The reluctant cyclist’s guide
I have been an avid and mediocre cyclist most of my life. I did 100 miles and finished almost last, thanks to the extended milkshake stops. I can replace an inner tube in 60 minutes flat, with only moderate profanity. I once broke my hip on a mountain bike after throwing 10 feet in the air from a jump that I didn’t even know was there.
In other words, I really like the bike – I’m just not good at it. I do not have a cycling jersey, let alone a jersey covered with the logos of the sponsors of the race. My gloves have holes in them, my socks don’t fit, and my water bottle is what I found in the garage, possibly my kid’s cup.
But it’s the perfect speed between walking and driving – you can fly like a bird on a secluded highway or roam the neighborhood gardens. A day hike becomes a few hours on a mountain bike.
Today, the bicycle is more popular than ever. The bicycle market increased by 75 percent in April 2020 and didn’t really stop. For specialized bikes, waiting times can exceed one year. But it’s not clear that this pandemic bicycle-buying frenzy will turn into a long-term shift to cycling. The last American bicycle boom, in the early 70s, then went out. How many bikes will end up collecting dust in the garage this time around?
None, if people like Vivian Ortiz, designated Boston’s “bicycle mayor”, have anything to say about it. Like me, she’s used to receiving strange looks from better equipped and faster riders. “I am a 58 year old overweight woman who is Puerto Rican,” she said. “So I’m riding a bike and they’re wondering, who are you?”
Ms. Ortiz started cycling around 2012 at age 50, a few years after moving to Boston and realizing that public transportation was not flexible enough. She hasn’t owned a car since and now works full time to improve herself pedestrian and bicycle access for kids.
For her, riding a bike isn’t about impressing neighbors or even exercising; it is a way to connect with others. It bothers Ms Oritz that so few people of color have historically embraced the sport (although it is change quickly), and she spends her weekends gathering people – friends and strangers she’s found – in her South Boston neighborhood to walk along the Neponset River.
That’s the problem with cycling: if you think cyclists are all Lycra millionaires or invincible 15 year olds fly off jumps, then you just haven’t met your riders or found your perfect bike yet.
Whether you’ve bought an Impulse Pandemic Bike and haven’t used it, or have an old cruiser tucked away in your garage, now is a great time to get back in the saddle. Can’t ride? Do you feel overwhelmed by the world of cycling? Don’t worry, there is a place for you, right next to me and my child’s cup.
Start with a reminder.
If you’ve never learned to ride a bike, it’s not too late. Or, maybe you don’t remember, since the last bike you rode was hot pink with streamers on the grips. According to a medium-sized survey by YouGov, only 6% of Americans can’t ride a bike but more than half of us say they never do it, which can be a problem to restart.
It turns out that riding a bike has nothing to do with cycling – you can forget how to do it. Plus, riding a bike on a track or in traffic isn’t like BMX riding in your neighborhood when you were a kid. And it can be dangerous to learn on the fly. Consider classes at places like REI, the League of American Cyclists or your local bike shop.
Alison Dewey, director of education for the League of American Bicyclists and occasional adult cycling instructor, said classes can help you feel confident in the car or on a bumpy trail. Otherwise, find a bike path in your neighborhood or a fire path for a mountain bike. Or throw a luggage rack on the car and go find a spot you like.
Determine the type of bike you need.
“These are the best times you can hope to be a cyclist,” said Tom Ritchey, president of Ritchey Design, who invented some of the first mountain bike components and created the first company to sell them.
Mr. Ritchey said that before you buy a bike, know where you want to ride. Do you fancy taking off on the open road or bouncing through cobblestone streams? What trails and roads are there near you? Where are your friends riding?
If you are unsure or want to keep the options open, hybrid or gravel bikes are good choices. Both are designed for streets and trails, but hybrids are more like mountain bikes that can get you to work as well. Gravel bikes are road bikes that don’t mind a few stones.
But be realistic about where you are actually going to ride. It’s maddening to hurtle down the street on a slow mountain bike. But the worst part is riding a bike that doesn’t suit your body, Mr. Ritchey said. Mountain bike and road bike frames are measured differently, so it’s important to go to a bike store and have someone to fit you, even if you’re buying elsewhere.
Wirecutter recommendations for bikes and equipment
The best hybrid bike
The best bicycle helmet for commuters
The best bicycle lock
The best bike racks and racks
Maybe throw an engine in your bike for good measure.
The concept of motorized pedal bikes is back in the 1880s, but e-bikes didn’t become really popular until the turn of this century. There are three types: Class 1 and 2 give you an extra boost when pedaling, but at a maximum of 20 miles per hour. Class 3 is faster and is not always allowed on trails and cycle paths.
I’d bet Mr. Morris, my college fitness teacher, would call e-bikes something like a “dirty cheat shortcut.” But there is some evidence that having a motor on hand actually increases fitness, especially if you end up riding the bike more or riding farther, although most research only follows users for a while. some months.
While e-bikes are more expensive than most standard bikes, their supporters say they make sense for commuters and could even replace a car for some people. They can also be useful for older riders who want to stay in shape but struggle on the local hills.
Mr Ritchey agreed that there are advantages to electric bikes, but couldn’t hide his general contempt for devices, especially when they’re being ridden by someone who doesn’t seem to need them.
“When I see a 17-year-old pass me on an electric bike – yes, it’s hard for me not to say something sarcastic,” he said.
Decide where to ride.
Whether you’ve moved to a new area or just haven’t explored your city, bikes are a great way to find a new favorite spot. Many cities have become more suitable for cycling, and it’s worth reading their recommended routes, often far from traffic or on paved paths.
There are also many cycling applications. I would say the best free program is the one from REI MTB project, which displays all of the best trails in your area, color-coded for difficulty, and lets you track your route as you go. Rails-to-Trails has a nice good national card for local cycle paths. For city streets, Ms Ortiz said Google Maps’ bike mode is actually not that great.
“And what I love about it is how many times the bike trip is faster than the train,” she said.
Ms Dewey said the biggest concern she hears from new or returning cyclists is safety. There’s no question that biking can be scary – cars move fast and rocks aren’t fun to land – but there are steps you can take to avoid injury. Buy a good helmet. Wear reflective clothing at night. Find people to cycle with.
Ms Ortiz said training can also help. One trick is to look over your shoulder as a car comes up behind you to establish a connection with the driver so they know you’re there. The same idea applies to pedestrians. Ms. Ortiz uses a doorbell to let people know that she is coming. If they don’t turn to watch, they may have headphones on, so slow down.
However, she and others have said cyclists themselves should never wear headphones. As much as I love jamming vintage Rushes or Guns N ‘Roses while flying the road, being a safe pilot means using all of your senses.
Mountain bikers face different dangers like rocks, roots and (often) pride. While YouTube is full of maniac videos bomb the hills, the discipline of mountain biking is actually going slowly. Good mountain bikers can maintain control even when they are practically at a standstill.
In the end, as with all adventures, the goal is to have fun and see your world differently. Whether you are a gutter rabbit, palm, Hasselhoff, gerbil or Fred, grab your mower, fixie, yonka or hardtail – and hit the road.
Erik Vance is an editor for the Well desk.