Getting the most out of a bicycle...



Just to make clear right away this is not meant as a guide for parents trying to help young children on their first bicycle.  Learning to ride and balance on a bike is something that must be tailored for each child and that can only be done by the person teaching them and the child themselves.  This article is meant for those who have already mastered the basic tenets of bike riding such as,

  1. Being able to balance without training wheels
  2. Can move at a good clip and be in control of the bicycle.
  3. Know how to ride the bicycle properly for different conditions
  4. Are physically fit enough to ride bicycle easily
  5. Can ride in both country and urban settings without difficulty.

What I am going to do is share some of my experiences on creating an enjoyable riding experience for you so that bicycling will become a passion for you as it is with me.  I have been avid bike rider for as long as I can remember, I use my bicycle for everything I can get away with because for me it is simple more enjoyable ways to travel.  When I was in high school I would bike 5 miles to my job over hilly gravel roads, work for 5 hours raking, pulling weeds, shoveling sand, trimming trees and mowing grass and then after all that was said and done I would bike the 5 miles home.  I didn’t do that because I didn’t have car or I couldn’t afford the gas I did it because I genuinely enjoyed biking.  Then for the past 2 years I have been fortunate enough to live in a small town where I don’t have to drive my car more than once a week.  All this time on a bicycle has shown me what works for several types of riding.  I am going to be sharing my insights on country biking and urban biking which are similar in a lot of ways but have some differences I would like to emphasize. 


Country Biking

For the purposes of this article country biking will be long distance open road biking on gravel or paved roads with varying topography and few start and stops.  There are 4 things that can make country biking a truly horrible activity in my experience.

  1. Wrong bicycle
  2. Improper clothing
  3. Not enough water
  4. Poorly maintained bicycle

I have suffered from all of these at various points in my life and let me tell you they can make even an avid bicyclist like me to regret going out that day.  There are two types of bicycles that are useful in country riding.  The first would be a road or street bicycle which is the standard model and a hybrid bicycle which combines a street bicycle and a mountain bike.  The street bicycle is perfect for biking on paved roads or maybe well maintained gravel depending on the type of wheels equipped.  Most street bicycles in my experience come equipped with those narrow tires which are great for reducing friction and improving performance on pavement but can be tricky on bad roads or gravel.  I much prefer the hybrid for my country biking since I tend to bike on gravel and do some off roading if the mood takes me.  I find the style of tire, the gearing options and comfort provided by the hybrid bicycle to more than compensate for it lower efficiency when compared to the street bike. 

Now that the bike has been chosen there is a few ergonomic and efficiency considerations to take care of. 

  1. Make sure all gears are clean and oiled properly.
  2. Test and adjust brakes as need to achieve a quick but not immediate stop.
  3. Inflate tire to recommended PSI.  Most tires in my experience run from 40-65 psi.  I like to keep mine around 55 psi so they have a bit more give and can roll over obstacles easier.  This is up to you as the bicyclist but make sure it’s in the recommended range.
  4. Raise or lower seat as needed to reach full extension of the leg when pedal is at the bottom of the push.  A good starting place would be to put the top of the seat at your hip and adjust as needed from there.
  5. Have a well padded comfortable seat.  This is crucial for long rides since that is where you will be resting your buttocks and nothing ruins a ride quicker than an uncomfortable seat.
  6. Have some sort or water bottle holder installed with a full water bottle in place.  (Always bring more water than you think you will need.)


Urban Biking

Many of the same ideas I outlined above will apply here as well.  There are some difference I would like to bring up.  The first would be traffic and pedestrian concerns, while these are not so much of a issue in the country in towns, cars and pedestrians are king and queen and should be treated as such.  Always always yield to cars because you do not know if they see you or that they will stop or slow down because of you.  I couldn’t even begin to count how many close calls I have had with vehicles over the years but I have avoided all of them by yielding to them.  The same is true for pedestrians always let them go by first and don’t come up from behind them unless you can give them a wide birth.  I have had close calls with pedestrians to because they don’t always do what you expect them too.  One example I can think of is I almost ran over an elderly women on top of a dam because she stopped and turned right into my path as I was biking by.  

The only change I would make to the bike going from long distance country biking to urban biking would be the height or the seat.  Having the seat set for full leg extension it great for maximizing efficiency in long rides but it can be troublesome to get on and off the bike.  So I have found it easier just to set the seat low enough to make it is easy to get on and off the bike. 


With a little forethought and planning any bike ride can be an enjoyable one.  I would suggest finding ways you can include bicycles in your life more.  I use mine to exercise, commute to work, go the library, grocery shop, go to the park, run errands, and to simply enjoy my life.  Biking can be a great solo activity or a awesome group activity, just make sure all group members are about the same fitness level otherwise the advanced bicyclists may feel slowed down and the slower ones will feel left out. 

I hope you have found this article useful and informative and I look forward to hearing about your biking experiences and ideas for improving biking in rural and urban settings.

Josh Larson