Two Wheels, Endless Fun

Two Wheels, Endless Fun

Dust off that two-wheeler and hit the road with these bicycle-friendly tips.

Chalk it up to gas prices, to an urge to work in more fitness, or to the proliferation of rental bikes in some cities, but the number of Americans who commuted by bike increased by 47 percent between 2000 and 2011. Benefits extend beyond a zippy commute or stronger legs—biking, as those who hop on after years out of the saddle know, is just plain fun. Plus, when you ride on two wheels, you get to view the familiar from a different angle, notes Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. “You’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover in your own community. It opens your eyes to all kinds of possibilities.”

Given that May is National Bike Month, what better time do you have to get cycling? Even if you’re not in realistic commuting-by-bicycle distance, make cycling a new habit to accomplish local errands, or just ride for pleasure. A plethora of cycling groups around the country use their local Panera Bread® locations as a starting or ending point for regular rides. Here, learn how to polish your cycling skills, review bike safety, and have a great time on two wheels.  

To Get Started…

Find the right fit. If you haven’t ridden or owned a bike in a while, finding a bicycle that fits you is a crucial first step. A bike that’s too large leaves you more vulnerable to falling, and a too-small fit may lead to discomfort or even injury. How can you tell if a bike is right? When you stand with feet flat on the ground and straddling the bike, you should have an inch or two of clearance over the top tube. When riding, your arms should have a slight bend, being neither stretched to the limit nor scrunched up. You should have a slight bend in your knees when the pedals are at their lowest point. 

Stop by a shop. Visit a bike shop if you need a new set of wheels or if you’re looking to resurrect a cycle that’s been languishing in storage. There, mechanics can tune up your old bike or help you choose a new one that best suits your needs. 

Enlist a riding buddy. It can be tough to motivate yourself to go solo all the time, so recruit a like-minded biking partner. Put in some miles together on trails or quiet side streets to get used to the bike. 

To Ride More Safely…

Give your bike a once-over. Even a new or tuned-up bike needs a quick check before a daily ride. Be sure that your tires are properly pumped (get a pump with an air pressure gauge; proper pressure for each tire should be printed on its sidewall), your brakes work (the bike shouldn’t budge while you’re applying the brakes), and your chain runs smoothly through the drivetrain. 

Be a rule follower. The League of American Bicyclists recommends these five road rules for cyclists: follow the law, be predictable, be conspicuous (especially at night), think ahead, and ride ready. Also, ride with traffic, not against it; on a bike, you’re a vehicle, not a pedestrian.

Protect your head. Having a helmet is one thing—wearing it correctly is another. To properly safeguard you, your helmet should fit well and be positioned level on your head, not angled back so that your forehead is exposed. The side straps should form a V, with your ear in the center, and the chin strap should be just tight enough to allow you to slip a finger under it.

To Be a Savvier Cyclist…

Gain your rearview. Being able to briefly turn to scan the traffic behind you without wobbling or moving the handlebar is an essential cycling skill. Practice it in a parking lot or on a road with little traffic. Ride with one hand on the handlebar and the other on your hip. Sit up and look over that same shoulder. Continue the drill until you can glance back without a wobble.

Stop on a dime. Get good at coming to a quick stop without slamming on the brakes and flying over the handlebar. To do so, apply the rear brake first and with more pressure than you put on the front brake. Drop your weight back on the saddle. 

Dodge obstacles. Potholes or rocks in the road can ruin a ride. Become adept at avoiding them by placing a tennis ball on the ground, riding up to it, then moving your front wheel left and then quickly right to avoid hitting it. The idea is to maintain a straight line without losing control of the bike.