Biking 101: Cycling For Beginners

Maybe the joys of biking are rooted in childhood. Think back – was there anything better than pedaling around the neighborhood on a summer day?

Today, more and more people are riding bikes, but for a variety of reasons. Some take to two wheels because of the health benefits, while others saddle up because biking is a cheaper, greener alternative to driving (no gasoline, no pollution, and improved city infrastructures). In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people commuting to work by bicycle has increased by 60 percent in the past decade.

Biking adds adventure and excitement to your routine, and lets you see your city’s sights in a new light. However, the culture surrounding the activity has also changed radically in the last few years. All the new choices in the market overwhelm you with options. It’s hard to know what’s really essential: do you need a health tracker and rear view mirrors for your bike? Before you hop on, here’s everything you need to know about this travel trend.

Health Benefits of Cycling

Rumor has it that Albert Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity while cycling. While we’re not entirely sure that’s true, one thing is certain: cycling leads to a happier, healthier life. Getting behind the handlebars reduces the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. Biking also boosts your mood; according to the Huffington Post, even low and moderate-intensity biking helps battle fatigue and increase energy levels.

Biking is also a great way to get into peak physical shape. Much like hiking, cycling provides a great cardio workout that engages many different muscles in your body. Even a short, two-mile jaunt uses a range of muscles, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. An hour ride at 12 to 14 mph can burn up to 540 calories in a 150-pound person.

If you’re looking to intensify your workout, treat your ride like going for a run. Interchange sustainable speeds for short bursts of maximum energy in order to increase your heart rate. If you want to improve your endurance, try biking in hilly areas to add resistance. Use the terrain to your advantage in order to get your sweat on; nature is your best friend when you work out!

What You Should Wear

When you gear up for cycling, it’s best to keep it simple and practical. One of the biggest mistakes newbie cyclists make is spending too much money on expensive gear. Here’s what you need:

  • Jerseys. Cycling is all about aerodynamics, so tight fitting clothes are the norm. Most cyclists opt for a traditional cycling jersey. These snug-fitting shirts are cut so they don’t bunch at the midsection when you’re pedaling. If you don’t like jerseys, opt for a well-fitted tee shirt.
  • Compression Shorts. Biking shorts have a smooth and comfortable fit. They’re snug and designed to reduce friction. The padding in cycling shorts, known as a chamois, provides extra cushion to protect you from soreness and chaffing. Technical fabrics like spandex and Lycra are popular because they maximize movement and promote sweat evaporation.
  • Biking Shoes. Bike shoes have a much stiffer sole than typical athletic sneakers. The shoes’ stiff sole and lightweight construction helps facilitate power. They also keep your feet flat on the pedal so that you can bike with proper form. Additionally, biking shoes are also well ventilated to keep you cool and dry. While you can bike in regular sneakers, people who cycle more than three days a week should invest in the special shoes.
  • Miscellaneous Clothing. Consider wearing biking gloves, especially if your weekend ride is turning into a daily habit (or obsession!). Gloves will help you keep a firm grip on the handlebars and protect you from blisters. If it happens to rain often where you live, purchase a clear rain jacket for cycling.

Cycling Equipment You Will Need

It’s easy to get carried away and buy all the “must have” accessories for your bike. The bottom line is there are few “must haves” in cycling. Buying accessories like rear-view mirrors and cyclocomputers that measure heart rate might sound cool, but aren’t always necessary. Here are five items you absolutely need before you hit the road:

  • Helmet.
  • Water bottle and cage.
  • A saddle bag to store things like snacks, sunscreen, trail maps, mobile phone, and a flat repair kit.
  • Tire punctures are common, so it’s important to have an extra inner tube, as well as a tire lever and pump. A good maintenance bag also contains Allen keys, flat-bladed screwdrivers and a chain link extractor.
  • A lock. You don’t want your bike to get stolen when you have to park it somewhere!

How to Find Trails Near You

Bike culture is thriving in North America, and there’s a camaraderie amongst cyclists that doesn’t exist in other recreational sports and activities. Ask other cyclists where their favorite trails are and they will be more than happy to share with you. In fact, mutual recognition and shared experiences are integral to cycling culture – it’s a throwback to the childhood days when children gave each other rides on the back of banana seats.

When cyclists talk shop, they never fail to mention all the beautiful and unexpected places they’ve been. The best bike trails are shared and discovered by word of mouth. Your local bike or sporting goods store will likely have maps of local trails and roadways. For a more extensive search of local and national trails, visit the following websites:

Safety Tips

With more bikes on the road, there is a greater potential for accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 48,000 cyclists were injured in crashes in 2013. Before you put on your bike helmet and lace up your racing shoes, be sure you know and understand the rules of the road. Be aware of your surroundings at all times: watch out for motor vehicles and other cyclists, and pay attention to changing weather and road conditions. Riding a bicycle requires as much responsibility as driving a car.

Biking not only helps you stay fit, healthy, and connected to the natural world, but it’s also a way to satisfy your passion for fun and adventure – just like when you were a child. So throw on your gear and set off for a ride. You never know what you’ll see!