Use the margin between the official calendar arrival of spring and the actual appearance of the sunny skies and warmer temperatures not only to reboot your bike and gear, but also to envision and plan your goals. Pursue the possibilities now to make them a reality:
- Get a tune-up. This bears repeating because ropy tires and dry chains are chronic in the bike lanes. Whether your bike has been sitting in a storage room or has suffered the abuses of winter spray and salt, getting a tune-up now will steer you to a clean, comfortable and well-lubed ride — before hysteria breaks out at the bike shops on the first glorious-weather day of spring. You might also save a few bucks with pre-season tune-up specials.
- Learn to fix a flat. If you haven’t mastered this skill, take solace in knowing you’re not alone. In a recent Bicycling Magazine survey, 50 percent of respondents owned up to not feeling confident changing a flat in front of others. Still, as long as you’re shaky on changing a tube or patching a tire, there’s a fingers-crossed aspect to every ride. Who wants to have to worry about flagging someone down for help? Local bike shops, groups that promote cycling, online videos and willing friends can help. And remember: Once is not enough. Practice at home with the front and rear wheel, so you’ll be ready for an actual road-side emergency.
- Get a proper bike fit. If you experience any discomfort on your bike — knee, back, wrist or neck pain, for example – or your ride just doesn’t feel right, have a pro look at the fit. Fit issues can dampen your enthusiasm at best and cause injury at worst. Small adjustments — in seat or stem heights, cranks or saddle, just for starters — can literally change your world on a bike. A pofessional fitting of your existing bike is not free, but it’s money is well spent. (I’ve found that word of mouth often leads to the best, most experienced fitters. So ask around.)
- Fill in the blanks. Take inventory in your closets and drawers to figure out what cycling clothes or accessories are missing or worn out. Give icky water bottles the boot. Replace batteries in your bike lights or recharge them. Give your bar lock some lube love. Toss the shorts with the worn-out leg grippers. Also, if you’re an all-season cyclist, now’s the time to score rock-bottom sales on cold-weather merch online or at your local bike shop.
- Set a goal. Nothing helps you kindle and maintain motivation more than committing to a goal, particularly one that’s a reach. That might mean resolving to commute to work more frequently than in past years. Or, signing up for a cycling event (many offer a range of routes and distances). Enlist a friend and ride or train together. If you choose a charity event, you’ll also enjoy the satisfaction of achieving your cycling goal while doing good for others. These are some of the annual New York City area rides I’m looking at for spring and early summer: the Tour de Staten Island, CycloFemme and Bike to the Beach New York Ride for Autism. To search cycling events near NYC, check bikereg.com and bikeride.com. Tip: Register early. Some rides sell out quickly; others offer discounts for advance registration.
- Boost off-bike fitness. Keeping fit off the bike will help you ride strong and healthy all season. In particular, core strength is essential to maintaining good posture, balance, and the ability to generate power. It pays off, as well, in everyday activities and general wellness. So keep a balance between pedaling and other fitness activities like yoga, Pilates and weight training.
- Join a group ride or cycling club and if you’re not finding one that suits your interests or ability, then organize your own! While that may sound daunting, a ride group usually starts with a couple of friends getting together, say for a regular Saturday ride, and builds from there. Some organized group rides provide instruction to help less experienced cyclists learn the rules of the road and build bike handling skills. And of course, group rides are a great way to meet people. Do some research to find the best fit for you. A few NYC-based options: New York Cycle Club, Five Borough Bicycle Club, Westchester Cycle Club. Rides for women: Get Women Cycling, WE Bike NYC, Black Girls Do Bike NYC, Bicycle Habitat Women’s Cycling.
- Log your routes and miles. If you’re not using an smartphone app, like Map My Ride or Ride With GPS, to track the miles you’re logging as a daily commuter or a weekend roadie, give it a try. It’s a great motivator and, if you use a social platform like Strava, you can measure your progress, rack up personal-bests, share rides and routes with your friends and exchange kudos. (I never thought I’d be a Strava person; now I’m hooked.) One good way to get into tracking your miles and to jump-start your spring pedaling is to join a commuter challenge during May, which is National Bike Month.
- Pick something off your bucket list. Those rides you’ve been dreaming of? Start planning one now. If you’re a road cyclist, it could be a training camp to help boost your skills, strength and endurance. Or maybe there’s a classic mountain pass you’ve vowed to conquer. Or a dream vacation with your partner. Need inspiration? There’s a book for that: The Cyclist’s Bucket List by Ian Dille. But there are also endless sources of ideas, including more bicycle tour options than ever, to be found online at cycling and travel websites.
- Shake it up. Cycling doesn’t have to be just one thing. Variety broadens your horizons and gives you the confidence boost of stepping (er, pedaling) outside your comfort zone. Never tried mountain biking? How about gravel grinding on your road bike, or pedaling a fat-tire bike along the beach? Alternatives to your usual routine may be closer than you think. In the New York City area, there are mountain biking trails in Brooklyn and Queens, gravel paths in Westchester, and plenty of shoreline for that fat-tire rig.
Get in gear now to luxuriate in being ahead of the curve (no waiting in line at the bike shop for you!) and to enjoy anticipating your own road ahead.