Biking for Fun and Exercise

By Kathryn Marchi 

Who doesn’t love autumn?  The heat may still be around in September and early October, but the humidity is greatly diminished and the evenings are definitely cooler.  Swimming may be over for those with outdoor pools but lots of people still walk, run and play tennis to maintain their physical fitness.  However, another good way to accomplish that is to ride a bike.  Not only can you stay in shape, but you can also take in the lovely fall colors and enjoy some great weather! 

Bikes today are so much lighter and more aerodynamic than ones we had in our childhood.  I recall my Lady Schwinn with thick tires, no gears, a front basket and a skirt cover over the back wheel!  (Did I actually wear a skirt when I rode?) It was a very heavy bike and I spent most of my time standing up and pumping to get some speed going.  It did coast downhill really well, though!  

That brings us to bikes of today: There are numerous models available, many with extra features for specialized bike riding.  Since most of us are not going to join Lance Armstrong in a race, let’s concentrate on bikes for recreational riders.  This means people who simply enjoy bike riding around the neighborhood or on the various bike paths that are popular today.  It could include those who join bike clubs and do long-distance trips or “off road” biking.   Bikes may vary for these purposes, but the safety features and equipment are much the same. 

We’ll begin with the types of bicycles that are available for semi-serious riders. For starters, it has been suggested that beginners should start with any bicycle that fits them and is in good repair and then look around for a more suitable one when cycling becomes a more serious hobby. Since bikes come in all price ranges, $50 to $1,000-plus, this might be the best course to take.  And, as in all pursuits, you can spend as much or as little as you want on a safe and comfortable bike.  Of course, the many accessories are there for the taking and can add more expense to the total package.

The choices: 

  • Road bike. light, strong frames, thin tires for less friction and an easier but faster ride on paved roads, gears and hand brakes. 
  • Utility bike. rear internal hub brake, chain-case and mudguards, kickstand for parking,  upswept handlebars for a comfortable grip and easier steering at low speeds. 
  • Mountain bike. sturdier, heavier frame, knobby tires, shock absorbers for maneuvering through rocks and mud, gears and hand brakes. 
  • Hybrid or Comfort bike. a combination of road, utility and mountain bikes, which features a more “relaxed” upright positioning that is easier on the neck and lower back, flat handlebars with integral twist gears and somewhat wider tires that ride better over the variety of surfaces you may encounter.  This type of bike is recommended for the semi-serious biker. 

Looking in a bike shop or catalogue, you can see all sorts of equipment for cyclists, but for now, we’ll just deal with the basics that should keep you safe and comfortable as you ride. 

  • Helmet:  Don’t leave home on your bike without one!  Head injuries are common. Should you take a spill off your bike, your helmet could make the difference in the extent of injury.  Make certain your helmet fits securely. 
  • Portable Pump:  Yes, you might have a slow leak or flat tire when you’re out and about.  You need to be able to get back home safely and not necessarily on foot, walking your bike.  You may want to take a spare inner tube and a small bike repair kit along if you travel any distance.  A foot pump is also good to have at home.  
  • Water Bottle:  Special “cages” can be purchased with a water bottle that fits right in and attaches to your bike.  You’ll need hydration as you ride. 
  • Lights:  If you plan to ride your bike at night, this is a must. 
  • Foam padded seat:  This is optional, but many casual cyclists find this type of seat much more comfortable. 
  • Shoes:  There are specific biking shoes for professionals, but all you need at this point is a pair of sturdy shoes with rigid soles.  Tennis shoes are perfectly suited for cycling. Some bikes have cage pedals that are really good for keeping your feet “set” while pedaling.  You’ll have to get used to slipping your feet in and out of them easily.  
  • Clothing:  Depending upon the weather, your clothing should keep you comfortable.  In the summer, thin and flexible clothes are a must for keeping you cool and dry.  In colder temperatures, layers work best since you can remove outer layers if necessary.  Avoid loose-fitting pants, shirts or jackets that may catch the wind or an errant branch and other protruding objects along your path.  And do wear bright colors so you are as visible as possible at all times. 
  • Gloves:  Cycling gloves are padded and not only absorb shock from handles but also can also offer protection to your palms in case of a fall off your bike. 

Now that you and the bike are well-equipped, the next very important item is safety on the road:       

      *On a public road, bikers have to follow the same “rules of the road” as motorists.

      * Cyclists must always be on the alert.

      * At intersections, hand signals must be given before turns.

       *Always avoid riding too close to parked cars.  Many a cyclist has been knocked  to the ground by an opening car door. 

When riding on a bike trail or path, the following rules must be observed:     

       *Always keep right.

       *Always pass on the left and give a warning, “on your left!”

       *Observe a speed limit of 15 mph.

       *Cyclists should always yield to all other trail users.

       *Respect the rights and privacy of adjacent property owners. 

These are your basic rules, but it might behoove you to look for a course in bike safety.  Your local bicycle shop or a cycling club such as The Baltimore Bicycle Club offer such courses. 

After reading this article, take your old clunker bike out for a ride.  If you decide to take cycling seriously, it’s time to visit your local bike shop and tell the salesperson what type of biking you want to do.  You will be shown you what’s available to suit your frame.  You’ll find that there is a correlation between the bike seat height and your height as well as your arm length to the handlebars, so adjustments might have to be made for you. The salesperson will also provide instructions on how to use the hand brakes and gears so that you can take a test ride before signing on the dotted line. Of course, the shop is happy to provide you with every available accessory.  Do your homework so you’ll know exactly what you need. 

Riding a bicycle can be fun.  If you start out slowly with casual rides around your neighborhood with a few friends, you may work up to joining an organized biking club for longer jaunts on the many bike paths and trails that are available.  Besides the fresh air and camaraderie, regular cycling is one of the best exercises for your body.  It’s easy on the joints, increases muscle strength and circulation, helps with weight loss or maintenance and relieves stress.  

Web sites: Link to Cross Island trail on Kent Island and Balto/Annapolis trail in Severna Park. Links to bike safety, group rides, special events, and calendar of events. Search biking or bike trails. 

Google: Senior cycling in MD and find many Web sites 

Kathryn Marchi lives in Symphony Village with her husband Dennis.  She is just beginning to get back on her bike for pleasure and a bit of good exercise after hip replacement surgery. She can be reached at [email protected]







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