Saturday, April 02, 2005

Getting Started

There are some precautions to be taken to make your ride safe and enjoyable. You should be familiar with the local traffic laws especially as they pertain to bicycles. Proper maintenence of your bicycle and riding techinques will also make your ride safe and enjoyable. There are also some things that are unique to cycling in Albuquerque that you should know.
Traffic laws and safety: The City of Albuquerque website has a page devoted to cycling in the city. There are some basic rules of the road and a link to the Traffic code which explains in detail the laws of cycling in Albuquerque. There is also a link to a .pdf bike map of the city. There was a link where you could order the map online but I don't see it there anymore. You may also want to check out the Bike and Ride the bus link. It tells you how to use the bike racks on the city buses. It may come in useful some day when your bike breaks down and you need an alternative way to get home. I will include the link to the website in the Links section.
Keep your bike in good condition and do all recommended maintenence. Carry a repair kit in case of a breakdown, especially a patch kit for flat tires. There are many bicycle shops throughout the city but they may not be open the time you are riding. You are better off being able to make the repair yourself.
Weather conditions: Albuquerque is in a desert and lies about one mile above sea level. The weather is mostly hot, dry and sunny but there are thunderstorms, snow and high winds to deal with.
Because of the high altitude, Albuquerque does get snow in the winter. It usually starts in November and ends in late March. Most of the time, it only snows a few inches at a time and usually melts the next day. The trails are usually ice-free during the winter but there are patches of ice here and there. In spite of the cold weather I am able to ride almost every weekend.
The spring (April through June) is generally very dry but there are strong winds. The winds are mostly in the afternoon so you may want to plan your ride in the morning.
The summer ( July through September) is the monsoon season. This means there are frequent thunderstorms in the late afternoon or early evening. Even if you leave for your ride around noon with a clear blue sky, there is still a chance you may run into a thunderstorm a few hours later.
The rest of the year from late summer until winter is a good time to ride. There are few adverse weather conditions to contend with but the days start to get shorter. In general it is very possible to be a year-round cyclist in Albuquerque with a little strategy and planning.
Altitude, dryness and heat: Albuquerque is approximately one mile above sea level but the actual altitude varies greatly throughout the city. The altitude at downtown is about 4950 feet above sea level but at the foothills of the Sandias it is around 6000 feet. If you are not used to the altitude or are a beginner you may want to take it slow at first. I takes a while to become aclimated to the thinner air. The altitude also has an advantage. It does keep Albuquerque cooler in the summer than other southwestern cities. The temperature rarely exceeds 100 degrees like it does in Phoenix. Most of the time in summer the high temperatue is in the low 90's and this is without humidity.
Another feature of the altitude in combination with the sunny skies is strength of the sun. There is less protection from the sun than at lower altitudes. It is easy to get a sunburn in less than an hour. Use a sunscreen on all exposed areas. If you are like me and have thinning hair on top don't forget apply it there or you may go into work on Monday morning with stripes on your head from the ventilation slots in your helmet. I've done this before.
Bring plenty of water with you to keep hydrated during your ride. Dry air can fool you as you do not sweat like you do in humid weather. You actually are sweating and losing water but it evaporates very quickly so it can be deceiving how much water you are losing. I always carry on large bottle when I go riding. For longer rides I will take two bottles or I will have a preplanned place to refill the bottle. In future posts I will include tips about places to refill your water bottle because I think it is an important thing to know when riding in this dry climate. The best places to refill are convenience stores so bring a few dollars. Over the last few years the drinking fountains in city parks have been shut off due to the drought we have been experiencing. We have been fortunate to have a wet winter but the fountains may not be turned on this summer.
I would also like to mention the problem with flat tires from thorns. Albuquerque has plenty of thorns that can flatten your tires. They are commonly known as goat head thorns. They can penetrate the tread of the tire and puncture the inner tube. I recommend using thorn proof inner tubes at the very least. You should also use a tire sealant if a puncture does occur. Another protection against flats are tire liners which lay along the inside of the tire and provide an extra layer of protection. I use all three methods and have not have a flat in four years. I ride a Trek Navigator 200 with thick tires and it has worked fine. I'm not sure how the thinner tires fare on the trails of Albuquerque.
Please be safe riding in our city while getting good exercise and seeing the sights of Duke city. I will continue my blog with specific information about good rides and routes to get you around the city. Check back frequently.


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