If you ride regularly you are likely to encounter one or more of the various irritations that go with cycling. These are to cycling what reading glasses are to the over-40 set—a minor, though inevitable, irritation. Suffering these doesn’t mean you are clueless, it means you are human.
If you are out in the sun enough you are likely to get a sunburn once in a while. A minor sunburn really doesn’t rise above the level of inconvenience into the status of an injury, but chronic sunburns have the potential to lead to melanoma, a particularly dangerous form of skin cancer.
There are two ways to address the sunscreen issue. Use a sunscreen with a high SPF, seemingly higher than necessary. If you’re going to ride more than three hours, carrying a small tube of sunscreen in order to reapply it during the ride is helpful. Also, having the sunscreen with you is great if you ever experience early-morning forgetfulness.
Cyclists can experience a variety of irritations in their undercarriage. Most get filed under the heading of saddle sores. The issues can include pimples, boils, chafing and ingrown hairs. While good shorts and chamois cream can take care of most of the issues you might experience, if you do have an irritation, its cause is usually easily tracked.
If you are experiencing pimples or boils, make sure you shower and wash your shorts after every ride. If you are experiencing chafing, check if it happens with all your shorts or just one particular pair. Sometimes an ill-fitting pair of shorts or a rough seam can cause chafing.
Every cyclist bonks; there’s a rule somewhere. In return, every cyclist collects a first bonk story. Once you gain enough fitness to ride more than two hours at a fairly strenuous pace, you become eligible. It’s a rite of passage into serious roadiedom and the stories are invariably hilarious … after the fact. From buying a whole watermelon to licking a mashed up sandwich off the tin foil, the response to bonking is one of desperation.
Technically speaking, bonking is running out of glycogen—the fuel your muscles run on. This is bad. Your body says, “No firewood? Fine, I’ll use your library.” The library is muscle protein. Your body can require weeks to rebuild the lost muscle.
Most riders are caught off-guard by their first bonk. Its arrival is as sudden as fireworks and no less spectacular. There are, however, signs that alert you to the situation becoming dire. Early indicators include feeling irritable and indecisive, and sometimes even lightheaded. Your pace might slow dramatically. And because bonking is often accompanied by dehydration in new riders, you may notice a normally palatable sports drink suddenly becoming sickly sweet: that’s a sure sign you haven’t been drinking enough. If you notice this, stop by a convenience store to get a snack and a drink; take a short break.
How do you prevent the bonk? By eating and drinking during the course of any ride lasting more than two hours. Drink frequently and take the opportunity to fuel up at regroup points. Eating on the bike is covered in Chapter 4: Advanced Skills.
Riding in the Rain
Someday, you are going to get caught in a shower; it may even be this week. Depending on where you live, rain may or may not be a regular part of your riding experience. For those who live in the Pacific Northwest or the Gulf Coast, where rain can be more common than the sun, a few pieces of rain gear can make all the difference in the world: booties, rain pants, a jacket, and fenders.
If you live in a place where rain is less frequent, a simple clip-on fender can be installed in just a few minutes for those days that look iffy. You may still get wet, but you won’t get your caboose soaked by spray rooster-tailing off your bike’s rear wheel.
The biggest issue with rain has to do with traction. Corners must be taken more slowly as the tires’ adhesion decreases. Lean too far and the bike will slip out from under you. “Slipping out,” as it’s called, isn’t good at any time, and is doubly dangerous if traffic is around. Slow down in turns and avoid any manhole or utility covers, as well as painted markings—crosswalk stripes are particularly treacherous.
Residents of the Southwest and West Coast have an entirely different set of considerations. In Los Angeles and other cities where traffic is high and rain infrequent, riding in any amount of rain can be almost as difficult as riding on ice. The buildup of oil on the roads due to the sporadic and seasonal rains means the first time rain does fall, traction drops to ice rink. In such places, often the best plan is just to wait for the roads to dry. Or buy some skates.
Grates, Manhole Covers, Train Tracks, and Driveway Lips
Not all road surfaces are good for riding. As if the road surface didn’t provide enough interest, grates, manhole covers, and driveway lips make opportunities to fall the way James Brown makes opportunities to dance. The metal surfaces of manhole covers can be surprisingly slick, even when dry. Storm-drain grates are even worse, as they feature openings large enough to catch a wheel. Railroad tracks can be problematic whether dry or wet; do what you can to cross perpendicular to the tracks themselves. Similarly when preparing to ride up a driveway transition, make sure to approach from the sharpest angle possible, preferably 90 degrees; that tiny lip can turn your wheel if you approach from a shallow angle.