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Skiing and Snowboarding : Biking

The Test of Time

From the $100 surf-ready Mariner Tide to the $1,750 super-powered Astron, these are the season's most exciting new watches. They're ready for anything nature throws at them. Are you? 

Nixon Tangent ($500)

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The Tangent is made from the same burly material used in the fins of big-wave surfboards. It comes with a simple tide dial, and Nixon smartly moved the crown to the nine o’clock position to reduce wrist bite while paddling out.

Seiko Astron ($1,750)

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This titanium-body watch uses GPS to calibrate the exact time, zone, and daylight-savings status. And because it doesn’t use atomic clocks, it can also set itself—precise to one second every 100,000 years— at any point on earth. The only caveat: it uses solar power to take a daily reading, so you do need to be outside at least once in a while.

Freestyle Mariner Tide ($100)

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This easy-to-read watch takes Freestyle’s Mariner sailing model, turns it into a great tool for surfers, and still keeps the price within reach. Programmed with tidal direction, time, and height for 150 beaches worldwide, the Mariner Tide does the thinking for you, so you can watch for the next swell.

Luminox SXC 5127 ($795)

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When the first clients of Space Expedition Corporation launch into orbit, they’ll all be wearing one of these. Basically a spruced-up aviation watch, it can handle G-forces and has a GMT hand, in case you splash down in another time zone.

Reactor Gryphon ($350)

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For the optimal balance of tough-as-nails and light-as-feathers, the survivalist-minded Reactor houses a stainless-steel body inside a frame made of weapons-grade Nitromid polymer. Even the K1 hardened, high-ceramic glass crystal is more impact-resistant than most watches. Its slim profile minimizes the chance of breakage, and it stays illuminated all night.

Suunto Ambit2 R ($249)

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Running watches just keep getting better. The Ambit2 R takes readings for speed, distance, and heart rate and features interval timers and a Backtrack function that’ll guide you on unfamiliar trails.

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Levi Leipheimer's Life After Doping

On a spectacular day for a bike ride in Sonoma County, Levi Leipheimer is sitting on the side of the road adjusting his cleat position. We are in a group of five riders and less than an hour into a sixty-something mile route from the wine country town of Healdsburg to the Pacific Coast, but this is already the third time he has stopped to fine-tune some aspect of his setup. As a pro racer, Leipheimer was notorious for obsessively tinkering with his bike, so much so that he required a trusted personal mechanic in addition to the staff mechanics of his racing teams. He’s apparently unable to stop fiddling now, even in retirement, even on a casual ride with guys he could drop if he was pedaling a Big Wheel.

He’s also unable to stop riding. Though he’s been retired from professional cycling for more than a year, Leipheimer still spends 15 to 20 hours a week on a bike, split evenly between road biking and mountain biking. He weighs the same as he did at the peak of his career (135 pounds). Arguably the best American rider over the last 15 years not named Lance Armstrong, Leipheimer finished third in the 2007 Tour de France, won the Tour of California three consecutive times between 2007 and 2010, took a bronze medal in the time trial at the Beijing Olympics, and won the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge, in 2011. He probably had two years of racing left when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) served him with a six-month suspension in October 2012 for admitting to using performance enhancing drugs during the investigation of Armstrong and the US Postal Service pro cycling team. Leipheimer, who rode for US Postal early in his career, confessed to doping from 2000 to 2007, when he claims he abruptly stopped due to fears that he’d be caught by improved testing methods.

Shortly after USADA announced the suspension, Leipheimer’s team at the time, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, fired him. Many cycling pundits were furious, arguing that Leipheimer and others shouldn’t be punished for telling the truth, while others complained that the riders who testified in the USADA probe got off too easy. Either way, the expectation was that Leipheimer would find a new team and resume racing in the spring. But while many cyclists caught up in the investigation did exactly that, no team signed him and he announced his retirement in May 2013, at age 39.

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Since then, Leipheimer has been unemployed and, like other American cyclists who have bee tainted as dopers, trying to move forward. Retirement is of course difficult for any professional athlete. Cyclists, who don’t typically earn the kind of money that can last a lifetime, need to find new sources of income and often aren’t very employable outside the biking industry. This puts Leipheimer and the other confessed cheaters of his generation—a list that includes Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, Floyd Landis, Christian Vande Velde, and David Zabriskie—in a particularly challenging position. The automatic move of a former pro is to capitalize on the image and associations he developed while racing. But how does that work if his career is marred by a giant asterisk?

I was particularly interested in putting this question to Leipheimer given the ongoing success of Levi’s Gran Fondo, an annual fall event in Sonoma County that’s widely considered the best Gran Fondo in the United States and among the best in the world. Launched in 2009, it attracts 7,500 riders and a number of sponsors, including Specialized, Nissan, and Clif Bar, and has generated $1.2 million in donations to charities since its inception. Leipheimer’s confession and retirement has had essentially zero impact on its popularity.

Levi’s Grand Fondo also recently became the title sponsor of the NorCal High School Cycling League, an interesting arrangement when you consider that it connects teen athletes with a guy who has confessed to using drugs to compete. If so many people and organizations are happy to align themselves with Leipheimer’s namesake event, maybe they’re ready to forgive and forget more quickly than I expected. 

When I reached out to Leipheimer to talk about all this, he suggested we meet in Sonoma County and mix in a ride as well. If I could see the roads that inspired him to move there and then create the Gran Fondo, I’d understand everything so much better.

About an hour before we got on our bikes, I met Leipheimer at Flying Goat Coffee in downtown Healdsburg. He was wearing jeans, a black Gran Fondo hoodie, and a San Francisco Giants baseball cap, which covered his baldhead. At 5’7” and cyclist skinny, he’s an inconspicuous guy. But if you sit directly across from him for a conversation, there’s a guarded intensity that comes out of his striking blue eyes and steadfast expression.

I asked him how he’s been spending his time since retiring. What does he do to fill his days? He gave a roundabout answer that can be simplified to: not much.

“For many years during my racing, I thought about this time, when I’d be done,” he said. “One thing I always knew is that I would need at least a year of decompression. Just do nothing.”

The constant pressures of professional cycling, he tells me, were exhausting, both on and off the bike. “You have to make a lot of sacrifices,” he said. “I’ve needed time to transition out of that and try to live a normal life.”

A big part of normal is simply sticking around Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County, where Leipheimer relocated in 1996, shortly after he turned pro. He’d grown up in Butte, Montana, with its long frigid winters, and instantly fell in love with Sonoma’s year-round cycling weather and diversity of terrain, from redwood forests to oak woodlands to oceanfront headlands. Leipheimer and his wife, Odessa Gunn, now own a hillside property outside Santa Rosa where they care for some two dozen rescued animals—horses, donkeys, pigs, goats, cats, dogs. Leipheimer plays a supporting role in that operation and also handles a lot of the household management while Gunn works on her nascent clothing line, The Gunn Collection. As he sees it, she did so much work for him when he was racing, now it’s payback time.

Since his suspension, Leipheimer has had no income but has been able to live off the money he saved during his career. He gets zero dollars from the Gran Fondo and likes to call himself the event’s “number one volunteer.” When I asked him what he’d put on a resume, he thinks for a moment, then says, “Advocate.”

As for his next move, he doesn’t have clear answers. “It’s tough,” he said. “With biking, I found something that I completely loved and that I was really good at and had a lot of passion for. It’s not easy to replace that.” He paused for a moment, then added, “At some point, I either need to find something that I’m that excited about or—well, I guess that’s it. There is no ‘or.’”

He is very excited about the Gran Fondo, though his efforts on behalf of the ride, which is managed by Santa Rosa-based events organizing group Bike Monkey, don’t amount to a full time gig. Still, he said, “It’s fulfilling for me—I have a purpose.” 

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After admitting to doping, Leipheimer was worried that riders might abandon the Gran Fondo en masse. The fact that they didn’t was incredibly uplifting for him. “It meant more than I can describe that people were still willing to come back and try to understand the situation and the choices I made, and not just write me off,” he said. “That they were willing to forgive and give me a second chance and shows how great the cycling community is.”

A good number of participants might also be simply be attracted to the ride itself and not think too much about the former pro it’s named after. Leipheimer recognizes this. “What happened in the Tour de France and in the Tour of Spain those years is completely separate from my motivation for creating the Gran Fondo,” he added. “The event is about how much I love Sonoma County and how it forged me into a better rider.”

Indeed, the years Leipheimer spent getting better by grinding out miles on Sonoma roads are core to his self-identity and underlie his passion for the Gran Fondo, an event that draws cyclists willing to suffer through a grueling 103-mile route that includes 9,200 feet of climbing. He didn’t have the natural talent of other top cyclists when he was young, he told me, so he outworked them. “When I was on the USA national amateur team, the coaches were like, ‘You’re probably not going to be a pro,’” he said. “And I proved them wrong. I worked hard and incrementally, over the years, I got better and better. Despite the asterisks, that still holds true. And I think the 7,500 people on the start line of the Gran Fondo understand that.”

The NorCal High School Cycling League apparently understands it as well. In a scene from a new documentary about the Grand Fondo, Leipheimer stands in front of a room full of teen riders and candidly answers their questions about doping, recalling the last time he transfused his own blood, at the 2007 Tour de France. “Somewhere along the line, little by little, I got to that point,” he tells them. “That’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not fun to live through.” At another moment in the film, he says he was unprepared to face the choice to dope when he first became a pro. By telling younger rider what he went through, he hopes “that when the time comes to make a decision like that, even it’s outside the sport, they’re not blindsided. It’s giving them tools to go forward.”

Leipheimer has recently been advising a few NorCal riders advice on training and balancing cycling with life. He told me that when he ponders his future—“however long away that might be”—he thinks about mentoring younger riders and coaching master racers. “One thing I did well in my career was pay attention to detail—I was very organized,” he said. “I think I have a good philosophy about training, so that’s one thing I can pass along.”

For now, though, the decompression continues. Back in 2012, in the days after news of Leipheimer’s confession and suspension broke, he was in regular contact with some of the other pros who’d testified in the USADA investigation. “It’s so good to have those guys because we understand what each other is going through,” he’d told a newspaper reporter at the time. These days, the contact is less frequent, though he said he texts with some guys, including Tom Danielson and George Hincapie. This past April, he ended up on a culinary-themed group ride with Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie. “There will always be a connection,” Leipheimer said. “It’s a brotherhood that comes from living the same experiences.”

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Whatever they share in history, each of the retired American riders who have admitted using performance-enhancing drugs is charting his own path into the future. Tyler Hamilton published his bestselling tell-all last year and now has a coaching business. Hincapie, the most successful of the group, has a sporstwear line, a development team, a cycling-centered hotel, and his own three-year old Gran Fondo in North Carolina. Others are more adrift. “It’s hard,” said Leipheimer. “They don’t know what to do.”

As for the enduring impact the doper stigma will have on all of them, Leipheimer wasn’t wiling to speculate. “I think the best answer is that only time will tell,” he said. “Only time is going to bring clarity and understanding about all of it. I think after a while it will make more sense.”

That sounded like a platitude, but Leipheimer was being sincere. “For myself, after what I’ve gone through, I’ve had no choice but to be a better person,” he added. “And I see that for cycling as a sport. It’s going to become stronger because of all this.”

Leipheimer dialed in his cleat, but now he’s staring at my rear cassette, which is making some unsettling creaking and popping noises. We pull over to add some chain lube, but there’s no improvement.

“You need to take the cassette apart and check out the freewheel,” Leipheimer says with authority, before pedaling ahead, I presume, to escape the squawks of an imperfect drivetrain.

We roll on westward for several hours through extraordinary landscapes on a road that gets more pot-holed but also more empty by the mile. There are long stretches where we don’t see a single car or structure. This is the kind of riding that seduced Leipheimer to move to Sonoma County almost 20 years ago and that molded him into one of the best cyclists of his generation. It’s the kind of riding he wanted to celebrate when he created the Gran Fondo.

Close to the coast, we reach a fork in the road. Three of us are headed to the right, for one more relatively easy climb followed by a blissful descent to Highway 1, where we’ll have dinner and then get a car ride home. Leipheimer and another rider are going left on a route to Santa Rosa that will have them climbing another 3,500 feet over 40 or so miles. Leipheimer seems ecstatic at this prospect. He’s smiling broadly as he departs, eager to embrace another three hours of blissful pain.

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Tour de France 101

This year’s Tour de France has proven mysterious to even the most knowledgeable cycling fanatics, with both pre-Tour favorites Alberto Contador and Chris Froome out of the race due to heavy crashes. So we imagine that to the outsider, the race must seem almost incomprehensible. Presenting a beginner’s guide to the world’s most important cycling stage race.

#1: Does the race take place exclusively in France? 

Nope. It often starts in a nearby country, a tradition that dates to 1954, when the race set off in Amsterdam. This year, it began with three days in England, starting in Yorkshire and ending in London.

The Tour frequently passes into neighboring countries throughout the event, especially the mountains of Italy and Spain. This year’s edition also swung through Belgium for what became a contentious and slippery day on the cobbles.

#2: How many racers compete?

A total of 198 racers line up at the start. There are 22 teams, with nine riders per team. Throughout the event, racers drop out because of injuries. Riders must also finish within a certain percentage of time of the stage winner or they’ll be eliminated from the race. The percentage of time varies, depending on the difficulty of the stage.

The race jury can grant exceptions to riders who don’t make the time cut. And if more than 20 percent of riders miss the time limit, generally they are exempted. That’s why, on mountainous stages, you’ll often see a large group of riders, known as the autobus, group together at the back of the field—it’s safety in numbers.

#3: How does this stage racing stuff work? How do you win?

Each rider is timed on every one of the 21 stages. A rider’s time is added up from stage to stage for an overall elapsed time. The racer with the fastest elapsed time over three weeks wins the race.

So it’s possible to lose a lot of time one day, make it up throughout the length of the race, and still win. Maybe the best example came in 1958, when Frenchman Charly Gaul started the final day in the Alps 15 minutes behind but, thanks to atrocious weather, made up all but 28 seconds of that time. He went on to win the overall.

#4: Is it true that a racer can win the overall without ever winning a stage?

Yes. While it’s considered good style to win at least one stage en route to an overall win, it’s not a requirement. All that’s necessary is a racer finish with the fastest elapsed time over three weeks. 

Only six racers in 101 editions of the race have won the Tour without winning a stage. Spaniard Óscar Pereiro did it most recently in 2006, while three-time Tour champ Greg Lemond took his final victory in 1990 without a stage win.

#5: Are there time bonuses for winning a stage?

Through 2008, time bonuses were awarded for both pre-set sprint intervals along a day’s course and for the fastest finishers. Intermediate sprints earned the top three racers 6, 4, and 2 seconds, respectively, while the first three racers to finish a stage took 20-, 12-, and eight-second bonuses.

Race director Christian Prudhomme eliminated the bonuses in 2009, arguing that the true winner of the race should be person who clocks the actual fastest elapsed time. Both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España still award bonuses, and some argue that the extra incentives make for more exciting races. 

#6: What’s with all the special jerseys?

The yellow jersey, or maillot jaune in French, indicates the rider with the fastest elapsed overall time in the race at any given point during the Tour. It is awarded after each day’s finish. If a racer wins a stage but isn’t the overall leader, he is awarded a maillot jaune for his win, but he won’t get to wear it the next day, the overall leader will. 

Concurrent to the overall race, there are three additional competitions in the Tour. The green jersey, or maillot vert, is awarded based on a point system for winning sprint stages. The racer who wears the polka dot jersey, or maillot à pois, is called the King of the Mountains. He earns the jersey by accruing points for reaching the tops of designated mountains first. And the young rider classification is awarded to the racer under 26 with the fastest elapsed time, who wears the white jersey, or maillot blanc

#7: Is the course the same every year? How do they decide on the route?

The course, often referred to as the parcours, changes every year, though given the long history of the race, towns and climbs cycle in and out from year to year. Towns bid to host race starts and finishes, which can bring in great revenue because of the influx of teams and spectators. The course is announced each fall, usually in October, in a gala celebration.

#8: How fast do the racers go?

On flats, the peloton moves along at around 30 miles per hour. On mountain stages, racers can descend in excess of 60 miles per hour. The fastest Tour de France on record was in 2005, in which Lance Armstrong averaged 25.882 miles per hour over the 2,241-mile course.

#9: Why do they shave their legs?

Arguably the biggest reason racers shave is because, in case of a crash, it’s easier to clean the wounds with no hair. Shaved legs are also said to be more aerodynamic, and though some people claim the differences are insignificant, Specialized recently refuted that. And if they’re honest, most cyclists will tell you shaving is also about identity.

#10: How do they go to the toilet?

Given that Tour riders can spend five or more hours a day in the saddle, it’s reasonable to wonder how they take care of business. Generally, the peloton will agree to stop somewhere discreet alongside the road for a “nature break,” when riders can go without being left behind. In some cases, if the race is on, riders will just go from the saddle, with other racers taking care to stay out of the way.

#11: How much money do you get if you win?

Winners of each day’s stage are awarded €22,500 (~$30,000), while the team time trial pays €25,000 (~$34,000). Overall winners of the green jersey and polka dot jersey take home €25,000 each, while the overall winner of the white jersey gets €20,000 ($27,000). There’s also an award for the most aggressive rider (€20,000), which is decided by a jury of eight cycling specialists, and for the fastest overall team (€50,000).

The grand prize for the racer who takes top honors at the Tour de France is €450,000 ($610,000), though traditionally he will share it among his team.

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Cyclists: Shaving Makes You Faster

Good news, gentleman cyclists. The next time someone asks why you shave your legs, simply flex your bald calf muscles and say, "Science."

Last week, Specialized Bicycle Components released a video claiming shaved legs are significantly faster than furry ones. How much faster? They provide almost as much of an advantage as switching from a round-tube frame to an aero-style one, says Mark Cote, who does aerodynamics R&D for the California-based manufacturer.

“We were shocked,” says Cote. “The numbers dropped so much it set my bullshit meter off. I had to immediately check the equipment to make sure it was real.” 

Specialized opened its “Win Tunnel” in May 2013 as an on-site space to test the aerodynamics of its products—not the aerodynamics of body hair. (As far as we know, Specialized has no plans to move into the shaving market, though we have to say “The Shiv” would be a great name for a carbon-fiber razor.) 

But in January, pro triathlete Jesse Thomas showed up for a tunnel testing session. It had been almost a year since his last race and his manscaping habits had gone into 1970s territory. “I only shave before races because Lauren doesn’t like it,” says Thomas, referencing his pro-runner wife Lauren Fleshman. “I don’t know if she actually doesn’t like it or if she’s just saying that to make me feel better because I’m kind of a hairy guy." 

Apparently “kind of hairy” is an understatement. The Specialized researchers set up a scale (called the Chewbacca Scale, naturally) to rate the general hairiness of each of the six subjects they tested. On a scale from one to you-can-knit-it-into-a-sweater, Thomas ranked as a nine.

“I was actually semi-embarrassed,” says Thomas. But then he and Cote realized measuring his efficiency pre- and post-shave might be a good PR stunt. They got out a bucket, put on some rockin’ 80s jams and sheared Thomas.

“We’d tested a bunch of stuff earlier that day—kits, wheel, helmets—and the most change I’d gotten was like seven or eight watts from a super aero kit,” says Thomas. “We start up and Mark does 60-second tests—we usually do two—and he just keeps running one then another then another then another. He’s just staring dead-eyed at his computer.”

Cote was seeing a difference in efficiency translating to 79 seconds saved over 40 kilometers—twice what any equipment change had given Thomas during the entire day's worth of testing. That translates to roughly a quarter-of-a-mile-per-hour faster. 

“We’d spent three hours in the tunnel and I knew he was consistent,” says Cote, meaning that Thomas was capable of replicating the same form during each test to make sure results weren’t skewed. “We have cameras to double check that, and we checked everything afterwards—none of us believed it.”

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Over the next six months, Cote and his colleague Dr. Chris Yu tested five other hairy beasts in the “Win Tunnel.” Average riders saved 70 seconds per 40 kilometers after shaving their legs. To put that in perspective, Specialized’s aero Evade helmet gives an average advantage of 46 seconds over 40 km. Combine shaved legs and an Evade helmet, and you could save upwards of two minutes.

Cote will be the first to admit that the sample size is small and that it isn’t the kind of thing that’s going to end up in a peer-reviewed journal. Still, the results make sense. In 2000, NASA researcher Dr. Rabi Mehta found that a tennis ball’s fuzz affected its flight more than the size or the weight of the ball. In a wind tunnel, he determined that each fuzz filament on a ball added its own bit of drag—which is essentially what your leg hairs do when you ride.

“Shaved legs are just one more part of that speed formula,” says Cote. “It all adds up: the legs, the helmet, the aero frame. And this finally gives our girlfriends and our wives a real reason why we do this.”

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Cyclists: Motorists See You as Moving Targets

Late last week, a young woman from Danvers, Massachusetts, tweeted something that had cyclists and non-homicidal people up in arms:

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Thanks for the emoji visual, @Erikamarquis143. Unfortunately, this tweet is just the latest edition of cycling hatred spewed through social media. Take Emma Way, for example. Last year, the 21-year-old pixie-faced blonde from the UK tweeted this gem:

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Way had swiped a 29-year-old with her side mirror, “sending him off the bike and into the trees where he was banged up, but wasn't seriously injured,” Jalopnik reports. Way didn’t stop, and the cyclist only came forward to cops after Way’s tweet went viral. (He didn’t want his girlfriend to worry and start putting his bikes on eBay.) Way repented—after local police found her tweet and she was suspended from her job.

Then there’s Keith Maddox, the 48-year-old man from Alabama who released a series of videos in which he filmed himself endangering cyclists earlier this year. Local police found his posts, too, and charged him with a misdemeanor for reckless endangerment. 

So what's with these people? Many experts have tried to pin down just what it is about the bicycle that ignites so much rage in drivers. What creates that us-versus-them mentality that some experts have likened to racial discrimination

As Bath University’s traffic specialist Dr. Ian Walker wrote in The Psychologist, drivers overgeneralize cyclists’ “negative behavior and attributes—‘They all ride through red lights all the time.’” They never follow the rules! They’re always causing accidents! Those constant generalizations make it “hard to escape the conclusion that something of this sort is going on.”

But statistics tell another story. As The Guardian reports, according to “research published in February this year by Monash University, in accidents between cyclists and motorists, the motorist was found to be at fault 87 percent of the time.” And drivers run red lights, too. Frequently. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2012, “683 people were killed and an estimated 133,000 were injured in crashes that involved red-light running.” All of this hatred toward cyclists assumes drivers always follow the rules. 

I have another theory I’d like to add to the mix. People like to categorize other people. It makes life easier. As About.com psychology writer, Kendra Cherry, explains,

In the social categorization process, we mentally categorize people into different groups based on common characteristics. Sometimes this process occurs consciously, but for the most part social categorizations happens automatically and unconsciously…Using social categorization allows you to make decisions and establish expectations of how people will behave in certain situations very quickly, which allows you to focus on other things.

People seem to have a tough time creating new categories for things that already exist. Like cyclists. In most states, lawmakers have decided to categorize them as vehicles. This makes drivers feel violated when they see a cyclist breach an auto law. But a bike isn’t a car. Cyclists are much more nimble and have greater sensory perception on the road. The damage they can do to other people, in almost all cases, is much less than any vehicle could. 

If drivers and lawmakers were able to see cyclists as they truly are—an entirely separate category of transportation that’s neither car nor pedestrian—perhaps the hatred would subside. Creating bike lanes is a start, but there’s a long way to go before cyclists bust out of their current social category, created in a car-centric society, of a hate-worthy nuisance.

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