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Ride On: Everything You Need to Know About Bicycling and Spinning

Cycling is about the most fun you can have burning more than 500 calories an hour. Plus it's so simple anyone can do it. What's stopping you? Get back in the spin with our pedal-pushing pointers.

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Nick Onken
Nick Onken
Bryan McCay
Nick Onken
SoulCycle
Nick Onken
YSC Tour de Pink
Bryan McCay
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Your Cycling Guide: The Proper Form

Make sure the brim of your helmet is just two fingers' width above your eyebrows. Then tighten the chin strap so you can fit only one or two fingers between it and your chin.

Beginners, position your handlebars at a height at which your back is bent no more than 45 degrees. "The lower you go, the more aerodynamic you may become, but also the greater the potential strain on your back," says Meaghen Harris, who rides for Liv/giant bicycles. (Tour de France contenders typically set their handlebars inches below seat level for that bent-over, streamlined effect.)

Set your seat height so that you have a 25-degree bend in your knee when your foot is at the bottom of a pedal stroke. This will maximize your pedal power, a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found.

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Choose the Right Bike Size

When selecting a bike, height makes right. Brands differ, but use this rule of thumb for frames: As you straddle a road bike just in front of the saddle, you should have at least one inch of clearance from your crotch to the top of the frame. (Allow at least two inches for a mountain bike or a cruiser.)

Untitled Document
Your Height Bike Frame Size*
5' to 5'3" XS 13" to 14"
5'4" to 5'6" S 14" to 15"
5'7" to 5'9" M 16" to 17"
5'10" to 6' L 18" to 19"

*Recommendations from Liv/giant

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The Best Bike for Joy Rides

The seven-speed Schwinn Gateway cruiser is perfect for a day in the park. It's got a step-through frame, fat tires, a roomy seat, and high curved handlebars for no-fuss riding. ($200, target.com)

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The Best Bike for Commuters

The seven-speed Electra Ticino 7D has a cushy leatherette seat and a step-through aluminum frame for easy -- and skirt-friendly -- straddling during stops.($650, shops.electrabike.com for retailers)

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The Best Hybrid Bike

With a lightweight frame, flat handlebars, and eight simple-to-shift gears, the hybrid Liv/giant Escape City W rules for fitness or fun. ($570, livgiantusa.com for info)

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The Best Racing Bike

The aluminum 16-speed Trek Lexa Compact is a good way to go fast. This women-specific model has racing-bike handlebars for different hand positions as you get aerodynamic. ($730, trekbikes.com for info)

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The Best Mountain Bike

Riding uneven terrain is a breeze with the lightweight women-specific Specialized Myka HT Sport mountain bike. It has great suspension and fat 26-inch tires with grippy treads. ($580, specialized.com)

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How to Fix a Flat

DIY roadside assistance for newbies.

1. Take the wheel out of the bike frame by releasing the brakes (lift the lever by your seat) and flipping open the quick-release lever -- that little latch attached to the wheel's axle -- then turn your bike over.

2. Wedge the scooplike part of the tire lever from your repair kit in between the wheel's rim and the tire to lift the tire off the rim. (Right, Deluxe Repair and Inflation Seat Bag kit, $33, genuineinnovations.com; innertube sold separately.)

3. Pull the innertube out and, with the patches and rubber cement in the kit (or duct tape, in a pinch), patch any punctures you feel inside the tread.

4. Grab the new innertube from the kit, use your mouth, a mini pump or a CO2 cartridge to slightly inflate the tube, and then feed its valve back through the wheel rim. Stuff the semi-inflated innertube inside the tire.

5. Use the tire lever to gently tuck the tire tread back into the rim; hook the mini pump or CO2 cartridge onto the valve again, and inflate it all the way.

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How to Use Cycling Shoes

If you've tried cycling shoes in Spinning class, then you know they make your strokes easier. To take them to the streets, you'll first have to swap your road bike's flat pedals for clipless ones at your local bike shop, which will match them to the cleats on the bottom of your cycling shoes. (To clip in, press your cleat down on the pedal until you hear a click; to clip out, simply kick your heel away from the bike.) "Make sure your cleats fit fairly loosely so it's easy to clip in and unclip," says Olympian and pro cyclist Evelyn Stevens of Team Specialized-Lululemon. Practice in an empty parking lot, clipping in one foot at a time. Once you feel confident, clip in both and go!

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Where to Get a Good Ride

Use our no-excuses roundup to ride high.

Supercool Cycling Studios

Hip sweat shops, like SoulCycle (soul-cycle.com), Fly Wheel Sports (flywheelsports.com), Cycle House (cyclehousela.com) and Go Cycle (gocyclestudio.com), have proliferated recently. Locate spin-spirational classes near you at Spinning.com.

Biker Gangs

Check your local bike shop or manufacturers' sites, like Giant-bicycles.com and Trekbikes.com, to find free clinics in your area. Or go to the League of American Bicyclists (bikeleague.org) to link up with other riders. Looking to race? Join a team at usacycling.org/clubs.

New Routes

Blaze a trail by using Google Maps, which gives directions for bike routes, or Map My Ride (mapmyride.com). You can also download the Bike Maps by Maplets app ($1, iTunes App Store) for access to a variety of urban and rural rides.

Loaner Wheels on the Fly

The Zipcar method has finally arrived for cyclists: Bike-share programs, such as B-Cycle (bcycle.com), are now available in more than 10 major cities. Become a member and borrow a set of wheels from a docking station, like the one shown above (membership and usage fees vary by city), then leave your ride at any designated drop-off spot when you're done.

Guided Virtual Classes

Download 30- or 60-minute Get Cyc'd! podcasts from MotionTraxx (free or up to $10, motiontraxx.com) to use at the gym, or pop in a cycling workout DVD ($30, spinervals.com) for that stationary bike at home.

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How to Shift Properly

Cruising can be confusing when your bike has more gears than you know what to do with. Use this simple decoder from Troy Jacobson, the head triathlon coach of Life Time Fitness, for your smoothest cycling yet.

For starters

Your handlebars have a right shifter, which controls the gears on the rear wheel, and a left shifter, which controls the gears connected to the pedals; changing the gears alters the resistance on your chain, making pedaling easier or harder. The main thing to remember is that if you want a big change, shift on the left; for a smaller change, shift on the right.

For flat roads

Adjust your left and right shifters to a medium resistance, around the middle settings on each, for push behind every pedal stroke.

For uphills

As you approach and before you actually hit an incline, shift your right shifter to a lower gear or number to make it easier to pedal, then shift your left shifter to a lower gear as well. Once at the top, go back to the middle setting on both.

For downhills

If it's a gradual slope, adjust your right shifter to a higher gear. If it's a supersteep drop and your wheels are still spinning a bit out of control, adjust your left shifter to a higher gear as well.

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Cycling Tours and Races

The Trek Women Breast Cancer Awareness Ride is a family-friendly 10- or 25-mile cycling tour; it kicks off on October 13 and 14 at Trek retailers throughout the United States and benefits the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. ($25 entry fee, trekbikes.com/trekwomen)

YSC Tour de Pink gives you the choice of riding from one mile to hundreds of miles in events throughout the country -- for example, from Philly to D.C. -- now through October to benefit the Young Survival Coalition, a nonprofit that supports young women facing breast cancer. You can even participate virtually. (Entry fee from $40, ysctourdepink.org)

The Susan G. Komen Ride for the Cure, with distances ranging from 30 to 100 miles, takes place throughout the year in several states, including Connecticut, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Michigan, and benefits local affiliates of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. (komen.org; check local chapter for details)

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Cycling FAQs

Q. Do I need cycling-specific sunglasses, or will my usual shades do?

A. "A good pair of cycling sunglasses wrap around your head more closely and stay put better than regular shades," says pro triathlete Gwen Jorgensen. But more traditional styles, like the flirty and sturdy Oakley YSC Overtime, provide great protection for casual rides, plus a portion of their sales benefits breast cancer awareness. ($190, oakley.com)

Q. Why do cycling jerseys have to be so fitted?

A. Not only would flapping fabric slow you down, but a billowing shirt would bare your belly button. The sweat-wicking Castelli Perla jersey ($80, castelli.com) makes a snug fit feel like a buttery-soft hug, and it's longer in back for extra coverage.

Q. How do I rock a ponytail while wearing a bike helmet?

A. "I put a ponytail through the back hole of my helmet and then braid it, or I make a messy bun and fit it through,? says pro cyclist Ally Stacher of Team Specialized-Lululemon. This genius lightweight Cannondale Teramo helmet is designed to allow your pony to poke through -- finally! ($110, cannondale.com)

Q. Am I supposed to wear undies with my bike shorts?

A. It's up to you, but you're much better off going commando, pro cyclist Stevens says. Bike shorts are padded, and underwear can bunch and chafe on long rides. Try the Pearl Izumi W Symphony knickers, which have a seam-free chamois that prevents the wedgie effect. ($120, pearlizumi.com)

Q. Is there a sneaker that's good for cycling if I'm not ready to clip in?

A. Your best bet is probably a pair of light-hiking or trail-running shoes with a rock plate in the forefoot, says Tom Kuefler, a brand manager for Bontrager, a bike manufacturer. "Look for a relatively stiff outsole," he says. Try Charge RC Storm by Under Armour ($120, ua.com). And when you're ready to switch to clip-ins, go with the beginner-friendly Shimano Click'R CW40 ($90, bike.shimano.com for info), which make it easier to get in and out of your pedals.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2012.

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