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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bike trails and city roads offer Memphis area cyclists with choices to meet the needs of all

Bike trails and city roads offer Memphis area cyclists with choices to meet the needs of all
By:  Michael Lander
Even though there are some inherent risks involved with it, riding on the road is
often the best option for those cyclists who want to ride fast and who want to
ride long distances.
We all love having choices.  It is something that we all want, and something that we all have come to expect in our day-to-day lives.  This is no less true for those who enjoy spending part of their time, and life, on a bike. 

When it comes to choices in places to ride, life could not be much better for cyclists who live in and around the city of Memphis.  The number of options has been greatly enhanced over the last couple of years with the recent development of new bike lanes and trails that have come about in and around our Mid-South city.  

In very little time, we have witnessed a new and ever-growing network of bike lanes and paved bike and pedestrian trails that have grown exponentially and have become an integral part of our ever-evolving urban landscape.

Aside from being a welcomed sight for cyclists, runners and others, these new bike lanes and trails are also helping to unify and bring neighborhoods closer together, especially as they begin to tie in and interconnect with one another.  It is on these bike lanes and trails where people are being brought together, where they can share and enjoy the same common areas meant for anyone and everyone.

If there is a problem with any of this for cyclists, it is only in them trying to decide whether they want to hit the road, to hit the trails, or do a combination of both.  Ultimately, for some, it often simply comes down to a matter of preference, but for those who are new to cycling, or who are unsure about which might be best for them, the decision could easily come down to two simple things.  The first of these involves the type of cyclist that you are and the other is what you want to get out of the rides that you plan to do.

For those who are new to cycling, or who consider themselves to be more recreational cyclists, the paved trails may be the best place for you to go to.  For the most part, they are relatively easy and flat and a cyclist can travel at a much slower, more leisurely pace when they visit them.  This is especially nice if you are more interested in talking and just enjoying some time with friends and family. 

The trails are also ideal for riding with smaller children who are just beginning to ride and who are too young to be out riding out anywhere else on their own.  The trails are also quite scenic, particularly in the spring and fall, and they are one of the best ways for cyclists to see the beauty of nature with many places that you can stop and to really take it all in.

The bike trails, like the Shelby Farms Greenline, are often the best choice for those who
who are new to cycling, who may not be comfortable riding on the roads, and who
are a lot more interested in moving at a slower pace.
If there is any downside to the trails, though, it is that they can sometimes be a little congested with pedestrians, runners, people walking their dogs, parents pushing strollers, and so on.  This is often the case on weekends and when the weather is really nice.  When they are congested like this, it can make for slow-going for those on a bike.  Also, because they sometimes intersect with some streets from time to time, it may mean some frequent stopping and waiting before it is safe to cross.

For those who want to avoid some of this, the roads may be the best option for you.  This is especially true for those who are more serious cyclists and who want to train for long-distance rides and who want to be able to go fast.  Because there are more dangers for cyclists on the roadways, you have to be more cautious and careful and constantly aware of what is going on around you.  Since you are out in traffic, you must know and follow all the rules of the road and that essentially means just acting and behaving like you would as if you were in your car.

Whether you have a preference for the trails or for the roads, it is nice every now and then to switch things up and do one or the other or both just for a little variety.  Each has their own distinctive advantages over the other and they both offer cyclists a chance to try something a little different for a change.  Either way, it gives all cyclists a choice and that is always a good thing for everyone.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Best parts of cycling greatly outweigh any downside; getting better takes effort, but comes with big pay-off

Best parts of cycling greatly outweigh any downside; getting better takes effort, but comes with big pay-off
By:  Michael Lander
One of the best parts of cycling for some is training and riding together with friends who
also love cycling.  There are also some who do it as a way to support one or more charitable
organizations, like the Wings Cancer Foundation, who sponsor bike riding events for
fundraising purposes.  In this photo, from left to right, is Brian Jones, John Kakares,
and Chuck Bolton, all from Memphis.
Hot, tired, and sore...... That just about sums up how I felt after finishing most bike rides, especially in that first year when I returned to cycling after a 27-year hiatus.  This was also a time before I fully acclimated myself to the oppressive and suffocating heat that we regularly experience in the summer months in Memphis.

As tough as it sometimes was, following that first year of riding, I kept at it, riding as hard and as often as I could.  My ultimate goal was to better prepare myself for some long distance charity cycling events that I wanted to do, but I quickly found that I really enjoyed it, especially as I got faster and was able to go even longer distances.  Since then, I have logged thousands of miles over more than six years, and I have seen and experienced all that is great about cycling.

For most avid cyclists like me, the best part of cycling often far outweighs any downside that might come along with it.  For some, it is all about the fun and enjoyment of it and the time that they get to spend with friends who share their love of cycling. 

For others, it is about that great feeling that they get after a really strenuous workout or that wonderful sense of accomplishment after winning a race or just completing a long and difficult bike ride.  Whatever the reasons might be, the drive to go back to it again and again can have an irrepressible hold on you.  Some might compare it to a drug, but it is one, I believe, that comes without all the bad side effects.

Along with all the good that can come out of cycling, though, there are some parts of it that are not exactly that easy to overcome.  Like any other demanding physical activity, it does not come without a price.  This price for most cyclists is the time, effort, and expense that they have to put into it and the occasional pain and discomfort of riding, whether it is soreness in the arms, legs or contact areas of a bicycle seat, or the occasional leg cramps, to the numb and tingly sensation in one or both hands. 

Even though there is not always an easy remedy for all the pain and discomfort that a cyclist will encounter, for most, a lot of soreness can often be reduced by riding as frequently as possible and by doing some other additional strength training to augment this.  Having a bike that is properly fitted to your size is also critical for riding more comfortably too. 

Proper nutrition is equally important with consuming plenty of carbohydrates before attempting any long distance bike ride.  Cramping can also be a problem for some and that can be alleviated by occasionally stretching while riding and by getting a sufficient amount of electrolytes before and during a ride and by remaining adequately hydrated throughout it. 

It is also a good idea to invest in cycling clothes that will keep the sweat away from your body with shorts that have pads that will offer some amount of cushioning and will keep you as dry as possible.  Anti-chafing ointments and creams, like Skin Sake, will also help you with protecting against friction and preventing the development of saddle sores.

Beyond the practical suggestions and advice, though, a big part of overcoming pain while riding means becoming accustomed to a certain level of discomfort associated with it and by developing  a high enough tolerance and threshold for pain.  Even though some may already have that, for others it is something that should come to them in time. 

As with any other physical activity, there is a lot of truth in the maxim of "no pain, no gain," and pain is almost always the first step in the process for improvement.  It is sometimes helpful to see this as something that it is only temporary and one way to help minimize the effects of this is to ride as often as you can.  This should help to lessen soreness as your body adjusts and your muscles become better conditioned. 

It might make it easier to endure the initial stage of conditioning when it is seen as a means to an end with an ultimate pay-off when you reach the goals and objectives that you have set for yourself.  You just have to be willing to push yourself and to put up with some of the pain and discomfort on the front end in order to eventually achieve these later on. 

There is tremendous amount that someone can gain through cycling and anyone can get better at it by just doing it often, by pushing themselves just a little harder, and making sure that they always enjoy  it.  As long as it remains fun and rewarding for you, being hot, tired, and sore should not be enough to keep you away from doing it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Questions and Answers on Bicycle Safety

Questions and Answers on Bicycle Safety
By:  Michael Lander

Since returning to cycling in 2007, I have been an active proponent of an activity that
I have really come to love.  Along with that, because of some of the risks and dangers
that are involved with cycling, I have also felt the need to encourage and promote
safety for all those who decide to ride.

 On Aug. 8, 2013, University of Memphis Daily Helmsman Reporter, Samantha Esgro, asked six questions of me for a possible feature story that the editorial staff had assigned to her on bicycle safety.  Even though the story never ran, I thought that it was a topic that would still be of interest and concern to those who ride a bike.  With them in mind, I decided that I would share the questions and answers that I provided to The Daily Helmsman, with some additional information included, in the hope that it will further promote safety for all cyclists.

Question #1:  What are some of the basic rules cyclists (bikers) should know before they begin?
:  Some of the very basic rules that cyclists should follow are pretty simple and more-or-less common sense.  Cyclists should act no different than any motorized vehicle operators do on the road.  Since they are moving slower, though, they should stay on the far right of the road so that cars and other motor vehicles can easily pass them.  They should also obey all the rules of the road, stopping at red lights, etc.  At intersections they should give hand signals to indicate which direction that they are going in and it is also important that they go with the flow of traffic and not against it.  If at all possible, they should try to avoid riding on sidewalks.  If they must ride on a sidewalk, it is important that the cyclist slow down and that they yield to any pedestrians. I have a website that I developed and maintain that provides some other useful tips and helpful information for cyclists at: and I offer additional information on twitter @memphiscyclist.  There is also an excellent five and half minute Tiger Bike Safety video, (uploaded on Oct. 2, 2013), that was created for students at the University of Memphis that others might also find extremely helpful as well.  
Question #2:  Why are these rules necessary to follow?
Answer:  As for the rules, I would probably advise that every cyclist take them all serious and to follow them as best they can.  Unlike a car, cyclists have no barrier or protection if they are hit so they cannot afford to do anything wrong, like running stop signs or red lights.  Doing so could cause them serious injury or even result in death.

Question #3:  Can you think of any rules that people wouldn't guess existed?
Answer:  I am not exactly sure what rules people may or may not be aware of, but the biggest things that I see bicyclists that do that are wrong includes riding against traffic instead of with it and riding on the sidewalks when they should actually be out on the road instead.

Question #4:  Where can beginner cyclists (bikers) go to find a list of laws?
Answer:  Local and state laws for cycling can be found by doing a search on the Internet, but I would advise that beginning cyclists in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi go to my website for a list of laws.  I created this specifically to help give cyclists one place to go to get a complete set of laws concerning cycling.  Here is a link to that webpage:

Question #5:  How safe is cycling (biking)?
Answer:  Like anything else, there are some risks involved in cycling, especially for those who are on the roads, but it should not be enough to stop anyone from doing it.  The main thing that cyclists should do is to always pay attention and to know and to follow the rules of the road as anyone else on the road should do.  For their own
safety, cyclists should also do a couple of additional things to help minimize the risks.  For starters, I always recommend that they wear a helmet.  In addition to that, I would advise them to wear brightly-colored clothes and that they have reflectors & lights on their bikes, especially if riding in the early morning or late evening, so that they can easily be seen.  It is also a good idea to make sure that a bike is in good working order, with the tires inflated to the appropriate PSI (as indicated on the tires) and that the brakes are working properly.  Also, cyclists should always make it clear what they are doing and where they are going by giving the appropriate hand signals.  Above all else, cyclists should always be aware of what is going on around them and not leaving others guessing what they are about to do or where they are going.

Question #6:  How long have you been cycling (biking)? What got you started?
Answer:  I started back to cycling in 2007.  Since then, I have really gotten into it and have ridden for many charitable causes that I wanted to support.  That was really the biggest motivator for me to ride.  In addition to that though, I have also found cycling to be a lot of fun and that it is a great way to get exercise and to stay in shape.  I also like that it is an environmentally-friendly means of transportation too.  What has made cycling even more enticing for me has been what the City of Memphis has done to make cycling even better and safer for cyclists with new bike lanes and trails and by appointing the first Bike & Pedestrian Coordinator.  Because of all this, and my love for cycling, I created my cycling website to give Memphis area cyclists everything that they might want or need to know and it is also my way of giving back to the local community.  I hope that this, and all of the many efforts that have been made in Memphis will get people to consider riding a bike and maybe doing that instead of just jumping in a car whenever they want to go somewhere.  It would be better for them and the environment if they did.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cycling has parallels to life and offers a chance for teaching important life lessons

Cycling has parallels to life and offers a chance for teaching important life lessons
By:  Michael Lander
Cycling is one of many competitive sports, but for the majority of cyclists, like these on Mud
Island during the 2012 Bluff City Blues 100, it is something that they do for fun and/or
exercise.  Most cyclists, who ride in groups, and who participate in events like this, often
look out for one another, essentially working together as a team.

Life, in many ways, I think, can be just like a bike ride.  It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see the parallels that exist between it and cycling.  I recently thought about this while I was on one of my bike rides.  Since then, I have come to believe that it is entirely possible that just about everything that I need to know about life, and about the world around me, (along with some very important life lessons), could easily come from the perspective of cycling or the vantage point of a bicycle.    

As with most bike rides, life in many ways is simply just a journey that each one of us get to take.  You never know exactly what you will end up seeing or experiencing and the road ahead can be very uncertain with many twists and turns along the way.  There are times when it will all seem extremely predictable, like you've done it a million times before, but at other times, it will feel very new and different to you and part of the thrill is in not knowing what will happen next.

Occasionally, you will also experience a little pain and a few problems along the way, too, but you can expect a little of this whether in life or while riding a bike.  In either case, it is best not to let this slow you down or stop you from riding, or from living, because, if you do, you just might miss out on seeing or experiencing something worthwhile just around the corner.

Cycling, as with life itself, is really meant to be enjoyed.  It is always good to take a little time out of your day to get away and to see the world and appreciate all the wonderment and beauty that is in it.

Also, through cycling, as in life, you can come to a greater appreciation of those around you.  If you ever ride with others, you learn about working as a team, having someone there to occasionally guide you, to point out hazards along the way, and who will let you draft behind them when you are tired, doing the same for them whenever you can.  Through this you come to understand the benefits of working together with others and looking out on one another's behalf.  How much better would this world be if the rest of the world did this in their lives?

It is through cycling, too, that you can find a way to help others in need, which can be one of the most gratifying experiences that you can ever have in your life.  Riding for charitable causes are certainly one of the best ways to do this and, through it, you get the satisfaction of doing something that will benefit others while improving your own health as well.

While it is often a good idea to protect yourself from danger, watching out and paying attention to the road signs ahead, taking precautions and minimizing any unnecessary risks that are out there, this should not prevent you from living or from enjoying a good bike ride either.  Life is meant to be lived and every now and then it is necessary to take some calculated risks since success and happiness are sometimes only found when you are willing to do just that.

With cycling, as in life, you can also sometimes feel like you are being pushed to your limits and that is not necessarily always a bad thing either.  Progress, improvement, and growth often only comes when you are forced to meet or exceed your limitations.  You must, however, always be sure to take care of yourself with adequate rest, nutrition, etc.  No one is ever served by anything that negatively impacts you and your ability and performance, long-term.

Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, there are times when you will still experience disappointments and failures regardless of how hard that you try.  It is during these periods that you need to seek some inspiration, motivation and help from others.  Like on any ride, there are some parts that are easy and fun and some that are not, but you often get more from the tougher and more challenging parts, so try to learn and grow from all of these.  And if or when you fall, you should do your best to brush yourself off and to get back up and ride again, since failure only comes when you surrender.

For success in life, and in cycling, you must come to value hard work and training and try not to sweat the small stuff.  Focus instead on the important things and on what really matters.  The finish line for any race may be your ultimate goal, but in the end, what is most important is that you just did the ride and that you enjoyed yourself along the way.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Finding ability, a positive attitude, and a greater motivation for cycling

Finding ability, a positive attitude, and a greater motivation for cycling
By:  Michael G. Lander

Some cycling events can be a true test of endurance like the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's
FedEx Rock-n-Roll MS-150.  For most of the cyclists who participate in this event, it is a two-day,
150-mile bike ride.  The cyclists in this photo are pictured as the ascend what is known as "the wall"
on Day 2, (Sept. 9, 2012).

The American novelist and screenwriter, Raymond Chandler, once said that, "Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it."

These words would, no doubt, resonate with anyone who has found any degree of success in sports, business, academics or any other pursuit in life.  This would be no less true for those committed to cycling, especially those who do it at a more competitive level.

It would be safe to say, like with any other athlete, a cyclist's ability to perform at a higher level often only comes through sacrifice, hard work, and intensive training.  What gets you there, however, is motivation and no world class athlete makes it without this.

From the more casual and recreational cyclist to the more competitive one, finding the motivation to ride and staying at it can be one of the biggest challenges that anyone can face.  It is for this reason that it is always important to first establish why you want to ride and what your ultimate goals are in doing it.

Whether it is simply a way to take in some scenery, to spend some time with friends or family, to get some exercise, or to help with losing some weight, it should always be an activity that is fun and enjoyable for you.  This will make you less inclined to try to find ways or excuses of getting out of doing it.

As in other sports, conditioning and training are absolute essentials to improving and maintaining performance in cycling.  Those who want to do better, to ride longer, and to ride faster must be willing to commit the time and resources that are necessary and this means riding as often, and with as much intensity, as you are able to.

With that, it is also a good idea to set both short-term and long-term goals and to track your progress as well.  This allows you to see how you are doing and where you are improving.  This can help you in determining what adjustments or changes you might need to make.  Working and riding with others who are more experienced cyclists themselves can also be invaluable.  Your performance can also be greatly enhanced by reading books, magazines, and online articles and by watching videos on topics related to cycling.

In addition to that, you can also search for role models to help guide and inspire you.  From national to international cycling events, cyclists have tested the limits of human endurance and accomplished amazing feats for decades.  If you live in the Memphis area and are looking for inspiration, you need only to look at Memphis native and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Kristin Armstrong.  For years, her mantra has been "You have to live with this ride," and "you're only as good as your last result."

There are times, however, that despite your best efforts , it may seem difficult or impossible to keep at it.  Anyone who has experienced the occasional pain, discomfort, and exhaustion from a long-distance bike ride knows this all too well.  Setbacks, failures, and disappointments can and should be expected, but it is important not to let this derail you from staying the course.  Lessons can always be learned and success can often come from failures, adversity and shortcomings.  The important thing is to make the most of it and to turn it around to your advantage.

Motivation relies on self-discipline, drive, and determination and it comes with knowing that most things in life worth having do not usually come easy.  It takes considerable time, effort, and perseverance to get better.  By working hard, not giving up, remaining focused on achieving your goals and by maintaining a positive attitude about it, you should be able to experience both success and a feeling of accomplishment each and every time that you meet or exceed your goals. 

The ability to succeed must first begin with motivation and then having the attitude that you can and will do it.  As the Star Trek character, Jean-Luc Picard often said, you just need to "make it so." 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Winter months should not necessarily be the end to outdoor cycling in Memphis

Winter months should not necessarily be the end to outdoor cycling in Memphis
By:  Michael Lander
The Memphis area doesn't usually see much snow accumulation, but when it does
snow, even that doesn't deter some of the die-hard cycling enthusiasts from getting
out and riding in it.
With a cold, brisk wind hitting their faces, and the occasional tingling sensation of cold fingers and toes, there are some who do not let winter stop them from doing one of things that they love to do most.

The winter months are a time of shorter hours of daylight, colder temperatures, and for all, but a few, it usually means a lot more time spent inside than out.

Bike riding in the winter months in Memphis may sometimes seem like a true test of endurance, leading some to believe that some cyclists possess an extraordinarily high tolerance for cold weather than most Memphians otherwise seem to have.

These cyclists often earn the respect and admiration from those who want to ride in the winter months, but who just don't think that they could possibly tolerate a bike ride when it feels like they are spending that time in a walk-in freezer.

For these other cyclists, winter is the time when outside bike rides often trail off, and come to an end, and the indoor stationary bike or trainer gets the time and attention that it didn't otherwise get for most of the spring, summer, and fall.

As most avid cyclists would readily concede, however, the indoor bikes and trainers are barely an adequate substitute for the level of workout that they get, and the enjoyment that they experience, from actually being outside and riding.

Winter doesn't stop everyone from venturing out and riding.  After riding several hours on
the trails at the Wolf River Greenway, and Yssac Ramirez, (on the left) and
Jordan Reifler, (on the right), call it a day and head back to their cars.

Even though riding a bike throughout the winter months does present its own unique set of challenges, it might be well worth some serious consideration for those who might be interested in having an alternative to that indoor bike.

As those who ride throughout the winter will tell you, getting acclimated to the cold is certainly a part of it, but it is also a matter of preparation and dressing appropriately in winter weather clothing too.  This also includes dressing in one or more layers with a non-absorbent base layer next to the skin which helps to repel and whisk the sweat away from the body.

The inner base layer should be made of any synthetic whisking fiber and you should avoid anything made of cotton since it just absorbs sweat and keeps it next to your skin. 

The layering is absolutely essential in helping to trap a certain amount of body heat and keeping your body at a temperature that you are comfortable enough with.  As important as it is to do this though, it is equally important not to overdress either since that will cause your body to overheat, to sweat more, and to quickly make you feel much colder whenever you have to stop moving. 

It may take several rides to see just how many layers that you feel best with and you may require less as you become accustomed to the cold and whenever you increase the intensity level on your bike ride.

For outer wear, a light wind or waterproof jacket should be sufficient and, ideally, one that will allow excessive body heat to escape.  The jacket you choose should accommodate either cold and wet or cold and dry conditions.  When it is cold and wet, it is good to have a jacket that has vents with zippers on it.  When it is cold and dry, a soft-shelled jacket that allows wind to penetrate is best since it will help to counter-act the effects of your body heat.

For the head, a helmet with a liner and or a thin knit cap will help you to retain some body heat.  A balaclava (or ski mask) will help to keep your head and face warm and, if you prefer, it can be pulled down over the neck instead.

For the fingers, it is good to have a pair of well-insulated, foam padded gloves for the palms that are waterproof, that provide an adequate grip, and that have the flexibility to allow you to change gears and to squeeze the brakes.  A hybrid glove with a mitten design is especially good for helping to keep your fingers warm and a gauntlet length will cover part of your wrists and fit over or under the cuffs of your jacket.

For the toes, it is a good idea to have some warm socks (multiple pairs, if possible) so that they can remain as warm and comfortable as possible.  Toe covers and booties (socks that fit over your shoes) will provide additional warmth for your feet.

One other thing to consider when riding during the winter months is to keep a bike in really good condition with frequent maintenance and cleaning, so that everything remains in good working order.  Always remove sand, dirt, salt, or other debris that may have accumulated on a bike with special attention given to the chain and to the brakes.  Periodic checks of other parts of the bike, like the cassette and the rear derailleur, should also be done as well.

Braving the cold wind and 30-degree temperatures are Elizabeth Owen, her husband,
Curt, and his brother, Kevin.  They decided to take a late Saturday afternoon bike ride
from the Wolf River Greenway to Shelby Farms and back.  They joined about a dozen
other cyclists who also chose to ride in spite of the cold temperatures.

Because of less daylight hours in the winter, bikes should also be equipped with lights and reflectors for added safety.  Thick tires, with a sufficient  tread are definitely recommended and they should be under-inflated, with a little less pressure than normal.  This will put more of the tire on the surface of the road and should provide for better traction.

Throughout most of the winter months, the Memphis area is usually spared a significant accumulation of snow and ice so it isn't often a factor that cyclists typically have to contend with.

On those rare occasions when cyclists do encounter this type of weather, however, they should take some precautions and be prepared for whatever conditions that they might face.  This means not only have a bike that is ready and equipped for winter weather, with things like studded tires, but also allowing for more time to ride slower, trying to avoid riding where you cannot see the road surface, and being especially cautious on roads that have not been cleared, treated, or that have had very little, if any, traffic on them.

Finally, it is also important, whenever you ride out in cold weather, to eat enough in order to provide sufficient fuel for your body and to stay hydrated.  With the cooler temperatures, it is often easy to overlook this, but you are always at risk of dehydration whenever you sweat.  Also, since the air is usually drier during the winter, you are much more likely to lose moisture simply through breathing alone.

By just following these few simple steps, and by just dressing properly for the colder weather conditions, there is no reason that Memphis-area cyclists should always have to settle for just riding on an indoor bike when they can ride outdoors throughout most of the winter instead.