It's true -- once you learn to balance on two wheels while propelling yourself forward via two pedals, wind sweeping through your hair and heart racing with adventure, it's not a skill you quickly forget. But how many of us really learn to ride a bike, as opposed to merely staying upright and managing forward motion without falling?
By employing some basic cycling tips and skills, you'll not only earn a greater appreciation for your bike but also improve your riding experience and get a better workout in the process. Take advantage of the following tips next time you hit the road.
1. Know your gears. Your front gears (located near your right pedal) are used to make the biggest shifts; for example, when you approach a hill and need to get into an easy gear fast. You may have two or three chain rings to choose from, with the smallest ring providing the easiest turnover. These gears are controlled by the shift mechanism on the left-hand side of your handlebars.
Your back gears (located on a cogset near the rear wheel) are the "fine-tuners." Use these when you need to get into a slightly different gear to increase pace or make pedaling a little easier. These gears are controlled by the shift mechanism on the right-hand side of your handlebars.
2. When shifting, plan ahead. Watch the terrain and plan what gear you'll need to be in if the terrain changes. When you get to a hill, shift to the gear you need just before you get there. Waiting too long causes you to lose momentum and puts pressure on the chain, making it harder for the bike to shift appropriately.
The best way to familiarize yourself with your gears is to hit an open stretch of road and practice shifting both front and back gears to see what they can do for you.
3. Learn to brake. The No. 1 rule of braking is to use both brakes evenly, particularly if you need to stop suddenly. The front brake (located on the left) provides more stopping power, which is why you want to avoid using it too abruptly. Slamming the front break is a sure way to catapult over the bars.
To brake safely, add pressure gradually to both brakes until you slow to a desired speed or come to a full stop. Over-gripping the rear brake will give you less stopping power and cause your back tire to skid. As with gearing, watch ahead and moderate your speed in advance.
4. Look through turns. When heading into a turn, always look through the turn to where you want to go, rather than into the middle of it. Your bike will go where you're looking, so if you look at the curb you're trying to avoid, you'll likely run right into it. If you need to slow down going into the corner, brake before the turn rather than in the middle of your turn.
5. Lean your bike, not your body. As you head into the turn, push the handlebar that is closest to the inside of the turn slightly so that your arm straightens a bit. This will automatically lean your bike into the turn. At the same time, keep your body upright; don't lean into the turn with your bike.
Make sure your outside foot is pushing down hard into the pedal at the 6 o'clock position (your inside foot is at the 12 o'clock position). This will ensure that you don't scrape your inside pedal or lean the bike too far.
6. Position yourself for the downhill. Keep your weight over your saddle on downhills. If the descent is particularly steep, scoot your butt toward the back of the saddle to keep traction on your rear wheel.
Keep your focus ahead of you rather than right in front of your wheel so you can plan ahead for changes in direction or obstacles in the road. And, of course, control your speed by "feathering" your brakes evenly rather than hitting them hard at the last minute.
7. Be smooth on the pedals. Think about turning circles with your pedals rather than pushing down on them. Imagine you're gracefully wiping mud off the bottom of your foot each time you come to the bottom of your pedal stroke. This will help you apply force throughout the stroke and make your pedaling more efficient.