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Biking Bravado

by Kathleen Guthrie

Trying to find a new way to get some fresh air and watch the earth turn green again?  Biking is a sport that can be enjoyed by young and old alike and on many different levels.

“Yeah, right!  Easier said than done,’ you’re probably saying to yourself.  It is easy and here are some tips to help you get on the road or trail.

Familiarize yourself with a local bike shop and the employees.  They will become your guides to equipment and gear and eventually become your ‘best buddies.’  Believe me, unless you are bicycle mechanically inclined, you will come to appreciate their expertise.

Start by deciding if you want to road ride or trail ride then ask for assistance shopping for an entry level bike.  If you are thinking about off road riding, i.e. mountain trails or rail trails, you will want to check out either a dual sport or a hybrid bike.  These bikes feature flat handlebars, a wider saddle (seat), wider tires, shock absorbers, and flat pedals which can be used with casual shoes such as sneakers.  For this type of riding, an entry level TREK will cost between $300 – $350, and, of course, could be more depending on your ability and personal needs.

If road riding is your desire, you will want to look at bikes that feature drop handlebars, higher gearing, a smaller seat, narrower tires, and pedals with toe clips or clipless according to your ability and comfort level.   Road bikes offer the opportunity for faster, longer, high performance street riding.  Once you become comfortable with the bike, you may want to upgrade some of the options to suit your level of riding.  An entry level TREK road bike can start around $400.

A third consideration is the comfort bike which features higher handlebars and a bigger saddle which puts you into a more upright riding position. These bikes are great for paved paths, boardwalks, and neighborhoods.  Comfort bikes can be priced beginning at $350.

Once you test ride a bike and decide if it is the one for you, make sure you are properly fitted to it.  If you had a bike as a child, you probably jumped on it and rode off into the sunset.  But having a bike that truly fits you will make a world of difference in your riding experience.  A good bike shop will offer a bike fitting before you ride off into the sunset.  Take advantage of the service.

Any bike that you purchase should have a seat pack.  There are several styles and sizes from which to choose.  Some things you should include in it are a spare tube and tools for changing a flat which include levers, a multi-tool, patches, inflation cartridges or a small pump.  You can also carry a snack and cell phone in a seat pack.  You will want to look at attachable flashing lights for safety, a water bottle cage, and possibly a speedometer/odometer or GPS.

Most likely you have seen riders in colorful clothing and spandex shorts/tights.  What you choose to wear is up to you, but you want to be sure to dress for the climate and for comfort.  If you decide on riding shorts, make sure they have a good chamois in them.  A chamois provides an extra layer of comfort between you and the seat and helps relieve any pressure points you may experience during your ride.  Your jersey should be breathable and/or wicking and definitely not cotton.  Many riders wear biking gloves which help with your grip, provide gel pads for the pressure points on the palms of your hands, and absorb sweat.  Before leaving the bike shop, make sure you are professionally fitted with the most important piece of safety equipment – a helmet.  Regardless of where or how you ride, always wear a helmet because falls do happen!

If you choose to be a road rider, you need to familiarize yourself with the rules of the road.  As with automobiles, many states have a Bicycle Driver’s Manual which says that cyclists are granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.  Acquiring a manual or reading the provisions online will definitely be to your advantage and can help make cycling safe for all of us who road ride.  Become safety minded!

After you are completely outfitted, know the rules of the road, checked the air pressure in your tires, checked your brakes and chain, have all your tools, and are ready to ride, taking that first pedal stroke can be the hardest thing to do.  Ask at your bike shop if they sponsor group rides at various levels or if they are affiliated with any bike clubs/groups in your area.  These are the people to ride with because they will give you great advice on riding skills, help you make progress and continue to push yourself.  Many long-lasting friendships have been formed among cyclists – it’s just GOOD FUN!!