sharing the bike love – some handy advice (to pass on)Posted: September 7, 2013
An acquaintance recently asked a group of cyclist friends for advice because she’s thinking of buying a bike. You know cyclists – everybody’s got an opinion. The group came up with some wonderful and varied ideas. We’re a diverse group of all ages and abilities and styles of riding so each woman had her own spin on what’s important. And bike people just love to share the love. I still smile when I think back on the times when someone has asked me for cycling advice or told me I inspired them to ride more. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Passing on the bike love.
So here are a few ideas. Feel free to pass them on – or even use them yourself if they apply.
Go to a good bike shop and tell them exactly how you ride or how you want to ride. Beware if they try to steer you to a bike that doesn’t seem to match the style of riding you want to do. In other words if you want a commuter bike for everyday commuting, you might not need a top-of-the-line carbon frame road bike with super skinny performance tires. If the bike shop doesn’t seem to be listening to you go elsewhere. A bike shop that doesn’t listen doesn’t deserve your business. If you’re being steered to a particular shop because of a friend who rides, pay attention to the type of riding she does and what her needs are. They may not be the same as yours.
Make sure you’re honest about your abilities. Don’t tell them you’re faster than you are and don’t downplay your abilities if you’re already an experienced rider. Sometimes you’ll run across a bike shop tech who makes assumptions about a woman’s abilities – if you feel you’re being misread, try to clarify, ask for another tech, or go to another shop. Bike shops want happy customers. Insist on having your needs recognized.
Go for test rides. Several test rides. Long test rides. Uphill and downhill if you will be riding on hills, so you can see how the bike behaves. If the shop doesn’t allow you to ride, go elsewhere. Most do, though – they realize you need to try out a bike before you buy. Make sure they adjust the seat and check the tire pressure. Run through the gears. Try to ride where there’s little or no traffic so you can feel the bike rather than having to watch out for cars. Keep in mind that brakes can easily be adjusted so don’t freak out if they seem grabby or loose on the test ride (but you might want to mention it to the tech when you get back). How do the gears feel when shifting? Do you like the ratio? Is the ride too stiff? Too bouncy?
Keep in mind the little details. An upright stem and riser bars will cause you to sit more upright and put more of your weight on your seat, so you need to love your seat. If you ride more aggressively flat bars or drop bars might be better for you. A road bike with drop bars will put you in a bent posture so make sure that’s comfortable for you. If you want to really easily see around you, upright is better. If you go for MTB type bars, pay attention to your hand placement and see if the width feels comfortable. You may want your hands closer together or farther apart. Paramount over all, you need to be in a comfortable posture that you can maintain and feel good about, and where you can easily see around you. You don’t want to be fatigued because you’re not riding comfortably. No matter how cool you look.
If you’re riding purely for pleasure you may think about a cruiser with fat tires. Fatter tires absorb shock more than skinny tires but they take more effort to pedal due to greater surface contact of the rubber touching the road. Conversely, skinny tires will allow you to go faster with less effort, as will larger wheels. Larger wheels will also generally seat you higher and your center of gravity will be higher.
Frame geometry is important. For example, I needed a top tube that’s horizontal or nearly horizontal because I sling my bike over my shoulder to carry it upstairs every day. I don’t have difficulty swinging my leg over to mount my bike – if you’re less flexible you may want a step-through frame (what we used to call a girl’s bike). You may be comfortable with a “flat-foot” geometry. The crank is set forward of the seat so that you can stay seated and put both feet on the ground, i.e. the pedals are a little in front of you rather than directly under your seat. Keep in mind that it’s harder to generate power with your feet forward. And on any bike when you’re seated with your feet on the pedals, your knee should be ever so slightly bent when fully extended. If you’re riding with your knees in your chest you’ll be unable to generate much power and you’ll probably have knee issues.
Frame material is a consideration. Aluminum is lighter and thus takes a little less effort to pedal along but a lot of experienced cyclists feel that an aluminum frame has too much vibration. Steel is their preference but it is a heavier frame. Carbon is super-light but comes at a premium cost.
Saddle – do you want a plush cushy ride? If so, you can get a nice wide padded seat with springs. You may find, however, that a skinny seat allows the perfect comfortable ride. Women-specific seats sometimes have a cutout to take a little pressure off your girly bits. Whatever is comfortable is the right seat.
You may want a rack over your back tire to carry items. Even if you’re only going out for dinner it’s a good way to carry home a doggie bag. Don’t forget a bungee net to hold items to your rack. Good bike shops sell them.
You’ll probably want lights – front and back. Most states require them after dark. But if you’re only going to ride in the day, purchasing lights can wait. However, the days are getting shorter now so having them for just in case is an excellent idea. I also recommend them on cloudy days so you can be seen. You can buy pretty cheap lights that run on regular batteries or you can buy high quality, super bright lights that recharge via USB. If you’re riding on well-lit roads you need to be seen more than you need to see. If you’re riding on dark trails you definitely need to see as much ahead of you as possible as well as be seen. The more lights, the better. In any case a really bright taillight – or two! – is essential. I tend to be lit up like a Christmas tree, even with lighted armbands. I’ll cover different types of lights in an upcoming post.
If you’re only tooling around the block you may not need to carry many supplies with you. However, if you’re commuting to work every day you definitely need a seat bag with some basics: a spare tube, a patch kit, tire levers, a good multi-tool (in case you need to adjust something on the fly). One tip: take your spare tube out of the cardboard box and put it inside a ziplock baggie – the cardboard can wear weak spots in your spare tube. You might want a frame pump if you change a tube and need to pump your tire. Sometimes a pump can just give you enough air to get home if you have a slow leak. Another tip – put a dollar bill in your frame bag. If you have a blowout you can put it between your tube and your tire and it will hold together well enough for you to limp home or to a shop. Look for an upcoming post on changing a tube and fixing a flat. These are basics that we all should learn.
Bonuses: I bought a spill-proof insulated coffee mug that could fit in my water bottle cage so I could sip some coffee at stoplights when I was commuting in the morning. It’s nice to have a warm sip of coffee on a cold morning! I also have an insulated water bottle – cold water is refreshing in the summer and warm water is pretty wonderful in the winter. Neither are necessities but they’re nice to have. You can get various small frame bags that will hold your keys and a few items or go for more sophisticated equipment to carry necessities such as your phone.
Keep in mind that you probably won’t need all of these extras when you’re just starting out. You can accrue what you need over time and as your budget allows. When you’re just starting out keep a phone number of a friend handy in case you have a flat and you need a ride home.
Do you have tips or advice for those who are just getting into biking? Do you bike with some must-have accessories? Please tell us in the comments section.