Cycle right: starter tips for summer biking

Move over Max: summer’s in full swing, and many of us Portlanders will be ripping up our Trimet tickets for a pair of pedals and the crank of bicycle gears.

Summer cycling in Portland is probably one of the better biking experiences in the country. We have unending sunlight, relatively mild heat and humidity levels (ahem…we’ll call the previous two weeks a hopeful exception to the rule) and a cast of motorists that are pretty docile (accommodating if we want to be nice) even in the downtown limits, all things considered.

But biking in Portland is still city biking, and the summer still provides its own heat-based risks. To that end, we’ve asked for some starter tips from some of the city’s experts to keep your summer cycling experience free of trouble or hassle.

Beat the heat: keep hydrated and dress properly

Water, water, everywhere: This is common sense rule number one, but it bears mentioning and repeating. Make sure you’re well hydrated before any trip, long or short. It’s also important to keep water on hand during even a short commute, in case of a flat or any other accident that might take you off the road. Water can also do double duty as a cooling agent during stops: Try soaking a bandana and wearing it under the helmet you’re obviously wearing if you anticipate a trip under the beating sun.

What to wear, What to wear?: The debate seems to be ongoing about proper summer wear. Conventional wisdom and Portland’s Naked Bike Ride would dictate that you strip down as much as is decent and acceptable, and it could certainly help with aerodynamics. But Communications Manager Melinda Musser of Northeast Portland’s Community Cycling Center suggests otherwise.

“On hot days, many riders think the less clothes the better,” Musser wrote in an email. “However, wearing a long-sleeved, collared, cotton shirt is best for sun protection. If you can avoid wearing a backpack by placing items in a basket, rack or a pannier, you’ll stay cooler on your ride.”

High maintenance equals high performance: Efficiency is key to an easier ride, particularly in the summer heat. It’s sometimes easy to neglect regular bike maintenance on a college budget, but improper upkeep can add up in energy use when you’re on the pedal.

Check your tire pressure every week, and make sure to keep them pumped to standard. Deflated tires will make you work harder in the heat and can lead to flats. Make sure to keep your chain lubed, which will also affect the bicycle’s performance. How often you should maintain your chain depends on how often you bike, so if you’re unsure, work with your local bike mechanic to figure out a maintenance schedule that works for you.

Road safety

Beer does not equal hydration: Not to be a buzzkill, but the hundred reasons against biking drunk go beyond simple criminality. And with a BUI regarded the legal equivalent of driving while intoxicated, the consequences are stiff. But alcohol in even small amounts impairs motor control and reaction time, which are all the more important for the vulnerable cyclist.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that one in four cyclist fatalities in 2012 recorded illegal blood alcohol concentrations. Not a pretty number, but it’s worth keeping in mind the next time you bike to your favorite brewpub—just toss your ride on the front of the bus and play it safe.

Night rider: The Pacific Northwestern sun stays up late, and that can make it easy to neglect making yourself visible when it actually does get dark. Make sure to keep lights and reflectors on hand whenever you’re out, and wear colors or reflective gear to help you stand out for the motorists, pedestrians and other cyclists sharing the street.

And, on that note, share the road: Whether it’s the above-mentioned motorists, pedestrians or cyclists, you can bet they’ll all be out in droves over the summer. Portland also plays host to a great deal of street festivals, concerts and other events throughout the summer, so it’s always a good idea to keep an ear to the ground for the local happenings and to plan your routes accordingly, particularly in the summer. The Cycling Center also recommends patience and adherence to cycling protocols when engaging with others.

“Bike traffic increases in the summer,” Musser wrote. “Remember to pass patiently and let your presence be known with a bell or by announcing that you are passing on the left or right. Do not pass on the curbside, pass in the lane.”

Portland is a cyclist’s haven for a reason, and with a little bit of practice and a small bit of research, even a beginning cyclist can learn to safely navigate the summer biking experience. Check with your local bicycle shop for maintenance cues related to your specific ride and keep up with resources like the PSU Bike Hub or the Community Cycling Center for additional help. And step on it!