Get Pumped To Pedal

By Scott Martin.

In fact, with today's improved gear, it may be even more fun. Here's why:

• You can ride from your doorstep. Forget the hassle of driving to a gym, paying a membership fee, waiting for facilities to become available, or searching for a partner or teammate. You can ride almost anytime, anywhere you want. No wasted time or money.

• Cycling is a non-weight-bearing, low-impact activity. So it's gentle on knees, shoulders and other joints that get pounded on the tennis or basketball court. Riding's so easy on your body that it's often prescribed for athletes recovering from injuries sustained in high-impact sports. Because it does not jar your body as much as higher-impact activities, cycling is especially good for older folks -- many people ride well into their 60s, 70s and beyond. It's great for overweight people too. 

• A program of brisk riding burns plenty of calories. Pedaling for only 30 minutes can consume 250 or more calories, and the boost to your metabolism burns even more. Cycling also strengthens your heart and lungs, tones muscles, bolsters your immune system, and makes you feel more energetic. Tests show that elite bike racers are among the fittest of all athletes. 

• Pedaling gets you outdoors, breathing fresh air and soaking up sunshine. Meander around your neighborhood instead of speeding to the interstate, or explore an enticing country road or quiet side street. If you're pressed for time, throw on a backpack or saddlebags and run your errands. Suddenly you're doing more than picking up a quart of milk, you're getting a workout -- without burning gas or polluting the air. 

• Riding's great for socializing. A good friend, a quiet road, and a warm exercise-induced glow inevitably lead to conversation, laughter and relaxation. Cycling offers lots of opportunities to meet people, as well: bike clubs, casual group rides, organized events that attract dozens, hundreds, even thousands of folks who spend the day -- or week -- riding, eating, grinning, eating.... Whether you're a beginner whose goal is to ride 10 miles, or a fanatic who burns to log a century (bikespeak for pedaling 100 miles in a day), there's a group or event for you. 

The old saying, "Once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget," is true -- to a point. Cycling's easy to do, but mastering a few simple tips and techniques adds to the enjoyment. 

Bike size
The first step is ensuring that your bike is the right size for you. A rough rule: Straddle the top tube with feet flat on the ground (while wearing shoes in which you'll ride). On a road bike, you need about two to three inches of clearance between crotch and tube. On a mountain bike, it's about four to five inches. 

Bike fit
A good local bike shop is the best place to get a proper fit, but here are some guidelines: You should have a 30 to 34 degree bend in your knee with your foot at the bottom of the stroke. If your hips rock when you pedal, the saddle's too high. Your saddle should be level or tipped down 1 to 2 degrees. With crankarms parallel to the ground, drop a plumb line (a string with a weight on the end) from the front of the forward kneecap. The string should touch the end of the crankarm. Reach to the handlebar should be comfortable -- elbows and shoulders relaxed -- with no sharp bend in your back. Your bike dealer can make adjustments or even swap parts.

Riding techniques
Relax your upper body. This absorbs road or trail shock so you won't crash if you hit a rock or pothole. Always keep your thumbs wrapped around the handlebar or brake levers so your hands won't slip off. Look 10- to 20-plus feet ahead of you instead of at the front wheel. Then you'll anticipate what's coming and react in time. Be predictable: Signal early for turns, ride on the far right of the lane (or in the shoulder or bike lane) but not too close to the road edge or debris. Traffic laws vary but, as a general rule, ride single file. On the trail, ride in control and reduce speed around hikers, equestrians and other users.

Squeeze both brake levers simultaneously and gradually. Unless it's an emergency, don't grab them violently -- modern brakes are powerful and can flip you if you're not careful. Don't use just the front brake (the left lever when seated on a conventionally assembled bike.) If you must make a panic stop, thrust your weight far back, with your butt practically hanging off the rear of the seat. Practice panic stops in an empty lot.

Pedaling and shifting
You must be pedaling to change gears, but ease up slightly on pedal pressure as you shift. Try to anticipate shifts, so you don't get caught in the wrong gear at the base of steep hill or when starting from a traffic light. For maximum comfort and efficiency, shift to a gear that lets you maintain a cadence of at least 60-70 rpm (pedal revolutions per minute). That means lower (easier) gears for climbing, higher ones for downhills, tailwinds, etc. Focus on pedaling in smooth circles.

When ascending on a road bike with a drop handlebar, rest your hands on the top of the bar or brake hoods. If your mountain bike has bar-ends (short handlebar extensions), try putting your hands there. Find a comfortable gear and cadence, relax, and look ahead. For short, steep hills or for a break on long climbs, put your hands on brake hoods or bar-ends and rise out of the saddle. Allow the bike to rock a few inches side to side and let your body weight help power you. Your butt should almost graze the tip of the saddle

Cornering and Descending
When turning right, keep your right pedal up so it doesn't hit the ground. (And vice versa for left turns.) Gently lean into the corner, but push on the left (down) pedal to increase traction. Traffic or trail conditions permitting, start the corner wide (but without leaving your lane and drifting toward any oncoming traffic), cut to the apex, and exit wide. On curvy descents, keep your hands near the brake levers. Brake before turns rather than during them. In wet, oily, sandy, or bumpy conditions, greatly reduce your speed and lean angle

As kids, we just knew bikes were fun. Somehow, growing up, some of us forgot. But it's never too late to recapture that feeling. Let's ride.

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