October is a great time of year to be a cyclist in the inland northwest. Although the days get shorter, most daytime temperatures are perfect for tooling around or hard riding. Cyclocross season kicks into full gear in October. The leaves turning in the mountains make for great weekend exploration. The mountain bike trails—parched and sandy from the summer heat—begin to take on a bit of moisture, and are transformed into ideal riding tracks. And the cooler mornings and nights remind us about the magic of layering in preparation for the winter riding ahead. We are fortunate here to have four distinct seasons, but autumn may be the best for riding.

For the racing crowd, October marks the official beginning of the Inland Northwest Cyclocross Series. If you are a cyclist that enjoys pushing hard and having fun on non-technical off-pavement riding, then you are really doing a disservice to yourself not to give at least one cyclocross race a go. Emde Sports puts on a race series that is ideal for new racers, with mountain bike, youth and beginner categories.

But you don’t have to race to enjoy cyclocross. In fact, it’s almost as fun to watch cyclocross as it is to race it. Cyclocross courses are laid out in parks and natural areas where spectators can walk the course as racers compete. Pack a lunch and a hot thermos and enjoy the races, which are every weekend in October and November. Go to emdesports.com for race schedules.

Another great bikey way to spend autumn weekends in this area is to explore the National Forests that surround us: the Coeur d’ Alene, the Colville, the Okanogan and the Kaniksu. All of these forests have miles and miles of nearly car-free roads. You can drive in and explore for a day, or you can set up a base camp and explore for the weekend. Choose a route with some elevation gain and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful fall colors of deciduous and Western Larch trees as well as grand views across pristine forests. For long rides, be sure you are prepared: bring clothing for extreme weather changes, bring a water purification solution, and pack plenty of calories to get you through the ride. You can read more about exploring our local National Forests by bike in this magazine’s July 2010 issue (available online at outtheremonthly.ziplinestaging.com).

Thanks to early fall precipitation, October may be the best trail-riding month in the Spokane area. By the end of summer, many of the local trails are dry, sandy and difficult to get a good grip on. With a touch of moisture and some cool nights, these same trails become perfect for mountain biking and cyclocross racing. For tires: run a moderate-to-low tread, with a rounded profile, and you can scorch the local trails like no other time of year.

As the days get progressively shorter and colder, October provides a nice transition into the colder cycling months. For commuters, this means you’re likely riding to or from work in low-light conditions. The October transition gives us time to get our winter lighting and visibility plan dialed in. As in year’s past, advances in LED technology have introduced a whole new level of performance for low-energy, high-output lighting. This means more bang for the buck on new equipment. But for the frugal, this can also mean better deals on last year’s “outdated” technology.

Temperatures in the early morning will begin to reach the freezing point, while the commute home could actually be warmish. As with lighting, we have the opportunity to get reacquainted with cold-weather clothing and how to layer for our commute. Make sure you always commute with a beanie, a light shell and some light gloves tucked away in your bag during October. The general rule that many light layers are preferable to fewer heavy layers is a good practice to follow.

There are also a couple safety-related items in the October timeframe to consider on your commute. First, watch out for the leaves. When leaves are wet, especially when they’re layered and slimy, they are super slick. Never attempt to corner through wet leaves. Another hazard of leaves is the stuff that may be under the pile of dry leaves. The image of riding through a big pile of leaves is Rockwellian in its draw, but consider the branch or rock that may be hiding under there. Don’t do it!

The second safety item to consider is that as a commuter, you’re not as secure in numbers as you have been in the warm months when bikes are everywhere. Many cycling commuters switch to other modes of transportation when the days get shorter and the weather gets colder. Anecdotally, it seems that fewer bikes on the road are likely to dull the bike-alertness of motorists. It’s the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon. The best defense here, as always, is to be visible and predictable.

John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog at http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.