I’ve been riding a two wheeled bike since I was six. I used to be proud to say that I had four years experience in riding! I also used to brag about how many teeth I had lost or that I stayed up till 11:00 PM! Now, I focus on other more important means of boasting that usually include silly stuff my kids do or say or that on my latest cycling route, I rode 32 miles!
I would place myself in the category of a beginner cyclist. I’m from the great state of Colorado, where I see more cyclists on some days than cars. For example, June 13, 2013 was “Bike to Work Day” in Denver. They gave out T-shirts, there were breakfast stations and the mayor even spoke! Another time a few years ago, I was at Washington Park in Denver. I happened to catch a movement out of the corner of my eye and saw a huge mass of cyclists beginning to circle the paved biking trail. After several minutes, there was an unending “river” of cyclists clogging every square inch of real estate on that biking trail. I later heard that Lance Armstrong was there. Also, one of the road-side signs that has recently been added by the Colorado Department of Transportation says, “Share the Road,” with the outline of a cyclist along-side a car. Furthermore, according to Chapter 7-5 of the Boulder Revised Code, a motorist can be ticketed if they don’t yield to cyclists in marked crossings! This just goes to show you that Denver (and Colorado for that matter) has a culture that is very cyclist friendly.
If you read my blog post “Don’t Share the Road”, you’ll get an idea on what my beliefs are regarding cyclists who ride on city and mountain roads. They endanger not only their own lives but the lives of motorists, other cyclists and walking pedestrians. In their minds, they have the same rights as motorists. They feel entitled to “special clearance rights” given by passing cars. This is true in marked cross-walks but not on long stretches of urban streets or thin, shoulderless, two-lane mountain roads.
On a personal level, I’ve worked with traumatic brain injury survivors for the last 7 ½ years. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of patients I’ve taken care of, about 10 or so have been victims of motor vehicle verses cycling accidents. It is heartbreaking to see a patient after their accident and know that they will most likely never fully live the quality of life they had before or enjoy the passions of cycling ever again. I’m not advocating against exercising or cycling, I’m just encouraging safety.
I’m a cyclist myself but I will ride only on urban trails (also known as green-belts). In the beginning, a green-belt was precisely what one might guess; a preserved open land or open space encircling a community as a convenience for its residents. Boulder, Colorado was one of the original pioneers of the greenbelt conception. That is why much of the land surrounding Boulder is protected. Part of the theory behind green-belts was to preserve the city from the strain of economic growth both internal and external and to safe-guard the community’s unique identity.
Nowadays, a “greenbelt” most often pertains to a strip of natural area (usually with multi-use trails), running through an urban area. Many times, a green-belt lies parallel to small streams and canals in areas that aren’t developed. In this way, they are left open and “protected” from urbanization and expansion; also allowing green-belt users the freedom to exercise or enjoy a nice stroll away from the dangers of motor vehicles.
It is on these “green-belts” that I believe cyclists belong; not on the open roads. Cyclists in Denver and the surrounding areas have no excuse to not use a green-belt being that Denver literally has hundreds and hundreds of miles of community green-belt networks intertwining throughout the entire metropolitan area. No matter where one resides in Denver or the suburbs, they will most likely live within one mile of a green-belt.
I recently moved from northern Littleton, where I had resided for nearly 12 years, to the South Glenn area of Centennial. I
was bummed at first, being completely unfamiliar with my surroundings. However, it wasn’t long before my son and I discovered a local green-belt trail. Upon further investigation, I found that I lived within 2 blocks of the Big Dry Creek Trail. After purchasing a Denver Trail System map from a local bike store, I found out that I was sitting on the mother-load of green-belts in Denver; the High Line Canal trail that runs almost 50 miles from Southwestern to Northeastern Denver! Since this monumental discovery, I’ve ridden about 30 miles of it, along with the following trails: Willow Creek, Little Dry Creek, Centennial, Mary Carter Greenway, Columbine, Waterton Canyon and Lee Gulch. All these trails are inter-connected and I can mix up the different routes I take every time. As of now, I’ve been riding these trails for a total of almost 6 months. I’ve ridden 18 different routes and my total distance for those 4 months is 378.64 miles!
When I re-entered the cycling world, I didn’t have a mentor to show me all the ropes; I had to learn by trial and error. Believe me, there was a bit of that; blown out tires, very chilly rides, cars not seeing me while I was in a cross-walk and a few others. Sure, I still knew how to balance on two wheels but there was so much more involved with the cycling experience than I first thought. Now that I have a bit of know-how behind me, I’d like to act as your “mentor” and offer you a guide of advice on the best equipment to purchase for both yourself and your bike.
The actual bike
First of all, you should have a budget of at least a few hundred dollars to buy a bike that will make your experience worth anything. I bought my bike on Craig’s List but you can find a cost effective bike through many other sources: e-bay, garage sales, Costco, bike shop clearances, etc. My bike is a 21 speed MARIN BEAR VALLEY SE mountain bike with 26” rims and a 22” frame. The asking price was $180 but I talked the guy down to $160. I should have talked him down even further because I’ve easily put $140 of repairs into it since I got it! Needless to say, I learned from that and the next time I purchase a bike, I will probably go a different route and shop around a bit.
Something else important in looking for a bike is what size you will need. There’s a cool website where you can find out what size bike you will need for the size person you are. Here’s another good reference for sizing yourself to the perfect bike. Sit on the bike and put one of your feet on a pedal. If you’re able to fully extend your leg without bending your knee, this is the right size bike for you!
A drawback to buying a used bike is that you don’t know if it’s been left outside in the elements, what the condition of the chain is or when the last time it got a tune-up. After the second route I took on my Marin, I was in crossing a street and the chain snapped in half! Clearly, the previous owner had left it outside and the chain rusted to the point that it broke. Lucky for me, I was on my way back from my route and only had to walk about 2 miles home.
If you decide to go thrifty with buying the actual bike, you won’t want to do so with the tires. This is where the rubber literally meets the road (or trail). You will want to invest your hard-earned cash into a nice pair of durable tires. The first question you will have to ask yourself is, “What kind of tires will I need?” Well, where will you be riding? Mountain trails? City streets (I hope not!)? Green-belts (I hope so!)? Tires come in all different shapes and sizes and you will require specific tires that are customized to your specific needs.
For example, my bike came with hybrid tires that were bald in the middle for riding on paved surfaces and treaded on the outer edges for riding on dirt surfaces. After my front tire exploded 8 miles into one of my routes, I was lucky that a stranger gave me a ride down the road (thanks Royce!) and another person picked me up and took me home (thanks mom!). I then made the mistake of buying cheap $20 replacement tires. They lasted maybe 2 rides before the rear tire popped.
A good friend of mine (Philip Faustin – an avid cyclist) suggested that I buy a bottle of Slime®; so I got some for about $8 at Wal-Mart. What Slime® does is coats the inside of the inner-tube and seals in the cracks. Its main purpose is to prevent thorns, stickers or any other such objects from puncturing through the tire into the tube. However, after my next ride, my rear tire (even filled with Slime®) deflated from a relatively large puncture. I was bummed. I had ridden around 5 routes and something had gone wrong every single time; either with my tires or the chain. It was then that I realized if I wanted to have an uninterrupted cycling experience, I would have to go out and spend some good money on some quality tires.
If and when you get new tires, don’t go to Wal-Mart or even those mega-sports stores like Gart Brothers, Sports Authority or Dick’s Sporting Goods. Go to a specialized bikes only shop. The bike guy at Dick’s even suggested that I go to BikeSource. Even though it cost me $100, they hooked me up! One thing the bike guy there said was that Slime® tends to solidify once it’s inside the tires and becomes ineffective, so he got me some different stuff that does the same thing but doesn’t solidify. As a beginner cyclist, I tend to leave all the technical stuff up to the pros. That’s what they’re paid for! They also got me some sweet tires coated with Kevlar.
According to a posting on http://www.BikeForums.net, the user HiYoSilver stated that with Kevlar tires, “You’ll still get flats, but at a rate about 10% those without Kevlar. It works for thorns, small pieces of glass and many metal pieces. A long piece of glass, screw, or funky metal debris may still get through,”1 Although HiYoSilver seems like a pretty intense rider and probably buys the same tires as Lance Armstrong, he has a good point. Kevlar tires will not completely protect your tubes from punctures. However they’ve worked for me so far.
Although you may not ride at night or in low visibility, lights are always good to have. I once took a ride at 2:00 PM and never would have thought that I needed lights. As I was headed back from my 32 mile route, it was about 4:00. Now, this was during November in Denver and by around 4:30 PM, it starts to get dusk. My route took me across Broadway Blvd. (a very busy street) three times and I was kicking myself for not having any kind of light to make myself more visible.
Ordinarily, bikers who are active in low visibility only need two lights: a red light for the back and a clear light for the front. It is also wise for the lights to blink, as it is easier to notice a blinking light than one that stays on continually. Bike lights are available at places like Wal-Mart, Sports Authority, BikeSource, Pedals and other such places but I prefer to get them on-line. I use E-Bay because there are so many varieties of cycling supplies I’ve found and they’re usually extremely cheap but good quality. I’ve found a rear biking light with three settings for as low as $0.99 with free shipping. Front lights will be a few more dollars.
Storage for your bike becomes a necessity if you bike for long trips. I have a bicycle frame Pannier front cell phone storage bag that fits on my top horizontal tube between my seat and my handlebars. Unless you’re packing a meal for your trip, this is really all you need for storage. My cell phone fits into this storage bag so I can use the touch screen without opening the compartment. I also put my keys, lip-balm and other various items in the zipper compartment in case I need them. Another storage bag I use fits just under my seat. This bag contains emergency supplies like a 6 ounce “Fix a flat” pressurized temporary flat tire repair which I’ve needed several times.
If you like to keep track of your training progress, you may want to purchase a bike computer. I have a Garmin Edge 305 that comes complete with a heart monitor. These computers can mount right on your handlebars and are weather-proof; but they do get a bit pricy. I’ve seen them at auction on E-Bay starting at $6 (they usually finish around $80) and for sale at REI for up to $500.
At first, I used an app I bought for my iPhone called Cyclist Log. It tracks my progress via GPS and I can see how far I’ve gone, how long I’ve been on my route and my average speed. The only thing I’ve found frustrating about this app is that if I stop for any short amount of time (usually a few minutes for a break), it erases my entire route up to that point. When that happens, I just start it again when I’m at my half-way point and multiply it by 2 when I’m done with the route. I bought the app for $1.99 and it syncs with a website I use to track my progress.
My Garmin Edge 305 is great. Although I still use my Cyclist Log app, my Garmin gives me live updates on my speed, time and distance traveled. When I’m finished with my route, I can download the info to my computer. There are free downloadable programs on the Garmin website that you can track you progress, see your actual speed during different parts of your route and even upload it to DailyMile.com. I prefer to use my Garmin to upload to DailyMile.com because it is way more accurate than Cyclist Log.
DailyMile.com is a free web page where you can create a profile, enter the time and distance of your cycling routes (or jogging, swimming, tread-mill, elliptical, rowing and other workouts). There’s even a map where you can create and trace your own customized routes. At the end of each workout, the website automatically calculates your calories burned, total distance, average speed and other things. They also have charts, graphs and tables where you can see the progress of your training. Best of all, you can post a workout on Facebook so all your friends can see what a stud you are!
If you’re serious about your passion for cycling, a biking jersey is a wise purchase. I used to wear normal t-shirts when I began cycling but when I got more into it, I purchased a Pearl iZumi jersey with a cool Colorado logo. These too can get pricey if you buy them in the store. I’ve seen some for up to $100! E-bay has been my best source for cycling jerseys, as I can bid on some starting as low as $0.99 and end up buying them for under $10 (not including shipping, which can run about $5 on average). I also shop around at the clearance racks at sporting goods stores.
A cycling jersey is made specifically for the sport. It fits very snug so there is no extra material to catch the wind. It is made from a very thin, breathable material and usually zips only half-way down. There are pockets sewn into the lumbar area of the lower back. These are for various items that you will need quick access to such as a water bottle or a cell phone. If your cycling routes take you on or close to roads, I would suggest getting a jersey that is very visible. Many of them are made of neon colors. Even though you might look like a tennis ball, you’ll be safe and very noticeable. I was once almost hit by a car in a cross-walk because I wasn’t wearing a visible shirt.
If you live in a cold climate or bike in the early morning or late evening, you will need to purchase a long sleeve cycling jersey. I learned my lesson twice when I rode on routes during very brisk, cold days with my very breathable short sleeve jersey. Needless to say, my trip was cut short! I was shivering when I returned and my left middle finger tip was numb!
Some cyclists go all out with their shoes. If you’re really serious, you can get a pair of cycling shoes that actually clip into the pedals. These can be very pricy (upwards of $100) but if you’re just a normal person wanting to stay in shape and not Peter Stetina, even a pair of sandals will work! I prefer to use my Asics jogging shoes, which work just fine. They’re very visible, so they keep motorists and other pedestrians looking out for me.
Under-garments are very important if you ride for long amounts of time. The pelvic bones we use to sit on are called ischials. Even though the gluteous maximus or butt muscle is the largest in the body, those pointy ishials will still stick through and cause some discomfort if you sit on your bike even for a few miles.
I usually wear what Nacho Libre would call “stretchy shorts” or spandex shorts first with a pair of padded cycling shorts over and top it off with regular gym shorts. The stretchy shorts go to my knees so the padded cycling shorts won’t ride up on me as I’m constantly moving my legs. The padded cycling shorts are made from real silicone gel with more durability and pad those ishial bones from causing too much discomfort.
Next to your bike and tires, the helmet is the most important piece of equipment a cyclist can own. Unlike skateboarding or snowboarding helmets, cycling helmets are light-weight, durable and closely resemble the head of an insect. They usually run for no more than $20 at your local Wal-Mart, Costco, Sears or Sporting goods store. The one I use is made by Bell and has a readjusting strap in the back for different sized heads.
Imagine riding for 10 miles and having wind constantly drying away your knuckles, leaving them parched and cracked. That’s why it’s a good idea for cyclists to wear gloves. Another reason is that the gel glove padding creates a bridge over the ulnar and median nerves in the hand for superior comfort and the glove fit minimizes bunching on the palms to provide superior grip comfort and handlebar feel.
I first bought a pair of iZumi half-fingered gloves on E-Bay for a few dollars and loved them. This lasted until the cold weather hit. After nearly losing feeling in my fingers during a very cold ride, I looked into some gloves that fit over my entire hand. If you purchase colder weather gloves, make sure they are wind resistant. Mine are so nice that I even wear them on cold days when I’m not biking.
Hydration is very important, especially if you’re working out for any long period of time. Some cyclists prefer to just bring a simple water bottle but I prefer wearing my camel-pak. A camel-pak is basically a small-sized back-pack with a water reservoir and a few storage compartments. It has a straw that fits over my shoulder and rest on my chest. The straw is held in place by a magnet, so it doesn’t flop around while I’m riding. Whenever I feel the urge for a swig of sky-juice, I just pop off the cover, turn the nozzle and I’ve got a mouth-full of refreshing H2O. I have a 2 liter reservoir, which is plenty of water during my long treks. I also wear this handy camel-pak during hiking trips.
It’s made by High Sierra and I bought it at Costco for around $25. Make sure if you buy one, you get the water reservoir that screws shut instead of one that folds over and clamps down. I used to have one that folded over and water kept splashing out when I bent over or the clamp would come lose and I’d have to stop everything I was doing, take the pack off and fix it.
In the harsh outdoor weather, most cyclists prefer sunglasses. Not only does it keep the glare of the sun out of your eyes, it blocks weather, mud or anything else that can prevent you from having a good ride. Sunglasses can run you in the hundreds of dollars but most of them are just for style and a brand name. I own a pair of black lens high quality stylish sports polarized sunglasses. Even though that’s a long name, they ran me only $0.99 with a few dollars in shipping.
Some cyclists also prefer to purchase a rear-view-mirror. This is important especially if you sometimes end up sharing the road with motorists. Although I am a strong advocate against riding on the road with motorists, it is sometimes unavoidable for brief periods. Some mirrors attach directly to the handlebars while others can attach to the helmet. They can usually be purchased for $10 – $20 but there are some good prices on E-Bay for under $5 that I’ve found.
Safety and general rules of courtesy
When riding a bike, one needs to be extremely cautious about those around them as to not impede on their workouts or interrupt them. Here are some common rules of safety and courtesy:
- Passing on your left – this phrase will become a normal part of your vocabulary if you ride on routes with walking pedestrians or slower cyclists. Be especially careful when going down-hill when you overtake someone else and with walking pedestrians with small children or dogs. A good speed limit on a route where there is the possibility of pedestrian traffic is around 15 mph.
- Hand signals – when turning (usually on roads), use your extended left or right arm to signal to motorists and other cyclists where you intend to turn.
- Cross-walks – even though your state might have a law that gives the right-of-way for pedestrians in a cross-walk, don’t ever trust that any motorist will obey that law. As a cyclist, you are still a pedestrian, just a faster one. It is your responsibility (and no one else’s) to ensure your own safety. Wear very visible clothing and reflectors/lights in low visibility, always obey cross-walk signals and give the right-of-way to horses. Yes, you heard me right! I don’t know how it 8is in other states, but in Colorado, some greenbelts allow horses and I’ve come across a few of them.
- Dress for the worst – this includes chilly weather. There’s nothing like predicting a nice warm ride and 2 miles into it, you can’t feel your finger tips or toes. Especially in the colder months, bring a long sleeve jersey, ear warmers and full fingered gloves.
- Tell someone before you ride – I’ve run into some trouble during my routes and it was very handy that they knew where I was going before I left. Pick 2 people (they don’t even have to live nearby) and inform them before and after your ride. There’s nothing like someone knowing that you’re safe.
That’s all I can think of for this post. If anyone can think of any more tips, gear or interesting stories about their experiences, please let me know! Stay safe out there my fellow beginner cyclists and remember to have fun doing what you love doing!
- My DailyMile.com site: http://www.dailymile.com/people/DaveW20#ref=tophd
- HiYoSilver. (2005). Commuting – do kevlar tires *really* protect against flats?. Bike Forums, Retrieved from http://www.bikeforums.net/archive/index.php/t-137633.html