In Alabama, wearing a bicycle helmet is a personal choice. The decision to wear (or not wear) a helmet is divisive and not an open and shut case. Pro-safety arguments for wearing a helmet are well-known, but what about the other perspective?
Modern bicycle helmets are made of hard plastic on the outside, a type of foam on the inside, and a way to attach your head. On impact, the plastic helps your helmet to slide and more evenly distribute the impact force, the foam compresses against the plastic, which slows your brain when it compresses against the inside of your skull. Most helmets work well if your head hits something hard. However, there are many other factors to consider:
I wear a helmet on almost every trip I take. However, I do not feel safer wearing a helmet – it does offer great rain and sun protection. I dislike the inconvenience of having an additional thing to secure when I leave my bike. However, I would never judge a cyclist who chooses to go helmet-free, for the reasons I have outlined above.
ValloCycle is Alabama’s oldest citywide bike share. We welcome riders of all experience levels. For more information visit vallocycle.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Community bikeability (how suitable/fit for biking an area can be) scored in a number of ways. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asks the six questions that help us assess neighborhood bikeability. This month we will focus on the first question – Do you have a place to bicycle safely?
If your last ride was on the road, with motor vehicles, you may have encountered some of the following issues: no space for bicyclists to ride (no bike lane or shoulder; narrow lanes), disappearing bicycle lanes or paved shoulders, heavy and/or fast-moving traffic, too many trucks or buses, no space for bicyclists on bridges, or poorly lighted roadways.
Immediate solutions to these roadway challenges:
Long-term solutions to these roadway challenges:
If your ride was on an off-road trail/path without motor vehicles, you may have encountered some of the following issues: path ended abruptly, path didn’t go where I wanted to go, path intersected with roads that were difficult to cross, path was crowded, path was unsafe because of sharp turns or dangerous downhills, path was uncomfortable because of too many hills, or path was poorly lighted.
Immediate solutions to off-road trail/path issues:
Long-term solutions to off road trail/path issues:
After reviewing both short and long-term solutions, commit to seeing at least one solution through to the end. Getting involved is as easy as contacting the local government and your representative. Visit cityofmontevallo.com for a list of department heads, committee members, and your local municipal representative.
Bicycling, whether for transportation or recreation, is a great way to get physical activity into your day. Riding should be something you enjoy doing. Choose routes that match your skill level – start slowly and work to your potential.
Bicycles are the most efficient form of transportation designed by humans – its calorie input to distance ratio wins every time. Most bikes do a wonderful job moving people, but what about your stuff? Every bike should have some type of bag to keep the essentials for travel. If cargo capacity is limiting your bicycle outings, follow these tips to enjoy biking with stuff:
Large Loads – can be challenging on a bicycle. A cargo trailer is a wonderful option. It is capable of holding larger bags and even children. Oversized loads can be awkward on a bicycle – a friend once welded a short cylinder to his frame to help carry pipes for a plumbing project.
Just about anything is better than holding a bag in your hands or hanging it off your of your handlebars. Maneuverability and braking are limited and your focus is distracted by the need to keep the sack contents clean and clear of the wheels and gears. No matter what system you use, just make sure your load is secure and as low to the ground as possible – the lower the load, the easier it is to balance your bike.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of ValloCycle. In February 2011, representatives from the Montevallo City Council, UM Office of Community Engagement and Service Learning, Environmental Studies, Kinesiology Department, and the student body came together and developed the idea of a city-wide bike share program. This bike share partnership between the City and the University was the first of its kind in Alabama.
In 2012, the ValloCycle city board was formed to guide the organization and implement its mission. The board decides on how to spend funds, which events to organize/participate in, and how we can best serve the local cycling community. Our board is an energized and fun group that represents university and community members – contact us if you’re interested in joining us or sitting in on a meeting!
Although we were created as a bike share and continue to offer bikes for rent at $20 per term (vallocycle.org), our biggest goal is to foster a vibrant biking community in Montevallo. Here is a brief list of what we do to promote biking in our community:
Community Events – we sponsor booths at most of our public community events to spread the word about ValloCycle.
Group Rides – our popular monthly Glow Ride is a no-rider-left-behind evening roll through the neighborhoods of Montevallo. We also lead weekend rides to some of Montevallo’s lesser visited places, an orientation ride every fall, and community cleanup twice a year.
Maintenance Clinics – we offer spring and fall pop-up maintenance events to share the knowledge needed to maintain and repair your bike.
Share the Road signs – these signs remind motorists and bicyclists that the road is to be shared, demonstrating the community’s support for cyclists in town.
Bike Racks – CommuteSmart has installed bike racks throughout the city, and UM’s art department has designed and installed several sculptural racks on campus that are beautiful and practical.
Bicycle Maintenance Stations – thanks to two UM Green Fund grant, you can pump up your tires and use basic bicycle maintenance tools at our maintenance stations in front of UMOM on Main Street and adjacent to Anna Irvin Dining Hall on the UM campus.
UM and Montevallo has been incredibly open to embracing issues of sustainability. We welcome riders of all experience levels. ValloCycle is Alabama’s oldest citywide bike share.
The Guardian reported that bicycle usage has increased dramatically in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Riding bicycles has built-in social distancing, lets you see the world at a slower pace so you don’t miss the small things, helps prevent depression, decreases stress, helps with memory and reasoning, and helps improves brain health. Consumer Reports recommends the following steps for safe pandemic cycling:
With the first weeks of fall behind us and the southern summer (hopefully) fading into our memory, enjoy riding as the weather gets cooler with these fall cycling tips:
The Summer Solstice occurs on June 21st (11:54am), bringing the first days of summer and the southern sun’s legendary heating of the south. Take a break to ride and enjoy these hot weather cycling tips:
You may have noticed some awesome infrastructure upgrades around Montevallo recently, including a lot of newly paved roads. Riding your bicycle on fresh asphalt provides a smooth ride comparable to floating on a cloud. Unfortunately, riding on clay bricks provides a mostly unpleasant experience that most cyclists avoid. Brick pavers have been part of Montevallo since 1896 and avoiding brick roads on campus isn’t always practical. Follow these tips to learn how to ride on brick pavers:
Route choice – plan your route to avoid the worst sections of road. There are many newly paved sections of campus such as Bloch and Vine Streets that have smoother bricks for riding. As tempting as it is to ride on the sidewalk, remember that in Alabama it is not lawful to do so.
Scan Ahead – keep an eye out ahead for bad sections of road so you don’t wait until the last moment to react to a large bump in the road. A predictable cyclist is a safe cyclist.
Bunny hop – use the standard bunny hop to avoid an unforeseen obstacle. The same move you used as a kid can be practiced and used as an emergency measure when needed.
Ride on the saddle – although it is tempting to stand on your pedals to take the shake out of your backside, you need weight on the back wheel to maintain traction and stability.
Bend your arms – do not lock your arms straight while riding on bricks; doing so can transfer the bumps directly to your head and spine. Keeping your arms bent allows them to become shock absorbers when riding.
Relax – staying relaxed and flexible on the bike will help you avoid pain. Tensing your muscles amplifies the knocks of an uneven surface.
Grip – Finding the balance between a firm and light grip on your handlebars will take some practice. The right balance will assist in navigating the pavers.
Tires – consider wider tires that allow for lower pressures. While you don’t want to allow your tire pressure to dip below the recommended range (this could create a pinch flat that will lead to a flat tire), higher pressures bring an intimate meeting with every road bump.
By using these tips, you can easily navigate the uneven roads in our community. Practice these strategies the next time you are riding around town – the more cyclists in town, the safer the streets are for riders!
ValloCycle is Alabama’s oldest city-wide bike share. Most bike sharing programs are located in large cities or universities around the country. In fact many programs can be found around our state. Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Troy, Auburn, Montevallo, and three cities in Calhoun County all maintain public bicycle share programs. Most of the state’s programs are centered on the short-term checking out of bikes. The goals vary but most large-scale urban bike sharing programs utilize numerous bike check out stations and operate much like a public transit system.
Bike sharing first appeared in the 1960’s. In fact John Lennon and Yoko Ono appeared in a photo with one of the first bikes from one of these programs. Provo responded to the perceived threats of air pollution and capitalism by creating the world’s first bike share. Their goal was for motorists to leave their cars in parking lots and continue traveling on bike. Bike share systems never gained much traction until the 2000’s. Even during the US bike boom from 1965-1975, when more bicycles were sold than cars, the concept never took hold.
ValloCycle is the Montevallo bike share, but we operate more like a bicycle library system than a bike share system. Long-term checkout is available on a variety of bicycles for $20 per term. ValloCycle is dedicated to offering bicycles to community and University members to develop a bicycling community in Montevallo. We advocate for cycling infrastructure, provide bicycle maintenance clinics, and provide free bicycle rental for each of our group rides.
Sharing a bike is a great way to regain the confidence of riding and experiment with different bicycles. Riding will leave you feeling more energized than walking or riding in a vehicle. The freedom you experience riding is better than flying and is good for the environment. Biking is the most efficient form of transportation every devised by humans.
Montevallo is home to the oldest settlement in Shelby County. It was Jessie Wilson who claimed the hill on the northern bank of Shoal Creek to create a homestead. Hills have always been a part of Montevallo. Knowing how to utilize a multitude of gears on your bicycle is an essential skill. Many beginner cyclists fail to change gears throughout the ride. Follow this simple guide to shift like a pro!
Chainrings – these are the gears in the front near the pedals. They are attached to the crank arms that your feet turn. There are usually 2-3 gears on the chain-rings. Moving from the larger chainrings to the smaller chainrings will make pedaling easier. Moving this gear makes larger, more noticeable, changes to the drivetrain.
Cassette/freewheel - these are the gears attached to the rear wheel. There are usually 6-12 gears. Moving from the smaller gears to the larger gears will make pedaling easier. Moving this gear makes subtle, less noticeable, changes to the drivetrain.
Shifters – in the United States bikes are commonly setup with the left shifter for the chainrings and the right shifter for the rear gears. When in doubt remember “Right is Rear.”
Purpose – the purpose of gears is to ensure a comfortable pedaling no matter what terrain you are traveling. Utilizing different combinations of the front chainrings and the rear cassette/freewheel will allow you to pedal with ease.
Learning – find a flat and safe area to experiment with your bicycle. Put the chain in your small or middle front chainring. Now experiment by riding around and shifting into different rear gears. Get comfortable shifting while riding and learn which way to shift for the pedaling to become easier and which way to shift for the pedaling to become harder. Be sure you are pedaling while shifting; most gearing systems will only shift when you are pedaling.
When to Shift – Ideally you want to maintain the same cadence in pedaling on whatever terrain you are approaching. Shifting into easier gears when climbing a hill and harder gears while going down a hill would be ideal. Experienced cyclists shift into an easier gear as they approach a hill, not when already on the hill. Shifting while your chain is under load, such as going up a steep hill in a high gear, will be difficult.
Cross Chaining – is when your chain is at the extremes of its tolerance. Cross chaining occurs when the rear and front gears are each on the largest or each on the smallest. The bike chain is placed at an extreme angle. There is usually some additional chain noise associated with cross chaining. This scenario is to be avoided due to an increased likelihood of the chain coming off the gears.
Test out your new shifting skills on our next group ride! We welcome riders of all experience levels.