Debris Caution!

I’m going to borrow an auto-racing term for today’s article about riding safely during the autumn months.  In racing, a “debris caution” is a yellow flag thrown not for an all-out wreck, but to slow drivers down when small pieces of debris/car parts are spotted on the track that could cause a car to lose control if it ran over them.
For Trikkers in the northeast, our “debris cautions” are the combination of fallen leaves, pine needles, pine cones, crab apples, twigs and damp patches that litter our trails this time of year.  Although these pose minor hazards to our two-wheeled friends, the side-to-side carving motion of our 3-wheeled Trikkes makes these far more dangerous for us.  I’d like to offer up some warnings and tips on coping with these adverse trail conditions.
Fall leaves are pretty, but hazardous.
On my recent ride on the D&L Trail in Easton, PA, most of the trail was lightly covered with fallen leaves.  It had rained heavily the day before my ride, and the persistent clouds on the cool day had not allowed the trail to fully dry around the patches of leaves.  Several times, I started to feel the front wheel start to slide out from under me as I leaned to carve.  Other times, it was the outer back wheel that started to slip as I put my weight on it.  As soon as I feel these things happen, I straighten out the front wheel and my body and let the Trikke just coast through it.  In such areas, I learned to keep my carving shallower to prevent a problem in the first place.  Yes, this meant that I was riding much slower than usual, but going slow and getting to my destination was more important than doing a face-plant onto the cold, damp asphalt.
Twigs, pine cones, small stones, and crab apples pose a similar hazard.  Often these are easy enough to just steer around, but sometimes your wheel catches them and threatens to throw the Trikke askew.  If the front wheel hits them, it easy to react the same way as to the wet leaves where you just straighten the Trikke and your body and coast to regain balance.  If a rear wheel hits them, you can ever so slightly lift your foot off the deck for a second to allow the Trikke to ride over.  Don’t lift too dramatically, or you’ll go tumbling off to the side, but using your leg as a shock-absorber and letting the Trikke right itself handles the obstacle effectively without losing much momentum.
Last night the temperatures dipped below the freezing mark in the Lehigh Valley for the first time since April.  I probably don’t need to warn you that icy patches will pose a danger to your ride, but I’ll say it anyway; avoid them at all costs!  Many of our trails here are sheltered by tree canopies and small cliff walls.  This means that the sun doesn’t reach many parts of them to heat and dry them.  It may be 45 or 50 degrees during the day, yet icy patches could remain in the shade if we had a particularly cold night.  I saw this firsthand last year on several bike rides on the Slate Heritage Trail near Slatington, PA.  One ice patch was so big that the only option was to get off the bike and tip-toe across it.
Allow extra braking distance on wet trails!
A final caution is to look after your brakes after running over damp pavement, or through a puddle of water.  If you have scrub brakes, as most Trikkes do, you are going to lose most of your braking power when your tire treads are wet.  Be aware of this, and give your Trikke the same type of stopping distance you would give your car in the snow.  If you have a newer T8 or T12 with disk brakes, you will be in much better shape.  Slightly damp pavement won’t pose any difficulties, and if you run through a puddle you can ride your brakes for a short bit to dry them out.
I don’t own any Trikkes with the polyurethane wheels, but if you ride one of these models, you really need to avoid wet conditions altogether.  These hard wheels offer no grip at all in the wet conditions, and are very likely to slip out from under you at the slightest provocation.  This would be a great time to consider upgrading your T78cs to rear air tires, or to park your T67 or T7 and give your bicycle a chance to get out from hibernation.

Although the autumn leaves are pretty, it would be best to seek trails far away from them.  Warminster Community Park is not exactly local for us Valley residents, but it is one of the largest and clearest expanses that I can think of.  That’s why I’m choosing to host our October LSM Ride there.  Although I haven’t ridden at Rodale Fitness Park in the past month, I suspect that could also be a great autumn destination.  Despite the tree cover, they frequently maintain the trail.  I have seen them out there with leaf blowers even in August.  I am going to ride there again soon (hopefully tomorrow or Monday) to assess the current conditions.
It’s also important to look after our bodies during these colder months.  In the summer, it’s so easy and obvious to drink adequate water while riding.  You feel yourself sweat, and drinking helps you cool down.  It is still critical to stay hydrated in the colder weather, but your body likely won’t offer up as many cues.  Although I wore my Camelbak on my 10-mile ride on Monday, I barely drank from it because I was cold.  As a result, I felt totally wrung out afterwards because I was quite dehydrated.  It took the rest of the day to drink enough water to start to feel human again.
It’s also important to dress in layers when it’s colder.  You may initially think the sweatshirt jacket you brought is too light and you’re going to freeze, but after carving a few miles you’ll likely end up feeling trapped in a sauna.  This is where having a cargo net on the Trikke is great, because you can peel off those extra layers and stow them away for the duration of the ride.
I actually enjoy riding more at this time of the year.  The cool, crisp fall air always re-invigorates me, and gives me a deep sense of connectedness with the world.  The trails are less crowded, and there’s no danger of suffering from heat exhaustion.  If you remember to wave your mental yellow flag when you encounter trail debris, and if you remember to care for your body, you can continue to enjoy your Trikke year-round.
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