It’s springtime - time to dust off your bike and start riding.  Cycling is a great cardio exercise.  You can pedal as hard or as easy as you wish, go as far as you want to, cycle solo or with a spouse, friend or group, and you can cycle for leisure or for competition.  Riding your bicycle offers health benefits as well as the opportunity to see new things and visit new places.  It is a great stress reducer.  Cycling is a great way to travel and tour green especially if you commute to work or school.  It’s just plain fun.  Before jumping on your bike and hitting the road, you will want to check out your health as well as the health of your bicycle. 

Check Out Your Health

Check with your doctor to see if your health will let you ride a bicycle.  If you have a disease such as diabetes, cycling can help control your blood sugar.  It can also lower your glucose level rapidly.  Carry snacks and your glucose test meter with you.  Be sure to test your blood sugar  before riding and periodically during your ride.  Consult your doctor if you have had joint surgery, such as hip, knee or ankle surgery to get medical clearance to ride.  Your doctor should also evaluate any heart or blood pressure issues you may have.   Even if you feel healthy, speak to your doctor  as some conditions, such as high blood pressure, are not always symptomatic .

Check Out the Health of Your Bicycle

Consult the owner’s manual that came with your bicycle for any instructions about maintenance and safety.  Give your bicycle a careful visual inspection and note any areas of concern.  Look for damaged parts or cables.  Check wheel alignments, handlebars, seat and main frame.  The seat should be firmly fixed in place.  Set the proper height for the seat by placing your foot on the pedal when it is closest to the ground and your leg extended with a slight bend at the knee.  Test your audible signaling device.   Check to see if devices such as odometer and lights are in working order.  The front wheel should spin freely.  Move the pedals to see if the rear wheel rotates without resistance or rubbing.  Test hand and pedal breaks.  Tire pressure ranges are located on the side of the tire.  Look for tire damage.  The valve stems should have caps.  Check for loose spokes.  Test them by running your fingers over them.  Visually inspect the rims for damage. 

After your visual inspection, take your bike to a bicycle repair shop along with your list of any concerns.  Ask them to do a full tune up on your bicycle.  Tell them about the concerns you have noted.  They will lubricate moving parts; note any worn or damaged parts needing replacement, and make necessary adjustments.  This once a year professional fine tuning maximizes your bicycle's performance.  Throughout your cycling season, there are many things you can routinely do to keep your bicycle running smoothly. 

After each ride, do a visual inspection for any loose, damaged, or missing parts.  Double check warning devices and brake alignments.  Look for rust pockets in the wheels and chain.  Lubricate and tighten the as needed.  Clean your bike after each ride.  Wash off any mud and grime and dry thoroughly.  Re-lubricate the chain and moving parts.

 Obsess About Safety

One of the most important items about cycling safety is your bicycle helmet.  When selecting a helmet do your own research.  Price is not the issue.  The ability to survive an impact is.  Discuss your options with the staff at a bicycle store.  Be sure to speak with persons knowledgeable about it.  Always wear your helmet.

Rear view mirrors enhance safety in riding.  They give you a clear picture of what is behind you at a glance, rather than you having to twist around to look back.  This twisting can sometimes throw your center of gravity off or make you weave.  There are at least two styles to choose from.  Compact mirrors can fit on the handle bars of your bike.  Some are permanently extended.  Others fold away.  You can also get small mirrors with flexible stems that attach to your helmet or clip on your glasses.

Audio and visual signal devices enhance your riding safety day or night.  An audible signaling device alerts cyclists and walkers in front of you that you are behind them and may be  passing them.  Mount horns or bells on the handle bar.  If you ride at dusk or night, you will want lights for your bike.  You can attach lights powered by a small generator driven by your spinning wheel as you pedal.  No batteries needed.  You can buy lights requiring batteries.  Lights for the rear of your bike can either glow or blink.  Your bicycle should have reflectors in the front and rear, as well as reflective markings.  Night riding is dangerous.  Supplement your reflective material by wearing bright, reflective clothing. 

 When riding alone or with a group, use designated bicycle lanes.  Ride with the flow of traffic.  Do not ride in the center of the road or lane.  Obey all traffic signs and signals just as if you were driving an automobile.  If you are riding with a group of cyclists, ride single file.  Do not ride your bicycle if using alcohol, drugs, or are on medication that can impair your ability to ride safely.  Keep both hands on the handle bars as you ride.

 Prepare for Emergencies

There are many types of bike saddlebags, bike packs, and pouches that attach to your bike.  They are handy for carrying essentials.  Some helpful supplies to carry on your bicycle are:  a spare inner tube, a tire repair kit, a basic bicycle tool kit including repair tools, a small air pump, a first aid kit, some rags, a couple of power bars, hand sanitizer, maps of the area you live in and a large garbage bag.  The garbage bag can become an emergency rain coat by cutting a hole in the center of the bottom for your head and a hole on each side for your arms.  Your bicycle should have at least one bracket for holding a water bottle.  Start all rides with at least one full water bottle and hydrate with plenty of water before you begin.  If you ride in a variety of areas, a GPS mounted to your handlebars is a helpful tool for directions and locations.  Put your cell phone in a plastic water proof case or bag.  Don’t try to talk or text while you are riding.  Check the weather forecast for the area you are going to ride in.  Always leave a copy of your route including departure and return times with someone.  For extended rides, leave a note with this information in your vehicle if you have driven to your starting point.

 Dress for a Great Ride

Your choice of clothing for riding your bicycle is totally up to you.  You will want to dress in consideration of the weather.  You can buy clothing specifically designed for riding a bicycle.  It is tight-fitting to reduce drag and colorful for easy identification.  If you don’t want to go to the cost of specialized clothing, you can pretty much wear whatever is comfortable.  Layer your clothing.  Loose clothing and flopping shoe strings can get caught up in the chain and sprockets as you pedal causing you to fall and possibly injure yourself.  If you wear long pants, tuck the hem of your pants legs into your sock or put a band around them.  In the same way, tuck the loops of your shoe strings into your shoes.  Riding gloves that allow the fingers to extend uncovered, while providing a padding to protect the palms of your hands from blisters and chaffing will be helpful.

 Don’t Just Pedal from Point A to Point B

The best part of cycling is the journey.  Cycling allows you to see and experience your surroundings at a slower pace.  Additionally, when something catches your eye, you can usually stop and investigate it.  Local bicycle shops, Chambers of Commerce, and local tourist bureaus will have information and brochures on biking trails and interesting things to see.  Take pictures.  Keep a journal.  Develop a blog.  Post to your favorite social media site.  Enjoy the ride.  Be safe.


Shadow Cyclist
Credit: Bill Sterling