It has been a long winter and many bikes have been stored away collecting dust. Fortunately, the days are getting longer and it’s time to get back on the saddle.
Though it is easy to imagine those first amazing pedal strokes, reality is often quite different. The first few rides can be a real struggle. Early season riding often involves a variety of physical and mechanical hurdles that must be dealt with in order to set yourself up for a successful cycling season.
Preparing Your Bike
It is funny how bikes and bodies work best when they are well used. A bike that has been sitting in hibernation may need a little bit of love before it is exposed to the rigors of riding. The following list encompasses a variety of basic things that the novice mechanic can manage. However, if you feel that your bike needs a thorough tune it may be best to book it in with your local bike shop.
Give your wheels and tires a basic inspection. Check if the sidewalls on your tires have cracks or tears. Inflate your tires to the recommended pressure, then let the bike sit overnight and check if the air pressure has held up. Make sure that you have plenty of tread. Spin the wheels to check if they are true. A true wheel that is in alignment will be free of wobbles.
Clean your chain by running it against a rag. If the drivetrain is dirty and gritty apply a degreaser and take a brush to it. Once the chain is relatively clean re-lube it to get it moving smoothly.
Never ride until you have given your breaks a test. If you have rim breaks, take a clean rag and remove any dust and grit off of the rim first. Grit and dust will form a barrier between your brake pad and the stopping surface so it must be removed. Spin the tire and clamp down on the break to make sure that it is stopping the rotation. Listen and watch for issues.
Hydraulic breaks are a little more complicated. If the pressure in the brake line drops due to air bubbles or a leak you may feel a squishy and/or uneven pull. A loss of hydraulic pressure in a brake line will require a brake bleed which for most folks must be performed by a qualified mechanic.
Bolts and skewers
Take a moment to make sure that all of the bolts are tight. For bikes with quick-release wheels take a moment to ensure that the skewers are in a closed position and clamped down.
Lights and Reflectors
Many motorists are blissfully unaware that the bike season has begun. Though it is always important to be highly visible, it is even more imperative early in the season. Take a moment to ensure that your bike lights have good batteries and/or a fresh charge. If you have reflectors clean them off so that they are bright and effective.
Preparing Your Body
Even though I ride all year I find that every spring I suffer from repetitive strain injuries. My mind wants to crank up my cadence, but my body is simply not ready for the added workload. The following tips will help you to avoid those early season aches and pains.
Before you get on your bike for those early season rides engage in basic stretching routine. Bike Radar has a great article recommending eight cycling specific stretches that will help keep you limber on and off the bike.
Ease Into It
Your body will be ready to take on epic distances much better if you start your season with some stationary spinning and/or shorter rides on flat ground. Create a basic route that gives you plenty of easy terrain and ride at a low cadence to get the blood flowing and the muscles accustomed to the stress of riding. Give yourself plenty of time to work out the kinks.
Manage Your Expectations
Cycling is like anything else in life, the more that you practice the easier it gets. Do not get down on yourself when in the early season you struggle with your cardiovascular fitness and/or leg weakness. When you last rode you had a whole season of riding behind you. You have months to get back to that level of fitness – enjoy the journey.
There is nothing better than spring riding. Though those early rides can prove challenging (especially the morning after), once you make it through the first few weeks you will not only get back into the habit of riding you will be working your way back to top fitness.
Good luck and see you on the road.