There are many reasons to consider traveling by bike. It's good for the body and mind, bikes are better for the environment and you get to see the world at your own pace. In addition, you'll save money that would otherwise have been spent on gasoline.
Cities like New York are becoming friendlier to cyclists by adding dedicated bike lanes that ensure a safer ride. In fact, with all the advances in bike technology and the growing popularity of cycling, there hasn't been a better time to hop on a bike and see the sights. But keep in mind that risks abound -- there are some things you need to consider before you saddle up and pedal off into the sunset.
Read on for five great tips for traveling the cyclist's way.
It may sound like common sense but you'll want to consult the weather forecast before you head out. If you forget to wear a jacket when traveling by car, you may hardly notice the unpleasantness during stops to look around. But when you're exposed to the elements for hours at a time, you'll wish you'd been more observant of Mother Nature's plans.
Once you know what's in store, you can pack your clothes accordingly. If you're looking at mostly warm and dry temperatures, then you're safe with a biking jersey or a similar lightweight top. But if your ride will last into the evening or night, pack a lightweight jacket you can easily slip on if needed. Keep in mind, however, that your body will heat up as you exert yourself on the bike and clothing that you don't use will have to be carried [sources: Independent Traveler, GORP].
The sound of air escaping a tire is one of the worst sounds a cyclist will hear. Flat tires are also quite common, so you should know how to change one. This basic knowledge will save you time and money and ensure that your rides are more about actually riding and less about waiting on the side of the road for a friend to find you.
But it's not just the tires you need to understand. Knowing how to make minor adjustments to your brakes will keep your bike riding smoothly and safely. In addition, replacing a slipped chain or tightening various bolts here and can be lifesavers. Make sure that you carry a spare tube, pump and tire levers and wrenches for the actual work [source: Jim Langely].
Cycling takes a lot of energy and burns hundreds, if not thousands, of calories. If you've ever "hit the wall" on a bike then you know the feeling of being depleted and lethargic. Your legs turn to lead and your motivation wanes. To avoid the "bonk" effect, pack healthy, energy-packed snacks to keep you going. Options include bananas, fig bars, peanut butter or apples. Energy bars provide a handy combination of nutrients to propel you down the road. That's the food side of the equation, but what about hydration?
Staying hydrated is even more important than fueling your body with healthy calories. If you become dehydrated, your blood will thicken, your heart rate will rise and you'll generally find that an otherwise fun ride can turn into a grueling slog. Plan to drink at regular intervals to keep problems at bay -- every 15 minutes is a good rule of thumb [sources: Coach Levi, GORP].
The age-old motto, "always be prepared" has particular application to cycling. You don't want to have an accident and you don't want to get stranded, but both unfortunate events can happen. If they do, you'll want to be able to call for help, so bring your cell phone. Many smart phones have GPS technology or the capability to access the Internet for a map. If there's been an accident, you can summon emergency help.
It's also a good idea to pack identification and a debit card or small amount of cash. Money and an ID can be absolutely vital when you're in a tight spot.
When you consider the light weight of a debit card, ID and cell phone, there's really no reason why you shouldn't bring them [source: GORP].
The most important aspect of traveling on your bike is to make sure you're as safe as possible at all times. Check your helmet before you leave and check that it fits snugly but comfortably and doesn't obstruct your view. Give your bike a once-over to see that all bolts are tightened, your brakes are working correctly and your bike changes gears smoothly. If you're going to be riding at night, install a light on your helmet and/or bike to let drivers and other cyclists know where you are.
Review your planned trip before you hit the road. One of the keys to avoiding an accident is knowing your surroundings. If you know the route well you can also anticipate traffic. Brush up on the rules of the road as well so that you don't put yourself in a bad spot. Remember, you are much smaller and less powerful than the cars and trucks you may be sharing the road with. That makes proper signaling, turning and attentiveness all the more important [source: Bicycle Safety].
Finally, enjoy yourself! Traveling by bike can open your eyes to a beautiful and exciting world.
How can parents encourage children to wear bicycle helmets? Learn more about helmets modeled on Playmobil and Lego in this HowStuffWorks Now article.
- Bicycle Safety. "How to Not Get Hit By Cars." June 2010. (Dec 3, 2010).http://bicyclesafe.com/
- Coach Levi. "What to Eat During a Big Ride or Race." 2010. (Dec 3, 2010).http://coachlevi.com/nutrition/eat-during-bike-ride-or-race/
- GORP. "Packing List: Bike Touring." 2010. (Dec 3, 2010).http://www.gorp.com/weekend-guide/travel-ta-road-biking-sidwcmdev_059008.html
- Independent Traveler. "Bike Tours and Trips, What else should I bring?" 2010. (Dec 3, 2010).http://www.independenttraveler.com/resources/article.cfm?AID=760&category=44
- Langley, Jim. "Take Along Tool Kit." Jimlangley.net. 2010. (Dec 3, 2010).http://www.jimlangley.net/wrench/roadandtrailrepairs.html