ROAD BIKE SAFETY TIPS & PRE-RIDING CHECKLIST

IN BIKER SHORTS IN NEW JERSEY: ONE FOR THE MONEY, JANET EVANOVICH

I enjoyed One for the Money much more than I thought I would. Written in 1994, before The Sopranos or The Jersey Shore, Evanovich’s novel portrays the Jersey stereotype in a way that has been over-satirized in the past two decades. Written two decades later, Stephanie and Morelli would have been tired caricatures like the ones we see on reality shows and in movies every day. However, because it was written before the Jersey persona had been associated with Snooki and The Situation, it is not unpleasant.

Despite the inevitable now-negative Jersey stereotypes, I found myself really liking Stephanie Plum, her biker shorts and big hair. The novel touched just the right balance between the ridiculous situations Stephanie kept finding herself in and the more serious topics of the novel.

One for the Money also focused on the topic of violence against women, at a time when it was not as popular a subject. When a book or movie touch on a subject before that subject comes into the national consciousness, one of two things can happen when you go back to revisit it: it can be either extremely perceptive or it can be insensitive and completely misinformed. This book was the former and very sensitive to issues that only came to the national consciousness later.

I liked the way this book portrayed Jersey—a little rough around the edges, but smart and charming. I also liked how Stephanie Plum was not predictably Italian, but she still has the big-hair Jersey look and eccentric family. I also liked, however, that Evanovich did not completely ignore the state’s strong Italian heritage.

The book made me want to find out more about Evanovich and I found a delightful autobiography page. She sounds like a lot of fun. From her site:

“It turns out I’m a really boring workaholic with no hobbies or special interests. My favorite exercise is shopping and my drug of choice is Cheeze Doodles.

I read comic books and I only watch happy movies. I motivate myself to write by spending my money before I make it. And when I grow up I want to be just like Grandma Mazur.”

While not the most cerebral of books, it was well written, well structured, with well-developed characters and an entertaining plot. I will definitely read the next book in the series.

CYCLING TO BEAT THE BLUES

How do you feel after a good cycle? If you got on your bike not feeling your best, the chances are that when you get off the saddle you’ll be feeling brighter, more positive and ready to face whatever the rest of the day has to throw at you. It’s no coincidence you feel this way, as regular outdoor exercise such as cycling can do wonders for our mental well-being. Not only does this sort of activity trigger favorable changes within the brain, but it brings about other conditions that work towards boosting how we feel.

The effects of activity on our brain

Even though all our modern needs are met within easy reach, go back in time and we were reliant on getting about under our own steam to find essentials such as food, water and shelter. For the survival of the human species, it was vital that exercise was enjoyable.  For this reason, systems developed within our brain so activity produced pleasurable feelings, reinforcing the desire to stay active. While the necessity of exercise for our basic needs might now be redundant, the same systems are still at work, producing that feel good sense when you cycle.

There are a number of changes that occur in the brain on activity. Firstly, endorphins are released. These chemical messengers bind to the same areas of the brain that are activated when someone takes morphine or heroin, which triggers feelings of euphoria, giving us a natural high; how great this feels depends on the intensity and duration of the activity. Two other messengers are also released in the brain when we exercise, namely dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for feelings of calm and well-being. Another group of substances that occur naturally in the body called brain derived neurotrophic factors are also activated by exercise and these play a role in helping new brain cells to develop and nerves to make connections with each other. However, besides the chemical changes that occur in the brain, the increase in blood flow that occurs when muscles are used also appears to play a role in boosting mood. When more blood flows through the brain, a chain of events occurs and certain areas of the brain that are linked to mood and motivation are stimulated.

Aside from the changes that occur within the body, how else can cycling help to lift mood?

Other mood enhancing effects of cycling

Cycling is a great way to get you out and about, so not only do you get to explore your surroundings, but you have the opportunity to meet people. Humans are social beings and social interaction is good for mental health; having regular contact with others doesn’t just help to keep us in good spirits, but can help to bring up mood when feeling low. If you are perhaps nervous to cycle by yourself, go out with a friend or family member; some areas even have cycling groups, which are aimed at encouraging physical activity, so are perfect if you’re new to cycling. Meeting new people through a cycling group is a good way to increase your confidence, which can sometimes take a battering if you feel anxious or depressed.

Outdoor activity is well documented as a mood enhancer. Being in green spaces does wonders for how you feel. Whether cycling through a nature park, woodland trail or just along a country lane, nature’s tranquility can help you to relax, which can certainly help you to feel brighter; additionally, the color green is well-known for its calming effect. Interestingly, research shows that the benefits on mood are even greater if there is water in the environment where you are, so if there’s a trail around a lake or by a river near you, why not cycle it more often?

When we’re out on our bike, we’re concentrating on the road or taking in the view on a traffic-free route. This means cycling is a good way to take our mind off other thoughts. Life is hectic and with the stresses and strains it brings, this can sometimes get us all down. However, having an activity we can escape to when things get too much is very positive and cycling is ideal for this, as we can simply get our bike out the garage and take off for an hour. Whether we’re feeling upset, angry or frustrated, we can peddle these feelings away; it’s certainly more positive than turning to alcohol, drugs or comfort eating.

Equally, sometimes we have all felt like everything is getting too much. Taking part in exercise such as cycling can be the first step to helping you get back in control of aspects of your life. Deciding to make a positive choices towards healthier lifestyle, setting yourself realistic goals – whether it’s building up to cycle a certain distance, tackling up-hill cycling or working towards a weekend cycling break – and achieving these can provide you with a sense of achievement and boost your self-esteem. Looking back at the progress you have made will inspire and motivate you to tackle other things that you might consider as a challenge or problem in your life. Not only this, but feeling more positive and sleeping better, which cycling helps you to achieve, will make it easier to tackle the challenges you face.

Exercise and facing addiction

On that note, many people don’t realize that taking part in exercise can help when they’re overcoming addictions. Anyone who is giving up cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or an activity that they have become dependent on is bound to experience cravings for their old habits. However, when these strike, taking to the saddle and the good feelings that this brings with it can help to overcome the desire to take part in unhealthy behaviors. While in an ideal world people wouldn’t turn to the likes of drugs in the first place, now’s not the time to judge, as addiction and dependence can have destructive impacts on people’s lives. For instance, the growing trend of abusing one of the drugs used to treat ADHD not only leads to amphetamine and dextroamphetamine dependence symptoms, which include anxiety, insomnia, digestive upset and weight loss, but interferes with family and social life, as well as performance in school, college and the workplace. A close friend went through this with one of her children and it was devastating to watch. Helping people to escape the hold of drugs like these isn’t easy, but with treatment that takes a holistic approach, in which exercise can play a role, they can regain control of their lives. Whatever the addiction, I’m a firm believer that natural treatments play just as important a role as anything that can be prescribed and would encourage anyone in that situation to try an outdoor pursuit such as cycling as an adjunct to their other therapy.

Receiving the benefits

Exercising regularly is known to be as effective for treating mild depression as medical or psychological treatments. Should this apply to you or you simply want to prevent such problems, how much cycling would you need to do? If you’re able to take the 150 minutes of recommended activity each week, you will be able to set yourself up for good mental health; even better if you can manage more than this. As you can start to receive benefits for your mood after just 5 minutes of outdoor activity, even short bursts of cycling will help. That means if you begin by taking the 10 minute cycle ride to the shops or a friend’s house, you’re off to a good start. Remember it’s best to start off small and build up; this way it’s easier to regularly take exercise even when you don’t feel like it, which are actually the times when you benefit from it the most.

CYCLING YOUR WAY TO BETTER HEALTH

Cycling means many different things to different people. It’s an environmentally-friendly mode of transport, a relaxing pastime, a great way to explore a new town, an element of a fitness regime and a competitive sport. Whatever the reason for taking to the saddle, cycling can offer a range of health benefits and largely being an outdoor activity provides advantages above and beyond attending the gym, fitness class or playing a sport inside. Here we take a look at some of the positive impacts that cycling can have for your health, making it an ideal activity to incorporate into your week.

Supports weight loss

As being overweight places you at higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and joint disease, losing the excess weight confers big benefits to health. Someone weighing in at around 200lb can expect to burn about 370 calories if they cycle gently for an hour; doing this three times a week would allow them to lose a pound in weight each month even if they made no other changes. Arthritis or generalized joint pain are common problems amongst people who are overweight, but as cycling is not weight bearing, this takes the pressure off the joints allowing them to exercise in comfort, so is an ideal form of activity for this group.

Cardio-protective effects

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in many industrialized countries, so taking steps to reduce our risk should be a key priority for everyone. While what we eat plays a role in maintaining the health of our heart, regular cardiovascular exercise such as cycling can help to strengthen the heart muscle and reduce other risk factors for heart disease. When taking part in cycling a number of times each week you can expect to see a fall in your resting pulse and blood pressure; not only does the heart not have to work so hard, but transporting blood at a lower pressure helps to maintain the health of the blood vessels making them less susceptible to narrowing. Your cholesterol level will also improve, seeing a fall in the LDL cholesterol that is associated with narrowing of the arteries, as well as an increase in the protective HDL version; with less narrowing, the blood is more able to flow easily. An increase in blood circulation around the body will provide a range of benefits, helping to supply all the tissues with blood, so the chances of a stroke, kidney disease and in men, impotence, are less likely. Although certain medications improve blood circulation, it is best to give them a helping hand by taking part in regular exercise.

Better blood sugar control

It isn’t just important for those who have diabetes to worry about their blood sugar control, but as type 2 diabetes is increasing at such an alarming rate and brings with it potential complications including blindness, kidney failure and stroke, we all should take an interest. However, the good news is that regular exercise like cycling can reduce your risk of developing diabetes by half. When you work your muscles as you do when you ride a bike, they need more energy, which your body supplies in the form of the sugar glucose; as a result when your muscles remove this from the blood, blood glucose levels naturally fall.

Boosts mental health

Many people are familiar with the idea that taking part in exercise stimulates the body to release endorphins, a group of hormones that make us feel contented. This could be one of the reasons why people who take part in regular exercise such as cycling have better mental health and when they do experience problems such as anxiety or depression they are better able to manage their feelings. However, outdoor activities appear to provide an even greater benefit to mental health than those undertaken indoors; it appears that being outside in the fresh air surrounded by greenery potentiates the effect of exercise by itself. Cycling may also help to ward off dementia, as studies show that taking part in moderate activity regularly can reduce your chances of developing this by 30%.

Increases Vitamin D production

Traditionally the action of the sun on our skin has been our main source of Vitamin D, but with more of us spending less time outdoors and when we do, being careful with our skin’s exposure to the sun in view of the risk of cancer, Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise. Although people who are housebound or who have more skin pigmentation are at greatest risk of deficiency, from the results of various scientific studies the Vitamin D Council estimates that as many as 50% of the world’s population are at risk. This is an issue not just for bone health, but for a range of other medical conditions; Vitamin D deficiency is now linked to an increased likelihood of developing depression, type 1 diabetes, certain cancers and multiple sclerosis. Getting out on your bike more often, particularly between April and September when we are able to make most Vitamin D, could help you to reduce the chances of you going short on this important vitamin.

With five very good reasons to get on your bike, what are you waiting for?

The Bicycle Helmet: to wear or not to wear?

WASHINGTON DC, October 24, 2012- Last month, a friend and cycling blogger sent me an article and asked me whether I wore a helmet when I rode my bicycle.  I said that I did wear a helmet, but the truth is, I should have said I wear one most of the time, depending on the ride.  And, if personal experience and observation holds, a lot of people do the same.  The question of whether to wear or not to wear a helmet is heating up, with strong arguments on both sides.

There is no doubt that if you are in a bicycle accident involving a head injury, a helmet may very well save your life or prevent brain damage.  Many argue however, that while there is a very small chance of being in a bike crash involving a head injury, forcing people to wear helmets discourages mass-ridership, which in turn would save far more lives by preventing heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc. than bicycle helmets ever will.

This is a tricky proposition.  It sounds like the question of whether it is permissible to sacrifice one life to save many.  The truth is that bike accidents do and will happen. Some riders will be severely injured and even killed.  Helmets will prevent many of these injuries and save lives.  On the other hand, it is also true that fatalities are rare and many studies show that compulsory helmet use discourages ridership.

Before you hit the comment button, read on.

A Bike helmet can save your life

It cannot be argued that a bike helmet is indispensable and could save your life IF you are in a bicycle accident involving head trauma.  A helmet does not guarantee, however, that your life will be saved if you are in a bike accident, especially if the accident involves body parts other than the head.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 2008 Traffic Safety Facts, 70% of cyclists involved in a fatal crash suffer from head injuries, and helmets are 85 to 88% effective in preventing head and brain injuries.   The NHTSA calls helmets “the single most effective way to reduce head injuries and fatalities from bicycle crashes.”

by Christiensen Law Firm

US v. Europe

All major organizations that have anything to do with health, safety, and transportation in the US advocate the use of bike helmets all the time.  This is turn has created a cultural philosophy around bike helmets.   Basically, if you don’t wear a bike helmet you’re perceived as antisocial and reckless.  In the US, not wearing a helmet while riding your bike is like smoking or talking on your phone while driving your car.

Personally, since I started riding as an adult only recently, I never questioned the helmet mentality.  When I thought about wearing a helmet, I associated it with wearing a seatbelt: annoying but stupid if you don’t do it, and pretty soon you forget about it and it becomes second nature.

For this reason a little less than half of US states and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of bicycle helmet legislation.  According to The Insurance Institute for Highways Safety, 21 states and the District have a bicycle helmet law.  A list of all states with bicycle helmet legislation can be found here.

The situation is very different in Europe.  France, Italy, Germany, the UK, and Switzerland have no mandatory helmet use laws.  Other European countries have helmet laws for children.  However, there does not seem to be a higher rate of cyclist fatalities, and all of these countries have high ridership and mature cycling cultures and structures.  In major European cities and towns, the focus is not on helmet use but on providing a safer cycling infrastructure and slowing or prohibiting traffic completely around city and town centers.

Now on to the more controversial proposition.

Fatalities are rare

While it is true that a helmet may save your life or prevent serious head and brain trauma, statistics show that cyclist fatalities are relatively rare.  According to the NHTSA’s 2009 Traffic Safety Facts, there were 630 cyclist fatalities involved in traffic accidents during that year in the US.  This accounts for less than 2% of all traffic fatalities.  Additionally, for the same year 51,000 cyclists were injured in traffic accidents, which also accounts for 2% of the total injuries in traffic accidents.

Compulsory helmet usage discourages ridership

Several studies suggest that making helmets compulsory will discourage many people from riding a bicycle at all, which in turn will cause more deaths through diabetes, heart disease and obesity than helmet-less accidents.  Less riders also means that it will be more difficult to build up a safer cycling network and reap the benefits of mass-ridership.

The fear factor

Proponents argue that aggressive helmet use campaigns and promotion makes a relatively safe activity seem a lot more dangerous than it really is, and this, in turn, turns off a lot of potential riders.

According to many scientific and not so scientific studies, the single biggest factor that discourages people from riding their bike more is fear.  The argument goes like this: while cycling is statistically as dangerous or less than walking down the street, stepping into your tub, or climbing a ladder, when asked to wear special “body armor” to cycle, a large number of people will perceive it as more dangerous than it actually is and will refrain from doing it altogether.  According to the European Cycling Federation, cycling is just as dangerous as walking per mile traveled; yet people are not asked to wear a helmet to walk down the block.

There may be some truth to this claim.  I, for one, was terrified of riding my bike in the city and it took me literally years to work up the courage to do it.  I’m not sure my fear was completely tied to the fact that local wisdom says you should always wear a helmet and that made me fearful of riding, but after two years, I can honestly say that it is far less scary than I initially perceived, and I wish I would have done it sooner and not been so frightened.

Helmets & Bike -sharing

There is also the issue of trying to develop a safe cycling network, a big part of which has become the development of a robust bike- sharing program, which in turn may be at odds with compulsory helmet laws.  There is evidence that a city bike-sharing program is more likely to be popular if that city allows riding without a helmet.  Mexico City seems to agree, as it recently repealed a mandatory helmet law before inaugurating its bike-sharing plan.

by Easternbolt, Flickr Commons

The DF may have learned from other cities.  Consider Melbourne, Australia, with a compulsory helmet law and a bike-sharing program with an average of 150 rides per day.  Compare this with Dublin, Ireland, where bike helmet laws are relaxed and their bike-sharing program has an average of 5,000 rides per day.  While there may be other factors that account for this difference, it is important to note that while Dublin is full of hills, has cobblestone roads, and cold and rainy weather, Melbourne is flat, has wide paved roads, and mild weather.  Consider also that Melbourne’s population is 4.1 million, while Dublin’s is 1.2.

Major American cities are also foregoing compulsory helmet use for adults in favor of growing their bike–sharing programs.  DC makes helmet use compulsory for children under 16 years of age.  A recent Georgetown study found that around 70% of those who use the city’s wildly popular Capital BikeShare do not wear a helmet.

Similarly, New York has failed to enact a compulsory helmet law, even as the city awaits the opening of its own 1,000 bicycle bike-sharing program in 2013.  However, New York City is pursuing an aggressive education and free helmet programs to encourage helmet use.

The special case women

In her article, Elizabeth Rosenthal quotes European researchers as saying that “ the test of a mature bike-sharing program is when women outnumber men.”  However, in most, if not all North American cities male riders outnumber females, sometimes 2 and even 3 to 1, both on bike-shares or private bikes (there are exceptions, of course).  In the US, women accounted for only 24% of bicycle trips taken in 2009, according to The National Household Travel Survey.

The same is not true in other countries where helmet use is not compulsory and not so aggressively promoted.  In the Netherlands, for example, women account for 52% of cyclists.  In Germany female ridership is 49%.  European cycling proponents suggest that more women ride in Europe because these countries focus on providing safer bike lanes and slowing traffic in city centers rather than promoting helmet use.

Why do women ride less in the US?

According to Ell Blue in “Bicycling’s Gender Gap,” the most often cited reasons why women don’t cycle more are fear and fashion.  Even though Blue’s article goes much deeper into exploring the real – economic – reasons why women don’t cycle, fear and fashion also have a lot to do with helmet use.

As discussed above, compulsory helmet use and aggressive promotion may discourage many women from riding by making cycling seems more dangerous than it really is.  Linda Baker’s “How to get More Bicyclists on the Road” suggests that women are a kind of “indicator species” of a safe and mature cycling structure because women are more risk-averse than men.  If helmet promotion makes cycling seem like it presents more risk than it really does, more women than men will refrain from doing it at all.  On the other hand, according to Baker, if more women ride, their risk aversion translates to a demand for a safer and more comprehensive bike infrastructure (what you see in Europe).

Fashion has also been cited as one of the reasons women do not cycle more.  It may be difficult to wear professional attire and arrive at the office smelling fresh if you have to cycle 20 miles.  The same can be said for a date or lunch with friends.  However, for women who travel shorter distances, having to wear a helmet could be a deciding factor on whether to commute by bike.  Let’s face it; you cannot get to the office or an important meeting with a helmet head, so instead many professional women forego riding altogether.

So, to wear or not to wear your helmet?

Compulsory helmet use for children is a no-brainer.  Of course they should wear a helmet and I have no problem with legislation making helmet use mandatory for minors.  However, the more I learn about the subject, as well as from personal experience as a novice city rider, the more unsure I am about whether I need to wear one all the time.

I have a confession to make.  I don’t wear my helmet that much.

After two years of riding every day to pretty much the same places, I must admit, I don’t wear my helmet every time if the ride is a few blocks and there is a bike lane route.  I’m lucky that I live in DC and in a neighborhood where almost every other street has a bike lane and traffic is relatively light and slow.  I also work from home.

My gym is .6 miles away and I don’t wear a helmet when I ride there.  I don’t wear one to go to the store three blocks away, or when I go out to dinner in the neighborhood with my husband.  On the other hand, I wear a helmet for longer rides or any ride that takes me where a bike lane will not.  I also always wear one when I go on a fitness ride.  But near home, no, I don’t wear my helmet.  If I were forced to, I probably wouldn’t ride as much.

There, I said it.  I feel like I just admitted to killing a puppy…

To be on the safe side, I still advocate wearing your helmet every time.  As John Kraemer, assistant professor of health systems administration at NHS says in the Georgetown Study,

“Bikers can’t always control the environment around them, but they can control whether they wear a helmet.”

But it does make you think…

Biking For Beginners: Selecting The Right Bike

Biking For Beginners: Selecting The Right Bike

If you’re thinking about taking up cycling, one of the most important decisions that you’ll make is what type of bike you get.  Many cyclists will tell you getting the right bike is everything. As I mentioned in “How my bike changed my life,” I first got a folding bike, which was definitely not for me, and it put me off cycling for about 2 years until I was ready to try again.  The second time around I time I did my homework, rode a few different bikes, and ended up with the perfect bike for my lifestyle and the type of riding I do– I haven’t stopped riding since!

Selecting the right bike can be tricky.  You must do a little research and spend some time at your local bike shop.  The wrong bike may spell disaster and make for an unpleasant experience.  As David Fiedler puts it in “Buying the Right Bike For You,” trying to ride a road bike through a mountain path is like trying to walk a dirt road in high heels.

There are several types of bicycles, depending on who will ride and what type of riding will be done.  Important considerations to keep in mind when choosing what type of bike is right for you are: (1) how often you will ride, (2) whether you will ride mainly on a paved road or off-road, and (3) whether you will primarily use the bike to commute to work, fitness training, or leisure.   You may also want to consider your budget, and how much maintenance and repair the bike may need.

Mountain Bike:

Mountain bikes are top-selling bicycles.  This, however, does not mean that everyone who buys a mountain bike uses it for what it was built to do.  According to ebicycles, most mountain bikes are not used for what they are designed for, but are big sellers because they are relatively less expensive than other types of bicycle.

Biking For Beginners: Selecting The Right Bike

Main features:

  • Wide wheels with “knobby” tires and stout frame for durability and stability on rugged terrain
  • Suspension may be either hardtail or full.
  • Better balance and traction than road bikes
  • Less expensive than most other bikes
  • Wider range of gears than road bikes
  • Upright riding position for more comfort

Best used for:

  • Off-road, dirt roads, and rugged terrain
  • Climbing uphill
  • May be used for touring but does not have as much cargo capacity as a touring bicycle

Drawbacks:

  • Not as fast as road bikes
  • Heavier than road bikes
  • David Fiedler at About.com warns that since mountain bikes are less expensive, people often buy them without considering whether a mountain bike really suits their needs.  Fiedler compares this to a city-dweller who buys an SUV and never actually drives off-road.

Road Bike:

Road bikes are ideal for riding on paved surfaces.  They are lightweight and built for speed.  However, a good road bike will often be expensive, over $800.  For this reason, road bikes tend to also be a favorite of bike thieves.

Biking For Beginners Selecting The Right Bike

by DubLx, Flickr Commons

Main features:

  • Lightweight frame
  • Thinner, high pressure, smooth tires
  • Drop-bar handlebars for more aerodynamic speed riding OR Flat-bar handlebars for more upright comfortable riding position
  • Designed for riding on pavement

Best used for:

  • Riding on pavement
  • Long-distance riding
  • Higher speed riding
  • Fitness riding
  • Commuting
  • Touring
  • Racing

Drawbacks:

  • Not good for carrying heavy loads over a significant distance
  • Not good for dirt roads or mountain biking
  • Bent riding position may put strain on lower back, hands, wrists, and arms.

Hybrid Bike:

A hybrid is a cross between a road and a mountain bike, combining the best features of both.  I personally ride a hybrid, below is a picture of my baby.  I like it because it is good for commuting in the city, but it is also sturdy and stable enough so that I can carry a good amount of groceries or jump a sidewalk if I have to.  I can also take it on trails with my husband and (kind of) keep up.

Biking For Beginners Selecting The Right Bike

Main features:

  • Tires are narrower and smoother than a mountain bike’s for riding on pavement
  • Gearing allows for faster speed than a mountain bike
  • Straight handlebars for a more comfortable upright riding position
  • Durable, stouter frame

Best used for:

  • City riding, commuting
  • Occasional riding
  • Leisure
  • Carrying some cargo
  • Fitness riding

Drawbacks:

  • Not good for racing
  • Heavier than a road bike
  • Not good for heavy-duty cargo

Touring Bike:

Touring bikes may look like road bikes, especially if they have drop-bar handlebars.  However, Touring bikes are designed for longer trips and to carry larger, heavier loads.  There are several other important distinguishing features of touring bikes.

Biking For Beginners Selecting The Right Bike

A touring bicycle with flat bars and 26-inch wheels, Wikipedia Commons

Main features:

  • Larger frame triangle than road bikes
  • Structurally stronger than road bikes
  • More comfortable handlebars and saddles for longer rides
  • Generally more gears than a road bike
  • More stable steering geometry
  • Heavy-duty wheels
  • Multiple mounting points (for luggage, water, tools, etc.)
  • Longer wheelbase for more cargo area
  • Designed to be easily repaired in the field
  • Usually have linear-pull or cantilever brakes instead of caliper brakes to make it easier to stop with a heavy load.

Best used for:

  • Traveling long distances
  • Carrying cargo (lower gears are especially useful when moving cargo uphill)
  • Fitness riding

Drawbacks

  • Not as light as road bikes

Cruiser Bike:

Also known as beach bikes or boulevardiers, cruisers are designed for comfort.  These bikes are great for short shopping trips, rides to the beach, park, etc.  They are also great for older and novice riders.

Biking For Beginners Selecting The Right Bike

Woman’s Cruiser By USCPSC Flickr Commons

Main features:

  • Heavy frame
  • Designed for comfort
  • Curved-back handlebars for more comfortable riding position
  • Padded saddle
  • Balloon tires
  • Minimal gearing
  • Easy to maintain

Best used for:

  • Flat terrain
  • Leisure
  • Shopping

Drawbacks:

  • Not good for high speeds
  • Heavier than most road and hybrid bikes
  • Not good for long rides
  • Not good for going uphill or off-road

Recumbent Bike:

A Recumbent bike may be a good choice for those who suffer from back and neck problems but still want to ride a bicycle.  A recumbent may also be a good choice for a significantly overweight person, since the laid- back riding position will allow excess body mass to rest in a more comfortable position than an upright bike.

Biking For Beginners Selecting The Right Bike

By celesteh, Flickr Commons

Main features:

  • Riding position is laid-back as back and buttocks support weight more evenly and comfortably
  • Long or short wheelbase
  • May have different front and back wheel sizes
  • Center of gravity is lower and closer to the ground, requiring less balance

Best used for:

  • Long rides, touring
  • Riders with back problems
  • Older riders
  • Overweight riders
  • Fitness riding

Drawbacks:

  • Not good for uphills
  • Not good for riding in traffic because the lower recumbent bike may not be as visible to motorists

Women’s Bike:

Almost any type of bike can be designed to be a “women’s bike.”  This just means that they are designed to better fit a “typical” woman’s body proportions of longer legs and shorter torso.   A traditional women’s bike is easy to spot by its dramatically sloping top tube.  In more recent years, however, women’s bikes have been more characterized by a smaller frame than a traditional bicycle, and also called a “unisex’ bike.

Biking For Beginners Selecting The Right Bike

by dno1967b Flickr Commons

Main features:

  • Can be road, mountain, or hybrid
  • Frame geometry tailored to fit typical female body proportions
  • Wider saddle
  • Top tube frame length is shorter, providing less distance from saddle to handlebar, making for a more comfortable reach

Best used for:

  • People with longer legs relative to a shorter torso length

Drawbacks

  • Not all women have a “typical” female body proportion, but may believe that a woman’s bike is right for them.

Power Assisted Bike:

If you don’t want to get to work out of breath or sweaty, this may be the bike for you.   A power-assisted bicycle is one that has an internal combustion, electric, or even steam motor.

Biking For Beginners Selecting The Right Bike

By Robert Couse-Baker (catching up) Flickr Commons

Main features:

  • Easy folding and storage
  • Small
  • Lightweight
  • Fits in box or bag

Best used for:

  • Apartment-dwellers with limited space
  • Travelers who like to ride the same bike
  • Shorter distances

Drawbacks

  • Generally not good for long distances, even though some have been used for touring
  • The folding bikes that I have tried seem unstable and difficult to maneuver.  I also disliked the smaller wheels for some reason.

Fixed Gear

Fixed gear bikes were traditionally used in track cycling, but have gained popularity for road use.   The first thing a rider will notice about a fixed gear bike is that it has no freewheel mechanism, meaning that the pedals turn as the wheels turn.  You cannot coast on a fixed gear bike, and this may feel a little strange at first.  Riding a fixed gear bike is different than riding any other bike and takes a bit of practice and getting used to.

Biking For Beginners Selecting The Right Bike

By Fixieshop Flickr Commons

Main features:

  • No freewheel mechanism meaning the rider cannot coast
  • Simple
  • Lightweight
  • Low maintenance

Best used for:

  • Flat terrain
  • Paved surfaces
  • City Riding

Drawbacks:

  • Not good for uphill
  • Not good for off-road riding
  • May be more difficult to learn to ride, may require a more experienced rider

Tandem

Tandem bicycles are used mainly for recreation or sport and to allow couples and families to ride together, when one rider is stronger than the other(s).  A tandem bike may also be good for a person with a disability that still wants to ride.

Biking For Beginners Selecting The Right Bike

By markheseltine Flickr Commons

Main features:

  • More than one rider
  • Fast
  • Usually heavier

Best used for:

  • When one rider is stronger than the other
  • Touring, but not a lot of space for cargo

Drawbacks:

  • Two riders does not equal double the cargo capacity

Utility/ Cargo Bike:

Cargo bikes are mainly used for transporting people, especially children, or materials.  They come in different shapes and forms, depending on their intended use.

Biking For Beginners Selecting The Right Bike

By sam_churchill Flickr Commons

Main features:

  • Upright seating position
  • Sturdy, elongated frame
  • Stronger rims with more spokes
  • Wide tires for stability
  • Heavy duty racks over rear or front tire for cargo

Best used for:

  • Transporting cargo
  • Transporting children
  • Family commuting
  • Shopping

Drawbacks:

  • Heavier than most bicycles
  • Less maneuverability

Now that you know what types of bicycle are more suited to your lifestyle and purpose, it is important to spend some time riding a few different types of bicycle and asking questions.

A Note on Frame Material

There are four main frame materials used in bike today: carbon steel, chromoly steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber.   Each have their advantages and disadvantages, and there are trade-offs depending on preference and purpose.  For example, while aluminum tends to be lighter, but more rigid than steel.  REI has a page about bike frame materials.

Fit

When you have finally decided on a type of bike, make sure you get the right fit for your body.  Consider stand-over height, seat height, and reach to the handlebars.  Once all of this has been adjusted, make sure you take a test ride and that the fit feels comfortable.

There are several sizing charts like About.com’s Determining Your Road Bike Frame Size, or ebicycle’s Bicycle Frame Size Charts.

Stand-over height

Stand-over height refers to the clearance between your body and the top tube when straddle a bike.  To test the stand over height:

  • Wear the shoes you will be wearing to cycle
  • Stand next to the bike and throw your leg over the top tube
  • Measure the distance between your body and the top tube

OR

  • Lift the bike until it touches you body
  • Have someone measure the distance between the tires and the floor

Customary stand-over height:  (same for men and women)

  • For Road Bikes
    • With a straight top pole, ideally you want 1” clearance between you and the bike.
    • With a sloping top tube or more pronounced tube, you want a 2” or more clearance
  • For Mountain Bikes
    • For most mountain bikes, you want 2” of clearance when you lift the bike.
    • For full suspension bikes, ideally you want between 1 and 2”.
    • More aggressive mountain bikers may have 3 to 5” clearance
  • For Cruisers or other recreational bikes
    • Usually not an issue since the sloping tube will give you over 5” clearance

Seat height

To measure the seat height, ask a friend to hold the bike as you sit on the saddle.  Customary seat heights:

  • For Road Bikes
    • Ideal seat height is when you don’t extend your knee 100% at the bottom of a pedal stroke.  Your knee should extend 80-90% to full extension, but you should not have to fully extend your knee at any time
  • For Mountain Bikes
    • Generally, mountain bikes used for dirt jumping, downhill mountain biking and freeriding do not require adjustments to seat height
    • Similar to a road bike, you should not have to fully extend your knee at any time and your knees are only slightly bent at the bottom of a pedal stroke
    • If you can reach the ground with both feet at the same time while sitting on the saddle, your seat is too low.
  • For Cruisers or other recreational bikes
    • The seat should be in a position where your body is almost fully upright with a slight bend in the elbows when gripping the handlebars.

Seat position

For both Road Bikes and Mountain Bikes: For greatest pedaling efficiency, your knee should be aligned with your forefoot. The bottom of your kneecap should be directly above the ball of your foot, meaning your shins will be angled slightly forward.

Reach

Generally, you should never have to extend your arms completely to reach the handlebars, gears, or brakes.  Ideally, you should have a slight bend in your elbow when holding the handlebars.

Handlebar height

  • For Road Bikes, the handlebars should be about 1-2” lower than the top of the saddle.  This forces the rider to lean forward, creating a more aerodynamic posture.
  • For Mountain Bikes, the handlebars should be about 3-4” lower than the top of the saddle.  This creates a lower center of gravity and provides for more stability on uneven terrain
  • For Cruisers or other recreational bikes, the handlebars are usually 1-2” higher than the saddle, because the point is to ride in a more comfortable, upright position.

Where to Get a Good Deal on a Bike

There are fantastic deals out there on used bikes, depending on where you look, your location, and the time of year.  Craigslist is always a good place to start looking for a used bike.  Timing is everything on Craigslist, however.  For example, my husband is always on the lookout for a good used bike, and he always seems to get the best deals in the colder months, when not a lot of people are riding.  Good deals are more rare in the summer months.  When buying used, however, pay attention to the bike’s components.

For those who would rather buy a new bike, there are several good bike discounters to check out, some of which use the same factories and materials as the big name brands.  Some of the largest are Roadbikeoutlet.com and Bikesdirect.com.

Biking for Beginners: 10 Ways to Overcome Fears of Cycling in the City

WASHINGTON, DC 8/30/2012- I love my bike.  I choose my bike over my car at every chance I get.  However, things weren’t always this way.  When I finally started riding my bike over a year and a half ago, I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner.

FEAR.  Fear was my biggest deterrent.

I hadn’t been on a bike since my early teens, and now in my mid 30s, I was terrified.  I live in Washington DC, where traffic is nuts, where most cab drivers can’t tell the difference between a stop sign and a green light, and where one out of five drivers has diplomatic plates- code for: “I learned to drive in another country and didn’t bother to learn the traffic laws here because I’ll be gone soon anyway.”

DC traffic is scary enough to negotiate in a car! A few years ago, there was little chance of me ever entering that honking, steaming, slow-moving river of metal- on nothing but a rickety bike and with nothing to protect me but a dinky-looking plastic helmet.  No way!  Did I mention I was a little overweight and hadn’t exercised since high school PE class?  (Biking changed all that- but that’s the topic of a previous post: How my bike changed my life).

Apparently, I wasn’t alone.  According to Grist.org, “as many as 60 percent of people in U.S. cities would like to ride a bicycle if it weren’t for traffic-related concerns.”  But traffic wasn’t my only fear.  I was also afraid of crashing, hitting a dog, falling into a pot hole, ditch, the Potomac…

Somehow, I overcame my fears.  It took a while and a little determination, but I can honestly say that even though I still have a healthy respect for riding on the road, I am confident and comfortable doing it.  I own my piece of the road and I make drivers respect me.  Who would have thought?

So if you have wanted to get on a bike but have been held back by fear, almost everyone goes through it. But if I can overcome it, anybody can!  I did a little research, called on a few riding friends, and here is a list of tips if you want to begin cycling for sport, commuting, or fun, but are afraid of riding in the city.

WARNING: Cycling is highly addictive- once you start riding you’ll never stop!

1.  Get the right gear: If you do not already own a bike, take time to choose the right bike for you.  The right bicycle is everything.  I started out with a folding bike because it sounded like a cool concept- and hated it.  It felt unstable, I was sitting at an awkward angle, the handlebars were too close together, and making a turn was difficult.  The folding bike experiment turned me off of biking for a few more years until my husband convinced me to try again.

Before spending thousands on a bike, think about what you are going to use it for.  Consider whether you will be using it for commuting to work, riding trails for exercise on the weekends, or both.  Finally, try several styles of bicycle.  Get on and see how different bicycles feel; ride them around the parking lot of the bike shop, ask a friend to let you try their bike.  I test-rode several bicycles, but like Cinderella, my hybrid felt just right as soon as I got on.

The second most important piece of gear is a helmet.  There is a whole controversy about helmet promotion campaigns, but I’m just going to play it safe and say you should always wear a helmet when riding a bike.  Your brain is precious.  Like bikes, there are several different styles of helmet.  While the safety factor is the most important, you should also pick a helmet that goes with your style, looks cute, and is comfortable, because, lets face it, that way you’ll be more likely to wear it.

Many riders, myself included, use a mirror.  I got a mirror shortly after getting my bike because I was so unsure of my riding ability that I felt that I would lose my balance and careen to my death if I turned my body to look behind me while I was riding.  My mirror gave me a lot of confidence, and even though now I can look behind me, I wouldn’t ride without it.  Other riders, like Delores Simmons of Black Women Bike DC (BWB), use a mirror on their helmet.  It is a question of preference.

Another important piece of gear is some kind of reflective device or piece of clothing.  Make sure that you are as visible as possible to motorists, other riders, and pedestrians.  There are all kinds of reflective gear available at bike shops and online.  A bell is also an important piece of gear to alert others of your presence.  Shouting is just not enough sometimes.   Some riders, like Simmons, use a whistle, and say that they are usually much more effective in getting motorists’ attention.

2. Learn about your bike: Learning how to use and maintain your bike is also important in building confidence and overcoming fear.  Practice getting on and off your bike- it may sound silly, but my worst fall to date was when I was stationary, trying to get off my bike (more on that later).  Practice changing gears, learn how to pump air into your tires, and learn to replace the chain, at the very least.  Many bike shops offer training clinics on basic bike maintenance.  This will all help to boost your confidence and lessen the fear of being caught out on the road with a loose chain and not knowing what to do.

3. Take it little by little: One of the things that worked best for me was taking it one baby step at a time.  To build up your confidence, ride in a parking lot, near home, at off- hours, or on bike trails.  Bike trails can be helpful in learning to navigate obstacles like potholes, joggers, other bikers, dogs, etc.  Once you have the confidence to negotiate those obstacles, you will have more confidence to face a road with cars.

“I became more confident from riding regular routes, primarily my work-home route,” says Allyson Criner Brown of BWB.  “The first time was a bit scary but the more I got comfortable with the route, the more I learned how to anticipate drivers, what to expect, where drivers were most likely to do something that would threaten my safety, and certain ‘rules of the road.’”

Delores Simmons had a similar experience, “I started riding in traffic on low traffic streets or during low traffic times so I became familiar with a certain route, but there was not real stress. Finally, in the beginning I gave myself a lot of extra time so I was not rushing and I could focus on traffic. Now I am a pro!”

If you are really afraid of cars, ride short pieces of road in quiet neighborhoods at low traffic hours.  As you put in more and more “time in the saddle,” you will find that your fear begins to subside.  “Confidence comes with time!” says Criner Brown.

4. Know your body and limits: Another important part of overcoming fear is to know you body and your limitations.  Don’t try to ride ten miles or tackle a steep hill on your first time out.  That will just discourage you, put you at risk for injury, and reinforce your fears.  The more you ride, the stronger and more comfortable you will get, but you don’t want to risk an injury in the meantime.  Build your endurance and stamina gradually and always listen to your body.

However, it is also important to believe in yourself and believe in what you can achieve.  Cycling is so easy and fun, that you will be constantly surprising yourself by your progress. “When I rediscovered cycling eight years ago at age 48, I had a good Cannondale hybrid bicycle but didn’t know much about how to use the gears. I just started riding roads around my home until I became more and more comfortable with shifting,” says Molly. “I found a hill that added to my route and rode it several times until someone told me, ‘I think that is the hill that the local cyclists call ‘the Wall.’’ (it has a grade of about 21% at one point) Ever since I learned the hill’s nickname, I’ve been a little afraid of it. Rather than celebrate the fact that I learned how to conquer the steep grade, I got freaked out by the image of climbing a wall.”

5.  Obey traffic laws:  It is very important to obey all traffic laws when riding a bicycle.  Cyclists must avoid distractions and pay attention to all street and road signs and signals.  I don’t wear headphones or listen to music while I ride.  It is important to be able to hear cars, other riders, people, opening car doors, dogs…  Some people ride with their earphones, but I don’t think that I’ll ever feel comfortable enough to do it.

There are other “rules of the road” which are cycling-specific, like using hand signals.   According to Allyson Criner Brown, among the most important are  “learning not to get squeezed off the road or into cars, not pulling up next to cars that are turning right, leaving enough brake distance between you and cars (they can stop a LOT faster you can), etc.”  Talking to and riding with someone with more experience is very helpful in learning cycling-specific road rules.

6. Know where you are going, do a little research: Most people start off riding in their own neighborhoods, where they are familiar with the streets, traffic patters, and directions.  However, if you are riding in a new place,look for local riding clubs.  Their websites usually have information on bike routes, the best places to bike, etc.

Websites like Mapmyride.com or bikehead.com are useful in finding riding routes and other bike- related information on an area.  Ciclyng360’s podcast on overcoming fear of riding also suggests that when all else fails, find the place you want to go on the satellite view of Google Maps to see if there is a bike lane or wide shoulder on that particular stretch of road.

Cycling itself is a great way to experience your neighborhood and any area in a whole different way.  Nicole Donnelly of BWB says, “The biggest way I overcame my fear of riding in the city was to explore new routes. For some reason, I started out using the route I would use if driving, which is great if you are in a car. But once I broke that mindset, things became a lot better. Now, on the rare occasions when I drive, I find myself using my bike routes.”

In large cities with no bike lanes: Not all cities are as bike-friendly as DC.  If you live in a not-too-bike-friendly city, check your local parks for bike trails or take your bike out of the city for a weekend bike ride. There is also great article about cycling in New York City.

7.   Own your part of the road/ Taking the lane:  This is what scared me the most about riding.  I’m lucky that DC has a lot of bike lanes, but riding in any city, no matter how many bike lanes, means you will be riding in traffic some of the time.  It took me about 8 months of riding every day – to the gym, the store, etc- to be able to actually ride on a street without a bike lane and not feel that I was going to get hit by a car at every second.  My mirror and plain old experience and time riding helped a lot.  Today, I ride my lane and no longer feel afraid when I’m going somewhere that does not have an uninterrupted bike lane route.  I agree with Lesly Jones of BWB when she says, “fortunately, in DC, I have a legal right to the road and I claim it most days of the week!!”

Cycling (Photo credit: tejvanphotos)

Learning to take the lane can be difficult.  Allyson Criner Brown puts it this way, “as a cyclist there are times when you have to ride like you’re invisible and assume that no one can see you, and there are other times when you have to just commandeer the road and make everyone else go around.”  This will come with time and experience.There are many reasons for riding your lane.  It will not only discourage motorists from passing you in an unsafe manner, but it also forces them to give you more space.  Taking up your lane also gives you room to maneuver when a car is passing you and something –say a car door- suddenly appears in your way.

8.  Bike with friends/Join a group: If you have friends who bike, ask them to take you out sometime and explain a few things about riding.  Most people who cycle love it so much that you will have no trouble getting them to talk to you about it, give you tips, and take you out for a ride.  Riding with people with more experience will help you learn how to conquer your fear and give you confidence.  I just joined Black Women Bike DC, and even though I have not been out on my first group ride yet (can’t wait!), the members are a great source of information, inspiration, and support.

Joining a group is one of the best ways to overcome riding fears.  “As for other fears — riding with motorist traffic and going downhill — I found I was more comfortable with those things after doing RAGBRAI for the first time,” writes Molly, who took up riding again when she was 48.  “Riding with other cyclists and learning from them are my best means of overcoming my fears.”

Delores Simmons agrees, “I was intimidated by riding on the street with cars. First, I did group rides with people who were more experienced riders than me. That way I learned biking rules and signals, as well as how to avoid certain pitfalls.”

One tip I got from the Cycling360 podcast is that if you are a novice riding in a group, let someone know, and don’t pretend to know what you’re doing.  Another tip is to go out with a small group of 3 or 4 people and then move on to a larger one.  Local bike shops may also offer or have information on beginner’s bike rides or women’s rides.

9. After a fall/ fear of crashing: I have fallen off my bike.  A few times.  Once I fell behind my garage, trying to climb off too quickly and tangled my foot on one of the bars.  I fell, the bike fell on top of me, I had a few scrapes and bruises. Other falls were even less dramatic.  But I’m here, I’m alive, I’m in much better shape than before I started riding, and have a minor scar on my knee.

The truth is: if you ride a bike, you are probably going to crash.  More than once.  Usually its not that bad; some bad wrecks happen, but most people love biking so much that they get right back on as soon as they are able to.  This is where wearing a helmet comes in.  “I had an accident a few years ago that resulted in my landing head first,” recounts Lesly Jones.  “I had just purchased a new helmet the week before. Without that helmet, well, I don’t even want to think about what may have occurred. Fortunately, I only have an ugly scar on my shoulder instead of permanent brain damage or worse.”  Lesly’s accident has not put her off riding in the least bit.

10. Final safety precautions- When riding, always have a cell phone with you so that you can call for help.  A RoadID bracelet may be useful if you do not carry anything when you ride.  Lesly Jones of BWB says, in general, “be alert, be aggressive and know your rights.”

Riding a bicycle, like driving a car and flying in an airplane, has its dangers.  But you accept them, try to minimize them, stay alert, and ride on!

Thxx, Lasesana

How My Bike Changed My Life

WASHINGTON, August 14, 2012 – I never thought I would make this statement but on a day-to-day basis, I would rather do without my car than my bike.

Me And My Bike

I have never been into exercising or fitness.  The only sports I have ever liked are those I can watch from my couch.  Until I reached my 30s, I never really felt the need to exercise.  I used to drive everywhere and thought I couldn’t live without my car.

During the last few years, I realized that other than walking my dogs, I was pretty inactive and was in terrible shape.  I couldn’t climb more than two flights of stairs without getting winded and was lucky if I could run for two minutes before collapsing.

By early last year, I was having trouble managing my weight and began to worry about my blood pressure and overall fitness level.

I had tried the gym several times and knew that I’d go for a week and then never set foot in the place again.  My husband suggested cycling, but I was terrified of riding a bicycle in the city. However, after a lot of resistance, I finally agreed to get on a bike, just to see how it felt.

I hadn’t been on a bicycle since I was 14 and wasn’t sure if I still knew how to ride.  I tried a few different styles of bicycle at my local bike shop and finally decided a hybrid in bright blue.  I also got a snazzy hot pink cup holder lock, mirror, helmet, and bell.

Everything cost me about $380- the bike was on sale.

I was all set.

The first thing I had to conquer was my fear.  I kept remembering stories of bikers flattened by trucks and had gory visions with me in the staring role.  I ventured out very slowly, riding in the alley behind my house.  I finally made it to the sidewalks after a few days, arousing angry looks from pedestrians and the occasional “there’s a bike lane right there!” from some indignant neighbor.

I was so shaky at first that I couldn’t even turn around to apologize.  “Sorry!” I’d yell, eyes front.  “I’m just learning!”

After about one week of riding I gained more confidence and began using the bike lanes.  I no longer felt like I was going to fall to my asphalt death, at least not all the time.  I began to see the city in a whole new way. Distances seemed to shrink.  I discovered new favorite parks, stores, and routes.

Pretty soon my husband and I took longer trips and I was riding for a full hour in less than three weeks. Every little milestone was a cause for celebration.

I have found that riding a bicycle really suits my lifestyle and the city I live in.  I work from home and conduct most of my business less than three miles from where I live.

DC also has a growing network of dedicated bike lanes that take me everywhere I need to go.  There is absolutely no reason for me to use my car on a daily basis.

Over a year and a half after buying my bike, I ride every day and take my car out less than once or twice a week.  I spend half of what I used to in gas and haven’t got a parking ticket in nine months.  I no longer have to worry about finding a parking spot.

My riding has also had positive effects on other parts of my life. For one thing, riding has made me more active and given me a large amount of confidence.  I started riding to the gym last winter and have been going regularly for over 8 months- a record for me.

I am not as thin as I would like to be, but I eat what I want (in moderation, of course) and am in the best shape of my life.  I find myself spending much more time outdoors, even in the wintertime.  I have a completely different lifestyle that is good for me, good for my wallet, and good for my community.

And it all began with my trusty bike…

Cycling is Catching On

It seems like cycling is enjoying growing popularity in many of the nation’s cities and towns, and there are many obvious and other not so obvious reasons why.  Cycling is good for your health, it is good for your wallet, great for the environment, and can even help your local economy.  It’s a great hobby to pick up and a fantastic alternative to commuting by car provided the distance is comfortable.  Riding a bicycle is not expensive and almost everyone knows how to ride one.

There are a number of health benefits to cycling.  Apart from being really fun, riding a bike builds strength, stamina, and muscle tone; improves cardiovascular health; burns calories; boosts your metabolism; improves coordination; and reduces stress.  Cycling for just a few minutes per day can have a significant effect on a person’s health and wellbeing.

There are numerous other benefits to cycling, both on an individual and on a community level.  A person on a bike usually means one less person in a car.  This translates to a reduction in traffic, air pollution, and noise.  Riding a bike means never worrying about finding a parking spot or being stuck in a traffic jam.

Cycling is also great for the pocketbook.  According to AAA, it costs an average American around $8,485 per year to own a car. On the other hand, a new bicycle costs between $300 and $400 (including a lock, lights, fender, and other accessories), and around $70 to $100 per year to maintain.  Even though most of us are not ready to ditch out cars completely, cycling to work or to the store a few times a week is likely to save a at least a few hundred dollars a year in fuel and parking costs.

Cycling can also mean more money remains in the local economy.  Out of the average $8,485 that Americans spend on their car every year, only a small percentage of that -about $1,390-, stays in the local economy in the form of license, registration, taxes, repair, and maintenance.  However, the rest-over $7,000- is taken out of the local economy in the form of purchase price over time, finance charges, gas, and insurance premiums. 

Infographic created by the National Building Museum as part of the

Intelligent Cities initiative. Graphic Designer: MGMT

Sources: AAA, Center for Neighborhood Technology, Washington D.C. Office of Planning 

Riding a bike can promote the local economy by creating a market for locally owned bike shops, bike repair shops, and bicycle parking stations.  It also provides jobs and leaves residents with more money to be spent locally.  Overall, according to the League of American Bicyclists, the bike-related industry contributed over $133 billion to the US economy, generating almost $18 billion in federal, state, and local taxes, and providing over 1.1 million jobs nationwide.  According to Grist.org, in 2010 $1.5 billion was contributed to Wisconsin’s local economy by bike-related commerce and industry.   Similarly, in 2008 Portland benefited by $90 million from the local bike economy.

According to Marc Gunther, the biggest reason people do not cycle is a concern for safety.  In response, many cities have begun investing in infrastructure such as dedicated lanes, trails, and parking to support the bike riding community and providing safe routes for cyclists.  Bicycling.com has a list of the top 50 most bicycle-friendly cities in the US.

The number of people that use a bicycle to commute is on the rise and studies suggest that a small investment in biking infrastructure can yield very positive results.  A 2011 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health concluded that the investments in bicycle infrastructure made by the city of Portland, Ore. would result in $800 million in savings by 2040.  These savings were projected in lower expenditures on fuel, healthcare, and value of statistical lives.

Businesses have also begun to catch on.  Biking is so good for a person’s health that several companies now provide a number of incentives and programs to encourage employees to bike to work.  A study of the effects of an employee health and wellness program (including an incentive for biking to work) at Quality Bicycle Products (QDP) released earlier this year by HealthPartners, QDP’s health insurance provider, concluded that the program increased employee productivity and reduced healthcare costs.

One of the main features of the QDP program was a $3 a day incentive for employees to cycle to work, which cost the company an estimated $45,000 per year.  The company also provided bike parking, showers, and lockers for employees.  Even though the effects of the bike to work program were not analyzed separately, the study did suggest that the nearly 100 employees who participated in the program cost the company $200,000 less per year in healthcare claims compared to employees who did not bike to work.

More cyclists on the road can also mean increased safety.  A 2008 research paper by the University of New South Wales in Australia concluded that as the number of bicycle riders rises the likelihood of an individual cyclist being involved in a collision with a vehicle falls.  This seems like an odd conclusion.  The study suggests that this happens not only because there are less cars on the road but also because there seems to be a change in driver attitudes and behavior with more bicycles and pedestrians in the area.

Most people have an old bike buried somewhere in their garage.  Why not dust it off take it out for a ride down the block?  If you don’t own a bike and are not ready to buy one, try Capital Bikeshare, where you can join for one day, three days, one month, or one year and have access to a bike in one of their 175+ stations.

Great things could happen- they did for me…