Commuting by bicycle requires planning and thought. The following articles were written to help novice bicycle commuters develop an awareness of themselves, their bike and traffic. These articles were produced for Commuter Cyclist & Bicycling Education News, distributed by Cycling BC and Cycling BC's own newsletter, Quick Release.

Exercise & Nutrition       Bike Lights    Bike Fenders


Cycling and Weight Loss

Will you lose weight if you use your bike for commuting? If you are serious about losing weight, while cycling to work, here is how to do it. First, don’t under estimate the efficiency of cycling and second, don’t fool yourself about your calorie intake. Cycling is the most efficient form of transportation there is. (yes, more than walking) As for weight loss, strictly speaking, if you use more calories than you take in, you’ll lose weight. Keeping an accurate account of intake is a lot easier than determining how much energy you burn. How the body uses calories differs from one person to the other and how your body uses calories changes with your fitness level. Your fitness level is your bodies ability to use food and oxygen efficiently. Like strength, you can increase your fitness level with training. Tune into your body, and how it works, and you’ll soon be on the road to higher fitness. There are tools you can use to help you determine your relative fitness. Bike computers and heart rate monitors are inexpensive and easy to use. However using these devices is no substitute for knowing and understanding your body. If you just rode 20 minutes to work and you are not hot, thirsty or sweating you probably didn’t take full advantage of your time to burn calories, increase your fitness level and muscle strength.

Tune in! To increase your fitness level you have to push the threshold where your metabolism is swinging from aerobic to anaerobic. Its not an on/off switch. When you are pushing your threshold you begin to go into oxygen debt. Increase your cycling effort to the point where you are unable to whistle a tune or talk without gasping. Slack off a bit until you get your breath is back, then up the effort incrementally while maintaining regular breathing and conversation. Your body adapts well to this treatment and pretty soon you’ll be using a very efficient form of transportation to increase your fitness and lose weight. In your mind, you’ve determined its time to lose weight. Remember that your body has certain requirements as well. You need water, you need healthy food, you need to sweat to cool the body but not chill. You also need advice from your doctor if you have a preexisting medical condition or if you are new to this fitness thing. Here are some tools that can help you assess your fitness level. A watch. If, given the same conditions, you are getting to work sooner, you are getting better. If, at some given point, you cannot get to work any faster, and you still want to get fitter, you need a longer route. Your body will soon get used to that too. Bike computers have to useful indicators on them. Speed and Cadence. The fitter you become, the faster you get (up to a point). I like cadence indicators as a tool to improve fitness. I found that maintaining 80-90 rpm, no matter the weather or terrain, was the best method to push my fitness level up. This method is better for increasing aerobic ability than it is for strength. Since my legs aren’t small anyway, strength wasn’t an issue. Heart rate monitors are the current craze and for good reason. No matter how fast you got to work, or what your current speed or cadence is, a heart rate monitor can tell you how you are doing and what you should be doing next. If you need a better indication of your fitness, seek out a sports lab which help you determine your V02 max. and a bunch of other fancy statistics.



Exercise & Nutrition for Cycling Endurance (Disclaimer: I have tried to ensure the information here is accurate and useful. However, dietary information and theories change tremendously from year to year.   Please consult a health professional for up to date dietary trends and information.)

To improve your endurance you must be able to use the fat stores in your body. Three factors affect your fat burning potential.

  1. Intensity of exercise

  2. Duration of exercise

  3. Your fitness level

Section 1. Intensity of Exercise: Intensity is how 'hard' you exercise. During low to moderate intensity exercise, your body is in an aerobic metabolic state that uses fat to provide energy.


  • Low to moderate: Low to moderate intensity exercise occurs at about 60% of your maximum heart rate. The ability to talk, without labored breath, is a good indicator of this level of intensity.

  • Metabolism: Metabolism is the process by which your body maintains itself & makes energy available for exercise & bodily functions. We will focus on two metabolic states, known as aerobic & anaerobic. Aerobic metabolism utilizes oxygen for energy production. Anaerobic metabolism does not use oxygen for energy production.

  • It is important to note that your body does not switch metabolic states on and off. When the intensity of exercise changes, the balance of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism changes too. When the supply of oxygen in the blood stream meets the demands, your body is in (mostly) an aerobic state. As the demand for energy exceeds the amount of energy that can be produced with oxygen, your body adapts by incorporating more anaerobic energy producing activity.

  • Endurance: Is related to the level of sugar stores in your liver and muscles. When your sugar (glycogen) stores drop below a minimal level, you fatigue. Therefore, to ride longer, you must maintain your glycogen reserves.

Metabolic Details - When you engage in exercise, of low to moderate intensity, your body burns more fat because sugar and fat (glucose and free fatty acids) are the primary fuels of an aerobic metabolism.

By exercising aerobically, you maintain glycogen reserves by utilizing the sugar and fat in your blood stream.

When sugar and fat are metabolized aerobically, they produce carbon dioxide, water, and energy. In nutritional material, 'energy' is usually referred to as adenosine triphosphate or A.T.P.

Energy (heat) and water is removed by sweat. Carbon dioxide is removed by the breath

Sugar + fat-----Aerobic-----= CO2 + Water + A.T.P.

When sugar is metabolized (by itself) anaerobically, it produces lactic acid and energy.

Energy (heat) must be removed by sweat, using water, and Lactic Acid is re-synthesized into glycogen in the liver.

Sugar---Anaerobic---= Lactic Acid + A.T.P.

A quick summary of Sugar and Fat

  • Fat is not used during anaerobic exercise. Fat can only be used during aerobic exercise.

  • Sugar can be used aerobically or anaerobically. Only sugar is used during Anaerobic exercise.

An Interesting Fact: More kilometers for sugar dollar

  • One unit of fat produces 3.6 times the energy as one unit of sugar. But, because the anaerobic metabolism is less efficient, one unit of fat, used aerobically, can produce 50 times the energy of one unit of sugar metabolized anaerobically.

Section 2. Duration of Exercise; The duration of an exercise also affects how much fat you may burn. An exercise which is still 90% aerobic after ten minutes, does not get 90% of its energy from fat. To burn fat you must exercise longer.

Nutrition - For endurance athletic activities, your body must remain in a mostly aerobic state. In this metabolic state, your body uses sugar and fatty acids in the blood to produce energy.

Sugar + Fat---Aerobic = CO2 + Water + A.T.P.

Current nutritional books and magazines, recommend complex carbohydrates for endurance athletics. Complex carbohydrates, such as pastas and potatoes, are made up of long strings of simple sugars which your metabolism can easily transform into usable fuel.

To ride longer you must maintain your blood sugar level by eating. There are many reasons to choose complex carbohydrates rather than straight sugars. Complex carbohydrates offers your body the sugar it needs as well as vitamins, minerals and fiber. Also, being long molecular chains of simple sugars, the body can use them efficiently, over a longer period of time.

Information from the makers of Powerbar claim their products work best when digested with water. The resulting ingestion creates a gel that suspends nutrients and makes it easier to digest.

This process works more or less, for all the foods you eat. Therefore, eat foods that offer high nutritional content, mix well with water and are easily digested. Old favorite cycling foods like bananas, bagels and jam sandwiches are worth experimenting with, as well as the high price meal replacement bars.

Your body will convert excess sugars into fat. Fat cells also store excess vitamins and minerals. You need fat to live, but most peoples' diets contain too much fat.

The Bonk: (Hypoglycemia) There are many types of cells in your body and they all use energy. When you deplete blood sugars, through exercise, cells must use their reserves (and also glycogen reserves stored in the liver) to maintain their ability to function. Although dependent on many variables, most experts agree, you can cycle about two hours aerobically without drawing on your reserves.

When sugar is depleted from the blood and liver, the muscles must use their reserves. Before muscles use their last available sugar, a different problem arises. Nerve cells do not have sugar reserves. They are entirely dependent on the blood supply for their energy (sugar) supply. The largest collection of nerve cells in your body is your brain, and when deprived of food, your balance co-ordination and judgment deteriorate, and you may experience mood swings.

Avoid 'the Bonk' by maintaining sugar levels in your body. Regular consumption of carbohydrate drinks maintains sugar and hydration levels. If you eat solid foods, be sure you also drink plenty of water to aid in digestion.

After an hour of activity, using a major muscle group such as the legs, fat provides the greatest percentage of calories. To exercise longer, you need to choose a pace that allows the muscles to be provided an adequate oxygen supply.

Strenuous anaerobic exercise burns sugar, not fat and leads to early fatigue. The oxygen demand exceeds the supply. To burn more fat you must exercise longer aerobically.

Section 3. Fitness Level: Fitness level is determined by your ability to efficiently consume oxygen. Your body must be able to take in and transport oxygen. Once oxygen is in the blood, your muscles must be capable of using it.

Your fitness level can be measured by your maximal oxygen uptake or VO2 Max. Fit individuals can use a higher percentage of oxygen, thus remaining aerobic, before needing their anaerobic metabolism. Fit individuals have a higher anaerobic threshold.

VO2 Max. can only be measured with testing equipment but the anaerobic threshold can be determined by yourself. The Anaerobic Threshold is the point where an exercise becomes so intense that: breathing is labored, and exercise becomes uncomfortable.

When you reach the Anaerobic Threshold, sugar is metabolized anaerobically, and lactic acid levels increase in the blood. When lactic acid levels increase, fatty acids (one of your fuel sources) are prevented from entering the bloodstream.

A Training and exercise program, to increase your fitness level, teaches your body to efficiently move oxygen and will give you a higher Anaerobic Threshold. Hills and sprints slowly become easier. To improve your endurance, ride longer and smarter. Drink water and pay attention to maintaining your energy levels. Eat smaller portions more frequently. Eat and drink before you feel hungry and thirsty. With proper planning, you can ride for hours without feeling fatigued.

The definitions and processes described above, have been simplified for ease of understanding and to fit in the newsletter. There are many factors that can affect your metabolism. Adrenaline, Thyroid conditions, diet, caffeine and other drugs, are some of the other factors that may affect the ability of your body to produce energy.

There is a phenomenal amount of new and often contradictory information about diet and exercise. Check with you doctor or nutritional and exercise expert before undertaking a radical change in your diet of exercise plan.

Sources for this article:

  • Effective Cycling - 5th Edition by John Forester

  • Burning Off Fat - by Susan J. Meyerott, M.S.

  • Best Foods for Cycling - The Editors of Bicycling Magazine

  • Powerbar - Information sheet. 


Bike Lights for Commuting

A year ago I thought I’d write this article to pass along my illuminating experiences of the last seven years of commuting. I gathered a bunch of info, wrote to manufacturers and suppliers and had every intention of producing table, flowchart or something, to help you with your bike light buying decision. It just didn’t work out. There are too many apple to orange comparisons to be made. My personal experiences are wrought from a tendency to pay a little and expect a lot. I commute from Pt.Coq. to N.Van. 32K, almost 1.5 hours, each way. Though this may be unlike your commute, and our lighting needs may be different, I have experienced just about anything that can go wrong with bike light systems I have built or commercially available systems I have bought and modified.

SEE or be SEEN.

Decide what your needs are by considering your brightness needs over the length of your commute. Some decisions are easy. Sooner or later, in your decision process, you will have to determine whether you need to SEE or just be SEEN by the light on you bike. Will you have to illuminate the street to avoid all the dangers we know too well or are simply advising other road users of your existence. The brighter your light, the further you can see and the more likely a motorist will see you. Brightness has a price though. Sometimes a very big price. Bright lights consume a lot of battery power. How bright is bright? Defining brightness is not such an easy task if, as is the industry wide practice, we avoid units of measure that convey actual brightness. The bike light industry is fixated on ‘watts’ to convey brightness. This measure of power consumption is an adequate but not precise measure of luminosity. It is better understood than ‘lumen’, ‘lux’, ’candela’ or ‘candlepower’. At least ‘watts’ are useful when trying to approximate how long your light will be bright. Keep in mind, when comparing bike lights, a well matched, focusing, lens and reflector can work wonders for any bulb. There isn’t room to discuss regular (flashlight type) bulbs vs. krypton, xenon or halogen bulbs. For the time being I’ll stick to watts with the following emotional brightness scale to SEE by. (Based on how I ‘feel’ about halogen bulbs)

1 watt = bare minimum. Useless in the rain. 3 watt = bare minimum to SEE on dry roads, OK in rain. 6 watt = great on dry pavement, good in rain. 10 watt = great all around. 20 watts = excellent.

To been SEEN is a combination of many things including brightness of light. The brighter the light the further away you’ll be seen by road users entering and crossing your line of travel.

Batteries can be a complicated business. There is so much to know about batteries your buying decision could be paralyzed by information overload. Bicycle lighting is a highly competitive market and manufactures, honest as they wish to be, are forced to present their products in the best possible light. Manufacturers will indicate how long the light should last between charges. Buyer beware! These times are quite often optimistic ‘theoretical’ best case scenarios which don’t mention your lights may be brown in the last 15 minutes of use or, performance as the battery ages. You don’t usually find that stuff out until you read the rest of the owners manual. So, read the owners manual before you buy. Rechargeable batteries come in many varieties and they all eventually die. Premature death is usually the result of improper use and maintenance. Never mind the Bunny battery wars where everything is ‘longer lasting.’ Batteries are rated in amp/hours (Ah). Brand new, a 7Ah battery will last longer than a 4Ah. For lead acid batteries, 7Ah weight about 1 kilo, 4 Ah is about half that. New technology batteries weigh less, charge faster, cycle deeper, last longer cost more etc.

What else do you need to know? Well, based on personal experience... Ability to focus the light beam is over rated. I bet you’ll find, as I have for commuting, you won’t purposely diffuse the light for ambiance. Off road it is nice to have ambient light for low branches, but this effect can be created with two lights aimed high and low. I wouldn’t ride with one light anymore. More than once, during my commute, I have found myself with a burnt out light. If you are going to use a single light, consider how handy you will keep a spare bulb and if you can change bulbs with your eyes closed. I would avoid bike lights that have plastic lenses because they scratch up and diffuse light. Lenses which protrude beyond the housing allow light up into your eyes. This can be very annoying on rainy days when that light reflects on the rain drops on your glasses. Shinny housings reflect sun light in your eyes. The longer the mounting bracket, the more the housing moves around. Very annoying when riding off road or on rough roads. All commercially available housings allow up/down aiming but not all allow left/right aiming. If your handlebar curves back from the stem, if you have to mount the light on uneven handle bar tape, if your brake or gear cables are exerting a force on your lamp or mounting bracket, then you will need to counter that effect with left/right aiming. Waterproof anything that doesn’t look waterproof enough. You live in BC but some manufacturers don’t!

Rear Lights - Certainly the most common type is the LED flashing rear light. Be aware that the devices are very directional. Unless a motorist is directly and level behind you, and you aimed it right, the effect is not much better than a reflector of the same size. It is difficult to find the old fashioned rear light. When I used one, I eventually kept the power supply independent of the front lights. A 1 watt bulb was useless in penetrating the red lens. A 3 watt bulb offered a good degree of illumination. Far better than an LED flasher by itself. Reflectors work great at the back of the bicycle. I use a three inch amber reflector on the fender and it works great. I’m sure it is the first thing a motorist will see on a flat level section. For illumination, I used a Xenon strobe. It is much less directional than LED and brighter too. More expensive and the batteries last only two winter commutes. It is important to buy rechargeable for these. I use rechargeable alkalinize having proved myself to inept to use NiCads.

Lighting Faux pas. Argue if you want but I think the following ranges from out right stupid and dangerous to plain silly. 1. A single red flasher on the front of the bike. At least two people I have seen think they neither have to SEE or be SEEN. The first time I saw this absurdity was in North Van. I thought I saw a cyclist was going up the hill on the wrong side but he was coming down on the right side. Hey Buddy! Red means rear! Nobody is going to stare into the dark to completely identify every object on the roadway. People ‘scan’ the road and the brain interprets what they see based on their experience. What is the use of being SEEN and then not recognized right away? At the time I thought, ‘well, its his life, who am I to say.’ Then I came upon a similar non-conformist on the sidewalk of the second narrows. I was picking up speed after mid span when all of a sudden I notice I’m catching up to a weak LED flasher way too fast. That’s because he was coming my way. Hey Buddy! Quit screwing with my life. 2. Flashing front lights? Currently un-approved by the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, as flashing rears once were. They are very directional and cannot be seen from very far away. Basically, a motorist has to be close and look directly into the flasher to see it. I can understand why some cyclists use them (bad experience at an intersection) but I don’t understand why these users don’t back them up with something more helpful and the legal requirements. 3. Rear light only. You should have bought a front light instead. Cycling accidents with motor vehicles usually happen at intersections in front of the cyclists, NOT behind. Sorry buddy, you wasted your ‘safety for the money’ dollars. 4. Dark clothes, no lights, wrong side of the road but wearing a helmet. Ummm... Let’s not go there.


Buying Fenders

Buying fenders is a very sociable thing to do. Its true! When you buy the big wrap around fenders you are keeping yourself, and the people who ride near you, from getting dirty. That’s pretty social isn’t it?

The type of fender you buy depends on the type of riding you do. DUH! Oh Yeah, there must be cool factor too. To explain why some people ride in the rain without fenders, I always say its the cool factor. Without fenders you get rain up your legs, up your back and yes, even up your nose. If all that rain soaking through your clothes doesn’t keep you cool, you can always roll around in a puddle to complete the job.

There are trade offs when you buy long, fully attached, wrap around fenders. You can’t go through thick gooey mud. It just sticks inside the fenders and doesn’t want to come out. If you are a serious off road rider you’ll have to shop consider less protection. Fenders are also aerodynamically disadvantages. However, most humans cannot perceive the difference.

Fenders can be permanent or the quick stealing type. The permanent ones are usually longer, though they come in different lengths, and can be made longer by adding mud flaps. The further down a fender goes the less rain comes up. On the front wheel, at the top, the fender ensures rain is spit straight ahead, instead of in your face.

Less permanent fenders come in a variety of lengths. Some clip on, some fasten with hook and loop material and some use a few easily accessed nuts and bolts for quick removal.

The longer the front fender the less splash you’ll get up your leg, on your chain and bottom bracket. Remember, there is a lot of sand and oil in that splash. The longer your fender is at the rear, the more people will ride with you. Of course it’s also nicer not to splash someone you are passing, especially if you have to cut in right away.

Lastly, I’ve seen some very unique home designs made from pop bottles, milk containers, flexible binder plastic and coat hangers. What the heck! What you lose in rain protection you gain in pride and creativity. A lot of good products get their start this way so go wild!

   home   about  links  book  CAN-BIKE  advocacy  commuting