Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bicyle Helmet Advice

A friend of mine recently asked me for advice about buying a bicycle helmet. The advice I actually gave was more rambling, but I thought I should compose my thoughts a little better and share it with you. So here goes.

There are two basic things to look for when buying a bicycle helmet.

Comfort: A bike helmet should be easy to wear. If it is so comfortable you forget you have it on, that is a good helmet. Most helmets can be comfortable on some people. The more they adjust, the more likely you are to be in that range where they are comfortable. So buying a helmet that is more adjustable is generally a good thing. For this, it is really going to help to go to a store and try a few on. The most common bike helmets also have big holes for ventilation. The need for this will vary by the type of riding you do. It is helpful if you are going very fast all the time, but not as much if you are stuck in traffic. They can also be worse if you are riding in the winter or in the rain. It is best to make sure you have the right kind of helmet for the riding you actually do.

Style: It may sound silly to think style in a bike helmet is important, but it is. If you don't think you look good wearing the helmet, you won't. If you don't think you look good wearing the helmet, you won't. Again, it is best to find a helmet suited to your bike and riding style. If you get a full face helmet, that says you are going to be going off 20 foot dirt jumps at any moment. It looks pretty silly if you are on a beach cruiser. I won't go telling anyone about fashion, but just know that other cyclists and drivers will make assumptions about you based on what you wear on your head.

I do also have a few words on price. Be prepared to spend between $40 and $50 dollars on a helmet. There are less and more expensive helmets but that range is generally the sweet spot. For cheaper versions you are sacrificing comfort or durability. For more expensive versions you are paying for a name brand, an insignificant amount if weight reduction, or a "look".

Notice how I didn't mention protection? Pretty much all helmets are rated to soften the blows to your melon. Getting to a level where the helmet makes most impacts non-lethal isn't hard. The hard part is everything else. The comfort and the style. Any modern bike helmet you get will provide a decent level of protection. Beyond that, just remember that the best way to protect your head is to ride safe.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tour de Watertower - 2012

Distance: 40 miles
Date: July 22nd, 2012
Max. Speed: 33mph
Song of the Day: Dayglow Vista Road - Minus the Bear

I only heard about the Tour de Watertower about a month ago. It is a race to the various water towers of Seattle. Of course, if you know anything about water towers, you might remember that they tend to be placed at the tops of hills. In effect this race was a trip up seven of the cities biggest hills.

The race isn't really a true Alley Cat either because the route is given ahead of time. This gave the competitors time to scout out various routes before the race. Not that I actually did that. It was still an unsanctioned event, so no streets blocked for the competitors. Much of the challenge is in the navigation of the city. Not just the best route to take, but how to avoid cars and stoplights.

Instead the race was a time trial. Cyclists were sent out every two minutes from Cool Guy Park. My slot was at 3:10.  From there it was right up the hill to Volunteer park. By the time I got there I had already lost my manifest. That is the piece of paper that means you made it to the stop. Whoops. I am still flabbergasted at my ability to loose the manifest before the first stop. It was too late to go back, so I had the guy manning the first stop sign my arm and took off again.

I went up to the water tower on Roosevelt, then made another mistake. I thought 85th would take me across the freeway. It didn't. I ended up going to 92nd before I could cross and come back.

After the water tower at Woodland Park Zoo I did do one thing right. I took the Aurora bridge. That saved me a few hundred feet of climbs. Though it was still a struggle to get from there to the top.

From Queen Anne it was down and up Dravus to the water tower on Magnolia. The ride down from there was amazing. The sun was out. The city and Elliot bay were gorgeous. I zipped through traffic and pedestrians all along the waterfront.

I did make another mistake in West Seattle too. I never looked up the cross streets for the water tower on the North side. Since I had lost my manifest I had to look it up on my phone. That took a couple of minutes, but I got there.

Then it was up to High Point. I live less than 10 blocks from the highest place in the city, so I felt like that was home turf. Getting to the towers there was no problem.

Then it was a race to the finish. I bombed down 35th. I will admit it gets a little scary screaming down that hill. Nothing scared me more than the fixed gear rider next to me though. He would stop pedaling to slow down. This would lock the back tire and the bike would fishtail. The sound was awful and I was sure the guy was going to wreck at any moment. Ride whatever bike you like, but I will take one with breaks any day.

I did make one final navigation error. I knew the finish was on Eastlake, but with no manifest, I didn't know where. I overshot the place by 10 blocks and down a hill. So to finish I had to come back up to the top. Urgh.

All in all, I had a great time. I could not have asked for a nicer day. It wasn't as grueling as I expected, either. I still felt good turning around and biking back to West Seattle. I would also like to thank Greg from Go Means Go for putting it on.