Reliv Distributor and active cyclist David Clarke shares his advice and wisdom on introductory cycling.
You’ve been watching the Tour de France. You haven’t ridden a bicycle in 20 years, but you’ve decided to peel yourself off the couch! What a terrific way to get some exercise, be out of doors and enjoy the feeling of the wind through your hair.
Time to Shop
The first order of business: you need to purchase a bike. The local big box store is having a sale, but unless you are only going to ride to the corner grocery, you need a bicycle that fits you well. The correct size, proper seat height and positioning of the handle bars is critical for a comfortable, enjoyable ride. Your local bicycle shop, likely staffed by avid cyclists, is your best bet for finding the perfect cycle to suit your needs.
You might feel overwhelmed by all the choices you’ll find at the shop. The salesperson will likely ask what sort of riding you plan to do, so have that in mind before you go. Do you plan on taking leisurely rides on paved paths? You’ll need a much different bike for this than mountain biking or riding 50-miles at a time on gravel roads. Consider your choices:
- Mountain bikes are designed specifically for off-roading, climbing and rough terrain
- Commuter bikes will be most comfortable when you can zig-zag your way through town on the way to work or to run errands
- Road bikes have very slim tires and offer varied seating positions for long rides on paved roads
- Hybrids can accommodate riding on a road and modest off-road trails
- There are also beach bikes, recumbents and triathlon bikes to consider
Find the Right Fit
Once you have determined the type of riding you intend to do, the sales person will set you up with the proper size, and “fit” you to the bike, adjusting seat height and handle bar positioning. Many bicycle frames come in different sizes and they’ll make sure that you can comfortably reach the handlebars and pedals. The next thing to consider are the pedals: do you prefer clip-ins, straps or free pedals? This is something you can change at any time as your cycling progresses, but I suggest starting with free pedals until you get used to the idea of your feet being attached to the bike.
Now that you’ve found a bike that fits your riding style and body frame, adjusted the seat, chosen your pedals and maybe even a bell or water bottle mount, it’s time to consider the most important accessory of all. Regardless of where you intend to ride, you need a helmet! While not required by law for adults, helmets are an absolute must. Broken bones, cuts and bruises and road rash will heal over time. A head injury on the other hand can be a devastatingly permanent injury resulting in paralysis or even death. It doesn’t take much to turn a pleasant afternoon ride into a trip to the emergency room, so protect your noggin.
After choosing a properly fitting helmet, you might want to consider riding gloves for comfort, water bottles for hydration and special cycling shoes if you are “clipping in.” A cycling jersey is also a good idea because they have pockets in the back to carry snacks, your ID, a cell phone, etc. You might want some type of bike bag or pannier to carry an extra tube, tire levers, tube repair kit (yes, you will have to change a flat at some point in your lifetime!) and your keys. A hand pump that can be attached to the Bike frame or CO2 cartridges for inflating the tubes.
When riding at night (or even during the day) it would be wise to consider lights: front (white) and rear (red). The LEDs available today provide wonderfully bright light giving you excellent visibility, even in the daytime. Many red rear lights can clip onto a rack-mounted bag and be set to flash in a strobe frequency for increased visibility.
Gadgets and Gears
If you find yourself really enjoying cycling and spending some serious time on two wheels, you might want to consider some type of computer/GPS that can monitor speed, distance, riding time, cadence and heart rate. It’s not something you’ll need if you’re an occasional rider, but your tech-savvy side might enjoy knowing all these statistics as you pedal along.
Off-road riders should consider additional safety gear like elbow pads, knee pads, shoulder/neck padding/support, ankle supports, mouth guard and goggles.
- Do everything you can do be visible. Wear bright colors, illuminate your bicycle (especially at night) and follow the rules of the road.
- Wear a helmet. Even if you’re just riding to the library and back, you should protect your head from a slip. Even the smallest of accidents can wreak monumental damage.
- You should not ride alone, particularly in a mountain biking venue. Having a buddy along for the ride is not only safe; it’s also more enjoyable than riding alone.
- Learn the rules of cycling. If you are riding on roadways, remember that a bicycle is classified as a “vehicle,” and as such must obey the traffic laws of the State. Obey traffic control devices, traffic lights and stop signs. Ride on the right side of the road, with traffic. Signal your intended movements, stopping or slowing and turning. Be mindful of speed limits (I have had to “slow down” for School Zones – not bad for an old guy! I fuel my rides with ProVantage and Innergize!).
- If you are riding with a group of other cyclists, communication is key. ALWAYS make your intentions known to other riders in the group, particularly slowing or stopping. Never overlap wheels. Touching wheels will cause a crash.
- When riding as a family, keep in mind that younger riders might need more frequent breaks and should have input on how far you plan to ride. Riding on a designated bicycle path is a great idea if children are with you; it takes automotive traffic out of the equation.
Now that you are inspired to ride, we come to the serious part. Before embarking on any new exercise program, see your Physician for a Physical Exam to insure that you are capable of participating in your new endeavor.
Start slowly. Work your way up to faster paces and longer distances over time. If you will be riding with a group, my recommendation is to “ride down” with a slower group until you get comfortable riding with other cyclists and you learn more about your ride level skills. You likely won’t enjoy riding with a group where you cannot keep up pace. One, you will get dropped; and if you do not know the route, you will have difficulty finding your way back; OR, you will require someone else from the group to fall back with you to lead you home if it is a “no drop” ride. It can be embarrassing to say the least.
Remember the rules of the road, especially the most important one: “If it is bigger and faster, always yield!” Don’t forget that you’re on a bicycle and play it safe.
Stay upright, and may the wind be always at your back.