Find a Bike that Fits Your Style
May is here—National Bike Month—heralded by a new Outdoor Industry Association study, which reports that bicycling is adult Americans’ second-favorite outdoor activity, after running. Its popularity is not surprising: Biking provides energizing aerobic and cardio exercise, flexibility, freedom, access and simply makes anyone feel young and vital.
“Everyone remembers their first bike and learning to ride it,” says Micah Rice, managing director of national events with USA Cycling, in Colorado Springs. “Parents can tap into that interest and the entire family can participate in a ride around the block, along a bike path, on an adventurous bike trail or in a local group fun ride. Cycling is easier than running, because it is less hard on your body and you can ride at any pace or distance.”
Sometimes we ride to combine shopping with exercise on local streets; on other occasions, we eagerly traverse old rail lines or ride hillside moguls. Having the right bicycle delivers the most from any experience.
Knowing your style and primary planned uses are paramount. Leading manufacturers, including Cannondale, Electra, GT, Marin, Novara, Raleigh, Scott and Trek offer many models for men, women and youngsters. Categories range from urban, road or mountain to recreation, comfort or cruising.
Bikes designed for road and pavement are generally lighter and have more gears than mountain bikes, which are built with more shockabsorbing features, such as rugged suspension and rough terrain tires, plus more lower gears to help ascend inclines. Urban and commuting bikes feature a slightly more upright riding position that helps bikers and motorists to see each other better.
Steve Colmar, a sales specialist at REI’s Seattle, Washington, store, provides two key guidelines for choosing and using a bike. Regarding seat position, “Make sure your leg has a slight bend when your pedal is at its lowest point in its rotation. If the legs feel a little cramped, raise the seat.” Regarding handlebar position, “Many serious road bikers adjust handlebars to be a little farther away, so they can lean forward with more weight in their hands, while many casual riders prefer a more upright position, because that’s what they are accustomed to while sitting. Whatever you are most comfortable with works.”
He notes that REI (rei.com) master bike technicians nationwide provide advice on selecting a bike, as well as free public bike maintenance classes.
Some riders feel that shouldering a knapsack is uncomfortable, inadequate or hinders pedaling. Bikes can be equipped with cargo-carrying capabilities to increase usability. Whatever the length of trip, having the gear to bring along key supplies will yield more utility and enjoyment: Think water, food, spare tire, cell phone, etc. What about bringing home some fresh produce from the farmers’ market?
For around-town use, go with a bike trailer for frequent large loads; smaller amounts can fit into one or two front and/or back bike bags. Local bike shops can advise.
USA Cycling, the sport’s national governing body, is hosting 17 national competitions with expos around the country this year in mountain, road and track categories for juniors, collegiate, open and senior divisions, plus many other local events. Visit USACycling.org to search for nearby riding clubs and and year-round events.
Since 1986, the nonprofit Railsto-Trails Conservancy (RailsToTrails.org) has been using former rail lines and connecting corridors to expand bicycling opportunities. To date, the Washington, D.C.-based organization has converted 20,000-plus miles of rail-trails and is currently seeking to add another 9,000 miles. Its largest annual participatory event is the 335-mile Greenway Sojourn, from D.C. to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from June 17 to 24.
Many parks and recreation departments support off-road clubs that preserve and maintain biking trails, and statewide bicycling associations welcome participation. Also check for information and opportunities via AdventureCycling.org, BicycleFriendlyCommunity.org, BikeLeague.org, BikesBelong.org, ClimateRide.org, imba.com (International Mountain Bicycling Association) and PeopleForBikes.org.
Pedal power to the people!
Randy Kambic, in Estero, FL, is a freelance writer and a copyeditor for Natural Awakenings.