cycling kit and safety

As I get more and more into cycling, I’ve been spending more and more money on cycling kit — fancy jerseys, cycling pants with decent padding, comfy gloves, cleats and shoes, helmets….. not to mention different kit for the changing seasons. And this is on top of the $ I spend on the actual bike itself, which is another small fortune.

I used to approach purchasing cycling gear with an attitude of pragmatism over aesthetics, but as I increased my cycling mileage, I’ve learnt that there’s a reason why some kit costs way more than others.  After falling off my bike on a descent on a rough patch in Hebei province in late April, I’ve learnt that good quality kit was not only more comfy, especially on long rides, but they actually reduced the extent of my injuries and saved my life.

Pre-crash outfit

The crash happened so fast, I had no recollection of what happened right before I lost control of my bike and landed on a haystack. I ended up with scrapes, bruises and swelling mostly on the left side of my body. Thank God I didn’t break any bones and felt strong enough to cycle another 15 km to the nearest town where a kind local took me to at a hospital to get cleaned up and checked out.

After getting back to Beijing, I’ve been reflecting on how I could’ve prevented the crash and how my kit’s (literally) saved my skin, if not my life:

  1. Helmet

Apart from a dent, my helmet was pretty much intact, which spoke volumes about its quality. This helmet has served me well since I bought it from a Swedish friend’s going-away sale mid last year. He bought it for his wife but it was too big for her, so it was almost brand new. I used to think any old helmet will do as long as I’m wearing one when I’m cycling. My first bike helmet was the cheapest one in the shop and a little too big for my head, so I gave it away after I got the Orbea. The Orbea was the right size for my head and had an adjustable dial at the back which I’d loosen when I wore a cap underneath my helmet in winter, and tighten when I don’t. I’m now wearing my aunt’s  very fancy and comfy Rudy Project helmet. I’m definitely not skimping on my next helmet purchase.

2. Prescription sports sunglasses

I bought these from Beijing’s spectacles wholesale market in Panjiayuan about two years ago on a friend’s recommendation. The whole set came with five interchangeable lens with the prescription lens wedged behind. I bought these after getting annoyed at the inadequacies of my normal specs. They kept slipping down my nose and didn’t provide any coverage against dust and whatever else the road threw up. Even though the spectacles broke into pieces on impact and scratched my left cheek, my eyes were thankfully unharmed. I still have a faint ‘Z’-shaped scar on my left cheek which will hopefully fade over time.

3. Cycling clothes

On the morning of the ride, I was still contemplating whether or not I should wear my arm warmers. I figured if it got warmer later, I could always take them off and stash them in my jersey pockets. Boy, was I glad I never took them off, because they literally saved the skin under my left forearm when I fell from my bike later that day. As the arm warmers were over a year old, they took quite a beating from the fall and I wasn’t able to wash out the blood stains. They were thrown out together with my beloved helmet.

My jersey protected the rest of my left arm and showed no sign of damage, as you can see in my Powerman duathlon pictures.

For the longest time, I’ve always regarded cycling gloves more as items of comfort rather than safety. I’ve been blessed with palms that don’t perspire as others and so I don’t have to worry about losing my grip. This fall has caused me to look at cycling gloves with fresh eyes.

Last but not least, my favourite Pearl Izumi cycling pants were not just the most comfy cycling pants, they were also resilient. Even heavily discounted, they’re the most expensive pair of cycling pants I’ve ever bought (RMB 800+). I’ve worn them so much over the past two years, the logo has fallen off.  My left thigh still bear the scrapes from the fall, but these cycling pants are still in pristine condition, apart from a couple of tiny holes and a tiny bit of scratchy fabric. My Castelli cycling pants didn’t fare so well after my fall in Yangshuo last Feb.

What’s your favourite cycling kit? I’m looking forward to hear from you and discover cool new kit.


Is cycling safe in Beijing? – Part 1

Before I started cycling in Beijing, I used to ask myself relentlessly, “Is cycling safe in Beijing?” For the uninitiated, as I was then, the answer had to be ‘no’. Just looking at the congestion and the types of vehicles on the roads was enough. Cyclists in Beijing were either very brave or very good at cycling.

So I thought.

Then I got on Sottie’s bicycle and cycled almost 15 km from Jianguomen to Chaoyang Park. I was starting and stopping at inappropriate spots on the road, I almost collided with another cyclist on the Third Ring Road and I fell off my bike a couple of times through no fault of others. The most important thing was, I survived my first ride in over 20 years relatively intact. And that changed my view of Beijing roads and drivers.

After being asked this question upteen times by friends and acquaintances, I’ve decided to put my thoughts on the matter into a post, or three.

Cycling in Beijing can be safe depending on:

  1. where you ride your bike
  2. how fast you ride your bike
  3. when you ride your bike
  4. weather and air quality
  5. how often you ride your bike

Where you ride your bike & how fast you ride your bike

This is the route I take when I cycle to work everyday:

Home -> west along Liangmaqiao Road (4-lane road)-> south along Third Ring Road (6-lane road) -> arrive at Fortune Plaza bicycle parking lot.

Total distance = around 9 km.

I used to ride along the west side of Chaoyang Park instead of along the Third Ring Road, because the scenery was better. But as I leave my apartment later and later in the morning, I began noticing that Chaoyang Park Road had way more traffic lights and pedestrians than the Third Ring Road and so it made sense to go along Third Ring Road instead. Of course, there’s also more motor vehicles and exhaust fumes along the Third Ring Road and there’s no scenery to speak of, but after cycling along the same route for the last 9 months, even Chaoyang Park’s wondrous greenery has lost its shine. Getting to work on time has been claiming higher and higher priority these days.

To avoid breathing in too much exhaust fumes and Beijing’s generally polluted air, I almost always wear a Respro mask while I’m cycling. That takes care of the pollution argument.

Dealing with cars, buses, trucks, mopeds, motorbikes, ebikes and crazy pedestrians in peak hour traffic, however, is quite another matter.  It’s no fun being sidelined by a bus/truck or hitting the brakes suddenly to avoid hitting something/someone, especially when you’re cycling at your favourite speed or just begun accelerating.  I cycle at at average of 20 km/h, and am simultaneously hailed by one group of friends (infrequent or non-cycling) as a speed demon and rubbished by another group of friends (manic cyclists primarily from Western Europe) as an elderly snail.  From experience, it’s the safest speed on Beijing roads. Go too slow and you’re constantly cut off by other vehicles. Too fast and you won’t be able to do an emergency brake when faced with an imminent headlong collision.

When should a cyclist stop? When should a cyclist accelerate? Based on my experience, it’s best to look at both the traffic lights and the oncoming traffic when deciding if I should stop or accelerate at a green light turning red and vice versa. Here’s why —

  • Drivers don’t necessarily brake when they see a red light in Beijing. They might stop if there’s a policeman standing next to it. And that’s a maybe.
  • Most drivers I’ve encountered while cycling in Beijing would deliberately slow down when making a turn to give me enough time and an excuse to speed past on my bike. Panicking and stopping will attract a barrage of distasteful verbal abuse from said drivers.
  • When I encounters motor vehicles while cycling along designated bike lanes, I take it upon myself to return the courtesy and shout verbal abuse at the drivers.
  • In China, it’s always better to be more aggressive than whoever you’re sharing a road with, unless it’s a ginourmous coach or truck.

In short, what I’m trying to say is, you need to have all your wits about you whenever you’re cycling in peak hour traffic in Beijing. Don’t assume everyone will follows road rules religiously, cycle at a reasonable speed, make sure your brakes are in a good working order and you’ll be right.*wink*