By Chris Boyd
NOTE: This is the first in a spring/summer series about bicycling in West Virginia. This installment addresses choosing equipment. The May installment will concentrate on bicycle laws and safety.
Beautiful, sunny days have been visiting the Mountain State with more frequency the past few weeks and with this we think of getting outside and pursuing various activities. If you’re like me, you’ve been thinking of how nice it would be to jump on a bicycle and feel the sun on your cheeks and the wind in your face, racing with child-like abandon.
However, with a few exceptions, I haven’t been on a bicycle since those care-free days of youth.
As an adult, there are more things to consider than which bike looks the coolest or sports the best tassels on the handlebars. We have to think about where we can safely ride, what size bicycle will be the right fit and whether it will be comfortable enough to merit the investment.
The “riding toys” we had when we were young were for amusement and seasonal activity but, with the green movement, more and more folks are thinking of a bicycle as a tool, even a vehicle for transportation. For those who live close enough to work and don’t mind bringing a change of clothes, it can be a viable option. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First we have to get a bike.
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Adam Stephens, owner of Marathon Bicycle Co. in Fayetteville, helped me sift through the various styles of bicycles and described how each one is built for a specific purpose.
“Basically we would look at the mileage that you would want to do, the terrain of what you are riding and get you on the most comfortable bike. Being comfortable gives you the ability to go longer. If you are on an uncomfortable bike then you aren’t going to want to ride as much. The different geometries of the bikes are what make them different. The mountain bike versus the hybrid or adventure bike, etc.”
“A lot of people don’t realize that you have cross-country, downhill, over-mountain and light-duty single-track all within the mountain bike category. Within the scope of hybrids you are going to have the ones that lean more toward the road and those that lean more toward the rail-trail type setting. We want to find out what you are riding more and get you more toward that spectrum,” Stephens said.
“If you want a hybrid and you are just going to be riding around in the city and you are just looking to get a good workout but you don’t want to get a road bike because of the thinner tires and the uncomfortable position, we would get you on a fitness bike. If you are going to do just straight rail-trail and you want to be really comfortable and confident on the gravel terrain then we would have you look at the adventure bike. It’s going to have a smaller, wider tire with more traction. If you are going to be riding roads or paved bike paths, then you are going to want a thinner tire. So, again, that thicker tire is going to be better on the gravel because it is going to hook-up and give you more confidence but, when you are on the pavement, it’s going to be slower due to the rolling resistance of the bigger tire. For a commuter I would recommend something with a 700c wheel, which is going to be a larger diameter wheel with a thinner tire.”
Stephens pointed out all the features as he described them and talked prices while acknowledging that not everyone can afford to get the best thing right away, no matter how passionate we are about the idea. Some of us may have to find a cheaper bicycle, then see where it goes from there. He said that the important thing is that you get out and start cycling.
“The beauty of it is that you can go and find, depending upon how many miles you are going to ride, some people live within a couple of miles of their job, you can get a very cheap ‘yard sale bike’ and start commuting. You don’t have to spend $500 to get going,” Stephens said. “When you become more dedicated to the process and are commuting on the not-so-good days, like while it’s raining, then you would want to get rain gear and other stuff and you may want a new bike.”
Adam Carrico, manager at Ride N Slide Sports, also gave me a close look at two great commuter-friendly bicycles.
“There is a bike, a hybrid, that is going to suit your needs, more specifically to commuting. A fully rigid frame, which means that it’s going to be really light and you aren’t going to have any bobbing before you go forward. It’s a more responsive bike. It makes it more efficient.”
He also recommended the comfort bike for it’s design which makes cycling more enjoyable.
“The name comfort bike means that you are going to have a little bit of suspension up front for comfort, an upright posture, a big, wide seat and a suspension seatpost,” Carrico said. “There isn’t another bike that’s even close to how comfortable these are.”
Owner of Free Spirit Adventures and an avid cyclist for over 20 years, Alinda Perrine took me through her suggestions for the beginner with aspirations of commuting.
“The first thing that I would do to get started is that I would take them, probably, to the Greenbrier River Trail, where there is no traffic so they can start building their confidence and getting their technique back. You do need to have a little more technique, when you ride the road, than when you are just riding around your neighborhood,” Perrine said.
“Step two is, we would go to a road where there is less traffic and I would teach them the rules of the road, how to signal, how to slow down, how to stop at a stop sign. I would go through all of the techniques of how to ride on the road and the proper etiquette.”
Perrine also described a common problem with beginner cyclists, commuters specifically. Many bicycle riders think of themselves as a “person” on the road when they are actually on a vehicle, which has the same rights, she said, as any other vehicle.
“We would learn to climb a mountain or a hill on the bike because that is where bicycles go the slowest and that is where cars don’t necessarily see you because they are coming around a turn. Many people feel that they are holding people back and there is a little rule of the road that says ‘hold your line.’ If a car thinks you are going to move off to the right and go off of the road, the car goes ahead and takes the road. Well, maybe you can’t get off the road. Always try to stay in that 3 feet off of the line area, don’t show a car that you are trying to get off the road, because often you can’t. It would be a process, before somebody is ready to go out and ride the road.”
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When you go to a shop or your local big box retail chain to look at bicycles, you may feel overwhelmed, but the best thing to do is ask questions. Tell the store attendant or bicycle shop owner what you plan to do on the bicycle and how comfortable you are with the mechanics of it all. I found that you will get more knowledgeable help at a local bike shop than at a large retailer. It also helps before you go shopping to make yourself more familiar with all of the options available now that may not have existed the last time you shopped for bicycles. Take the time to test ride all of the bicycles and find what fits your needs.
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