Saturday, February 8, 2014

Some Elementary Bicycling Tips

Most new bicycles come with warning stickers on them saying things like "WEAR A HELMET", "DO NOT RIDE AT NIGHT", or "CHECK BRAKES".  Obviously this is to protect the manufacturer from liability if something terrible happens, but I think it would be helpful if they also had a sticker that said "Make sure seat and handlebars are high enough" or "Remember to inflate tires"

I say this because it disappoints me to see people riding on uncomfortably adjusted bikes or with tires half inflated or even worse yet, with the fork installed backwards.

Not saying that I am the master of all things bicycle related, but I have learned some things from experience that I wish I would've known much, much earlier.

I feel that some of the following things are what separates a bicycle from being a slow, inconvenient way of getting around from a legitimate form of transportation.  The following is a list of the most important things I would recommend to a beginner cyclist:
  1. Make the seat high enough.
  2. Make the handlebars high enough
  3. Make sure the gearing will allow you to go fast
  4. Use the right tire size and inflate them adequately
I've come up with a simple diagnosis of how you can tell if your bike is not adjusted:

knee pain - seat too low
butt pain - seat too low
back pain - handlebars too low
forearm pain - handlebars too low

This is from a practical standpoint.... That being said, if the seat post to handlebar height ratio looks even remotely close to that of a time trial bike, it is totally wrong. 
Time Trial Bike
Not for everyday use
You do want the saddle to be high enough, but the handlebars should at least be level with it.  I used to suffer from both problems simultaneously; having both the saddle and handlebars too low.  Here is what it used to look like (it used to be my mom's bike):
Bicycle
And now, after getting a stem extension and building a new seat post:
properly adjusted bicycle saddle height

This was the only solution for me because the bike frame is almost 10 sizes too small for my height.

This photo of me riding on the old setup clearly demonstrates the many things wrong with it:
improper bicycle riding position
As mentioned above, both the saddle and handlebars were too low.  Were the handlebars high enough, the sitting position would be more upright.  If the saddle were high enough, then the leg on the up stroke would not reach 90 degrees.  The leg on the down stroke seems in the proper straight extended position, but I was only able to accomplish that by having terrible foot placement.  In the picture, the pedal is under the middle of the foot towards the heel.  To make matters worse, I had to wear boots to ride because the sole's rigidity made it easier, and less painful, to mash harder on the pedal with this bad foot position.
bicycle foot pedal placement
Fortunately, my brief time riding with toe straps forced me to correct the foot placement issue.
The picture also brings in my next point: don't ride with a backpack.  They are fine for short rides, less than three miles about, but there are many alternatives to this; racks, panniers, handlebar bags, baskets etc. and the difference is very good.  Those attachments also allow for more cargo to be carried, making the bike more useful.  In fact, with the racks I built I was able to haul the 69 pound piece of steel for the die casting mold about 20 miles, not saying it was safe though....

Once the saddle/ handlebar height is all figured out, you want to be able to go fast.  Fast enough to still go faster on a down hill.  My old bike was geared so low that on the highest gear I would spin it out on even a moderate downhill slope.  This limited how fast I could go and any extra pedaling I did was not helping.  This might only be a problem with consumer sector bikes or singlespeeds, but modifying the drive train is always an option.

Also on the topic of speed: the tire size.  I think 700x38 is the perfect size hands down.  It is narrow enough to go fast, yet I can still ride off road.  I still haven't ridden a wide tire bike with decent gearing so I don't have much authority to speak on the subject.  Also be sure to inflate the tires adequately. Do not inflate to maximum pressure when it is cold.  I learned this the hard way.  One morning it was raining, and I decided to inflate my tires to the max of 100 PSI.  Later in the day when it heated up, there was a bulge on the side of the tire and the tube was ripping through, I had to discard it.  Also make sure the brake pads aren't rubbing the tires, you don't want your ride interrupted by a gaping hole in the side of your tire.

Other various considerations:
Use lights at night, don't ride on the sidewalk, ride on the correct side of the road, anoint the chain with holy oil so the angels will protect you, carry a pump and patch kit, know how to get around, make sure the brakes work, DO NOT EVER BUY CHEAP CABLE HOUSING.  Also, if your handlebar grips are uncomfortable and cause blisters then take the grips off an old pair of crutches like this.  They work wonderful and have the bonus of not scratching cars you'd accidentally run into.
bicycle handlebar crutches grips
If anything, learn how to perform maintenance on your bike, it is fun, messy, sometimes arduous, but will save money.  This website is very helpful: http://sheldonbrown.com/articles.html

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