When I was a kid I had what we called a “10 speed bike.” I loved that bike. I rode it to school and rode it as much as I could after school and on weekends. Then my older sister got a job and didn’t have a way to work, so I let her take my bike. That lasted maybe a week before the bike was stolen from the fast-food joint where she worked. And that was also the end of my biking adventures. That is, until this year.
Now a middle-aged woman at the ripe old-age of 47, I decided that this would be the year I stop talking about it and start exercising regularly. After dusting off my treadmill I took up running in the mornings before work. Then, hearing all the great stories about bike riding from my significant-other, I decided to give biking a try.
First off, let me tell you that my man spent years riding 60 miles in one outting, often daily, but at least several times a week. There’s absolutely no comparing that to the 2 mile ride I took to school and the few blocks around the neighborhood that I did back when I was about 14. So I’m pretty much a biking newbie and knew I had a lot to learn.
When we started riding on the weekends, it was all I could do to make it on a 5 mile ride along the wonderful biking trails we have in our city (a suburb north west of Phoenix, Arizona). It’s now been five months and I’ve progressed from practically passing out riding a mountain bike 5 miles to zipping past my man on my new road bike (the modern equivalent of a “10 speed”) as we ride 25 to 30 miles.
As you can see I have progressed, but I am still a relative newbie to the sport. Some things I had to learn the hard way and some things I have picked up along the way. I’m still learning, of course, but what I have learned so far may be helpful to you if you’re a biking newbie or thinking about getting started with some weekend biking excursions.
- Safety first – get a bike helmet that fits properly and wear it every time you bike. Your local bike shop can help you with the proper fit or check out the tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- Health – always take enough water or sport drink to get you through your ride. If going more than 5 miles, invest in a hydration hiking backpack. Also, it’s always good to carry a protein or carb bar with you for energy. The best investment I made was my hydration backpack. I can carry up to 100 oz of water or sport drink (I prefer to fill mine with a sport drink for best hydration) plus some extra Clif bars for energy when I need it.
- Comfort – this could almost go in the other two categories of safety and health because a proper fit on a bike can help you ride better, safer and injury free. I really thought that all you had to do was adjust the seat a little on a bike and start riding. Wrong. A proper fit includes how your legs are extended as you ride as well as the position and comfort of the seat. A was “fitted” for my new road bike at the local bike shop. The made sure I had proper form and the seat was comfortable for me. If you get this done then go for a ride and find that you are still experiencing some discomfort, go back to the bike shop and they’ll readjust. A good bike shop will do this for you for free and with a smile. If they are cranky, find another bike shop. I learned that from experience.
- Gear– when talking about “gear” I am referring to your biking attire.
- Shoes and Pedals – I started out with straps on my pedals and that really helps so you take advantage of the full rotation of your bike stroke: push and pull. You can also get bike shoes with pedals that allow you to clip in to the pedals with the shoes. I recently switched to these and absolutely love it. Took a little getting used to with getting out of the clips, but very easy and I haven’t fallen once – unlike the three times I fell when using the pedal straps.
- Shorts/Pants – I didn’t think I would ever be caught dead in the shorts with the padded crotch and butt. But after a few long rides I knew I needed a little extra help in that area. So I got my first pair of bike shorts and love them. I did, however, learn that they are made to be worn without underwear. Proper bike shorts will help to keep you comfortable in the right areas, reduce air resistance, allowing for full range of motion on the bike, and prevent chafing with breathable, comfortable fabric.
- Shirt – when I started riding I wore a cotton tank or tee thinking that cotton would be cooler and absorb sweat. Yes it is absorbent, but not exactly cool when temperatures are pushing beyond 100 degrees Fahrenheit and it is soaked with sweat. So I invested in a cycling jersey. I actually found one relatively inexpensive online, so that was a bonus. The key is in the lightweight, moisture control (often called “wick-a-way” or “moisture wicking”) fabric. It keeps the sweat from weighting down the shirt and keeps you cool when biking. You can get non-bike specific shirts made with this fabric in just about any sporting good store or sports apparel section of your favorite department store. The added advantage of the cycling jersey is the longer length of the shirt in the back so that it doesn’t ride up when you are leaning forward on a road bike. Plus cycling jerseys have pockets in the back. Seems a bit odd at first, but a great place to keep things that you need quick access to like a protein bar or energy gel.
There’s a lot more I have learned about technique and form, but much of it you’ll discover as you ride. For now, take the first step: get out there and enjoy the great outdoors on a bicycle!
Jami Garrison is a contributor of health and fitness images (including biking and hiking) at Warmpicture.com. Along with writing, she is a photographer, graphic designer and occasional web developer who enjoys helping others get the most out of their creative visions, presentations and reports.
On a more personal note, she is the mother of two grown young men, a vegetarian, and has become a dedicated runner and weekend bicyclist. She is also the founder/creator of Mom’s Halo (momshalo.org), a website dedicated to helping those who have suffered the loss of their mom.