Author Archives: John Brown

For every new bike there are bike accessories you should consider getting. Accessories will make you more comfortable, more informed, and more prepared.

Quick tips for renting a bicycle when traveling

by John Brown, 

Taking your bicycle when you travel is not always possible, but don’t give up on the idea of riding altogether. Renting a bicycle or e-bike is an easy way to experience new places. Plus, it lets you try a new bike you may want to buy when you get home. So, before you travel, here are a few tips to get you going

In the photo above, a visitor to the Twin Cities is being helped by the staff at One Ten Cycles in Mendota Heights, a couple of miles south of the MSP Airport.

 Renting a Bicycle At One of Many Bike Shops

As bike trails and paths become more commonplace, bike shops are entering the rental market. Before you travel, find a few area bike shops and call about renting a bicycle. Be sure to ask about both rental fleets (typically made up of basic mountain bikes, cruisers or hybrids) as well as “Demo” bikes. Many shops that don’t rent bikes have demo units to let potential buyers try before buying. The fee for a demo is usually higher than that of a standard rental, but the bicycle quality is also typically higher.

renting a bicycle bike shop

Renting a bicycle outside a bike shop

Renting a Bicycle Consider Rental Companies

In most major cities or tourist destinations, some businesses only rent bikes and e-bikes. Finding one of these companies is as easy as a Google search or asking the hotel you are staying in. Many rental companies have services to deliver a rental bike to the hotel. If you are going to the rental shop, understand they usually operate on a first-come-first-serve basis, so be sure to get there early if you are trying to ride on a busy weekend.

renting a bicycle avalon

Rental fleet

Or Bike Share Programs

Bike shares are becoming very popular throughout the US and abroad. Companies like BCycle, and Citi bike are a couple of the companies that offer options to rent “as you go.” With tons of locations around the US, bike shares are a great option if you are touring a city. Because you can pick up a bike in one location, explore, and then drop the bike off at another docking station any time of day or night.

renting a bicycle citibike

Citi Bike docking station

Renting From A Bicycle Touring Company Is Another Option

Many bike tour companies have bike fleets. Tour companies such as Trek Travel and Backroads offer tours around the globe and supply bikes as part of the cost. The benefit of taking a dedicated tour is support. Lodging, Equipment, route, food, and guides are all included in the cost of the trip.

Getting Comfortable

The most important trick to a great bike rental experience is to ensure the bicycle is comfortable. Your own pedals, saddle, and the right size bike are great ways to start.

     -Size

If you don’t have a bike, ask for the brand and model of the bike from the rental company. Then, try to find a local bike shop that sells that model. If you stop into the shop and explain your situation, they can tell you what size you ride. As a side benefit, If you like the bike you rented, that local bike shop would be a great place to buy one to keep at home.

     -Pedals

If you use clipless pedals, remove them from your bike, drop them in a ziplock bag, store them in your riding shoes, and bring them with you. Once you get your rental bike, have your pedals installed. Having a familiar pedal can go a long way to make a new bike feel like your bike at home.

     -Position

Measure your saddle height. Do this by rotating your pedals until a crank arm is in line with the seat tube of your bicycle. Use a tape measure from the top of the saddle to the middle of the pedal (in line with the seat tube). Also, measure the distance from the tip of your saddle to the handlebars and the height of your handlebars. Once you get your rental, ask to adjust it to be as close to your bike’s measurements as possible. Remember that one bike will never fit exactly like another, so close is great.

Renting a bicycle measurments

Key measurements

     -Saddle

After measuring the height of your saddle, remove it from your bike and bring it with you. Having the rental company install your saddle on the rental is a nice way to make an unfamiliar bicycle comfortable.

Have fun on your next trip

It’s amazing what you will see and experience on the seat of a bicycle when visiting a new area.

About John Brown, the author

John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN as a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit him, and that particular fever is still there. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. He was starting by sweeping the shop floor while learning anything he could about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then a store manager. Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the bike of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, and parts or share your latest ride. You can also see more of John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.

Minnesota River bottoms, a fun year-round trail network

by John Brown, 

Famous for mountain biking, hiking, fishing, and bird watching, the Minnesota River Bottoms in Bloomington MN are some of the last natural trails in the Twin City metro. At the Bloomington Ferry Bridge site, you will find one of three starting points for many outdoor adventures along the river.

Trailhead locations and the Bloomington Ferry Bridge history

You have the option to cross under three bridges by riding the trails here along the Minnesota River. The first is the Bloomington Ferry Bridge. Started in the summer of 1849, the Bloomington Ferry began operations next to the Minnesota River bottoms. It carried people from the Bloomington shores to Shakopee. Exactly 40 years later, the first Bloomington Ferry Bridge was opened. Carrying people, carriages, and motorists across the river for over 100 years.  No longer open to auto traffic, the trailhead here on the west side of Bloomington is a good starting point.

The two other trailheads are down steam from the Ferry Bridge. The next access to the trails is next to the 35W bridge. The final trailhead is at the Old Cedar Bridge site.

What are the Minnesota river bottoms?

The riders, hikers, and runners who frequent the Minnesota River bottoms.

To locals, the “River Bottoms” is a trail network stretching from the southwest corner of Bloomington to the trails of Fort Snelling State Park. These trails are enjoyed by mountain bike riders and runners who frequent them. While under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, they are not maintained by any government entity and often take on a “path of least resistance” or direction. It is not uncommon for new tracks to spring up after heavy rains and high river flooding. While riding, expect dirt trails exclusively with some log crossings, sand sections, and occasional overgrowth. Warning: in the summer, pay particular attention to the Urtica Dioica plants, or stinging nettles, growing on infrequently used trails.

Wildlife of the Minnesota River Bottoms

Bikers, birdwatchers and hikers can enjoy the wildlife sightings along the banks of the Minnesota River.

Bikers, birdwatchers, and hikers can enjoy wildlife sightings along the banks of the Minnesota River.

The River Bottoms are great for all types of recreation. It’s not uncommon to see hikers, bird watchers, and people fishing along the banks of the Minnesota River. I have enjoyed sharing with my son the sights of Bald eagles and Beavers who make the watershed here their home. Additionally, being a natural area, the River Bottoms are home to countless animals, including white-tailed deer and mink.

What to expect

On the map are a few more popular entrances to the River Bottom trail, including Lyndale Ave, Crest Ave, and Old Cedar Ave. These entrances offer ample parking and a clear trailhead. Once you start down the course, you will see that nothing is paved but worn-in enough to be firm under your tires. Except at the Lyndale trailhead, you will find a short section of paved land heading east, perfect for walking and wheelchair use. While a mountain bike is best for unpaved trails, fat tire bikes navigate well in winter. If you need to cross a stream, there are bridges, and at the 9-mile creek in the summer months, there is a rope ferry to get you across. Because the River Bottoms are so smooth, they are an ideal place for kids to go mountain biking.

The Minnesota River bottoms are worn in by the riders, hikers, and runners who frequent them

You will find runners who frequent the natural settings of the Minnesota River bottoms.

When to ride

The Minnesota River bottoms are a natural haven for cyclists in spring, summer, winter, or fall.

The best part of the River Bottoms is that it is one of the first places to dry out each spring. It is also one of the first places to freeze when winter rolls through. Like most off-road trails, please avoid this trail in early spring as they thaw or after heavy rain. Other than that, these trails are sandy enough to drain quickly. One of the best things about the river bottoms is riding fat bikes. Fat bikes can trace their development directly to the river bottom in the winter. When the snow falls, the river bottoms are the perfect mixture of flat trails, bermed turns, and accessibility to create a near-perfect winter track.

Living in the Twin Cities, we are lucky to have a place like the river bottoms to ride. The fact that it is left free to change and natural is unique in a metro area. You will find some of the metro’s last natural trails from the Bloomington Ferry Bridge to Fort Snelling.

About John Brown, the author

John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN, as a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinker. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit, and the fever still existed. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. He is starting, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he can about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then as a store manager. Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the cycle of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, and parts or share your latest ride. You can also see more of John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.

Gaiters may be an added bonus to winter riding warmth

by John Brown, 

Cold, snow, sleet, and ice are normal conditions for my winter bike commute to work here in Minnesota. With the elements being so unfriendly, I am excited to try commuting with a pair of gaiters for added warmth. With that direction in mind, I was excited to try the Hillsound Armadillo LT gaiters. For those who aren’t familiar with a pair of gaiters, they cover your shin and calf, below the knee, and above the ankle. Splash-proof protection works in combination with your winter boots to extend your leg. They are designed to keep snow, slush, and debris off your legs and dripping into your boot.

Hillsound Armadillo LT gaiter

I am wearing the Hillsound Armadillo LT Gaiter for the first time.

A gaiters construction

The Armadillo LT gaiter’s upper is constructed out of Flexia, a three-layer material designed to stretch, be waterproof, conform to your leg and stay in place. The lower section is made of dense nylon, which is extremely tough. The zippers are waterproof, and the straps and clips seem to be more than tough enough for their job. Even though these gaiters exude durability, they are remarkably lightweight.

Hillsound Armadillo LT gaiter

High-quality buckles, zippers, and straps are standard.

A full-length zipper makes for an easy fit.

I have to admit that I have never tried riding with a gaiter. Whereas my point of reference is small, I spend a lot of time on my bike in the cold. For the frigid weather, my riding boot of choice is the 45NRTH Wölvhammer, built with gaiters in mind. The Hillsound Armadillo LT gaiter paired with them easily. Thanks to the full-length zipper, I got my riding gear and boots on, then fashioned the gaiter into place with relative ease. That ease comes from the stretch that the upper material offers and the easily adjustable lower Velcro strap and upper buckle strap.

Warmth on the bike

The addition of a waterproof layer was immediately apparent when I left my house. We had gotten a fresh coating of wet snow overnight, and the salt trucks were out in force. Thanks to the slush created, my legs were immediately doused in slop but stayed dry and warm. This is a far cry from a week prior when I rode home without the benefit of gaiters. This time, I buzzed along my usual route to work and noticed that my legs were warmer than normal. Also, when looking down at my legs (not something I recommend), I saw all the sludge my tires were kicking up and bouncing off the gaiters. When I reached the office, my legs were dry and comfortable, and the gaiter was still doing a good job repelling moisture.

Hillsound Armadillo LT gaiter

Snow and slush are no match for the Hillsound Armadillo LT Gaiter.

Moving forward

With my first foray into gaiters, I want to see where they are best used. I know that hikers and snowshoeing fans love them for their warmth and protection; now, after trying them, I am fascinated to see how they will help from a cycling perspective. Right now, I will reach for them whenever the weather is cold and wet. While I am sold on their benefit for wet conditions, I look forward to blocking the wind chill when temps get colder. Stay tuned for more information on my adventures with the Hillsound Armadillo LT gaiter.

About John Brown, the author

John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN as a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit, and that fever is still there. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. Starting, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he could about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then to a store manager.  Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the bike of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, and parts or share your latest ride. You can also see John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.
No matter how brave you are sometimes weather conditions keep you from conquering those trails. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to have fun with indoor biking.

Indoor biking is fun and effective training through the winter

by John Brown

No matter how brave you are sometimes weather conditions keep you from conquering those trails with indoor biking. This is especially true as the mercury drops and turns our beloved Earth into something reminiscent of the Russian front. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to have fun with indoor biking.

Indoor Biking with a Spin Class

Most gyms offer spin classes. These classes use a stationary bicycle, music, and instructors to guide a class through about a 1-hour workout. Spin classes are a source of indoor biking, and it gets you out of the house.

There are, however, a few downsides with spin classes to keep in mind. One issue is that a spin bike won’t fit the same as your bike. To fix this, many riders will install their own saddle and pedals on a spin bike before each class. The other potential problem is that the classes are not tailored to your personal goals. The classes are usually high-tempo, high-effort workouts that might not fit with your training plan. Some riders find they like the community of spin class but not the specific ride, so they opt in or out of certain portions of the workout.

Riding your bike indoors spin class

Indoor biking with a spin class

Using an Indoor Trainer

Riding an indoor trainer has gotten much more popular for riders of all ability levels, and it’s the kind of indoor biking where you can use your bike. A trainer is a device that holds your bicycle upright, creates resistance when pedaling, and simulates an outdoor ride while riding your bike indoors. Using an Indoor trainer, you can ride from the comfort of your home or in a group setting (most bike shops have trainer nights through the winter).

Riding you bike indoors trainer class

Indoor Trainer Group Ride

There is usually a leader when riding with a group, but if riding alone, you can still have fun. It’s best to start with a plan. If you intend to get on the trainer and ride for 60 minutes while watching TV, I hate to break it to you, but that quickly gets boring. So, how do you keep the ride fun? First, you must create intrigue because you cannot rely on terrain to supply stimulus. There are no hills, descents, turns, or beautiful vistas to keep you interested. But you can use your trainer to mimic the efforts of a great outdoor ride.

How to Build a Ride

For example, let’s describe a normal outdoor ride, then create a workout to mimic that ride on the trainer. The ride starts by carving through a neighborhood on our way to open roads. Snaking through our neighborhood would require some turning, braking, and acceleration (a great natural warm-up), so on the trainer, you would do something like:

  • Pedal in an easy gear for one minute
  • Then, for the two subsequent minutes, increase your pedaling speed (called Cadence)
  • Follow that by slowing that cadence down over the next two minutes.
  • Repeating that two or three times is a great way to get your legs moving

The next obstacle on our imaginary ride is a hilly section of the road. To mimic hilly terrain when riding your bike indoors, try the following:

  • Shift into a harder gear and pedal at 80% of your maximum effort for 2 or three minutes
  • Followed by one or two minutes of soft pedaling (hard effort for the climb, followed by no effort on the descent).
  • Repeat this type of interval in groups of three.

Finally, our ride concludes with city line sprints (earn bragging rights over your friends). To simulate this action, try the following:

  • Shift your bicycle into a difficult gear
  • Ride at 80% effort for one minute
  • Then, sprint all out (max effort) for fifteen to twenty seconds.
  • Follow each effort with some soft-pedaling.

Workout Example

A written cue sheet of this ride would look like the following:

5-Min. warm-up

1-Min. 50% effort low cadence                                                                                                                       1-Min. 50% effort medium cadence                                                                                                           1-1-Min. 50% effort High cadence                                                                                                                 1-1-Min. 50% effort Medium cadence                                                                                                               1-Min. 50% effort low cadence                                                                                                                                     Repeat 3x

4-Min, soft pedal

3-Min. 80% effort                                                                                                                                             2-Min. soft-pedal                                                                                                                                                          Repeat 3x                          

4-Min. soft-pedal

1-Min. 80 effort                                                                                                                                               15-Second sprint                                                                                                                                             45-Second soft-pedal                                                                                                                                                  Repeat 4x                           

9-min. cool down with drills

A ride like the one above takes one hour, keeps you moving and only involves hard effort for ¼ of the ride. By switching up different intervals of effort and rest, indoor biking can be beneficial and fun.

Trainer Pitfalls

Time on the trainer can be very beneficial to your riding. However, it can also be very hard on you if done improperly. When riding outdoors, you have natural portions of rest while coasting or descending, but on an indoor trainer, you cannot coast. People tend to pedal with effort on a trainer throughout the ride and overdo it. A good rule of thumb is to balance high effort with rest at a three-to-one ratio. If a ride calls for ten minutes at 80% effort, include 30 minutes of low-effort work.

riding your bike indoors tired

Too Tired!

Low Effort, High Benefit Drills

How do you keep the ride interesting without effort? Try including drills like one-leg drills, high cadence drills, spin-up drills, top-only drills, and toe touch drills. These require very little effort but build new skills.

bike indoors

One leg Drill

  • One-leg drills – As they sound, these drills are done with one leg (see above). Clip your right leg out of your pedal, hang it away from the bike, and pedal with only your left leg. Try to get the pedal stroke smooth as possible without any noise or bumps.
  • Spin-up drill – With your bike in an easy gear, spin the pedals as quickly as possible. Keep increasing your cadence until your upper body bounces, then taper back to a normal speed. Repeat, each time, trying to get faster while keeping your upper body still (this whole drill takes about 30 seconds per spin-up).
  • High-cadence drill – With your bike in an easy gear, spin at the fastest cadence you can without your upper body bouncing. Hold that cadence for one or two minutes.
  • Top-only drills – Try to pedal using light effort and attempt to keep the top of your foot in contact with the top of your shoe throughout the pedal rotation. You won’t actually be pressing down on the pedal during this drill, but instead pulling up.
  • Toe touch drills – While pedaling, attempt to touch your toe to the front of your shoe at the top of each pedal stroke. While this isn’t possible, it will help teach your body to begin the pedal stroke earlier in its rotation.

With some research and experimentation, indoor biking can keep you satisfied while you wait for the weather to get better.

About John Brown, the author

John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN, as a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit and that particular fever is still there. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. Started, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he could about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then a store manager. Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the bike of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, and parts or share your latest ride. You can also see more of John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.
On this Bike Pic Friday, yeah its Friday celebrating day-26 of 30-days of biking, while riding your bike on a daily commute or to run errands.

Tips and tricks to make riding to school fun, and safe

by John Brown

All around the country, bike paths are being built, and designated bike lanes are being established. So, riding to school can be an easy and safe option with all the colorful fall weather ahead. Many of these paths are routed from neighborhoods to nearby schools to get more kids energized by riding. To encourage your kids to ride their bikes to school safely. Please look at our helpful tips below, especially if your home is far from a connecting trail or a designated bike lane that leads to school.

Riding to school safely begins with a helmet

First and foremost, a well-fitting helmet reduces the risk of serious injury by half. As a result, helmets are the most critical piece of cycling gear for kids. Sadly, many bicyclists under 14 are not riding with a helmet that fits properly. For example, a well-fitting helmet will be snug on the rider’s head. When fitted correctly, the strap toggles should be about a ½ inch below the ear lobe, with the chin strap tight enough to hold the helmet on your head but not so tight it chokes you. Important to realize is that helmets lose effectiveness over time, so review their production date. Therefore, consult the manufacturers’ recommendations for when to replace your existing helmet.

Why is riding to school good?

There are tons of organizations that encourage children to exercise. Child obesity is a real issue in the US, and any activity goes a long way to help. Studies have shown that activity before school increases attention span, boosts mood, and improves fitness and BMI. And it only took one ride to start to see those results! Based on these results, Specialized Bicycles has invested substantial resources in developing programs for kids with ADHD to substitute exercise for medication with excellent results. Overall, the quick trips riding to school help kids kickstart their metabolism, gain focus, and learn valuable skills.

Bike Maintenance and safely

Be sure that your child is comfortable on their bicycle and that it is sized adequately. Bikes that are too small or too large are difficult for children to control. If you have concerns about the fit, visit your local bike shop to have the bike adjusted. The teach them the ABC’s of a bicycle. So they can verify that the brakes work, tires are inflated, and tight controls. Ensure your child can squeeze the brake levers easily and stop the bike.

Children’s bikes sold must have reflectors on the bars, seat posts, wheels, and pedals. Those reflectors should be considered the most basic level of visibility. Add to that visibility by having your kids wear brightly colored clothes and installing lights and a flag on the bike. However, young children should try to avoid riding at night or twilight.

Riding skills

Teaching basic skills can be fun and easy. Find a flat section of low grass (like a high school football field) and have them practice riding with one hand off the bar. Use the Board Trick to learn how to handle riding over obstacles. For many, the trail to school might be a short distance from your house, and your child may have to add a city street to the route. When riding a bicycle on a street, they must follow the Rules of the road as if they were driving a car. This link from the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota will help you teach your kids the basics of signaling turns and navigating on roads.

Riding to the right is the most basic ride rule on sidewalks and bike paths. More important than that rule is the courtesy of riding around others. Being courteous is the best way to make sure everyone has fun. It is tempting for kids to try and bring a phone or iPod on a ride with them. Those distractions are a detriment to your child’s safety. Keep your digital toys in a backpack or, better yet, at home.

 Figuring out the course

For your kids to be comfortable riding to school, they must be familiar and comfortable with the route. An easy way to practice the course is on the weekends. Weekends are free from school traffic and give plenty of time to explore alternate routes. Look for clear roads and intersections with lighted crosswalks. Even if the course is not the most direct, your child can feel comfortable if it is safe and clear. Also, try to avoid large hills (either up or down) so as not to exhaust your kids.

Locking the bike during class

With the route and skills covered, let’s talk about how to keep the bike safe during the school day. The easiest way to protect a bicycle is to lock it up properly. I recommend you lock the bicycle to a designated bike rack outside the school. In damp weather, periodically lubricating the lock mechanism will make it easy to use year-round.

Late in the fall, ensure the bike and lock are lubed to protect from rain or snow.

Putting it all together

After teaching your kids how to ride, equipping them, and working to create a safe course, continue reinforcing all those things throughout the school year. Evaluate their equipment frequently to ensure it’s working correctly. Additionally, ride with them to strengthen their signaling and to ride safely. Finally, be aware of traffic patterns as the year progresses. Above all else, make riding to school fun. Your kids will appreciate it.

About John Brown, the author

As a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer, John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit him, and that particular fever is still there. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. He was starting by sweeping the shop floor while learning anything he could about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then a store manager. Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the bike of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, and parts or share your latest ride. You can also see more of John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.
Reflectors are forms of passive visibility, while lights are great for active visibility. Read on to see where each one is helpful and most efficient.

Finding visibility for safety and fun in fall’s limited light

by John Brown

Now that fall is officially here, we must keep visibility in mind while staying active amongst all autumn colors. As the days get shorter, while enjoying your favorite outdoor activities this time of the year, the primary forms of visibility we need to focus on are passive and active visibility. Things like reflectors and bright colors are passive forms of visibility, While lights and blinkers are great examples of active visibility. Read on to see where each one is helpful and most efficient.

First Passive visibility

Most autumn bike rides start in the light and gradually evolve into darkness as the rider pedals. In these cases, most riders rely on passive visibility to get them home. Provided your ride is under street lamps or some form of light, that passive visibility will get you home. The most common form of passive visibility is the lowly reflector. These plastic devices are required by the CPSC (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to be installed on all bicycles sold in the United States. You will find reflectors in two colors: white (front and wheels) and Red (rear).

Additionally, many apparel companies install reflective materials onto their products. Like the reflector on your bike, these reflective materials will take any light directed your way and return it to the source of the light so you are seen. Where passive reflectivity falls short is when there is no light source to activate the visibility.

This jacket offers excellent visibility through color and reflective materials.

Several manufacturers make cool winter gloves that are both visible and insulated.

Active visibility

When the area is devoid of a light source, as a rider, you need to create that light to keep yourself safe. For cyclists, Lights and blinkers are the most common devices for light. Where the light and the blinker differ is that blinkers are designed to be seen, while lights allow a rider to both see and be seen.

Great lights are usually rechargeable and use an LED bulb. For riders who spend a lot of time off-road or on unlit paths, these lights are a necessity. While most mount onto the bars or helmet, there are a few companies that integrate lights into the bike or your helmet.

MagicShine Bike Helmet and remote (inset)

MagicShine Bike Helmet and remote (inset)

Blinkers are usually battery-operated and use an LED to flash intermittently. These blinkers can easily be mounted to your bicycle. In some cases, blinkers are incorporated into helmets, gloves, shoes, saddles, and handlebars.

The Omni Bike Helmet, with photo receptor covered and lights on.

The Omni Bike Helmet, with photoreceptors, is covered and lights on.

What to use this Fall

For the fall season, mount a pair of lights to the bike (one front and one back). When you get stuck in low light and high traffic, switch on the lights. Even If your route uses a road with street lights for any portion, a front light makes things safer. Overall, think ahead before your next ride and be prepared to ensure you can see others and they can see you.

About John Brown, the author

As a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer, John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. He is starting, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he can about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then as a store manager.
Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the cycle of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, and parts or share your latest ride. You can also see John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.

Kid’s mountain bikes: tips and tricks to get them on the trail

by John Brown,

I love riding my Mountain bike and want to share that passion with my boys. I am dedicating weekends to kids’ mountain bikes to teach them to love the sport. The sense of freedom and excitement it gives me has been amazing to experience through their eyes. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

Kid’s mountain bikes

Dozens of companies produce kid’s mountain bikes. They often have suspension, brakes, and gears similar to adult versions. The kid’s bikes usually have either 20″ or 24″ wheels to determine the overall bike size. Be sure to find the right size at your local bike shop.

Teach to shift kid’s mountain bikes

One big difference between riding around the neighborhood and on trails is the need to shift quickly and frequently. Most kid’s mountain bikes have between six and 21 gears, with the higher gears used on the pavement and the lower gears for off-road conditions. Teaching your kid(s) how and when to shift will help them become more comfortable while riding over varying trail conditions. It is easy to train them on the sidewalk in front of my home. Have your child ride down the sidewalk in one gear, then shift to an easier gear and pedal on the grass when returning. By shifting between gears and conditions, kids can get an excellent feel for how the gears work.

Teach braking on kid’s mountain bikes

Stopping on kid’s mountain bikes is about balancing two things; stopping power and control. Most brakes can easily produce enough stopping power to skid the wheels, but you lose control when the wheels skid. I found an easy way to teach this balance: find a short but steep hill with a clear run-out at the bottom. Position yourself below them on the hill as a safety precaution and have your kid’s head down. The first time down, tell them to squeeze the brakes (front and rear) as hard as possible.  On the second trip down, have them squeeze a little less and feel the difference. Then have them apply the front brakes more, then more rear brakes on each successive trip. After a little while, they will have a good feel for the best way to use their brakes.

Standing position

When kids learn to ride a bike, they do so sitting down. While sitting is fine for smooth roads, it can become uncomfortable when riding over rocky trails. Try to teach your kid to stand while riding, using your legs to absorb bumps. You want to encourage them to bend their knees and elbows and keep their weight back over the seat. This position lets them absorb all the rough terrain they might encounter.

L-r: Matt Johnson and his sons Jack 10, and Cole, 9, mountain bike in Salem Park in Inver Grove Heights on Sunday, June 12, 2011. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

Board trick

A fun trick to teach some skills involves nothing more than using a plank. A 2×6 piece of wood that’s about six feet long works best. You will need to set it on the ground and have the kids ride over it. Riding perpendicular helps them work on absorbing impact in the standing position while riding along its length, which helps teach control. A significant part of the board trick is that it gives a person a visual indication of where to ride without penalty if they can’t stay on.

Up and Over

Once they get comfortable with the standing position, you will want to teach them how to get over objects. To start, find an object on the trail that might be challenging for your kid to ride over. Please take a minute to show them where to ride to get over it. Have them back up, get a moving start, and run at the object. You can be a safety net by standing over that object if it doesn’t go too well. Reach out, straighten them out, and congratulate their try. If your trails don’t have an excellent place to practice this, you can build an obstacle with a pair of two-by-fours and some lengths of PVC (see picture below).

Short and sweet

Please do your best to keep it fun. Pack treats, snacks, and drinks, and take a lot of breaks. If a section of trail was super fun, turn around and do it again. Keep the pace slow and have fun. If you meet a puppy, stop and pet it. Do anything you can to keep it fun, and a big part of that is keeping it short. Rides over an hour can start to wear out new riders and take some of the joy out. And regardless of the duration, be sure to encourage the things they did well.

Bribery

Kids are like politicians, as they aren’t above bribes. After the ride, I always take my son for a treat (our current favorite is a smoothy from Wendy’s). This Pavlovian exercise can do wonders to reinforce the fun experience of a mountain bike ride, and encouraging the fun is an essential part.

Enjoy the accomplishment you have made teaching them the skills so they can join you on the trail!

About John Brown, the author

As a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer, John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit, and that particular fever is still there. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. Started, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he could about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then a store manager. Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the bike of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, and parts, or share your latest ride. You can also see more of John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.
Bike commuting is an easy way to increase fitness, jump start your energy level, and enjoy nature. Read and learn about what you need to commute in comfort.

Bike commuting necessities and niceties to make your ride great

by John Brown, HaveFunBiking.com

Bike commuting is an easy way to add miles, increase fitness, jump start your energy level for the day while enjoying nature, especially with warmer weather. Once you start commuting by bike, you will find the hassle factor lessens while your overall trip acts as your workout for the day. You are saving yourself hours in the gym. Here is a list of other beneficial necessities to make commuting by bike much more enjoyable.

Win this e-bike at HFB

Bike Commuting Necessities

While commuting by bike, there are very few items you need to have to get started. Ultimately, the only thing that you have to have is a bike. However, here is a list of items that will make your ride safer and a few that will make it easier to function at work or class properly once you are there for added comfort and safety. Past functioning, you need to stay safe on the bike also, so I consider all these things necessities.

Helmets

First and foremost, a helmet is an essential product you can buy after the bike. While self-preservation typically keeps us upright on our bikes, while commuting, we need to consider many other actions we need to protect ourselves from. Now that you’re commuting, wearing a helmet isn’t just a logical safety choice but can be very comfortable. Read here to learn how helmets protect you, become lighter, fit better, and are more comfortable than ever.

Lights

While the helmet is a crucial safety product, it is not the only important one. Lights, whether it is day or night or your level of bike riding skill, are essential to ensure you have the safest ride possible. Sometimes, when riding in conditions without optimal visibility, you need a little added illumination. That’s where proper lighting comes in.

Locks

When commuting, you can’t be with your bike at all times. You’ll have to leave it unattended for extended periods, making it susceptible to theft. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t help protect it. Here’s some info on the different bike locks and other tips to ensure your bike’s safety.

Waterproof Bag

Being caught in the rain is not possible when commuting; it is inevitable. To protect your possessions, invest in a waterproof bag. For example, a messenger bag made with a PVC liner can easily carry all your stuff and keep them dry. Plenty of waterproof panniers are available for riders looking to take their things on the bike.

Bike Commuting Niceties

The following items aren’t necessary for commuting but make your trip quicker and more comfortable.

Shoes and pedals

Most riders only consider clipless pedals a competitive advantage, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Few things are as practical as clipless pedals and cycling shoes when riding a bicycle. There is a simple equation that always holds: control = comfort. In the quest for more control of your bike, secure your feet in place on the pedal. By doing this, you can use muscles more efficiently, be connected to your bicycle more directly, and relieve excessive strain on your feet. Read here to see how easy it is to learn to ride “clipless.”

Rain gear

The best way to stay dry is to wear waterproof clothing. While most synthetic fabrics still insulate when wet, being wet diminishes their ability to keep you warm. A jacket and pants are a great way to start, but socks and gloves make the outfit complete. In their most basic form, many materials are waterproof, but as soon as they are perforated with stitching, zipped closed with generic zippers, and left to be loose at all the cuffs, their waterproofing goes out the window. Before you go out and buy anything labeled “waterproof,” understand that all waterproofing is not the same.

Cycling shorts

Shorts come in all shapes and sizes. Tight shorts are popular because they offer comfort and unencumbered movement around the bicycle. Baggy shorts are trendy for their casual look and the advent of pockets. Even cycling skirts (called skorts) offer excellent comfort and a tremendous off-the-bike look. The padding will make your ride more comfortable, whatever short you decide.

Fenders

Fenders are a standard option for many. They are light and sturdy and keep you dry when riding in wet conditions. If you don’t want to keep them on your bike at all times, snap-on style fenders are available, while a more permanent option is a bolt-on fender.

For winter, studded tires are helpful.

Like winter tires for your car, studded tires are available for your bike. They usually have a few hundred carbide metal studs inserted in the tire to give you traction in icy conditions. These tires are typically twice as heavy as a non-studded version, so be sure to use them only when necessary.

Bike commuting is a great way to enjoy the outdoors while traveling to and from school or work. It is an excellent exercise that will give you better attention, higher energy levels, and some free time to think without critical or significant distractions.

About John Brown, the author

As a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer, John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit, and that particular fever was still there. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. He is starting, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he could about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then as a store manager. Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the cycle of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, and parts, or share your latest ride. You can also see John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.

Being visible and noticed doesn’t end when the sun comes up

by John Brown

Now with spring riding soon in full swing, stay visible and noticed. Wear clothing that makes you stand out to others while riding your bike or walking. Being noticed by others is the key to avoiding accidents. Focus on the two forms, passive and active visibility, to help stay safe. Things like reflectors and bright colors, especially in patterns that make you stand out, are forms of passive visibility. While lights and blinkers are great examples of active visibility, most people focus on nighttime visibility. Though, far more hours are spent in broad daylight riding a bike. Here are a few tips to keep you safe and visible whenever you ride.

Clothing that makes you more visible and noticed

Read on to see where each one is helpful and most efficient.

If you were driving a car which cyclist would grab your attention first?

The easiest way to be visible is to wear obvious clothing. Whereas black may be slimming, it doesn’t offer others the best chance to see you. The most visible color available is high visibility (hi-vis) yellow. It is bright yellow not found naturally and sticks out against the backdrops on most normal roads and paths. If hi-vis yellow isn’t for you, try to wear other colors that would stand out, like bright blue, red, or orange. Better yet, an obnoxious pattern of several above-mentioned colors, so you are sure to be noticed.

The most visible color available is high visibility (hi-vis) yellow.

Lights that make you visible and noticed

Many companies are recommending riders use their lights during the day and at night for a great reason. Active forms of visibility like blinking lights do a lot to attract the attention of others. For best visibility and longest battery life, use your lights in “blink mode” rather than a steady beam.

Reflectors that makes you more visible and noticed

Most cars sold in the US are equipped with daytime running lights. For that reason, the reflectors on your bike will shine back at drivers during the day and alert them to your presence. Beyond the standard reflectors your bicycle comes with, think about adding adhesive reflective tape to bags, helmets as well as your bike.

Position

Being visible while riding can be as simple as your position on the road to be noticed. In situations where there isn’t enough room for a bike and car, be sure to take up enough space to ensure no driver could miss seeing you and try to “squeeze” past. Also, ride at a controlled speed where there may be blind corners, driveways, or crosswalks. Additionally, don’t stop in places where others can’t see you until it’s too late.

When making a lane change, signaling your turn and making eye contact with those you are approaching.

Signal

No amount of visibility will make up for erratic riding. Be sure to signal where you are going so auto drivers, other cyclists, and/or pedestrians know where you are headed. When overtaking riders or walkers from behind, be sure to let them know where you are going with a simple “on your left” or “on your right.” Then, give them a moment before passing and ring a bell if you have one.

Kids

Kids riding bikes is something we need to preserve in this digital world. The best way to keep kids on bikes is to keep them fun and safe. Try to have two adults riding with kids if possible, one leading and one following. Be sure to remind children of how and when to signal, and dress them in colorful clothing. Because kid’s bikes are lower to the ground than an adult bike, they can go unnoticed. A flag mounted to the bike reminds drivers that there is a bike below.

Following these tips will limit the chance of an accident and keep your ride fun and safe.

About John Brown, the author

As a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer, John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit and that particular fever is still there. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. Starting, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he could about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then to a store manager.  Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the bike of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, parts, or just share your latest ride. You can also see more of John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.
No bicycle discomfort is as debilitating as back pain. Luckily, back pain is usually caused by a few, simple to fix issues.

Searching for back pain causes and finding a solution biking

by John Brown

Over the past quarter-century, I have helped many riders get going on their bikes without back pain. I’ve been lucky to see the life-changing power of proper posture while riding a bicycle. I have also seen riders walk away from cycling due to simple discomforts and not understanding why. No discomfort is as debilitating as back pain. Luckily, back pain is usually caused by a few easy-fix issues. These issues manifest themselves in lower back pain and upper back pain. See more on some causes and simple fixes to enjoy cycling again.

Lower back pain

The sky-high seat rider can result in back pain.

The #1 cause of lower back pain is saddle height. Not only is this problem every day and painful but also easily fixed. While trying to get a more efficient pedal stroke, many riders will raise their saddle too high. If your saddle is too high, you will tilt your hips at the bottom of each pedal stroke, trying to reach the pedals. That tilting forces the tiny muscles in your back to do the job that the vast muscles in your leg should be doing. To find a proper saddle height, check out our bike setup article, or visit your local shop for a bike fit.

The shocking truth

Another frequent cause of lower back discomfort is road shock. While riding, it is typical for minor imperfections in the road to send vibrations through the bicycle and into your body. After some time, this constant vibration can fatigue the muscles in your back. There are a few quick fixes for this problem. The first and most straightforward solution is tire pressure. Rather than maxing out your tire’s pressure, lower the tire pressure in 5 psi increments until you find a force that works for you. Another quick way to squelch road vibration is by adding a suspension seat post. A suspension seat posts absorb the shock before it gets to you.

How is your reach?

Finally, the last common cause of lower back discomfort is your reach. If the distance from your seat to the bars is too great, you begin relying on small muscles in your lower back to support the weight of your upper body instead of your core and arms. Look into having your bike properly fit at a local shop or follow our simple fit guide.

Upper Back Pain

Shrugging off your responsibilities

The leading cause of upper back pain is riding position. More specifically, the shrugging of one’s shoulders. In my experience, many riders don’t know they lift their shoulders when riding. It is just a nervous habit they formed somewhere along the way. Paying attention to where your shoulders are located will help you relax them, alleviating pain.

Additionally, try moving your hands to different positions on the bars. That change in grip does wonders to rest other muscle groups. Sometimes, a proper bike fit is needed to remedy shrugged shoulders, so if the problem persists, visit your local shop for a fitting.

Don’t become a pack mule.

Be careful how much weight you carry on your shoulders. Riding with a backpack is a great way to take what you need, but be careful not to overdo it. If you use a pack to commute, try leaving heavier items like shoes at work. If you need to carry a lot of weight, install a rack with panniers and move that weight onto your bike frame and off your body.

Keep on going

As stated, I have seen riders get off their bikes forever due to discomfort. It’s always sad to see, mainly because I know that simple adjustments can likely eliminate most cyclists’ pain. Be vigilant about removing discomfort. After all, minor aches today can manifest into serious problems later. Find a bike-fitting professional you feel comfortable with and talk about your issues. Your back will thank you.

About John Brown, the author

John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN as a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit and the fever still existed. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. He is starting, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he can about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then as a store manager. Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the cycle of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, and parts or share your latest ride. You can also see more of John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.