Nothing is more important than your brain, and few things require more protection. Today’s helmets keep you safe, cool and comfortable, and can accommodate any budget level. A properly fitting helmet should ride flat on your head without much side-to-side play. A helmet that fits too loosely may roll off your head when impacted, while one that is too tight will cause discomfort. Helmet straps should be adjusted to fall just below your ears and allow you to open your mouth without tight contact to your chin. Most helmets come with an adjustable padding and strap system to enable you to dial-in the right fit.
| || | 1 Wash helmet straps and pads frequently. They'll extend the life of your helmet and prevent unsightly salt stains. 2 Bike shorts should be comfy from the moment you put them on. If the legs or waist are tight in the dressing room, they won't feel better on the bike. 3 Worried about getting stuck in your clipless pedals? If they have tension adjusters, set them looser to enable easier entry and release. While standing over the bike or on a trainer, practice clipping each foot in and out until you get the hang of it.
If you buy just one cycling accessory beyond your helmet, make it a pair of cycling shorts. A well-fitting pair of cycling shorts allows your legs to pass by the saddle without catching or rubbing, and will cut through the air better than the best-intentioned sweatpants. Plus, the built-in padding ("chamois") will cushion your ride significantly. Believe it or not, bike shorts are made to be worn without undies. While it might seem that you’d want as many layers between you and the saddle as possible, underwear seams can bind, rub and ultimately hurt. Be sure to wash your shorts after each ride, to keep them clean and germ-free.
Cycling jerseys are constructed of material that is meant to insulate your body while wicking perspiration away. They have zippers for ventilation and pockets to carry items such as money, a cell phone or food. Cycling tees utilize the same great wicking material, yet don’t have zippers or pockets. These provide a more casual look, but are more functional than a standard t-shirt.
Padded cycling gloves dampen road vibrations and protect hands from blisters, cold and the occasional spill. They should fit relatively snug, but not so much that they cut off circulation. Full finger gloves are recommended for mountain biking and cold weather riding.
Sunglasses not only make you look cool on the bike, they protect your eyes from wind, UV rays, dusty conditions, and road debris. Many models come with interchangeable lenses to accommodate varying light levels, so you can protect your peepers any time of day or night.
Shoes and Pedals
Those funny shoes that cause riders to walk on their heels with a "clack, clack, clack" are actually incredibly useful for gaining pedaling power on the bike. Cycling shoes are stiffer than tennis shoes and allow more power to transfer to the pedal. They are often paired with clipless pedals, which allow the cleat on the bottom of the shoe to click into a mechanism similar to a ski binding. Using clipless pedals, the rider can apply pressure all the way around the pedal revolution, while keeping the foot planted firmly on the pedal. This greatly increases pedaling efficiency and speed.
Now that you’re properly suited up, it’s time to learn to pedal the bike smoothly for an efficient and comfortable ride. When pedaling, push evenly through the entire pedal-stroke, concentrating on keeping your knees from knocking inward or waving outward. Sitting on your saddle, you should be able to reach the bottom of the pedal stroke with a very slight bend at the knee and grip the handlebars with a slight bend at the elbow. This allows you to use the full extension of your leg for power and use the bend of your knees and elbows as shock absorbers. The majority of your weight should rest on the saddle, with the ability to lift your hands easily off the bars when necessary.
Those multiple gears on the bike aren’t just for advanced riders. Play with your front and rear shifters on flat terrain until you understand which ways they pull the chain to the different gears. Learn how to shift to easier or harder gears, eventually without taking your eyes from the road. Gears are used to manage your pedal cadence, which is the amount of pedal revolutions you make per minute. Most riders will comfortably ride at 70-85 rpms, and even some experienced riders are happiest at 90-100 rpms. Riding with a pedal cadence below 70 rpms forces your muscles and joints to work harder than they need to, and you may bog down when the road or trail turns upward. Work on pedaling the bike smoothly in an easier gear and at a higher cadence, avoiding bouncing on the seat.
| || || | 1 When encountering bumpy terrain, coast and transfer your weight off the seat and onto the pedals, using your legs as shock absorbers. 2 Ride with relaxed arms and a firm grip. This will keep your body relaxed and make your steering and handling more fluid.
More Than Just a Seat
Bicycle seats can make or break a ride. Cycling "saddles" are built for functionality and comfort. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and padding configurations. When selecting a saddle, look for one that is wide enough for your “sit bones” to sit squarely. Leather and premium synthetic cover materials add to the durability of the saddle, yet decrease pedaling friction. And what about those funky grooves or cut-outs in the middle? They actually help ease pressure and increase comfort. In general, men’s saddles are longer and narrower to adapt to the male anatomy, while women’s saddles are slightly shorter and wider to fit the female pelvic structure. That said, there is no rule that says women can’t use men’s saddles and vice-versa.
Get A Grip
Handlebars are the bicycle’s cockpit. Road bike "drop" bars offer multiple hand positions for control, comfort and speed. Mountain bike bars are flat to allow for optimal control over variable terrain. You can install bar-ends on mountain bike bars to add a side grip hand position, which is particularly helpful when climbing. Regardless of the handlebar type, you want to have enough padding on the bars to dampen road/trail vibrations, but not so much that you can’t wrap your hands around them or reach brake and shift levers. Cork tape works wonders on road bike handlebars, as it is thin enough for optimal control yet has natural cushioning properties. Mountain bike grips come in a broad range of shapes and thicknesses, so try a few out in a gloved hand to get a feel for them.
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