Few people get excited about the topic of safety but it is something we all know we need to take seriously. During a pandemic we are told to be safe by washing our hands, disinfecting surfaces and wearing a mask. At the workplace we take steps to understand hazards and wear protective equipment. At home we lock our doors and windows, shovel our walks of snow and if we have small children, cover electrical outlets and hide cords. In the car we wear a seat belt and follow traffic laws. On the bike, there are also safety protocols, like wearing a helmet and being predictable. But there is one safety practice that is widely recommended even before beginning to ride.
A well-maintained bike is a beautiful thing. You will be able to ride further and with less effort, and the bike will last longer between mechanical issues. Regular maintenance will reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic failure that might leave you stranded, or worse yet, injured. But according to Christopher Wallace, bike mechanic, educator and speaker at the Feb. 10 virtual meeting of the Chicago Cycling Club, even if you are handy with tools and have the basic knowledge to perform preventive maintenance on your bike, there are instances when collaborating with the professionals at a bike shop is the best thing you can do to keep rolling.
Bike frames are made from a variety of materials, the most popular being steel, aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, and even bamboo. If you are looking for a new bike for commuting, running errands or adventure cycling to exploring new parts of the city, each choice has advantages and disadvantages for price, ride comfort, durability, style, and maintainability. While bike brands usually have standard materials they like to use for their bikes, if you look around you can usually find the bike style and frame material you prefer in a hybrid, road, gravel, mountain, or ebike. Which frame material is the best choice?
The single most important thing a cyclist can do to keep a bike running at its best is to clean and lubricate the bike chain on a regular basis. This is within the skill level of even the most elementary rider and is a low-cost procedure—it only requires at a minimum some bike lubricant and a rag and can be performed indoors in an apartment or garage or outdoors in any environment your bike is in. There are different levels of cleaning from basic, to moderate, to deep cleaning and which procedure you use will depend on the condition of your drive train and how dedicated you are to bike maintenance.
One of the upsides of the COVID-19 pandemic is a boom in outdoor recreation. Activities such as hiking, cycling, boating, fishing, camping, picnicking, and winter activities (skiing, snow shoeing, snowboarding, tobogganing) have seen increased interest. Participation in outdoor recreation usually hovers around 50% of the population, but last year it increased to 69%. As stay-at-home restrictions have relaxed, many people discovered that outdoor pursuits are an appealing response to living with COVID-19. The desire to focus on health and wellness and make the best of these trying times has resulted in more people getting outside to play.
If you are a year round cyclist biking in the harsh conditions of winter you will find these have taken a toll on your bike’s performance. Even if you do not bike when there is snow, ice and salt on the ground, you might someday get caught in the rain or dust and road debris will build up on your bike. Even though bike frames will resist water and grit, dirt can creep into the components and get trapped in the moving parts. A little soap, water, and lubricant applied on a regular basis will boost your bike’s efficiency. But there are some things you should do to get it done and done faster and others you should not.
If you use your bike to commute or for transportation, you will probably need to carry more gear than when you are taking a recreational ride on the weekend. You will need a way to carry the items you will use when you arrive at your destination, such as a change of clothes, a laptop, work papers, locks, bike tools in case of a flat tire, and your lunch. If you run errands on your bike you will need a way to comfortably carry your purchases. Hanging plastic bags from your handlebars is unstable and risky! The most popular bike bags if you bike for transportation are a backpack, messenger bag, panniers, trunk bag, or a handlebar bag or basket.
During the new bike shortage in 2020 it was a banner year to a buy or sell a used bike. Why not give some life to an old bike? With a steel or aluminum frame and the ability to replace components that are bent, rusted, worn, or dried out (in the case of rubber), you can take almost any bike and make it usable again. If you are on a budget and just getting into cycling and do not know how enthusiastic you will be for riding over time, it is a good way to get rolling without making a large investment, saving some cash for the accessories you will need. But buying a pre-owned bike is not without pitfalls so here are some tips for making the right selection.
The bike touring company Ciclismo Classico, which is based in Arlington, MA but considers the world its home, had to cancel all its European tours this year. But trying to salvage a bike touring season, they sponsored bike tours late summer following all the latest COVID-19 protocols, not to their signature destinations in Italy and Ireland, but in the Finger Lakes of New York and also Southern New Hampshire. This allowed adventure seekers to drive to the start and bike routes consisting of loops, out and back, so that they would be near their car at the end of the trip. These “close to home” tours were able to satisfy participants yearning for new experiences, outdoor activity, and camaraderie.
A bicycle is a vehicle and it has moving parts. Just like any mechanical device, it requires regular maintenance to keep it operating so that you will have a smooth and safe ride and extends its life. If a bike is not well maintained, you will have to work harder when you ride and a mechanical failure could result in a crash and injury. Here are some basic lessons on what you should do to keep your bike in good operating order and when it should be done.
Sharon Kaminecki and others comment on adventures in bicycling and other stories