Monday, September 15, 2008

Lighting for Winter Commuting

The winter in Stuttgart is downright DARK and it's critical to have a set of lights that both let you see and be seen.

I run a set of Sigma Sport EVO/EVO-X lights on the front. The low beam lasts 4 hours with a new, fully charged battery while using both beams will drain the battery in 2 hours. They both put out plenty of light for commutes on fire roads and paved streets (which typically have reasonable street lighting.)

The largest cost of your light set isn't necessarily going to be the lights themselves but the battery (Akku auf Deutsch.) These are typically 75 Euro to replace, so you want to make them last as long as possible. Akkus like to be completely drained and then charged back up. So, I try to run my akku empty every day and then plug it in to charge over night. My recharger backs off when it senses the battery is full, which is a nice feature to have otherwise you have to watch the charger/battery to make sure its full and doesn't overcharge.

For Fall, Spring and, most importantly, as a backup to my Sigma Sport, I have a 7 LED blinking/standing light for the front that runs off AAA batteries. Normally, I let it blink to draw attention to myself, but if my Sigma Sports ever run out of batteries or the connections freeze, the LED (and the AAAs, which like to be cold) is always a trusty standby. Naturally it doesn't put out as much light as a halogen, but it gets me home safe.

My rear is equipped with a 5 LED standing light. I've heard a rumor that blinking rear lights aren't street legal in Germany, but I see plenty of people with them. Go for the gusto on a rear light (more that the three LED ones) and make sure it mounts to your frame otherwise you'll lose it.

Here's a link to my light set:

Note that akkus tend to lose their longevity after a while, so don't be cheap and let it get to a point that your main light lasts less than your commute plus a half hour or so. If you commute three times a week even, you'll save the money in gas in no time.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Clothing for Year Round Commuting

In an effort to keep the summer commute going through the winter, I offer up my clothing and gear setup that keeps me warm through the ice, cold and snow.  This gear was purchased and used through two winters and three summers in Stuttgart, with most of the commute being on fire roads.  As German roads tend to be pretty good about shedding water from asphalt, this may be a bit overkill for an all-road commuter.
The list is broken out down by body region and lists both a transition season (when it begins to get cold, but before the deep freeze) and a cold season (below zero, Centigrade.)


A helmet with a sun visor is typically helpful to keep rain drops off your eye protection or sunglasses when it's raining.  It's also good for the months when you are lucky enough to ride in to the sun in the morning.


A "Do Rag" is generally enough to wick the sweat off and hold in heat coming off your head.  Remember, though, that if you lose too much heat through the top of your head, the rest of your body will be cold, too.

Cold weather brings out the balaclava and, in extreme weather, the helmet cover.  Make sure that if you begin to commute more than once or twice a week that you have a couple of balaclava available since you'll want to wash them after about every use.


The trick with hands is to not have your gloves too tight.  This restricts blood flow and allows for the cold to get to and stay on your hands.  Cold hands make a bike ride miserable in winter.

Insulated full finger gloves should be enough to get you through the transition period.  If it's raining, a water and windproof outer layer complemented with a fleece base layer will be more than sufficient.

Cold weather brings out three layers of gloves.  The fleece base layer mentioned above, an insulation layer to trap heat and a water and wind proof layer on the outside.  If the mercury really plummets, a pair of skiing/snowboarding gloves can serve as the outer layer.  They're bulky, but they keep the cold and wet out.


The only thing more miserable than cold, achy hands are frozen feet.  The most important thing you can do to keep your feet warm is keeping them dry.  If your commute is more than an hour or so, you'll also need to prepare to keep them warm even if it's dry.

For the wet transition, the focus is on keeping water out of the inside of your shoes.  We won't cover bike equipment here, but make sure that your rear fenders go all the way to the chainstay (to keep the water coming off the tire from ending up in your shoe) and put a mountain bike fender on your main stay near the bottom bracket to protect the shoes from the front tire.  If your shoes are not waterproof, either buy some aftermarket waterproofing (not tested) or wear a light bootie when it's wet out.  This will also allow you to strip off the mud before entering buildings.

When the temperature dives, it's important to have a set of shoes that do not constrict blood flow in your feet.  It's also good to wear a second pair of wicking socks to keep any dampness off your skin.  Booties will become a daily chore.  While they are rotten to put on, they're an important part of keeping your feet warm.


No matter the temperature, a wicking base layer is important to have on your core.  In the summer, standard cycling jerseys work and allow for carrying of the essentials in the pockets.  When it gets colder, you'll have a jacket on with pockets that's more convenient, so you can switch over to simple wicking workout shirts.

A light, rain resistant jacket should get you through the transition.  For those non-rainy days, simply a windproof jacket should do.

For cold weather, a wind and rain resistant jacket is critical.  The jacket, gloves and balaclava should all come together to cover all skin, especially when below zero.


There will be days when, in the transition period, you wished you'd put a set of thin tights on.  Any thin tight will do, but it's good to make sure the tight has a reflective surface as it'll soon be getting dark on your way home and your legs are about the only moving part on your body.

When it gets below zero, insulated tights are important, as extreme cold on the knees is very painful and leaves them injury prone.  These tights should tuck in to the booties on your shoes.


It's important to protect your eyes year round, but especially so when the temperature falls.  While a change in temperature doesn't matter to glasses (I wear the same pair year round) it is important to have changeable lenses so that a lighter lens can be switched out when it gets dark earlier.  As it'll be getting colder as well, vented frames are an important feature.  The vents keep the lens at the same temperature as the outside air and prevents fogging.


Hopefully there is enough here to convince people that riding year round in Stuttgart is doable.  With a bit of gear and some preparation, anyone can ride through the dark, wet German winter.  I'll try to keep this up to date.  There's a comments box below if anyone has arguments or additions.  Prosit!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bikely Routes in Stuttgart

I've been contributing some training and commuting routes to Bikely, which allows people to share bike routes via Google Maps. Here is the link for the Stuttgart routes. Note that there aren't many -- we should fix this.

Rad Touristik Fahren (RTFs)

Rad Touristik Fahren (RTFs) are rides put together by local clubs that tour the German countryside.  These are typically all paved streets, fire and/or farm roads.  Most of the participants will have a road bike, but you'll also see a few out there on city or mountain bikes.  RTFs are a wonderful way to see parts of Germany you never would otherwise and I can't think of many better ways to spend a cool Sunday morning.

The general rule is that you can start any time registration is open.  The booth to register will generally be open from 0700 to 0900.  Parking tends to run out by about 0830 and the line to register will start to get long by 0800.  The typical fee is 6 Euro, but it's always a good idea to bring at least 10.  There will be people selling sandwiches and cake along the course for a couple of Euro.

Before registering, you should fill out one of the cards typically available on the tables in front of the registration.  The bottom half of this card will be stamped at each checkpoint you pass.  Take your filled out card to the registration booth with your money, where they will mark the card up and provide you a number to wear indicating your starting position.  They typically ask what distance you want to do (RTFs generally have 125/100/65 kilometer distances) but you don't have to make your mind up right now -- you can ride what ever course you want.

The course is marked with arrows indicating what direction to turn and, sometimes, what distance course you are on.   You can ride at your own pace.  Every 30 km or so, there is a checkpoint where you will get your stempel, refill water bottles (free) and buy sandwiches or cakes (about 1.50 Euro).

The grade on these rides varies widely, but you can expect to do a fair amount of climbing (and the same amount of descending!)  The ride organizers take a more scientific approach and give you a height meter profile (Hoehenprofil) which you can get on the flyer or RTF website before hand.

There is support on the ride, so if you break down or cannot finish for some reason, the SAG wagon will come pick you and your bike up.  The number for help is typically on the map.  Remember, the rules of the road always apply.

If you sign up for the SLACRs list, you'll automatically get a notification of all RTFs under about 100km from Stuttgart zentrum.  You can also look more up yourself at


For those of you who don't know, there's an informal cycling group amongst the Stuttgart American community named SLACRs.  We aim to connect other cyclists to the community quickly along with getting people out to ride.  Currently there is an e-mail list, a shared space for pictures and files and a calendar with events in the Stuttgart area.


Todd here.  I'm consolidating some cycling in Germany links with some advice on commuting in Stuttgart to this blog.  These pages started as a public website for SLACRs, but blogs just seemed like a better way to share than a bunch of web pages that will be out of date in the next six months.  If there are other SLACRs out there who want to persistently share information, I suggest you get your own blog, too.