Now that it’s April, the weather is finally (a bit) warmer. It’s time to dust off your bike and take to the streets! Maybe it has been a while since you’ve ridden or perhaps 2013 is the year you’re going to start riding. Whatever your circumstances, here are some tips to get you going.
Before you leave your house, you should make sure that your bike is in working order.
Basic Bike Maintenance Essentials
The first, and easiest test you can do after your bike has been sitting for awhile is the “clink” test. Pick up the front wheel of your bike a few inches, then drop it. If you hear something “clink”, you should get it looked at.
Look at your chain. Is it rusty? Replace it. Less obviously, your chain may have become stretched out, especially if it is old. There are tools available to check this, but any bike shop will be able to do it for you quickly. A worn chain slows you down and can also cause problems with your gears if you don’t replace it fast enough. You may also want to consider greasing your chain periodically, but I won’t tell if you don’t.
Check your brakes. Spin your wheel, squeeze your brakes. Does your wheel stop? Good. Does your wheel wobble or squeak before it stops? You should probably get that looked at.
While you’re looking at your wheels, check to see what your tires’ proper inflation level is. You should be able to find this somewhere on the tire near the rim. Inflate your tires. Low tires make you work way harder than you have to and can also lead to flats.
Sit on your bike. When your pedal is at the bottom of its rotation, is your leg fully extended? It should be. If you still have a bend in your knee, you should raise your seat. Having a low seat wastes a lot of the effort you put into pedaling.
You should also check your helmet before departing. Helmets do need to be replaced periodically. Many helmets are made to last 3 years. Your specific helmet’s warranty will tell you how often you need to replace yours. If you have gotten into any collisions, or even just dropped your helmet really good, you should replace it sooner. If you do need to replace your helmet, I’d recommend Giro as a brand. Cupcake wrote a review of her Giro helmet that you can find here. If you’re still wondering why you should ride with a helmet at all, check out this post.
Now that your bike is in proper order, or has been repaired (check out The Bike Lane), you’re ready to ride it. But where to ride? The sidewalk? Three abreast down Milwaukee during rush hour? No, really? Is the sidewalk okay? NO IT’S REALLY NOT OKAY TO RIDE ON THE SIDEWALK
Where to Ride Your Bike
If you skipped out on Bike Winter or are new to riding in Chicago, you should probably take some time to ride around side streets and get back into the swing of things. You’re probably not as fast or as good as you remember being if it has been awhile. Riding residential streets to warm up will give you a chance to get reacquainted with your current fitness and skill levels. This will also give your body time to get used to logging time in the saddle. It’s not uncommon to be sore for a few days after you start riding again.
After you’ve gotten comfortable, check out the Chicago Bike Map; it’s actually super helpful for route planning and free! You can request one online here or find them in most bike shops. Alternatively, you can also download this nifty offline version of the Chicago Bike Map for your iOS device.
If you’re looking for off the street trails, I personally recommend the forest preserve off of Milwaukee. You may also know it as the North Branch Trail. It is located just north of the northern merge of Milwaukee and Elston (see it on a map here). It’s not very crowded, is long enough for a substantial ride, and is one of the most scenic trails in the city. However, the river does run through a portion of the preserve, so you may wish to make sure (google it) that the preserve is still navigable after heavy rains.
Basic Bike Etiquette
This isn’t a race. Ride at whatever speed is comfortable for you, don’t try to keep up with someone way faster than you only for them to keep having to pass you later. It’s annoying.
When you do need to pass someone, make sure you announce yourself (e.g. On your left!) and leave plenty of room. It’s always pretty startling when someone appears right next to you when there had been no previous indication that anyone was near you.
If someone is passing you, don’t take it as a personal affront and give them space. No one likes it when someone crowds them. We’re all just trying to go about our business, too.
Ride single file, please!
Make sure you ride with lights at night; it’s much safer for everyone and is state law.