When I was cycling coast to coast I recall another rider announcing one evening at dinner that while he was crossing the road, he was nearly struck by a passing car because he didn’t see the car in his handlebar mirror. He went on to advocate that other riders with handlebar mirrors should immediately remove them for their own safety.
I’m not sharing this story to discourage the use of handlebar mirrors. In fact, I prefer to ride with a handlebar mirror. However, this story does illustrate the danger of riding without understanding your mirror’s field of view limitations. The field of view is the extent of the observable world that can be seen. Not understanding your bicycle mirror’s field of view can have disastrous results.
A mirror can’t display everything beside and behind you. Although I can’t find any information on the field of view of a bicycle mirror, there are published reports about the field of view of car side view mirrors. One report is the Field of View in Passenger Car Mirrors by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute that found the mean horizontal field of view width was 12.9 degrees for the left (driver-side).
Compared to a human’s total field of view which is between 160 to 208 degrees, a mirror can only provide a very small slice of what is beside or behind you. As a result, a mirror must be carefully aimed and used with a clear understanding of what can and can’t be seen with it. In addition, never move into traffic or cross lanes without turning your head to glance back and get a better view of what is next to and behind you.
This also gave me the chance to check what other touring cyclists are using. I find that I can learn a lot from other seasoned riders. They log thousands of miles in the saddle and they know what works and what doesn’t.
They don’t agree on everything. For example, their bikes ranged from superlight smart bicycles with wireless derailleurs to steal frame bicycles that could be decoupled for easy packing into a checked airlines bag without paying any additional charges. However, what caught my eye was that there was a concensus in gear among the riders. Almost every rider was using a mirror. Although I’ve always ridden with a mirror, I think that I was in the minority when I cycled coast to coast in 2015. Today, however, it appears that among seasoned touring cyclists that a mirror has become a touring essential.
While I sometimes find it necessary to dial back my intensity before I fatigue my legs, I’ve found it is much wiser for me to calculate and maintain a desired target heart rate zone at which I can sustain my heart rate over long periods in the saddle without overworking it. When I do see my heart rate creeping up, I’ve found that there are three additional steps that I can take to lower my heart rate and avoid overexertion.
1. Breathing deeply – One of the reasons I can’t judge my physical exertion is that I don’t always breathe deeply when I am at a high heart rate. Consequently, I monitor my heart rate and force myself to breathe deeply when it increases. Sometimes just consciously focusing on my inhaling and exhaling works for me. However, when that doesn’t work, one of the most effective ways I’ve found to breathe deeply is to try to completely exhale all the air from my lungs. This technique forces me to take in a large quantity of air when I inhale.
2. Stay hydrated– As I mention in my pervious post Cycling During Heat Advisory Warnings http://cycleacrossamerica.com/2018/07/05/cycling-during-heat-advisory-warnings/ I drink plenty of water. To make sure I keep drinking I set an alarm to sound at the completion of every mile. This reminds me to take a sip of water. The rule of thumb to stay hydrated is to drink a water bottle every hour when cycling. This technique makes my intake of a sip of water just the right portion size for my body to easily process.
3. Fuel My Legs – Similar to my alarm to remind me to drink, I also set an alarm to remind me to consume some carbohydrates to fuel my legs. I prefer whole foods like apples, oranges and bananas, if I can find them. However, I do carry processed carbohydrates such as GU if I can’t find anything else.
I hope you will have the same success at eliminating leg cramps as I have with these simple techniques.
As I mentioned in my previous post, How to Judge Physical Exertion, I can’t judge my level of physical exertion by how I feel. Therefore, I must rely on a heart rate monitor to gauge how hard my heart is working to help me to avoid leg cramps. However, to use a heart rate monitor, I needed to know my maximum heart rate first. The commonly accepted way to calculate maximum heart rate is this simple formula:
220 – age = maximum heart rate
For example, let’s say I am 65 years old, subtract 65 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 155.
Maximum heart rate is the maximum number of times my heart should beat per minute during exercise. See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention article Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate. Nevertheless, not everyone at the same age has the same maximum heart rate. I’ve found that my maximum heart rate has always been a little higher than what this formula gives me.
Knowing my maximum heart rate along with the ability to monitor it greatly helps me take steps to reduce my heart rate before I get fatigued and get cramps.
I find that the more tired my leg muscles get while cycling, the more likely I am to get leg cramps. To keep from cramping I sometimes try to dial back my intensity before I fatigue my legs. One way to do this is to judge my physical exertion by how I feel. Here is a simple guide I use based on the Mayo Clinic’s article Exercise intensity: How to measure it
Light exertion – There is no noticeable change in breathing patterns. Don’t break a sweat unless it’s a hot, humid day.
Moderate exertion – Breathing becomes deeper and more frequent. Will break a sweat after performing the activity for about 10 minutes.
Highexertion – Will break a sweat after 3-5 minutes. Breathing is deep and rapid. Can only talk in short phrases.
Unfortunately, I’ve found that I can’t always judge my physical exertion by how I feel while I’m cycling. With other types of physical exertion, this method works fairly well for me, but not cycling. Many times, I don’t breathe deeply or rapidly although my body is working harder. While my exertion is the same, my heart rate tends to creep up without me knowing. This has become a real problem while touring because if my heart rate gets too high for a sustained period of time, I fatigue and I get leg cramps.
Today while riding my local Rail Trail I passed another cyclist riding on a flat tire. As you may know, many cyclists believe that it is bad karma to not help another cyclist who needs it. So, to get a sense of his dilemma, I rode up beside him and mentioned that I noticed his flat tire. In return, he simply replied “yup, I got a flat” and nothing more. Since he was very close to a parking area, I assumed he was simply riding a short distance on the flat to get back to his vehicle.
Later, while taking a short break a few miles further down the trail the rider with the flat passed by. I jumped on my bike and caught up with him. This time I asked if he needed help, something I should have done when I first saw him. To my surprise he refused my help. So, I asked him how much further he had to go. He said that he had seven miles more to go and that he had already ridden about eight miles on the flat tire. Being more persistent, I explained to him that I was carrying everything needed to fix his flat and that it would only take a few minutes to repair. Yet, again he refused help.
I’ve found myself many times in situations where I’ve needed help while touring. And I’ve always been amazed how friendly, helpful and kind people have been to me on my journeys. There is nothing wrong with accepting help when you need it. Simply return the kindness to another cyclist when you can help. That is good bicycle karma!
Once while touring in Acadia National Park, I stopped at the top of a waterfall to take in its beauty. It was a wonderful experience until the metal on bottom of my cycling shoe began to slip on the wet rocks. I literally had to throw myself to the ground to keep from going over the waterfall. Since then I’ve switched to SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) clipless pedals and multi-use/touring shoes and I’ve never regretted it.
There is something reassuring about clicking in my pedals and becoming one with the bike. Now, I feel equally confident off the bike. With the SPD cleats recessed in the bottom of the shoe, only the shoe’s tread makes contact with the ground so the shoes are very sure footed and safe for walking.
Another advantage to using SPD multi-use/touring shoes is that they don’t look like cycling shoes so I don’t mind wearing them off the bike. Also, they eliminate the dirty looks from establishment owners for click/clacking across their floors or demands that I remove my cycling shoes while in their establishment.
On my ride today my GPS (Garmin Edge 1030) kept giving me a Heat Advisory warning. While cyclists need to take precautions in the heat, some advantages we have during hot weather are that we generate our own cooling breeze and can carry plenty of water. But there are other steps we can take to protect ourselves from hyperthermia:
Ride during the coolest part of the day. – I try to get out early and avoid riding at midday.
Pick a cool and shady route. – If I can, I like to head for my favorite shady rail trail that runs along a river. This route is considerably cooler than riding on the road. If I do overheat, I can always cool off in the river.
Drink plenty of water. – My GPS allows me to set an alarm at the completion of ever mile. I use this alarm as a reminder to take a drink. I never wait until I feel thirsty. I’ve found that if I do, it is too late and I’ve already started to dehydrate. I carry three water bottles and refill them every chance I get so I will not run out of water.
Take frequent breaks. – Since I can’t easily monitor my body temperature, I watch my heart rate very closely in hot weather. If I see it rising for an unknown reason or not returning to an expected rate after heavy exertion, I find a shady spot and take a break until it returns to normal.
Wear cool clothing. – Here cyclists are in luck. For the most part, our clothing is designed to keep us cool. However, I add sandals, sun sleeves and head scarf to my kit to keep me cooler.
I’ve been shopping for a new bicycle helmet and I’ve learned that price is not a good indicator of the protection that the helmet provides. Regardless of whether a helmet is the least or most expensive, they must all meet the mandatory safety standard issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) in Title 16 CFR Part 1203 – SAFETY STANDARD FOR BICYCLE HELMETS.
Yet, shouldn’t a more expensive helmet provide more protection? I would think so, but that is simply not the case. You don’t have to take my word for it, check out the recent report by NBC News about a joint project at Virginia Tech with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which found that not all bicycle helmets protect the brain well and that price is not a good guide for buying a helmet.
So, should you have reflectors on your bike? Well, that is up to you. But consider this, if you are unfortunate enough to have a collision, as I have (see My Biggest Challenge), compliance with traffic laws and regulations will be the primary factor in determining who was at fault and must pay for any medical bills and property damage. So ask yourself, do I really want to be found at fault for a collision for removing a few square inches of reflective plastic from your bike because reflectors don’t look cool?