With winter finally fading into memory, it’s time to get ready for spring cycling in the city, starting with some basic housekeeping and then plotting your course for all the fun of warm-weather pedaling ahead.
There’s a lot to be said for routine – for re-connecting with what has worked for you in the past in terms of comfort and convenience. But spring is also a time to get energized and to roll out something new — to change, to adjust, to challenge yourself. With that in mind, here are 10 hints to help inspire your best spring and summer cycling season:
1. Visit your bike shop for a tune-up — yesterday: If you’ve been riding all winter, your bike may be gunked up due to “deferred maintenance” during the cold weather. And, if your bike has spent the winter on a wall-rack in your apartment or your building’s bicycle room, you may be looking at flat tires, a dry chain or other issues that need attention. Either way, get your ride over to a mechanic now. The alternative is to line up with everybody else who waited until the first 80 F-degree Saturday of spring. Here’s a quick way to check what might need fixing or adjusting.
2. Inspect your accessories: Visibility and safety are crucial when you’re out on the road, so make sure that the gear you rely on won’t let you down. Check that your front and rear lights are working and that your bell will get you instantly noticed. (Those items are required by law in New York City. Just sayin’.) Also refresh the supplies in your flat-fixing kit if you carry one. Finally, adjust your helmet straps to assure a good fit. Nobody wants to be that rider with a lid askew, and a wobbly helmet also may reduce protection.
3. Fill in missing pieces: If you own cycling clothes, take them out of drawers and closets and give them the once-over. Have your cycling gloves disappeared — adhering by their Velcro to who knows what and where? Socks mismatched? (Actually that’s a cycling fashion thing, so you’re okay on that.) Grippers on your bike shorts feeling flabby? Better to find out now than on the night before the group ride you signed up for. Visit your bike shop, or check a website that focuses on women’s cycling apparel, like Terry or Team Estrogen.
Similarly, if you commute to work, fashionable and technically sophisticated athleisurewear gives you more options than ever for transitioning from the bicycle to the office to around-town travel. Supple and breathable leggings, tops, dresses and skirts are easy to wear, designed for mobility, and increasingly indispensable for active urbanites. Plus, they are available in a wide range of sizes and prices.
4. Upgrade your apps: Cast a fresh eye on your smartphone screen. Have you got everything you need in your pocket to support your ride and your fitness goals? The apps I rely on are the audible navigation feature of Google Maps for turn-by-turn instruction when I’m in an unfamiliar neighborhood; Ride with GPS, both to map rides and to find local routes; Strava, to track and share my progress if I’m training; and My Fitness Pal to keep me honest when it comes to healthy eating. (Please share your faves with fellow readers in the comments section!)
5. Build gradually: Especially if you’ve been off your bike for the winter, or you’re a beginning rider, take the first few outings slowly, in a low-traffic area, to acclimate your body to pedaling and your street skills to cycling in the city. Like anything else, those skills, which affect your confidence in traffic, improve with practice.
6. Make pedaling a part of your fitness plan: Warm weather means dialing down those trips to the gym and pumping up the volume on outdoor exercise. Options abound for raising your heart rate by turning the cranks. Depending on your goals, these can range from adding bicycle commuting to your weekday routine to joining early-morning training rides in Central or Prospect parks to organizing a regular fitness ride on weekends with friends. Registering for a longer “reach” ride – whether that means a first attempt or beating last year’s personal best — will help motivate you and keep you on track to boosting strength and endurance.
7. Sign up for a cycling event: Participating in an organized ride is a great way to meet people, to build fitness and to check out destinations to which you might not venture on your own. With a group ride, someone else has already laid out the route for you, so you don’t have to worry about navigating and can focus on enjoying the sights and the ride.
Consider annual events like CycloFemme, a celebration of women’s cycling on Mother’s Day that offers rides at every level from casual to long-distance, or if you’re a roadie, the Rapha Women’s 100 in summer. Get to know your city better through the urban Bike the Boros series. For a longer-distance ride, take a look at a local gran fondo, a format that is growing in popularity worldwide.
8. Be a tourist in your own city: We all have our tried-and-true routes, and that’s great. But a bicycle is the ideal machine for exploration and adventure. Two wheels can take you farther, faster and, sometimes, to places that cars can’t reach. Have you boarded the ferry to car-free Governors Island? Sampled fish tacos in the Rockaways? Taken a picnic up to the Cloisters? Thrilled to the Cyclone at Coney Island? The possibilities for cycling outings in New York City are limitless. And if you don’t want to plan one yourself, themed bicycle tours are another option.
9. Make a night of it: Bicycling on the streets of New York City at night can be a magical experience, and city streets, at least in the most concentrated areas of the city, are better lit after dark than you might imagine. (Still, safety first with lights and reflective clothing!) An after-dinner ride is a great way to end the day. Or use bike share for night-time transportation between venues, especially if you plan to drink. At the end of the night, just dock the bike and take a cab or public transit home.
10. Get your family involved: Share your passion. Kids love to ride bikes and car-free parks and greenways are logical places to ride safely together. Family-friendly bikes, like cargo models, and well-designed gear for children continue to proliferate. Of course, family isn’t limited to your kids. Get your mom and dad and members of your extended family on bikes. They will thank you for it.
What are your spring cycling-readiness rituals? Please share them in the comments below.
Photo: Seth Doyle