Biking is such a wonderful sport. It’s a great way to build leg strength, cardiovascular endurance, and it’s low impact too! I feel like there is an overwhelming amount of gear and information out there on biking. But does it really have to be that complicated? I decided to ask my client Jessica for some tips. She has been training with me for 3 years. She has done an astounding 70 mile ride, ran a half marathon, and completed a Warrior Dash. She owns 5 bicycles, and has been seriously biking for about 6 years! She is a dedicated athlete. I have seen her gain strength and endurance over these three years, and I know that Jessica pushes herself within her limits and is really great at listening to her body. Here are her tips to get started biking.
It all depends on what type of riding you are actually going to do. You can get a good bike at all price points but I think it’s most important to have one for the type of riding you intend to do. If you want a bike to ride around town and maybe on rail trails, you’ll do better with a hybrid bike than a mountain bike. You can often get a middle price point hybrid with better components for the same price as a low price point mountain bike or road bike.
How should I adjust my seat and handle bar height so that I am safe and efficient?
Your handle bar adjustment will depend on type of bike and the riding stance that goes along with it. You’ll most likely have lower handle bars on mountain bikes and road bikes because they have more aggressive riding postures. Compare that to a hybrid bike or a beach cruiser, where you’ll sit more upright. You definitely want it to feel like you can reach the handle bars easily and aren’t over-stretching yourself. Being a small person, this is a problem I have had. If you’re a small woman, I would take a look at the women’s sized bike frames since the seat and handlebars are positioned a little bit closer. When you pick up a new bike, any good shop will have you sit on the bike and adjust everything for you. Make a note, takes pictures, whatever you want to be able to re-adjust it later if you need to.
For the bike seats, you want to be able to fully extend your leg when at the bottom of pedaling, but not lock out your knees or need to use your tip toes. That being said, I tend to ride with my bike seat adjusted on the high end.
What can I do about a really uncomfortable seat?
I often get comments from people that say they couldn’t ride on my seat – they want the biggest, squishiest looking one the shop has. Everyone’s bodies are proportioned differently and many shops in town can fit you for a bike seat that provides cushioning where your sit bones are. You sit on a gel pad on a stool and it shows where the most pressure is. There are also different types of bike seats for men and women. I think this is one area that it is worth it to upgrade. You spent money on your bike and you won’t use it if it’s always uncomfortable.
Do I really need padded shorts?
Yes and no. If I’m riding around town on my commuter bike I don’t bother with my padded shorts. If I know I’ll be in the saddle for a long time or if I’m purposely riding for exercise, I’ll wear my padded shorts. Again, it’s a comfort thing. If you’re self-conscious about it, you can always wear shorts over top and some companies make cargo shorts especially to go over your padded shorts. Just remember, you don’t wear normal underwear underneath bike shorts. The shorts are specially designed to have seams or no seams in the right places and wearing underwear defeats that purpose and can hinder any sweat-wicking properties the shorts have. I do like to wear jerseys that are made for biking, since they have pockets in the back for stashing keys, snacks, and you can usually fit even a water bottle in them.
If a person is just starting out, what would you recommend they do to build strength and endurance so they can go longer and faster?
If you want to build up endurance and speed, I would look into a bike computer that will show your speed, distance, and cadence (pedal revolutions per minute). When we are training on our road bikes, we aim to keep a high cadence as well as the same cadence when going uphill as on the flat by watching the cadence and changing gears when necessary. Often times on longer rides we’ll take turns drafting and leading, switching each mile. It makes the ride go by faster and is a good way to interval train. When mountain biking, you need to stay on top of gear changes to keep your cadence up, and don’t forget to build up momentum by pedaling downhill. It’s OK to let the bike help you out.
Where do you recommend taking bikes for maintenance?/ Where would you go to purchase a bike?
A lot of shops will offer a year to two years of free maintenance (nothing fancy) when you purchase a bike from them. I’ve even had one store offer lifetime maintenance. We’ve gotten our bikes from Wheels in Motion (A2), Great Lakes Cycle & Fitness (A2), and Trails Edge (Plymouth). I think it’s a good idea to try and create a relationship with a local bike shop. We usually go in the beginning and end of the warmer season for routine maintenance and we also wash our bikes off in the driveway if they get particularly crusty. I would be very wary of purchasing a department store bike – I’ve seen videos and heard horror stories of them being assembled horribly incorrect by employees – think missing components, backwards components, parts not on tight enough… you get the idea. This doesn’t mean you have to hand out your whole paycheck on a bike. Look for sales, last year’s models, and shop around to different stores.
Another good way to get a deal is to look on Craigslist. I would make sure to get fitted at a bike shop and then search for the right size bike on Craigslist. Afterwards, have your bike shop give the bike a once-over to make sure everything is how it should be. This is what we did for my commuter bike. It’s a few years old but it’s from a reputable brand and was only $200 on Craigslist.
What are your favorites routes/trails?
Mountain biking: for beginners, try Island Lake State Park. Maybury State Park and Novi’s Lakeshore Park are also very good in this area. If you’re up for going for a drive before you ride, Stoney Creek Metro Park in Shelby Twp has very nice trails as well.
Road biking: Paved country roads are great – especially west and north of Ann Arbor. There are some good rail-trails a little farther away, like the Macomb Orchard Trail that runs from Shelby Twp to Richmond in Macomb County, about 24 miles each way. Kensington Metro Park’s main loop road along the lake is a good ride to do laps, it’s about 8 miles a loop.
Around town: The B2B trail from Gallup Park to Bandemer park is a good ride in the morning when there are less people, but it does get crowded. For a challenging hill ride, head to the Barton Hills neighborhood in NW Ann Arbor.
I (Sarah) also highly recommend the Lakelands Trail in Hamburg.
What is your favorite aspect of biking?
I really like going on longer rides and knowing that I’ve gone X numbers of miles under my own power. It’s also a great feeling to finish a tough climb and be rewarded with an awesome descent – I’ve gotten to almost 40mph downhill on my road bike before!
Where do you ride? What is your favorite bike store?