sometimes three but usually 4 days a week, plus a few pure pleasure rides on the weekends.

Lately, though, every ride seems a lot harder than before.

Here are a few changes that coincide with the new, tougher ride. For information's sake, I'm on a Trek 7200 that I keep tuned and in good condition with air pressure (700s) at about 70-75psi.

1. Switched from backpack to pannier. I can't imagine this has anything to do with it; if anything, I'd expect a better ride out of that change.

2. A few minor changes to the bike fit, trying to get comfortable. I've raised the seat so my legs don't get crunched on every upswing, shifted it forward and lifted the bars a bit so I don't have to stretch so far now that the seat is higher. I do feel like something's still not right with the bike fit; my fingers still get numb and I still feel like I have to lean over too much and reach too far. The harder rides predate the changes, though.

3. The weather has changed. Chicago has left behind it's long string of gorgeous, cool, sunny days and entered a string of slightly rainy, fairly cold and windy days. I picked up a base layer to keep me a bit warmer, figuring I can pile on whatever I need as I need it. I don't feel cold on my rides, except around the face and sometimes the fingers. It's possible I have the wind in my face more these days than I used to, I guess, and maybe it's blowing harder...

I started commuting by bike to get in better shape, and I think it's working; I haven't lost weight to speak of, but I've certainly gained quite a bit of muscle. I try to listen to my body and rest when I feel like my legs need it; usually I ride two days, then get that spaghetti-leg feeling and take a day off so I can build or rebuild or whatever it is muscles need downtime to do. Then I ride the last two days of the week and rest a bit on the weekend. Lately, though, I've been more sore than usual after my rides and feel more tired and less refreshed. I'm not dieting, and I'm not under-eating (ha!), so I don't think that's the problem - unless possibly I'm not getting enough protein, hmmm.

I wonder if maybe the days off are part of the problem? I'm so new to this whole exercise thing it's possible I'm just doing it wrong. Or maybe just having a fit of whining... =)

Any ideas?

</whinge>
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Old 10-19-04, 10:48 AM   #2
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How long have you been commuting? Sometimes when you start new things your body just kinda, gets tired. You could be in the rebuilding phase. Now I don't know all the technical terms for what our bodies do, but I've experienced it enough myself.

For instance when I was in Basic Training, we were excercising regularly but there would be times when I just couldn't do pushups. Once I got out and rested for a week, I could do more than I ever could during training.

Perhaps you aren't giving yourself enough time to rest? *shrugs* I have no idea, this is all conjecture on my part.

Oh and by raising your seat you're now allowing your legs to give more power to your bike, so I guess that could tire you out, and by adding panniers you're changing where the weight is, so I guess that could have affected it.

And too, its very possible for us to get lazy especially when we have a geared bike. Yeah I'm a fixed gear nut, but its true!

I know this isn't much, but hopefully it helped if not but a little.
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Old 10-19-04, 10:49 AM   #3
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check your brakes, one might be rubbing,or if a wheel gets out of true the tire might be hitting the frame,or just one of lifes cycles where you have a little low spell,lose sleep lately? could just be the change of weather, this time of year the days start getting shorter and i find myself wanting to scale back on my training,and my mileage drops, dont get depressed about it,give yourself a mental break and ride a different route,and dont care about how long it takes,as so many things in life it will pass
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Old 10-19-04, 10:50 AM   #4
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What gears one rides is of little interest. One day you may feel strong, another not so strong. Do you tend to push for speed all the time? Strange as it may seem, you can "overtrain" even on moderate commutes if you push all the time. If you want to "train", go very hard 2-3 days and VERY easy other days. I have been commuting pretty much the same distance, ~22-23 miles per day for a few years now, and I find I get in "slumps". I still love every ride, but I may go 2-3 weeks where I just don't feel very strong. So I just ease up a bit and enjoy the ride.
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Old 10-19-04, 11:03 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by randall t
check your brakes, one might be rubbing,or if a wheel gets out of true the tire might be hitting the frame,or just one of lifes cycles where you have a little low spell,lose sleep lately? could just be the change of weather, this time of year the days start getting shorter and i find myself wanting to scale back on my training,and my mileage drops, dont get depressed about it,give yourself a mental break and ride a different route,and dont care about how long it takes,as so many things in life it will pass
This is good advice, and since it is ben raining a lot in your area it is easy for your chain and gears to accumulate a lot of grit which can slow you down. Your pannier may also be a factor since it is on the back of the bike you are pulling more weight. It really shouldn't be a major factor but it could be one or all of the above situations. I would give your bike a good once over.
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Old 10-19-04, 11:41 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Merryish
3. The weather has changed. Chicago has left behind it's long string of gorgeous, cool, sunny days and entered a string of slightly rainy, fairly cold and windy days. I picked up a base layer to keep me a bit warmer, figuring I can pile on whatever I need as I need it. I don't feel cold on my rides, except around the face and sometimes the fingers. It's possible I have the wind in my face more these days than I used to, I guess, and maybe it's blowing harder...
I think you hit it on the head here. It's amazing how bad some headwind will make you feel. Your mind wants to hit a certain speed, esp when it's a known route and you kill yourself trying to hit it. Combine that with some negative vibes from the weather change and I think thats where you are. Might be some of the other suggestions mixed in ... definately check your brakes for drag too Been there, done that! Just listen to your body, ride in the gear that feels right to your body at the time and you will acclimate to the changes in a week or so. I went through the same thing when the hot mid summer days of Texas hit ... I was riding slower and felt bad. I made a consicous decision to just take what the conditions gave me and listen to my body.
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Old 10-19-04, 02:27 PM   #7
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When yopu start an exercise program, it's exciting and fun, you have more energy, maybe even eat less or at least eat more healthy. After the novelty wears off, you realize bike riding is hard work! It's worth it though, no gain without some pain. Hang in there, gear down when you are not feeling strong. In an easy gear you don't even have to push down on the pedals. Just make sure the back pedal is fully unweighted and you will go forward seemingly without effort! Shifting focus in this way can help you get through the times when it seems so hard.
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Old 10-19-04, 02:53 PM   #8
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Take it easy for the last part of the ride and just let the feet follow the pedals around. This prevents the muscles getting stiff for the rest of the day. Maybe you are riding in a lower gear because your legs like to pedal at a higher rpm - thats a good thing. Its good training to vary your pace - try sprints between certain traffic lights and relax between others. For reach and bar height you want to have your weight spread between your feet seat and hands. If your arms and shoulders are getting tired, try doing push-ups - it wont make you a more powerful rider, just more comfortable.
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Old 10-19-04, 02:54 PM   #9
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Many good suggestions here!

One thing not directly mentioned is that when the temperature drops your body has to redirect some of the energy you were using to pedal to keep your body temperature up. Combine this with a headwind, more clothes (weight), and the extra weight of the pannier load may be a contributing factor.

I know for me, I have been commuting in sub-freezing temperatures the last 2 mornings. My 25 minute commute took 35 minutes yesterday and 30 minutes today. I attribute this to the shorter daylight hours and the colder temperature (and what keeping warm adds to your load). I adjusted last year. I'll adjust this year. So will you as long as you remember the commuter mantra: Bike commuting is about the journey, not the speed. Enjoy the journey. Your body will adapt. Good luck.
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Old 10-19-04, 03:22 PM   #10
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FWIW the weather has REALLY changed. Since I'm in Chicago let me just say it has been so GLOOMY and WINDY. These alone are huge. Hang in there. We will get some sunny, crisp and clear days soon that even if they are cool, will be much more fun!

BTW, I took a ride last friday and checked my brakes after. They were fine .. it was wind I think. Maybe it was uphill slightly ... it was a new route and I'm still not sure.

Maybe break up your routine a little. Walk some and (here comes the heresy) take the train or bus once. Even drive ... then you'll remember why you bike (I hope).

There are lots of good suggestions in the posts here, I won't repeat those.

Good Luck!
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Old 10-19-04, 04:05 PM   #11
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For me the change in weather really saps my energy during the autumn. I'm not sure what, but more than anything else the shorter daylight does something to me. And the cold sucks the energy right out of me. I found out I need to eat more before my morning ride, now that it's cold.

Then I pick up once the winter Solstice passes and the winter brings some bright, crisp days. But autumn, man, less and less light, colder and colder, wet and windy - ugh. Nowadays before I bike I have lots more clothes to put on than before, too, and that can be a bit of a hassle.
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Old 10-19-04, 04:54 PM   #12
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I have been feeling this way too. Me, I just get on the bike and ride my bike for fun. Forget trying to go fast, or making it home in 19 minutes (my personal best) or even getting there with a time limit in mind. Just ride, and enjoy it for what it is. If its no fun, then just start thinking about something else, and before you know it you'll be where you're going. Happened to me this morning. Headwind the whole way in. I geared down, put my mind on some other subject and droned on in. Works every time, and I was glad I did it. I ended up enjoying the ride
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Old 10-19-04, 07:14 PM   #13
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Yeah that happens. Here's an assorted list...your mileage may vary!

A. Good hot 16 oz drink before riding in the cold weather.
B. Make sure you store your clothes and shoes somewhere warm. It's less for your body to have to do to heat 'em up...esp. shoes!
C. Follow the icebike.com stuff about skin, hats etc.
D. ...and Put some more air in those tires!
E. Ignore the show offs who constantly have to one-up ya and probably have a very short ride.
F. Drop the handlebars down about .5 inches and hunker down out of the wind!
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Old 10-19-04, 07:17 PM   #14
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I don't have any advice. Hang in there, we're pulling for you!
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Old 10-19-04, 08:49 PM   #15
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When the going gets tough, I try to stop thinking about it. If I ever start to worry about hills, headwinds, rain, traffic, ect... I'm toast becuase I think wat too much sometimes. Keep riding and at some point you'll no longer give a damn. The next thing you know 2-3 years will have passed and the ride will just be part of your life and you'll me a stronger person for it.

Here's your chance to prove to yourself just how strong are really are. Just keep riding.
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Old 10-20-04, 08:10 AM   #16
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I changed my schedule a month or so ago, so I was getting up at 5:30 and riding in the dark. I felt OK on a day-by-day basis but I wasn't getting quite enough sleep, and it started to catch up with me. I felt as though I was bonked as soon as I got on the bike; I could pedal but there wasn't anything there.

Since rain was forecast for a few days, I took a couple of days off, drove the car, got extra sleep, ate a lot. I'm back on the bike this morning, and feeling much better.

Also, in the past, when I've been feeling weak, I found that I'd broken a spoke and my brakes were rubbing badly. Turns out I had built the rear wheel way under tension.
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Old 10-20-04, 10:23 AM   #17
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Move your saddle back and down a bit. What you have done is decrease the ability of your legs to support more of your upper body weight, so now it rests on your hands. While it may seem paradoxical, you'll be happier if you are back a bit. If you like the extra leg extension, go with it. Don't lower the saddle quite so much. I think you'll find that even though this stretches you out a bit more, it will take some weight off you hands (bars are hgiher relative to the saddle) and involves your gluteus muscles more. When you are too far forward, your quads do the majority of the work.
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Old 10-20-04, 10:42 AM   #18
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There is so much great advice here, I'm overwhelmed! Thank you guys so much. I'm so in love with this forum. =)

scrantr, I'm going to take your advice about moving my seat back to its original position - I do think things have been significantly harder since it got moved forward, and it's true that I'm not feeling the work in the glutes these days, just the quads. I like the leg extension but if it's going to make me climb baby hills at a snail's pace, I can live without it. I can also live without the part where my middle toes go numb halfway through my ride!

N7CZinMT, great to hear from you! I think I just wasn't expecting the weather change to hit this hard, but you're right (and so is everyone else who mentioned it, especially my fellow Chicagoan!) -- I'm wearing more gear and carrying more gear, and fighting the wind more often. I should also keep in mind that though I love the fall dearly, I also have a tendency to want to hibernate when the daylight hours get shorter. Usually I'm fine once the time changes, but until then it's like a constantly lowering gloom.

John - that's exactly what it feels like, like I bonk as soon as I start pedaling. Usually I drink my breakfast (coffee, coffee, coffee!) and never have any problems, but maybe with the weather and the cold, I need to rethink that. Tomorrow I'll try actual food before I ride. And possibly a vitamin or two. I just had my spokes checked (I have no idea how to do it myself, but I'm picking stuff up slowly by watching like a hawk when I get help), and they seemed fine, but the brakes are a different story. I'm going to take a look at those before I get started home this afternoon.

hubs, hi! Usually I bike along the lake, since it's a straight shot for me from home to the bike station in Millennium Park; I take to the streets if the wind is so bad it pushes me backward, coming off the lake. Where do you ride? The wind really has been crazy lately - and the gloom makes the lake look really cool, but it isn't what you'd call cheery!

Everybody else, really, thank you - it's great to know I can come here for advice and help when I need it. And I'm totally new to all of this...so I need it a lot!
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Old 10-20-04, 11:23 AM   #19
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Sounds like your spirits are up! That is good to hear. (read)

Let us know how your doing as you make those changes.

All the best,

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Old 10-20-04, 11:38 AM   #20
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Merry, I take Wells St. down to the loop, the wind on Monday and Tuesday killed me....How do you like the bike station?
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Old 10-20-04, 02:48 PM   #21
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I think the bike station is the best thing ever. The people who work there are really friendly and helpful - I've learned so much from their mechanic I can't even tell you. The locker room/showers are clean, well-lit, and modern. There's always plenty of room to park and lock your bike, and I feel good about leaving it there because it's indoors and attended. They sell some accessories there, but I think they're priced pretty high.

Membership is $15/month, and I think it's totally worth it. It's just like a nice, modern gym, except your exercise equipment rolls in with you. =) For fifty cents they give you a towel for your shower, or you can bring your own in. And they have coffee set up in the lobby for those who want it. There's also a drink machine, and they sell power bars and shower supplies and that kind of thing.

I highly recommend it, if it's anywhere close enough for you to use it!
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Old 10-20-04, 03:55 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Merryish
I think the bike station is the best thing ever. The people who work there are really friendly and helpful - I've learned so much from their mechanic I can't even tell you. The locker room/showers are clean, well-lit, and modern. There's always plenty of room to park and lock your bike, and I feel good about leaving it there because it's indoors and attended. They sell some accessories there, but I think they're priced pretty high.

Membership is $15/month, and I think it's totally worth it. It's just like a nice, modern gym, except your exercise equipment rolls in with you. =) For fifty cents they give you a towel for your shower, or you can bring your own in. And they have coffee set up in the lobby for those who want it. There's also a drink machine, and they sell power bars and shower supplies and that kind of thing.

I highly recommend it, if it's anywhere close enough for you to use it!
OMG, I am jealous! I wish we had one of these in my town! My company is pretty biker friendly, but this sounds like the best idea I have ever heard of to get more folks out there on bikes. Is this a chain, or a local thing?

Kat
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Old 10-20-04, 05:26 PM   #23
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It's actually the Mayor's thing, so it's city-owned. Mayor Daley is an avid, active cyclist, and he's done tons to promote biking, for commuting and for pleasure, in Chicago. The plan is apparently to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in the country. =)

You can read about it here: http://chicagobikestation.com/
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Old 10-20-04, 07:49 PM   #24
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I've only seen the station once. I took an excursion day trip down the lakefront trail to Navy Pier and Millenium Park just after I got my kid back in school and could sneak a day off! It is really neat. I live in the city, far north. I usually ride further north Evanston, Skokie mostly. I like the Green Bay Trail up to Botanic and/or the North Branch Trail. I'm around Touhy & California and I like to start out into the wind -- that determines the ride. Once in a while I head to the lake front. That path was just the pits this summer though. I prefer Clark or Lincoln if I'm heading SE.

Looks like Mayor Daley is really extending himself (or his workers and tax dollars!) finally connecting the paths on either side of Lincoln & Peterson. Looks like a big bike underpass will be there soon and connect South of Peterson along the river to North of Devon along McCormick.

Go Mayor Daley!
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Old 10-20-04, 10:19 PM   #25
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For the numb fingers, make sure your brake levers are adjusted properly. If you are twisting your wrist down because they are too low, you will get numbness usually. If they are too high, same deal. The rule of thumb is to have your brakes at the same angle as your arms so your hand/wrist/arm makes a straight line from your shoulders.

Also if you are wearing full fingered gloves, I've found I need to go 1 size larger because the smaller ones bunch up a bit on the grips, pull tight then against my fingertips, and cut off circulation. My 'real' cold-weather gloves are an XL and I normally wear a M or L. My cool weather gloves are a M and I have that problem with them.

Also sleep and protein are both important. My performance suffers tremendously if I am not caught up on sleep. Protein is good for muscle recovery on those days off, so make sure you get some at least.
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