Debating whether to hop back on that old bicycle? Now’s as good a time as any! Here’s a look at the many benefits associated with a regular bike riding regimen and how to get started.
Among the top health benefits associated with biking are: a reduction in cardiovascular risk, a strengthened immune system, improved mental health and increased longevity. According to a Preventive Medicine study, active commuting that incorporates cycling and walking is associated with an 11% overall reduction in cardiovascular risk.
Join the masses
You are not alone! As more and more people adopt bicycles as their primary mode of transportation, cities are following suit with bike shares, bike lanes and more. According to Washington, D.C.’s District Department of Transportation Bicycle Facility Evaluation, 83% of surveyed residents agreed that the 15th Street green lane is a valuable neighborhood asset.
Did you know that cycling is the most efficient way for us to get around? Aside from being the most energy-efficient (no combustible emissions are released as you pedal your heart out), bicycles are a great alternative to getting around during rush hour commutes. How about reconnecting with an old friend for a weekend cycle session at your local park? You can stop by a local bicycle shop to ask for a bike map for your neighborhood.
How to Get Started
Find the Right Bike
There are three options when it comes to choosing a bicycle.
- Road Bikes– These are built for speed and long distances on paved surfaces. Road bikes have skinny tires and larger wheels to help you move at a faster speed. They also position you in a hunched over posture to reduce drag and increase your speed. If you have back, neck, arm or hand pain you may want to consider a hybrid bike. If you’re relatively healthy and looking for a high-speed endurance exercise, a road bike may be for you.
- Mountain Bikes– These have smaller wheels, knobby tires and a more upright position for the rider than road bikes. This helps you navigate bumpy, winding, off-road trails. Mountain bikes are typically more comfortable than road bikes. However, they pose a different level of danger because of the terrain you will be riding on.
- Hybrids – For most, hybrid bikes are the most comfortable of the three. They position the rider in an upright posture and have thick tires that make the bike easier to balance. Hybrid riders typically put in fewer miles than mountain bike and road bike riders. They also travel at more of a casual speed. Hybrid bikes can be ridden on paved surfaces or packed dirt trails.
It’s tempting to shop for a bike at a large sporting goods store. Resist that urge. Instead, check out at least three stores that specialize in bicycles. See if the shops have certified fitters. A certified fitter is someone who is trained to take precise measurements to fit you to your bike. The fitter may even swap out different parts to build a semi-custom bike just for you. This can sometimes cost a little bit more money but you’re likely to find it’s worth it.
Whether you’re buying an entry-level bike, or breaking the bank, it’s not fun riding on something that doesn’t fit well. Get a properly fitted bike properly. In regards to budget, figure out the total amount you can spend on your new biking hobby. Then, set aside two thirds of that budget for the bike. The rest can be spent on gear and training.
Use the Right Gear
Just as you need the right type of bike, you also need the right gear. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that a good bike is all you need. If you want to enjoy your ride, you’ll need a few essentials to go along with your bike. Here’s a list of essential gear for biking beginners.
Helmet – This one’s a no-brainer. No matter where and what you’re riding, you need a helmet. They don’t cost a lot either. You can get a great helmet for around 40 bucks. Just don’t buy a used one or anything that’s older than three years. After three years, the protective foam inside the helmet breaks down.
Gloves – Biking gloves are essential for comfort and safety. They can give you a better grip on your handlebars and help prevent blisters. They also prevent, or dampen, road vibration. Even a smooth road will cause vibrations in the bike frame and handlebars. These minor vibrations can cause your hands and fingers to go numb. Biking gloves can also reduce the pressure on your ulnar nerve. This nerve, part of which runs through your wrists and hands, has a tendency to get pinched when holding handlebars. Biking gloves can help reduce the pressure and keep your hands in a good position.
Road ID – A road ID is a thick rubber bracelet with a small metal plaque that contains your contact and medical information. If you’re in an accident while biking, your road ID could help save your life.
Repair Kit – A good repair kit should to fit on your bike and have an extra tube, patch kit, tire levers to help put the new tube on, and a pump. There are two options for repair kit pumps. You can use a CO2 or a hand pump. The hand pump is typically larger but, unlike the CO2 pump, there is no limit to the amount of air it can provide.
Your repair kit should also have a multi-tool. Make sure that your multi-tool can handle every type of screw, bolt and nut on your bike. Also, you’ll want a tire pressure gage and a floor pump for home. This won’t go in your repair kit, but it’s important that you check the pressure (PSI) of your tires and fill up if necessary, before every ride. This can be more difficult than it has to be if you’re using the hand or CO2 pump from your repair kit.
Water Bottle – Most bikes will have preinstalled screws for your water bottle cage. If yours doesn’t, ask your bike shop to install them. Then, mount your water bottle cage on the bike and keep a full water bottle with you whenever you are riding.
Additional Gear – There’s tons of other gear you can add to your bike and riding kit. Items include riding clothes such as shorts and shirts, clip-on shoes and pedals, GPS systems and saddles (seats). These items can all enhance your riding experience. But it’s recommended that you spend some time getting comfortable with your bike and your riding style before you invest in accessory gear. After a few months of riding, you’ll have a better idea of the types of gadgets and clothes you’ll find useful.
Finding Your Biking Rhythm
The mechanics and techniques for using your bike are a bit too involved to do the topic justice here but it’s wise to consider booking at least one learning session with a cycling coach. The bicycle shop that sold you your bike should be able to connect you with a good instructor. Even if it sounds unnecessary, it’s really a good idea.
Think about what it would be like to learn how to drive a manual transmission on your own. Don’t know how to drive a manual transmission? That proves the point even further. The average road bike has 27 gears. Learning how and when to shift into those gears on your own could take years. Instead, have a pro teach you in an afternoon. They’ll also be able to cover safety tips, quick repairs and routine maintenance. And don’t be shy to ask lots of questions. It’s likely most of their clients are beginners.
Bike riding can be relaxing or exhilarating. You can choose smooth trails, bumpy off-road terrain, or flat strips of road that stretch for miles. With the right bike, the right gear and some simple training, you’ll be on your way to enjoying the health, social and mental benefits of biking. Now get out there!
Always consult your doctor before changing your diet or starting a new exercise regimen.
Keep Reading: 6 Tips to Help You Flex Your Workout Muscle