Elements of Bike Riding 10

By Peter Burns


I can use the map apps on my phone, but I prefer paper maps.  In an unfamiliar place, the phone maps are  difficult to follow.  They give a micro view of where you are, but not the bigger picture.  When you zoom out, street names disappear.  Last summer when I ventured across the lake to ride south to Port Henry and then took the ferry back to Charlotte, I almost got lost. I used my phone and maps copied from a New York State Atlas, but I would have preferred a regional map. Sometimes I can tell where I am but I am not sure if I am heading in the right direction.  There is also the option of mapping out a route using one of the map apps and then printing it out.  I first learned to use maps in England, when I was walking through the countryside. I used Ordinance Survey maps which are beautifully designed. Perhaps I inherited a bit of map reading ability from my father.  He was a flight navigator for B-52 airplanes, although he was never involved in any actual bombing runs. 


Unless I push myself up a hill, I seldom get out of breath.  Sometimes, when I am late for an appointment I ride faster than usual and I start to breath more rapidly.  Usually I catch my breath fairly quickly.  In the winter, when it gets cold enough that I have to cover my face, breathing becomes more of a challenge.  For the coldest weather I have a balaclava with a plastic breathing device, but it is a bit cumbersome and I don't use it unless I have to.  Most of the time I cover my face with a neck warmer.  This cuts down on oxygen which is not a problem unless I am climbing a hill.  Usually I pull the neck warmer down when I am climbing a hill and then put it back up when I get to the top.  

After a long bike ride, my breath has a richness to it that is difficult to describe.  Just breathing becomes a pleasure. 

Breath, like balance, is one of the essential aspects of bike riding that we do not often think about.  We notice our breath when we get 'out of breath' and we notice our balance when we 'lose our balance'.

Eye Wear

In the spring, summer and fall I wear sunglasses on bright days.  On gray days or at night I have clear glasses.  In the winter I ride with sunglasses less frequently, using them only when it is sunny and there is snow on the ground reflecting the sunlight.  Most winter days, with the sun lower in the sky, I don't need sunglasses.  I find that even when I am wearing a hat and balaclava, wearing sunglasses makes my ears colder.  Wearing sunglasses outside my hat and balaclava is awkward. When it is snowing I wear ski goggles, which usually don't fog up unless it is really cold.  The same balaclava that has a breathing device also allows me to wear goggles under it, next to the skin.  This helps with the fogging problem, but when it is really cold, the goggles still fog up sometimes. I also bring along reading glasses, in case I have to use my phone or read a map.


I love the play of sunlight and shadow on the Vermont landscape.  I especially enjoy riding on a road with a canopy of trees.  When the sun is out and the leaves are moving in the wind, the tree shadows  dance on the surface of the road. On a gray day, a break in the clouds that allows the sunlight through reveals how much sun transforms the landscape, bringing out color and sparkle.  Every once in a while, in November, the sun, in the late afternoon, shines across the landscape below a sky covered with  purple clouds.  The sunlight turns everything golden.  Sometimes this light effect happens when I am riding down Riverside Avenue.  I can see Winooski in the distance and the light makes it look like a magical city.  Like a hill town in Tuscany.  

From the top of Riverside Avenue in Burlington you can see Mount Mansfield in the distance.  In the afternoon when the sun hits the snow on Mount Mansfield the mountain glows and seems just a mile or two away.  

Reflective tape

Bike Lights and Reflectors

I use bike lights both day and night.  I have a white light  on my front handlebars, which I usually set to pulse and another white light on my helmet. I have three red rear lights set to flashing.   I keep my lights on all the time when I am riding, even on bike paths.  I want other riders and pedestrians to see me.  My lights are rechargeable so when I get back home one of my first jobs in plugging in the lights.  The lights have orange indicators for when they are charging, and blue when they are fully charged.  I would like to have a blue light on my bike, but I don't think any are available. Blue lights are my favorite color of Christmas light and I also like blue stained glass windows. Perhaps you only get a blue light if you drive a police vehicle.  

You can buy good quality reflective tape online.  I put it on my helmet and on jackets that don't have any built in reflective material.  I also put tape on the front and back of my winter gloves.  The square of tape on the back of the glove makes it easy for cars at night to see my turn signals.  The one of the front is so that when I hold up my hand to stop cars at crosswalks, the driver can see me at night.  I tell friends, only half ironically, that I use lights and reflectors so that when a driver finally does kill me, the driver will feel guilty for running into someone who is so brightly lit.  The person that hits me will not be able to give the standard excuse that they did not see me.

On longer summer rides I take all my lights with me, but only use two at a time, a front light and a rear one.  Eventually the charge gives out, so it is good to have a back up.

About the author:

Peter Burns is a long time bike enthusiast, and one of the original year-round bike riders in Burlington.  He writes amazing monthly blogs and teaches a variety of Everyday Biking workshops.  In addition to his work at Local Motion, he also works at a group home for people with Psychiatric disabilities, teaches classes for the Vermont Humanities Council, teaches swimming at the Burlington YMCA, and is a regular host of Storytelling VT.