By Mary Small, Contributing Writer, My Optum Health -I DO Learn
The wind in your hair. The sun on your back. The world flying by. Remember the joys of bicycling when you were a kid? Cycling is still fun! It's also great exercise and puts less strain on your joints than running. Whether you want to get fit or just get around, it's easy to get started.
If you are physically inactive or have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy or other symptoms, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level. He or she can tell you what types of activities are safe and suitable for you.
For a fun, safe ride
The right bicycle, equipment and knowledge of cycling safety rules are essential for a good biking experience.
Got a bike? Before your first ride, take your bike to the shop for a tune-up. Ask if your bike is the right fit for you. A proper fit can mean the difference between a painful ride and a joyful one.
• Need a bike? Visit your local bike shop. Their experts can recommend the size and type of bike that best fits you and your needs. Touring bikes have upright seating and wider tires. Road and touring bikes are better for longer distances than mountain bikes. If you are a woman, there are bike frames designed just for you.
• Know your bike. Become familiar with your bike, its brakes and its gears. Learn how to shift your bike properly.
Always wear a helmet, no matter how short your bike trip. Helmets reduce the risk of head and brain injuries by 63 to 88 percent.
• A helmet that doesn’t fit properly won’t protect you. Buy the smallest helmet that fits you snugly.
• Wear your helmet on top of your head, not tipped back, with straps joined just under each ear at the jawbone.
• Replace your helmet after a crash or hard impact.
Your saddle should not hurt you or cause numbness. Get it adjusted or try a different saddle.
• Saddles come in gender-specific, as well as comfort and performance models.
Shorts: Many cyclists wear padded cycling shorts for comfort and to help prevent chafing.
• Jersey: Bike jerseys help wick sweat away from your skin. They often have pockets to hold your ID, cell phone, snacks and a tire patch kit.
• Gloves: Padded, fingerless gloves help protect your hands.
• Sunglasses: Wear glasses to protect your eyes from debris, wind and sun.
• Shoes: Explore cycling shoes and toe clips or clipless pedals. They will help you pedal more efficiently. But getting in and out of the toe clips or clipless pedals takes practice.
• Cold weather clothing: Tights, a lightweight vest, wind jacket and full-fingered gloves are good for cold weather riding.
Tires: Carry a patch kit, tire pump and extra tube in case you get a flat. Ask the bike shop to show you how to fix a flat, or take a bike maintenance course. Keep your tires inflated to the recommended pressure.
• Lights: You want to establish your identity and catch the driver's eye so they know where you are. Use reflective tape on your clothing, shoes and bike. Make sure you have LED lights — steady and blinking — on the front and back of your bike, especially at night.
• Water: Have a water-bottle cage attached to your bike frame. Make sure to drink enough fluids before, after and while you ride.
Safety on the road - Drive Your Bike!
• Always wear a helmet.
• Always ride with traffic, not against it. Watch out for loose gravel, glass and other objects on the road.
• Use designated bike routes, lanes, or paths.
• Do not bike on sidewalks.
• Obey traffic laws. In many states, when you are on your bike, you are not a pedestrian. You are traffic.
• Help drivers see you with reflective tape, bright clothing and lights.
• Use hand signals when you turn. Move predictably so drivers know what to expect.
• Watch for turning traffic. Most bike accidents happen at intersections and driveways.
• Watch for parked cars. Ride far enough from the curb to be able to see a parked car opening its door or a car pulling away from the curb and into your lane.
• Bike with a friend. Check the bike shop for beginner cycling clubs or classes.
Jenilee Matz, MPH, contributed to this article.