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Biking: To Clip or Not to Clip?

clipless shoe and pedals

Blame it on calf envy.

Dazzled by the legions of clipless bike commuters (and their sinewy calves) swarming past as I pedaled my commuter bike in slo-mo, I impulsively made the leap:  From flat pedals with toe cages (aka “clipped”) to their clipless cousins.

Newly attached to my burly green steed via Sidi Duran bike shoes and Crank Brothers Smarty pedals, I cycled up to a quiet intersection and bam, it hit. Make that I hit—the ground.

Forgetting to rotate my ankle to disengage the bike cleat, I tipped sl-o-o-o-wly to the right, thumping onto a mossy parking strip.

At least it was a soft landing.

Lesson learned: Practice the ankle rotation move before venturing out in public.

With national bike month wrapping up, you too might be pondering the eternal question— To clip or not to clip?

It’s Nikwax to the rescue with a few insights from both sides of the clipless conundrum:

Con: The learning curve. As I learned, the newly clipless need to develop muscle memory for that ankle-rotating, disengaging motion. Try practicing in a grassy field somewhere quiet. Like Iowa.

Pro: You’ve got the power. And efficiency. And control. With cleats, you’ll automatically pull up on the pedal rather than just mashing it down. Watch with amazement as your pedal stroke smooths from a jerky, lop-sided egg shape to a nice round circle.

Con: You can’t just hop on your bike with regular shoes any more.

Pro: Oh yes you can. Check out Shimano’s double-agent pedals. One side has cleats for longer rides; flip it over for a plain old platform when you just want to cruise the neighborhood.

Plus, there are more bike footwear choices than ever. Want to go incognito? Try Keen’s cycling shoes that masquerade as regular-joe sandals.

Con: The intimidation factor. Many cyclists resist clipless pedals because of fears that they won’t disengage in a collision.

Pro: You can adjust your cleats to change the release angle. And, as illustrated in my (gentle) fall from grace, they really do release in the event of an accident.

Con: Bike shoes cost more money.

Pro: Not necessarily. Prolong the life of your bike shoe investment with Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather.

Wherever you land on the clipless vs. clipped debate, we know this much for sure: Biking is one of the very best things you can do for your community—and your calves.

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Staying Dry on the Bike

Bundling up and treating your gear with care is key for riding in the rain. Photo: bikehugger.com

Bundling up and treating your gear with care is key for riding in the rain. Photo: bikehugger.com

Rain doesn’t ruin a great bike ride.

To the contrary, there’s something empowering about getting off the couch in the gnarliest of conditions. A bike ride is particularly sweet when others scapegoat the weather and leave their bike hanging in the garage.

No, the rain isn’t the problem. Getting wet is.

The only thing that can ruin a good ride is if you allow the rain to soak you to the skin. Mother Nature may call the shots, but you are the one who determines your response. Here are two absolute must-remember tips for staying dry on the bike:

1. Warm Your Core

Luckily, the nature of being on a bike means your upper body will take the brunt of rain. This is a place where Nikwax can help.

On days when it’s only you and the postal service out on the road (you know… rain, sleet and dark of night…), choose your gear wisely. You’ll need:

bike-rain1A base layer that keeps your skin dry.

  • Make that a breathable base layer. Even though it’s raining from the outside, you’ll still be sweating from the inside. Washing base layers with Nikwax BaseWash® prevents build-up of odor-causing bacteria and oils on synthetic garments. It also enhances wicking properties to move the sweat away from your skin. The special formula cleans and conditions, keeping the synthetic fibers in tip-top performance shape.
  • Or, if you’re a wool base layer fan opt for Nikwax Wool Wash. Though durable, wool requires a gentle cleaner like Wool Wash to maintain its balance of hydrophilic inner and hydrophobic outer. Without getting too technical, that is the magic of why you stay warm even when your wool gets wet.

A waterproof-breathable outer layer that wicks sweat away from your body without letting the rain in.

  • On a bike, your jacket gets hammered with rain on wet days and sun and dirt on dry days. This extreme exposure to the elements contributes to a condition known as “wetting out.” The dreaded “wet out” is when your jacket can no longer bead up with water droplets. The result: it ceases to be waterproof and/or breathable.
  • The solution is frequent application of Nikwax TX.Direct®. First, run the jacket through the wash with Nikwax Tech Wash® to clean away any sweat, oil and other dirt. With another run of the washing machine, or with the Spray-On bottle, apply TX.Direct® to revive and enhance your jacket’s water repellency.

2. Remember your extremities: Head, hands and feet.

Keeping your core warm and dry may be the most critical, but thoughtful care to your alternative gear will help keep you comfy.

  • Consider a Merino wool skull cap under your helmet. It won’t keep you dry, but it will keep you warm.
  • Have a pair of full-fingered gloves on hand for inclement days.
  • While some are blended with mesh for breathability, most cycling shoes are leather. We can’t do anything about the mesh, but Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather™ will keep your feet dry from the water falling from the sky. And no, it won’t make your shoes any heavier or hotter for the dry days.

Don’t let a little rain put a kink in your riding schedule. With a modicum of preventative Nikwax care, the only thing standing between you and your personal best is your own motivation.