Want to get out in the glorious sunshine and feel like a carefree kid again, while still maintaining social distancing? Dust the cobwebs off that bicycle. Health experts say that cycling is one of the safest ways to get around, because the social distancing is built in. Plus, there are fewer cars on the road. A story in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News predicts, “This could be the start of Bike Boom 2020.” Although the big charity rides have been canceled or modified, “I predict the number of people bicycling alone or in small groups will explode this summer,” says Lauren Hefferon, founder of Ciclismo Classico (www.ciclismoclassico.com), a bike tour company based in Arlington. “My daily ride to Concord has been full of cyclists of all shapes and sizes, not just the hard-core cyclists. Cyclists with masks are everywhere!” she says.
Ready to get back in the (bike) saddle again? Here’s how to get in gear, with some tips from the pros.
First, make sure your ride is road-worthy. Consider taking your bike to a local bike shop for a tune up, especially if hasn’t been used for a while. Many shops are open for repair service and can do it on a contact-free basis. But there’s plenty you can do yourself to get your bike ready to roll, according to Bob Greeneisen of Backroads (www.backroads.com), a global travel company specializing in biking and hiking trips. Here are some tips.
Clean it up. “Before heading out, take a damp rag and wipe down your bike. Pay special attention to the brakes, crank, cassette/cog, and wheels. Give the chain a good wipe as well,” Greeneisen says. “This will make your rag filthy, but it’s worth it if you want to prolong the life of your bike and its parts.” He recommends a citrus degreaser (Simple Green is one).
Next, re-lubricate any moving parts with a silicone-based lubricant—say, Boeshield T-9, or Tri-Flow, available at hardware stores. Apply a coat on the chain and derailleurs (pivot points and pulley axles). “Wipe off the excess when you’re done, because too much will just attract dirt,” Greeneisen says. “This will keep things running smoothly and silently, which is always a good thing.”
Check your tire pressure. Make sure your tires are at the right PSI (that’s pounds per square inch) before you ride. “Low pressure can make a bike feel heavy and sluggish, but over-inflating your tires can create a dangerous situation in which your tire comes off the rim,” Greeneisen warns. Most bike pumps come equipped with a pressure gauge. Road tires generally take 90 to 120 PSI, but check the PSI specs on the tire itself to be sure. “On bumpier surfaces, you might want a slightly lower pressure, but higher pressure creates less drag if you’re riding on smoother surfaces.”
Adjust your brakes. This is a biggie. You need to able to stop! Bear with us as Greeneisen spells it out: “Look at the wheel and see that there is equal spacing on both sides to the frame. Lift the bike and spin the wheel. The pads should not rub. Check that your quick release levers are firmly closed — they should be able to close to the frame and fork with good pressure. They should not stick out nor should they close with little effort. Apply pressure to the brake levers and rock your bike back and forth. Do they firmly hold the wheels in place? You should be able to pull the levers close to the handlebars without touching the bars. This will make for a comfortable braking position. The brake pads should also evenly land on the metal rim and not rub the tire or slide below the rim.” If you see any issues when reviewing your brakes, take your bike to a local bike shop for adjustments. “These are typically simple repairs for them, and you can be confident you will have proper stopping power,” Greeneisen says.
Take a test spin. Go for a short ride around the block to make sure that everything is working OK. Fix anything loose that is rattling before heading out for a real ride. For more tips on bike maintenance, visit www.backroads.com/pro-tips/biking.
Make sure you’re road-ready. Maybe the old adage is true — you never forget how to ride a bike — but many of us could use a reminder on how to ride safely. First, reacquaint yourself with the rules of the road (see www.massbike.org/laws). Wear a helmet that fits snugly, and is fastened around your chin. “The majority of people I see on the bike path wear their helmets loose, on the back of their head, or even backward,” says Hefferon of Ciclismo Classico. That does absolutely no good. Although you don’t need a fancy biking outfit, padded gloves are a good investment to protect your hands, she says, and a bike light is imperative. “Riders use them during the day so that cars can see them.”
If your bike has gears, learn how to use them. There are approximately 916,000 videos on this subject on YouTube.
Learn how to fix a flat. Sadly, flat tires are a fact of life in Bike World, so you need to have a spare tube and a bike pump and know how to use them.
Observe social distancing while cycling. Hefferon’s advice: Ride three bike-lengths behind the rider in front of you. On a busy bike path, watch for oncoming cyclists and only pass when there is no one coming. And, when passing, give the cyclist to your right plenty of room, and say ‘Passing on your left!’ Also, when you stop to chat with friends, maintain that 6-foot distance. And always wear a lightweight mask when you’re out there.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work for a simple bike ride, consider that cycling doesn’t have to be a temporary boredom-buster; it can be a fun fitness activity for the long haul. “The Boston area is one of the best areas of bicycling in the world, with primarily flat terrain, an abundance of bike paths and bike lanes, and a booming, vibrant bicycle community,” Hefferon says. Local bike clubs and Meetup groups are great for finding bike buddies, and they know great routes, she adds.
Plus, working those muscles while pedaling around the neighborhood will prime you for a longer tour — perhaps someplace far from home, when the time is right. Ciclismo Classico typically operates guided bicycle tours of Croatia, the Czech Republic, Corsica, and other European destinations; for now, they’re offering guided day rides in the Northeast (“Ciclismo Close to Home”), in a nod to COVID-19. These days, exploring the town next door is exotic as it gets, so why not make it fun? And if you look a little goofy, or wobbly, that first time out, nobody will be the wiser: Who’d recognize you decked out in a helmet, sunglasses, and a face mask?
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org