September 7, 2013

It's vest season...

Another week of good commutes - though, with the holiday weekend and assorted weekday appointments, it wasn't the four-in-a-row that I'd hoped for.  Last week, I listened to the body and took Friday off... and I am glad I did.  The resulting long weekend proved restful, and I came back to the bike on Wednesday this week, knocking out the most consistent pacing for a commute (or any OTHER ride) in months - maybe years.  Feeling strong, but still pushing the issue, I managed to maintain a high average for 75% of the commute to work, and home again (largely uphill and into a slight headwind) I managed the same pace.  I arrived home spent, shaky... but smiling.  The efforts are paying back, and, combined with the moderation-conscious diet, the excess pounds are leaving the hotel with their bags packed and their checks paid.

It strikes me, however, that I find myself reaping these harvests with the correct timing:  the sun is quickly marching southward across the horizon each morning, and each morning dawns a little later than the one before.  As the sun aligns itself with the east/west parallels, I find myself reaching for the reflective vest ... possibly for the super-bright taillight, the Retina-Burner 6000 (er, Cygolite HotShot... which, gets cheaper by the week, it seems).  The venerable Planet Bike SuperFlash Turbo, NiteRider Cherry-Bomb or any other 1watt (or more) taillight will do nicely here.  Smaller models like the tiny Blackburn Flea are also terrific, though not as punchy.  Lots of choices yes, but, they are all decent lights.  You don't need a Dinotte budget to enjoy real LED punch - personally, I've found the Cygolite product reliable, boasting a great design with thoughtful features, and yet it remains very cost effective.

Important notes:  the Cygolite runs on an internal Li-ION battery, chargeable by USB - and the high-current draw of the 2watt LED practically requires it.  Alkaline AA's don't respond as well, voltage-over-time, to high-current applications (I hope I'm not stating a misnomer here) -- for example, the AAA-powered SuperFlash will begin to dim, visibly, after a couple hours of solid use - even though the batteries themselves have plenty of life remaining.  Li-ION-powered systems don't suffer this way.  If you run a disposable battery taillight, make sure your cells are fresh.  If you are running the same batteries as last season, it's probably time to change them out.  Also, make sure your light is well-aimed.  I see this more often than not:  avoid the clothing-clip install, avoid seatbag loops and jersey pocket installs -- the VERY narrow, focused beams of most modern LED taillights must be mounted perpendicular to the road surface to work at all - some losing almost 90% of their effectiveness by only a 10º change in viewing angle.  Think to yourself:  I don't want to alert squirrels or dead leaves to my presence...nor passing airplanes... I want to alert following drivers.  No matter how you approach bike maintenance or care, light mounting is the one place to be extra particular.  Run whatever you can afford, taillight-wise, but remember the two most important take-aways:

1) Run fresh batteries!  If you can spring for the Lithium AA or AAA's, do so.  It matters.
2) Aim your taillight correctly!  Take the time to install it right - or all that power won't alert drivers at all.

If you find yourself on the way to, or from work, on east/west roads - facing the sun - remember, drivers' vision will be compromised, like your own.  It's time to don the cycling cap, but, be mindful of obstacles like potholes, trash, or parked cars -- which, on conversation with Crowbar yesterday, it turns out it's not unlikely to have such seemingly impossible-to-miss obstacles completely disappear in the glare ahead of us as we ride.

Less important, but also notable, on the super-bright tail-lights:  solid mode is good, if you can dial it in.  It's less distracting, and is more in line with what a driver would expect to see.  A good, solid beam will allow them to realize early that you aren't moving as quickly as a "normal" traffic object - and they won't be dazzled additionally by your flashing red beacon against an already blinding sun.  There will be arguments this-way and that for-and-against flashing v. solid modes - but, my experience favors the latter.  Tailor for your needs as you see fit... but, the main message:  be seen.  Against the glare of an approaching autumn sun, your reflective vest and ankle bands won't show up at all unless the following drivers happen to already have their headlights on.  Reflective material aside, even the neon orange or yellow colors won't show up in such glare... you'll just look like a dark, shadowy figure against all that sunlight.  Now, that's not an invitation to wear all black, either... eventually, the sun will set, and then you're covered - but, until it does, running the taillight will help out, and as soon as you make a turn north or south the hi-viz neons will show up nicely.

When in doubt, however, wait it out.  As said above, the sun will eventually set - and if you can't leave early enough to beat the glare and traffic snarls, it might be good to adjust your commute departure.  Leave early in the AM, to beat the sunrise, and enjoy a jump start on your workday.  Leave a little later afterward, avoid rush-hour, and enjoy a cooler evening ride home - assuming time allows, of course, in either case.  If you have access to a local trail to add to your commute, even better!

This fall solstice... ride safe, be seen, and arrive alive!

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