Cycling is a great activity. Not only is it fun and realtively easy, it is one of the few physical activities you can tailor to your personal desires and abilities. You don’t have to spend all day in the saddle going from Culver City to Santa Barbara to enjoy a bike ride. It’s just as much fun going to Vets Park with the family or to Sprouts for some groceries.
Before you hit the road though, there are a few things to keep in mind to insure a safe and enjoyable ride. From keeping your bike in tip-top shape, to knowing the route you will be taking, this brief guide will help you be better prepared so you can enjoy your riding that much more. Fortunately, most of these you can do yourself, but it might be a good idea to consult a bike technician or basic repair manual first. If you’re going to learn one bicycle maintenance skill, changing an innertube would be it. This easy to learn technique is a great confidence builder and will save you time and money in the long run.
First things first though, your bike needs to be in good working order. Keeping your bike in good running condition is essential to a safe ride. You don’t have to have a whole tool kit and work station, but a few basics can’t hurt, such as some chain lubricant, spare innertubes and a tire pump.
Start with the chain. It should be lightly oiled – too much will clog the gears, and if it’s too dry, the chain could break. Begin with a gentle wiping of the chain with a rag and add a few drops of lubricant to the rear section, preferably while rotating the pedals. Do NOT use household oil on you chain. (note, if you don’t have a bike stand, you can turn your bike upside down to apply the lube, spinning the pedals backwards while you do).
Next, check your tires. Like your car, bike tires need to have good tread and adequate pressure. For pressure, a simple thumb test is sufficient, that is, when you press down on the top with your thumb, there sould be very little or no give. Wider tires, like those on mountain bikes, are typically inflated less than the skinnier tires found on road bikes. In all cases, the correct pressure is imprinted on the side wall. Also, check the sidewalls and tire tread for exessive wear. Just like your car’s tires, if your bike’s tires are showing too much wear and tear, replace them.
Brakes and gears are a little trickier. If either are too loose or too tight, they won’t function properly, preventing you from stopping safely or even causing damage to the bike. For example, the brake cable should be tight enough that the lever cannot be pulled all the way to the grip. Often a simple twist of the barrel adjuster (the black fitting on either end of the cable through which the cable passes) may be all that’s needed. If not, consult a technician.
Now that your bike is running smoothly, it’s time to think about what happens on the road. Knowing the laws in the areas you will be riding is important. For instance, be sure to wear a helmet, ride with trafic and check that riding on the sidewalk is legal (whch it isn’t in many parts of Culver City), know the rights of way and always be sure to use turn signals.
It’s also important to be as visible as possible on the road. Reflectors help make you and your bike visible to motorists. Every new bike should come with a full set : front (white), back (red), pedals (yellow) and wheels (usually white) and they should be replaced when they break, and they will. A flashing light is better on the back and a headlamp is better still on the front especially if you plan to ride at night. There are all sorts of options available, so you can look as cool as you like, and have fun. Add some decorative reflective stickers to your helmet for example. Using a bike bell to announce your presence to pedestrians is helpful too . Most will appreciate a ringing bell more than a shouting rider.
Plan ahead and know your route. Become familiar with where you are going before you leave and be sure to tell someone else. You should also have an alternative in mind, just in case there are street closures. You can even customize your route online at www.mapmyride.com Other things to keep in mind when planning your ride:
- • Carry a cell phone (but don’t use it while riding).
- • Is there a bike lane ?
- • Is there bike parking ?
- • What will be the best places to stop if you do have an emergency ?
Outfitting your bike with a simple emergency kit is a smart way to avoid a crisis. There are many gear bags that fit snugly beneath your seat and allow room for most everything you need to help get you home safely, including :
- • a spare innertube
- • multi-tool
- • tire irons (to remove a tire to fix a flat)
- • spare change.
If you plan to ride regularly, it would be a good idea to check out a basic bicycle maintenance course, such as the free one offered by Bicrowave on Venice Blvd, Saturday, February 5 (www.bikrowave.org). Getting a few tips from a seasoned pro will help save you hours in the future and help extend the life of your bicycle. With a little preparation, cycling will not only be more enjoyable for you and your family, but safer too.