A view from Midtown: Show your colors

This is a follow-up to last month’s column on bike lights. Lights are part of the solution for visibility at night, but you need to supplement lights with proper clothing. Dark, neutral-colored outerwear just isn’t right when biking. If you want to dress like a ninja and blend into the background while biking, be prepared for someone to crash into you.  

Ideally, you should be visually obvious whenever you’re biking and at night it’s essential. I know, here in the Midwest, earth tones rule, but get crazy and show your colors. Bright yellow, high-visibility green and blaze orange alert drivers to your presence and that’s what you want.  

Manufacturers that specialize in outdoor clothing and bicycling gear have done wonders with their products.  

Most outerwear now comes in bright colors and many of the items have incorporated reflective materials. Jackets have piping along the seams that reflect light. Helmets, gloves, shoes, pants, backpacks and messenger bags have reflective materials. Now, if you have reflective gear, when you signal a turn, your jacket and glove will make that signal more obvious to drivers behind you. In case you think you’ll look like a chrome plated freak, the reflective materials are very inconspicuous during daylight hours.  

With the approach of colder weather, remember when you’re out looking for good biking gear to plan for additional layers under your jackets and pants.  The ability to add layers for warmth extends your biking season and that’s good. Keep on riding.

The sensuous cyclist

If you bike, you know what it is to “experience” the area where you’re riding.  

If you aren’t a biker, you don’t know what you’re missing. What I’m talking about is the sensuous aspect of biking. When you bike through any part of town, you are aware of the sights, sounds, aromas and texture of the area.

If you have a regular commute route or other regular ride, you can determine the wind direction just by the aromas you notice. For me, if the wind is from the north, I can pick up the spicy aromas of the East African restaurant a few blocks away. If the wind if from the south, roasting coffee is the cue.  

Even riding in the residential areas brings the smells of grilling, fireplaces, and for me I can detect the type of wood being burned. Some hawthorn blossoms have a distinctive “fishy” smell in the spring.  

In the fall, after a freeze, highbush cranberries smell like gym socks.

We have a hawk in our neighborhood, but usually the only way to realize its presence is to hear its call.  Another great sound is when the crows have spotted an owl or eagle and call in support from other crows to harass the predator.  

The more you ride, the more aware you’ll be of your environment. You’ll be able to sense weather changes. The calm day may alter slightly with a subtle breeze that brings in dryer air. A friend biked past our home while we were out. As she went by, there was a definite coffee aroma in the air, but there are no café’s or businesses nearby that would account for it. In talking with our friend, I mentioned our next door neighbor had devised a way to roast his own coffee using his gas grill. Suddenly, the coffee aroma was explained.  

I know when one of the local cafés is changing their art display. Riding by one evening, I saw the last pictures being removed in preparation for the next installation. Driving by at 25 mph wouldn’t have allowed for time to detect the change being made.  A neighbor recently built a beautiful small water garden in their yard. Bikers and walkers get to enjoy the sight and sound of the small fountain.  

In a closed vehicle, these small but significant cues to our environment are almost impossible to detect. In many ways, the windshield of a car is just one more flat screen and we’re holding the controller. But it’s NOT a “virtual” world out there, it’s real. Don’t be afraid of your environment, experience it, and be a part of it. Enjoy the ride.

Dan Breva is the manager of the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center at the Midtown Exchange. He has bike commuted for more than 10 years.