Since rediscovering my love for biking, I have become pretty obsessed with it. I seriously could spend every day on my bike. I go through withdraws during the winter when my poor Trek is either left hung in the mudroom or connected to my trainer. Stationary cycling is a far cry from the delicious pleasure that comes from feeling the wind in my face, experiencing the beauty and sounds of nature, and being energized by the rush of speed. Usually during the warmer months, I have to control myself so I don’t annoy all the people on social media because I have posted too many pictures of my bike or too many Runkeeper maps displaying the vast amount of miles I’ve tracked. But, I suppose as a result of my obsessive posting, I regularly get messages from individuals who are interested in starting bike riding and would like me to suggest a few tips. Therefore, I have decided to put together this basic 101 cycling post.
Keep in mind, I do not claim to be a professional cyclist. I have good friends who have taught me what I know and are much more experienced and knowledgeable. I am coming at this as a woman in her mid 40’s who started biking while still in pretty bad physical shape and overweight. (This was my "after" picture... after biking for 2 years.)
Another disclaimer I want to make is that my primary goal in cycling is enjoyment. If I lose the feeling of having fun, then something has gone wrong. Even though I do occasionally “train” or do sprints on my bike, I usually try to keep my heart rate at a slower pace and spend a longer time on the bike. I believe that you get more benefit to your health from longer, slower bike rides than from shorter, all-out cycling workouts. So you will need to find that sweet spot where you feel energized from a mild workout and still completely enjoying yourself.
(I love discovering new trails. Ella isn't so convinced.)
Tip#1: Get a good bike. Even though you may not be able to see the distinction, there is a big difference between a cheap discount store bike and a nice middle of the road name brand bike. Better bikes tend to weigh less, last longer, ride smoother and make for a better experience. No one likes it when their equipment or tools fail to work properly. You get what you pay for. The weight of the bike is important for two reasons. One, if you have to transport the bike to a trail, it’s nice to not break your back lifting it. And two, it’s less weight for you to have to pump. A few pounds do make a big difference in gaining speed.
Tip#2: Research which bike is best for you. There are several different models of bikes. Try a variety to decide which is most comfortable and fits your ultimate goals of cycling. In short, you have ...
Mountain bikes: Heavy, big tires, slow but durable. They are a good choice for kids because they won’t dent when they get dropped and they are usually less expensive. They are also suitable for off-roading.
Comfort/Hybrid bikes: These tires are usually a little thinner than mountain bikes and they are a bit lighter. Most of these bikes' frames are made to keep your butt lower which allows you to sit more upright. You can even get a “walk through” frame so you don’t have to lift your leg over the bar.
Fitness bikes: These look similar to the comfort bikes and their tires are about the same width, but they have a more aggressive stance. The frame keeps the butt a little raised so you are leaning more which helps with aerodynamics. This is the kind I bought first because I wanted a bike with speed but I wasn’t ready for a road bike. (pictured above with Ella)
Road bikes: They are usually the most expensive, lightest, and fastest with the skinniest tires. The handlebars are drop downs. I love my road bike. It is my bike of choice.
Tip#3: Buy bike shorts!!! Even if you have a soft seat (saddle), padded shorts are important. Anything that helps you stay on the bike longer is a plus. Most people are self conscience about wearing spandex in public, so just put them under other shorts or pants. No big deal! (My prego body wearing spandex!!!!!)
Tip#4: ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET!!!! I am amazed when I see cyclist, especially older ones, who are not wearing protective head gear. I have fallen several times. It is easy to do. Broken bones are possible to recover from, but a head injury can be permanent. You get used to it after a while. I feel naked without my helmet. Stop being stubborn and put the darn thing on, and buckle it too!
Tip#5: Make sure your seat(saddle) is at the right height. Most adults are tempted to place their seats so low they can touch the ground while sitting on it. That is not a good idea. If your saddle is too low, you will cause knee pain. It puts too much strain on the knees and forces you to use only your quads in the pumping. Raise your seat to the point where your leg almost locks out, but not too high that it causes you to “rock” in your saddle. The common warnings are “too low equals knee pain” and “too high equals calf pain.”
Tip#6: The extras can be nice. The extra things that make for an enjoyable experience are gloves, computers, clips, and a tool kit. Gloves provide padding to the padded parts of your hands. They help prevent your hands from going to sleep. They also provide an anti-slip grip. That way you don’t have to maintain a tight hold which will hurt after a while. Computers are very handy. I like to use the GPS on my smart phone, but I don’t always like to display my expensive phone on the handlebars. (There are attachments that allow for that) Like I said, I have fallen a lot and I am usually more worried about smashing my phone than my bones. I keep mine safe in my bag. You can purchase a $45 computer that mounts to your handlebars. It displays your current speed, miles, time and many other things. A little rain usually doesn’t hurt them and their batteries last a long time. Clips are attachments that replace your average pedals. You buy shoes that match the hardware and the shoes clip to the pedals. Yes... you’ve guessed it. I have fallen several times because I fail to get my feet free fast enough. But eventually it becomes second nature. I love my clips because they aid in more efficient pedaling. You use the entire leg in each rotation instead of just the quads. Another option to the clips are what we call “cages”. With these your regular shoe slips into a cage. They are almost as efficient. The last thing I mention is a tool kit. You don’t want to be stranded miles away from your car. A simple bike tool kit and spare tire could be a life saver.
Tip#7: Search any questions you have and then just go ride. Don’t be afraid about going too far. Like my good friend told me when I first started, “The bike will always get you back”. Don't be discouraged at the pains that come at first. We weigh a lot more now than when we were kids, so your body needs to get conditioned.
Cycling is a wonderful activity. It’s very low impact on the body and provides great opportunities to explore and adventure. Just give it a try and have fun. The world is wonderful to experience on two wheels.
Ok... I am really needing a ride now.