Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reduce Your Breast Cancer (and Other Cancer) Risk

Hey Gang,
OK, brace yourself. This is a mom-rant.

(Big breath)
Ya know, if some sunscreen or lotion company (that should probably remain nameless) tells me in large letters on the package that the lotion is “For Babies” or “Tiny Sensitive Faces,” is there any reason why I should not expect this product to be free of potentially harmful chemicals, nano-particles, parabens, and stuff I can’t pronounce? Do I really need a degree in chemistry to ensure my daughter is not going to go into puberty a year earlier than she normally would have, had she not been slathered with gallons of these things from the time she was a few months old??
Evidently, I do need a degree in chemistry, because there is no governing body that regulates what chemicals go into baby shampoo or baby sunscreen—the company just has to tell you it’s in there. Thanks for that ingredient list there Slick, because I was really looking for the… 3-(4-methylbenzylidene)-camphor (4-MBC) to keep from getting a sunburn. Only, I had no idea it might cause learning disabilities, severe attention deficit disorder, cognitive and brain development problems, deformations of the body (including limbs); sexual development problems, feminizing of males or masculine effects on females.

(Big sigh)
You’ve got to be kidding me.

OK, rant off, motherly advice on.

It’s summer. You need sunscreen and bug spray and deodorant. There are un-regulated chemicals in all of these things. To check what’s in there, what it’s potentially doing to you, and see how your product stacks up, go to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. They have cataloged over 65,000 products and rated them according to the chemicals they contain.

Things I stopped using:
—any sunscreen that doesn’t say on the label “No PABA”
—any lotion that contains parabens
—insect repellent containing DEET
—shampoo that isn’t sulfate-free (side effect of that is I have less grey in my hair now than 5 years ago when I was coloring it to hide the grey. I stopped coloring it, because… now there’s not enough grey.)
—deodorant with aluminum

So what DO I use?
There are a lot of good brands out there. Some of my personal favorites are:
California Baby - excellent lotions, bubblebaths and sunscreens. Available at Target!
Burt’s Bees - sometimes a little thick, but good lotions.
Say Yes to Blueberries - lots of skin care products, and also available at Target!
Enjoy Haircare products - there’s probably something that has a better EWG rating, but I’m happy so far
Tom’s of Maine deodorant

Most advocates for more healthful products are very reluctant to endorse other companies, which I have found very frustrating in my search for something that I SHOULD use that is effective. Well, these are my personal products, and not necessarily an endorsement of one product over another. When in doubt, do a check with the EWG database, and stay away from fragrance, and most things you can’t pronounce.

Since I got involved with Team LUNA Chix, I’ve really been educated by the work we do with the Breast Cancer Fund concerning the environmental causes of breast cancer (and other disorders) and what I personally can do to take back control of my and my family’s health. When I first started reading about it, and getting familiar with the mission of the Breast Cancer Fund, I was completely overwhelmed with the amount of information I had to digest and the seeming mountain of things I had to change. But I’ve found that, just like physical training, re-training my mind to consider all the ways my body processes chemicals is not an overnight task. You do what you can when you can.

Finally, I am not an alarmist. I really don’t think they’re out to get me. But I have seen the state of the evidence. And that evidence points to breast cancer and other cancers on the rise dramatically in the past 40 years. It points to girls going into puberty on average a year earlier than they did 40 years ago. It points to a lot of chemicals we didn’t have when I was growing up, but that are everywhere now. There’s a reason we are ailing, and I believe there’s something we can do about it. It may be a drop in the bucket here and there, but at one drop per second, I can fill your gallon bucket in less than a day.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Improving Balance for the Beginner Cyclist

When you ride often enough, after a few years you tend to forget what it was like to be a beginner rider. Conducting beginner clinics (and reading some of my old journal entries) helps me remember that cycling can be a really daunting challenge. Here are a few tips for new riders that I've picked up over the years.

Practicing your études.
While no one approaches a piano the first week and starts pounding out Bach, we often forget that good cycling comes from good fundamentals. Doing scales on the piano was one of the most tedious things I had to do as a child, but it taught my fingers and my brain where the keys were, so that when it came time to read complex music, I didn't have to look down to hit the right note. In cycling, you practice finding your balance and shifting gears.

So here are the exercises for finding your balance (Etudes for Bicycle). All exercises should be done in the small ring up front (middle ring if you have a triple) and the middle of the cassette in the rear.

Removing your hand from the handlebar.
For those of you who grew up riding bikes, riding through your teens and into your 20's and 30's, you will simply not understand this. For the rest of us, if you don't remember it being a terrifying thing to remove your hand from the handlebar while riding, just to take a drink or signal a turn, well, you've probably blocked that memory. It was terrifying. If you are just learning to remove a hand while riding, here are the steps to take to move to the next level:
1. Admit it's terrifying and unnatural to remove a hand from the mechanism guiding you in a straight line. Don't beat yourself up for being afraid.
2. Take your fear, mentally put it in a zip-lock bag and put it in your back pocket. Don't look at it.
3. Find a nice open parking lot (like the back side of a mall), and with a water bottle in the cage, ride in a straight line. There should be no cars, dogs, kids on skateboards, or errant squirrels to distract you.
4. Take your hand from the handlebar, bring it to your chest, then back on the handlebar. This is a quick but smooth movement that does two things: a) keeps your center of gravity all in one plane and b) lets you start to get comfortable with having one hand on the bar. Gradually increase the time your hand is off the bar. When you are comfortable, move to step 5.
5. Touch the water bottle, then put your hand back on the bar. Repeat this step, gradually increasing the time your hand is on the bottle.
6. Remove the bottle from the cage, bring it to the handlebar, then replace the bottle. Drink if you can hold steady and feel confident, but only when you're ready. Yes, you are still riding around the parking lot.
When you have mastered removing the water bottle, drinking, and replacing the bottle in the cage, find a low-traffic location where you can increase your speed to 13 - 16 mph, and continue this drill at speed.

Back when Mildred and Algernon were sitting in the Edsel and had to signal a right or left turn, all signals were made with the left hand out the driver-side window. A roadie bent over in the drops making this kind of right turn signal doesn't make so much sense. You should signal LEFT by extending your left arm left-wards, and signal RIGHT by extending your right arm right-wards. This is the most unambiguous way to tell cars and other cyclists what your intentions are.
1 - 4. Follow the same steps as above to get comfortable removing a hand from the handlebar.
5. When you're ready for Step 5, be aware that your center of gravity will be affected by an outstretched arm. Tighten your core muscles to aid in stabilization. Practice riding in a straight line, alternately holding the handlebar with only the left hand, then the right.

Girls on a Team LUNA Chix ride practice riding the white line near Cabrillo.

Riding in a straight line.
This is honestly harder than it sounds.
1. On a low-traffic stretch of well-paved road that has a white stripe signaling the edge of the bike lane or the start of the shoulder, ride the white line, keeping your front wheel on the line.
2. Listen for cars and move to the right when they approach from behind.
3. Once you are confident, hold the handlebar with your right hand, sit up straight, pull your left shoulder back, opening the chest. Glance over your left shoulder. Turn back forward and see how far off the white line you moved.
4. Practice looking over your left shoulder while riding in a straight line. Don't forget to engage your core muscles to keep you stabilized.
Note: You can also practice riding in a straight line in a large empty parking lot with long rows of white lines.

Practice slow, tight turns.
In a quiet empty parking lot, practice making figure eights between the parking spaces. Use the width of 4 spaces to begin with, and make your turn radius tighter as you gain confidence. Work towards completing a figure eight within two to two-and-a-half parking spaces.

Hopefully these tips will help you develop better balance!
In my next blog entry, I'll discuss shifting. Yes, much like the rising of a soufflé, shifting can be somewhat elusive and mysterious. But there are tips and tricks for everything!

Hope to see you on a ride soon!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bike Maintenance: So Easy, a Baby Could Do It

An important part of bicycle maintenance is keeping your bike clean, which not only keeps it looking good, but ultimately prolongs the life of your wheels and drivetrain (everything the chain touches). You don’t need a repair stand or even a water hose - you can turn your bike upside down and rest it on the handlebars, using a spray bottle, brush, and a soft cloth to do the work.

Let’s get this out of the way for you who have never done this and are concerned: You will not hurt the bike.

As long as you do not turn screws or bolts, drop large solid objects on your bike, or leave parts soaking in undiluted chemicals, you will not hurt the bike. You can pull on the chain, drop the chain off the front ring, and scrub front and rear derailleurs with a small brush. But just in case, here are some things to know.

Important reminders:

  • Never use WD-40 on your bike. WD stands for “water displacement” and will make it difficult for lubricants to stick to WD-40-treated metals. You want your bike clean and lubricated.
  • Dilute concentrated cleaners like Simple Green or cleaners containing citric acid very well, since the chemicals react with aluminum and may cause it to weaken structurally (that said, I use citric acid cleaners but rinse parts really well).
  • Always rinse cleaning agents from your bike frame and components after cleaning.
  • Never spray high-pressure water near bearing areas like hubs or bottom brackets.

Here’s what you need:

  • Water - hose or spray bottle
  • Brushes - thin cassette brush or toothbrush, (also a cattail brush and soft-bristle frame brush are very helpful, but optional)
  • Bike cleaner - bucket of dish soap and hot water or almost any bike cleaner or Simple Green and hot water
  • Bucket
  • Rags

One more note before we get started: If you haven’t had a professional tune-up on your road bike in 12 months or 1000 miles (mountain bike would be more like 8 months or 500 miles), clean your bike up, make an appointment, and take your bike in. A mechanic will check your chain and tires for wear, make sure it’s shifting and braking properly, and that your spokes are properly tensioned. This 5-step bike clean-up procedure presumes that your bike is in good mechanical condition.

1. Drivetrain
I go for the messiest part first, which is usually the chain. If you can remove the chain with a quick link, do so and soak it briefly in a Simple Green and hot water solution. Then scrub it with a brush and rinse it thoroughly before letting it dry in the sun or drying it with a hair dryer. Clean the other parts of the drive train while the chain dries. If you cannot remove the chain, using a brush and a solution of Simple Green and hot water, scrub the chain thoroughly. Scrub the chain rings and the cassette. Scrub the little pulley wheels on the rear derailleur making sure you remove any caked on grease and dirt.

2. Wheels
If you have a road bike and do not have access to a hose, it’s probably best to wet a cloth with water and minimal bike cleaner, and wipe down your rims and spokes, being mindful that citrus cleanser left on your aluminum rims is not good for them. You can spray your rims with diluted solution from the bottle and use a soft brush, but make sure you rinse them well and wipe them down with a dry cloth afterward.

3. Frame
Same goes for the frame as the wheels. A damp cloth should do the trick unless you’ve been riding in the back pasture after a heavy soaker. Be sure to wipe around the bottom bracket where grease and grime can collect.

4. Finishing touches
I wipe down my handlebars, making sure to wipe in the direction of the bar tape on the road bike. At this point I take a clean cloth and make sure everything is dried off.

5. Lubricate the chain and spoke nipples
Once the bike is clean, you are ready to lube the chain. Wet lube and dry lube are both liquid, no matter what it sounds like.
WET LUBE is a wax lubricant that is usually recommended for riding in wet weather or if you live on the ocean and keep your bike outside. It allows a wax film to form on the chain, protecting it from rust. Wax lube must harden after application before you ride. You should not apply a wax lube right before you ride. Note that if you are riding in dusty areas, some wax lubes will cake up with dust and will not glide smoothly, while others shed dust very well.
DRY LUBE is more like the consistency of cooking oil and is often preferred by riders in dry climates (like San Diego). Dry lube may be applied immediately before riding.

Which is the best lube for you? Tell your local mechanic where you usually ride and ask for a recommendation.

If your chain is clean, you can put whatever you want on there to lube it. If your chain is not fresh-from-the-brush clean and it needs lube, you should re-apply whatever lube is already on the chain. The only way you can really hurt the chain is to not lube it at all.

Use Tri-flow with the needle-tube attachment to lube the spoke nipples every so often after you clean the wheels. This will keep the nipples from seizing up and preventing your mechanic from truing the wheels.

Enjoy your clean bike!