The health benefits of biking encompass not only the physical but also mental well-being.
Whether you want a relaxing ride through the neighborhood or to enter a race, expect positive results. You will notice improved muscle tone and strength, increased blood circulation and capacity of your cardiovascular system. Not only will moderate or vigorous activity contribute to weight loss, it can decrease stress, and increase brain power with the release mood-enhancing endorphins.
Biking offers options for speed and distance with a pretty much open schedule. Plus, many people ride to work or school, pollution free.
The leisurely bicyclist or triathlete has a gazillion bikes to choose from, whether you search the web or stop in at your local bike shop. Let's break it down.
Many of us grew up riding in our neighborhoods, maybe with a large basket on the handlebars or a bright-colored banana seat and glitter grip fringe. That's true if you were a kid in the '70s. In the '80s, bikes got more rugged and sporty. Ten speeds were the cool bike to have, with their curly handle bars, gear shifters and lightweight frames for greater speed. In the '90s, mountain bikes were popular not only for hills, but everywhere else, too. Because of their thicker wheels, bump-absorbing suspensions and cushioned seats, these bikes were excellent for rough terrain.
Current trends include hybrid road/trail bikes, casual town cruisers and racing bikes with razor-thin wheels or super fat tires for riding in sand or snow.
Prices listed below are approximate medians, depending on models and sellers.
For those who don't plan to bike 150 miles anytime soon, there are family bikes that let the rider sit upright with forward pedals, so it's like sitting in a chair. Usually with large-volume tires for cushion and an aluminum frame, they range from $500-$1,000. One popular brand of this type of bike is the Specialized brand Roll model, says Rivers Whitson, of KLM Bikes in Rochester.
If you want a comfort bike, but want to commute or are worried about big hills, a great option is the electric version. This bike has a battery-operated motor that replaces leg power. You will be able to get up hills and travel a bit further than you may normally go. But electrified bicycles cost more. The Specialized Como model has a battery that can charge for 30-60 miles, so there is plenty of juice for most commuters. Plus, you can plug the battery into an outlet in your workplace to re-charge for the ride home. These bikes start at $2,000. Other manufacturers’ models retail from as little as $800.
For casual riding, a family bike is sporty and comfortable. Most people like them because they are versatile. Some have disc brakes for wet conditions and spring-loaded suspensions, and are considered a hybrid between mountain and road bikes.
FAT TIRE BIKES
You may have seen these around town in the winter as well as the summer. Their unusually large, low pressure tires provide great traction in sand and a snowshoe effect in snow. This makes them great for adventuring.
There are two categories of mountain bikes — trail bike and cross country.
The trail bike is made for difficult terrain and moving fast downhill. It’s best for confident riders who want to do jumps and hills. The suspension is in front and rear. You can also move the seat up, if you are peddling up hill and down for jumping. With the knotty tires and durability of this bike, it's a bit heavier because it's meant to take more abuse. This type of bike starts around $1,500.
The cross-country bike is often made of carbon fiber, making it extremely light. Racers use these bikes, which have efficient pedal configuration for quick hill climbing. They start at $500.
Gravel Road Bike
Believe it or not, there is a bike made specifically for gravel roads or trails. These bikes have wider tires, a bit of suspension and are made to be comfortable over bumpy roads. They are more versatile than road bikes, and start around $1,000.
Designed for pavement, the road bike is one you may see going through a paved neighborhood or on a trail. The riding position is a bit more aggressive and the bike is lightweight. They start at around $650.
For those who want to do triathlons (swim/run/bike), this is the bike for you. It's aerodynamic, lightweight — usually with a carbon fiber frame — has an aggressive seated position and is made for speed on the road. They start at $2,000.
For little riders, there is amazing variety. Kids’ bikes range from 12 to 24 inches. Designed to be light, they can include road, mountain or fat-tire bikes, too. Because kids learn to balance faster than they learn the coordination of pedaling, a low rider is a good choice — there have no pedals, and it's tiny. Children can use their legs like walking or running until they learn to balance. From there, they can move to a slightly larger pedal bike with training wheels.
You’ll probably want a few extras when you buy a bike.
When riding a bike, a helmet is essential. Modern helmets are lightweight and provide maximum airflow to keep your head cool. Technology called MIPS, Multi-directional protection system, absorbs rotational energy to prevent brain injury during a fall. You can also get a small "crash detection system,” which attaches to your helmet, connects to your smart phone and calls relatives or friends with your exact location if you crash.
What's with the need for shoes on a bike? Special bike shoes have stiff soles and some click into the pedal to increase pedaling efficiency. They run from $100-$400.
Smart phone applications can help you track your fitness and distance ridden, so many cyclists use a phone holder on their bikes. A simple holder ($20) attaches securely to the handle bar. There also are small bike bags ($18-$30) that not only hold your phone, with a plastic top through which you can touch-operate it, but also enough space inside for a cable/lock ($7-$25) or your wallet.
If you want to carry anything with you, like a briefcase or groceries, you’ll need some bags or a basket. Bags range from tiny tool kits that strap under your seat or top tube ($15-$50), to trunk bag/rack combos and panniers. Topeak offers excellent racks ($45-$130) onto which you can securely slide any of the Topeak trunk bags, which have rigid side panels, carrying handles/straps, reflective details and even zip-out panniers for extra cargo space.
An old-fashioned basket, in wicker or metal, can be had for as little as $5 or as much as $100, with options to carry a small pet, in fact!
There are lights to see and lights to be seen. You will be sure to be seen, if you bike has both rear and front blinking lights. ($10). Headlights run around $30. Some use batteries you can recharge by USB cable.
Now that you are equipped with most bike attributes, it's time to get out there and choose your bike and ride.