Do you remember your first bike? Mine was blue, big banana seat, flowered basket perched on the handlebars. I remember that feeling of freedom it gave me. I could go farther and faster than walking, take off with my friends, or head uptown to buy candy. No matter the destination, riding there was fun.
There’s a quotation out there on T-shirts and posters, attributed to John F. Kennedy: “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.” Summer is the time to get back in touch with that easy feeling.
If it has been a while since you’ve been on your bike, there are a few things you can do to make your time in the saddle more enjoyable. Your top priorities should be safety and comfort.
This should go without saying: wear a helmet. Make your kids wear helmets, too. Every time. It could save your life or theirs.
As for comfort, it’s partly about the bike. Make sure that your bike is in good repair and check your tire pressure. Riding on underinflated tires is brutal on your quads (and your morale). Adjust your seat to the right height to avoid knee trouble: your knee should be slightly bent with the pedal at its lowest position and your pelvis should not rock from side to side as you pedal.
Ease into the riding. Start with just a 20- to 30-minute ride a few times a week. Several short rides are better than one long one. Think of it less as exercise and more as a fun way to get to where you want to be — coffee, errands, beach. Recapture that feeling of play from your childhood.
Once you get in the habit, increase your riding time or distance gradually — you might aim for going up about 10 percent per week. Most injuries come from piling on too many miles too soon.
Use your gears wisely. Your goal is to have a fluid pedaling motion at about 70-90 rpm. If the gear is too hard, your tempo will slow and there will be more stress on your knees, which can lead to pain.
After your ride, check in with your body, noting any areas that need attention. Stretching will help keep you feeling good afterwards. Here are a series of good ones for post-pedaling. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
- If your neck is tense, stretch your upper trap muscles this way: put your hands behind your back and with your right hand grasp your left wrist and pull down gently, then tilt your head to the right. You should feel the stretch on the left side of your neck.
- Your quads (the muscles on the front of your thighs) are the MVPs of cycling. They may feel tight after a ride. Stand on your left leg, bend your right knee, reach back with your right hand to hold your foot, and pull the heel toward your butt. Be careful not to arch your back. Hold 30 seconds then switch sides.
- If the backs of your legs — hamstrings and calves — need some TLC, step one foot 12-18 inches ahead of the other, both feet pointing straight ahead. Keep your spine straight as you hinge forward from the hips.
- If the outsides of your thighs are tight, then stretch your IT band. Cross one leg over the other, then bend forward from the hips. You’ll feel this on the outer thigh of the back leg.
- To avoid a stiff lower back, try standing back bends. Place your hands at your hips with your thumbs at your beltline. Lift your chest and arch backward as you inhale. Return to standing straight on the exhale. Repeat 5 times.
Have fun out there. You might even gain some wisdom as you pedal. You know what Albert Einstein said: “Life is like riding a bicycle — to keep your balance, you must keep moving.”