Visit any city or town in almost any country in the world and chances are there will be bicycles on the road. Bikes are, in many places, nearly as popular of a form of transportation as cars or trucks. For most, bicycling is a skill learned in childhood that’s never truly forgotten, even if a person hasn’t actually ridden in years. There are many reasons why bike-riding is such a popular activity—beyond the freedom and joy that comes just from riding one—and understanding them can help motivate people who don’t regularly ride to start pedaling once again.
Why Ride a Bike?
There are solid reasons why people should either learn or start to ride their bicycles. The obvious is that it enables them to move from one location to another, particularly when one does not have a car, doesn’t want to drive or prefers not to ride public transportation. The added benefit of bicycling to work, school or a friend’s house is that it’s a free and green alternative to driving, as it reduces greenhouse emissions. Physical fitness and weight loss are also a benefit and motivator for many who choose to ride their bicycles routinely. It is an aerobic exercise that provides a low-impact workout suitable for people of all ages and genders who want to be more fit. Riding a bicycle is also just plain fun. It’s a way to enjoy the sun on warm-weather days, casually spend time with friends or engage in playtime with one’s children.
What Type of Bicyclist Are You?
Before taking the first steps toward pursuing bicycling as a pastime, it may be helpful to consider what type of bicyclist you’ll be. This is often a reflection of a person’s personality, interests, and level of physical fitness. Often, a person is one or some combination of a casual rider, a mountain biker, a roadie, a track racer, or a triathlete. A casual rider is someone whose idea of a fun bicycle ride is one that’s relaxed and enjoyable. A mountain biker is a bicyclist who loves a rough bike ride on terrain that’s more natural and rugged than city streets. A roadie, or road cyclist, is one who prefers to ride on smooth surfaces instead of dirt, sand or rough natural areas. For some, it is a challenging and typically competitive ride that may involve inclines and declines. Triathlete bicyclists are also swimmers and runners who compete in triathlons. They’re long-distance, endurance bicyclists who often ride solo rather than in a group or pack like road cyclists. Track racers race on special tracks in velodromes.
Buying Your Bike
When buying a new bicycle, it’s important that people pick not only the bike that they like but the one that’s best for how they plan to use it. There are a number of ways to buy one. A person can go online and look at websites, classified ads or forums. When buying a bicycle online, particularly a used one, bicyclists should be cautious of hidden damages and retain the right to return it if there are unexpected surprises. Bikes are also available in big-box and other brick-and-mortar stores, including bicycle shops. A bike shop is a smart option for new cyclists, as they are typically staffed by cycling professionals who can answer questions about the bikes and make suggestions on what bikes are best. In general, unless someone is buying a bike solely for mountain biking, they should avoid buying a mountain bike as their sole or first bike, as they are not designed to be routinely ridden on streets. Instead, stick with a road bike, which is more versatile.
Additional Accessories and Gear
While a bicycle is the most necessary piece of equipment for bicycling, you’ll also need some important accessories to help keep the rider, the bike or both safe. The most important of these items is the helmet. A helmet protects the head of the rider from potentially serious or even fatal injury. When selecting a helmet, always buy new and choose one that fits properly on the head. Bike shop staff are also able to help their customers select the appropriate helmet. Bicycles can be expensive, and a lock helps to protect it from being stolen when not in use. Cyclists will need a U-lock to lock up their bikes while they are at work, in class or shopping. Blinking bike lights are protection for both the rider and the bicycle; having a blinking light on a bicycle at night alerts cars to the cyclist’s presence and can help prevent accidental yet potentially deadly collisions.
Lycra jerseys and cycling shorts are good to wear when riding, as the material is comfortable, wicks away moisture, and helps to reduce drag while riding. Because one can never be too visible to cars, clothing and helmets can also benefit from the addition of reflective patches.
What to Take on Bicycle Rides
When going on a ride, bring a small repair kit in case of a punctured tire. This typically includes a spare tube, patch kit and a CO2 inflator or small hand pump. For longer rides, a seat bag may be used, as more tools may be necessary. In the event of a repair that cannot be managed with these tools, one should always keep a small amount of cash and a cellphone on hand.
How to Ride a Bike
In some ways, cycling is as simple as pedaling, but there’s more to it than that. There are additional things that cyclists should learn that can make their rides better. These include:
- Using their rear brake and not the front brake to slow down. The front brake should only be used to stop the bike.
- Riding in a lower gear at a higher RPM as opposed to riding in a harder gear at a slower RPM. This allows for longer rides with more power.
- Keeping one’s knees in line between the ankle and hip while riding.
- Wearing clip shoes, which may make it easier to use one’s legs and buttocks to apply better power when pedaling.
- To always pedal smoothly.
Ways to Improve
While riding a bike isn’t a skill that’s easily forgotten, it is one that can be improved. A simple way to do that is to ride more often. While it’s an option to do this alone, cyclists can also learn from others. To do that, consider joining a cycling club or signing up for a cycling tour. A bike shop is a good place to find information about local groups, or one can search online.
Good bike etiquette is just as important of a lesson as learning to ride a bicycle. Good etiquette involves following the rules of the road as they apply to bicycling. Be predictable, obey traffic regulations, use hand signals and give pedestrians the right-of-way on sidewalks. If riding with a group, it is also important that riders understand and follow group riding etiquette, which includes only riding in the group if you have the skills to do so.