Making your bike work for you

We’re a month into spring, which means temperatures are — theoretically — creeping up, trees will soon turn green and being outside will be more than bearable. That also means it’s about time to dust off your bicycle. But did you know there’s more to getting your bike ready for the season than putting air in the tires?

To ensure your rides this year will be the most comfortable you’ve ever had, we talked to employees at several Southwest bike shops to provide a brief tutorial on what you should know about your bicycle. As Calhoun Cycle’s Sara Lindstrom says, “A bike should be working for you, not against you.”

HANDLEBARS

Here’s where casual riders and racers split.

Those looking for a simple spin around Lake Calhoun probably will want their handlebars higher up so they can sit upright. But those planning a lengthy trip will want to put them a little lower so their backs are stretched out while riding.

The stretch allows road shock to be absorbed by the entire body. Without it, the shock goes straight up the back.

“The longer you ride, the more comfortable you’re going to be stretched out,” Adam Gorski says.

TIRES

Looking for speed? Go thin. Just keep in mind that the air should be topped off before almost every ride.

Those biking to work should go for thicker tires. “If you’re going to be hitting potholes, you’ll want something with more resistance — something that can handle rolling over glass from time to time,” Bobby Digital says.

SEAT

Padding is an obvious concern for many riders, and in the short run, this is key to comfort. In the long run, though, it’s the seat’s height that can affect how long the ride can continue.

The goal is for the seat to be located at a height where when the foot is at the lowest end of a pedal stroke, there’s a slight bend in the knee. If the seat is too high, the risk of locking the knees is much greater, which can lead to pain. If the seat is too low, the legs won’t reach their proper extension, meaning riders work harder for less result.

HELMETS

All helmets sold in the United States have to be tested and approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ensure their safety. So if they’re all safe, why do they differ so much in price?

The key difference between a helmet sold for $40 and one sold for $140 is the material. More lightweight materials — an issue of comfort — cost more. So do helmets with more holes for ventilation. The more aerodynamic the helmet, the more it’s worth.

Alan Gorski says that all helmets, regardless of price, should be replaced at least once every three years. Sweat, especially, can cause the foam inside to break down. “It’s like wearing a dirty T-shirt every day,” Gorski says. “It’s kind of nasty.”

Adds Bobby Digital: “If you ever crash and hit your head, it’s usually a good idea to get a new helmet.”

PEDALS

If planning on wearing tennis or work shoes while biking, go with traditional flat pedals. There are, however, more efficient options.

“Clipless” pedals (don’t let the name fool you) allow riders to clip their shoes into the bike. The benefit? The ability to pull up the pedals, instead of just pushing them down.

For those who aren’t sure they want to go completely clipless — it can be scary to quickly unclip at an unexpected stop — most stores also sell hybrids.

CHAIN

Check to make sure your chain isn’t rusty or stretched out. “If a chain has a rust on it, it’s pretty much ready for a replace,” Bobby Digital says.

ACCESSORIES

While making sure your bike’s basics are ready to go, it’s nice to have accessories by the hand. Some can be necessary; others are just handy to carry along. Here are a few to consider:

PORTABLE PUMP: You don’t want to end up with a flat tire in the middle of a ride, so it’s good to carry one of these with you.

LOCK: These can get pricey, but they’re worth it. “If you’re going to make a pretty big investment in a bike, you’ll want something to keep it safe,” Bobby Digital says.

LIGHTS: These are required by law if you plan on biking at night. Plus, they increase your safety.

WATER BOTTLES: Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate.

BELL: These are to let people in front of you know your presence, but they can also be used to add some flair to your bike. Calhoun Cycle sells them in an assortment of shapes, including baseballs, ladybugs and bell peppers.

THE EXPERTS

Adam Gorski
Flanders Bros. Cycles
2707 Lyndale Ave. S.
872-6994

Bobby Digital
Penn Cycle & Fitness
710 W. Lake St.
822-2228

John McConaghey
Sara Lindstrom
Calhoun Cycle
3342 Hennepin Ave. S.
827-8000