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What's Your Bike Type?
You're looking for an uncomplicated weekend spin or just an easy way to burn extra calories.
What You'll Need
Ideal Wheels: Thanks to its lightweight aluminum frame, three gears (for a little extra help on hills) and supersensitive brakes, the Electra Townie Original 3i ($410, electrabike.com for info) is your ultimate multitasker, great for city commutes or oceanside cruises.
A helmet: Keep the metallic theme going with the women-specific Bellisima helmet ($17, walmart.com). It's vented to keep you cool and comes with a visor for extra shade.
A light: Plan to ride early in the morning or after dusk? Be guided by the easy-to-attach Cateye Uno LED light ($35, rei.com). It runs for 15 hours on one AA battery.
A lock: The Kryptonite Evolution Series 4 U-Lock ($65, bicyclebuys.com) can be clipped to the seat post for the duration of your ride and comes with a guarantee: If your bike is stolen, the company will replace it up to a value of $2,250.
A bag: Carry your stuff from here to there without back sweat with a design-it-yourself Timbuk2 messenger bag (starting at $49, timbuk2.com). Its adjustable strap helps keep contents close while you ride.
Shoes: Keen's Trailhead Commuter looks just like a sandal, but it fits a recessed sole cleat so you can go from platform or clipless pedals to walking on the ground without missing a beat ($115, keenfootwear.com).
Gloves: Slip a pair of adorable Novara Lifeline gloves ($25, rei.com) into your pocket before you head out for a day of riding. They provide extra cushioning and shock absorption without interfering with your natural grip.
The Road Rider
You're a more serious cyclist, training for a tri or looking for extra speed and a lightweight bike.
What You'll Need
Ideal Wheels: Forget your old purple 10-speed. Women-specific road bikes now come in all shades and have anywhere from 14 to 30 gears. "Try out as many bikes as you can before you buy, since different brands fit differently, even if they're the same frame size," says Gale Bernhardt, author of Cycling for Women. The Trek 1.2 WSD ($880, trekbikes.com) is perfect for long rides: It's lightweight and has a carbon fork that soaks up road vibrations. It also has 27 speeds (i.e., more help for your legs) so you can climb even the steepest hills, not lose control of the pedals on downhills, and coast easy on the flats.
A helmet: The ponytail-compatible Giro Skyla has a quick-adjust rear knob that lets you easily fine-tune a snug fit ($40, sportsauthority.com).
Shoes: For a good entry-level clipless cycling shoe, try the Pearl Izumi Quest Road with vented soles for extra breathability plus three Velcro straps that hug your foot ($80, pearlizumi.com).
Shorts and a jersey: The diaper-like chamois padding in bike shorts serves a purpose: It protects soft tissue (as it's called in the bike world) so you can ride pain-free. Try Sugoi's Evolution Shorty ($90, sugoi.com) for a flattering fit that doesn't bunch. Pair it with the Betty jersey ($85, sugoi.com); it has three elastic back pockets, so a snack, your phone, and sunscreen are easy to access on the fly.
Gloves: Pick a padded pair to help absorb the shock to hands and prevent numbness, like the Gore Power Lady, with foam on the palms ($36, gorebikewear.com).
Rules of the Road
- If you're new to clipless pedals, practice clipping in and out in a field (or somewhere else away from traffic) before you hit the streets. To clip into your bike, straddle the frame and rotate the pedals so one is 45 degrees forward. Put your less dominant foot on that pedal and press down hard as you raise yourself over the saddle. Then quickly place your other foot in its pedal and clip in on that side as you start pedaling. To release, simply twist one heel out to the side and put that foot down as you come to a stop, says Bernhardt.
- Use both hand brakes to slow down. Using only the rear brake will not slow you down quickly, and using only the front brake could cause you to fly over the handlebars. If you're going too fast downhill, instead of slamming on your brakes, try sitting taller to catch more air and slow down naturally first.
- Ride in the same direction as cars.
- If you're traveling on a city street at the same speed as traffic, ride in the middle of the lane; when traffic speeds up, move to the right shoulder.
- No bike lane? Ride at least three feet out from parked cars to avoid being hit by opening doors, says Paul Dorn, coauthor of The Bike to Work Guide.
- Obey traffic signals, as if you were in a car.
- Signal all turns and stops with your left arm. To signal a left turn, hold your left arm straight out to the side at shoulder level. For a right turn, hold your right arm out with your elbow bent 90 degrees and your hand pointing up (as if you're taking the oath of office). To signal a stop, hold your arm out with your elbow bent 90 degrees and your hand down.
- Give pedestrians the right of way.
The Trail Blazer
You want to go anywhere — dirt or paved paths — and explore on a bike that's got extra traction and is sure to keep you steady.
What You'll Need
Ideal Wheels: Beginning and intermediate mountain bikers should go with a simple "hardtail" bike, a cheaper model that has only front suspension (shock), rather than front and rear. The women-specific Specialized Myka HT Sport has front suspension, 24 gears, uber-responsive brakes, and comfy hand grips ($510, specialized.com for info). Shopping tip: If you're planning on covering lots of hills, you might want to look for a lighter model that will make it easier to climb steep terrain.
Shoes: Mountain biking shoes are usually fitted with a recessed cleat, so that they're easier than road cycling shoes to walk around in. The women's specific Bontrager Race Mountain WSD has a durable synthetic leather upper and a molded heel cup that prevents slipping ($90, bontrager.com for info).
A helmet: Add safety and style to your ride with the Nutcase Hula Lounge helmet ($50, nutcasestore.com) — it has 11 vents for extra breathability and a shock-absorbing liner.
Shorts and jersey: You'll be traveling at slower speeds than road riders, so finding aerodynamic clothing isn't a major concern, but padding in your shorts is important with all those bumps. The loose-fitting Cannondale Rush Baggy Shorts ($70, cannondale.com) have an adjustable waistband and removable inner short with chamois padding. The super-soft Specialized Trail Top masks dirt, is breathable, and has two front pockets ($70, d4womengear.com).
Gloves: Look for a full-fingered pair that will protect your hands from brushing branches and other scrapes. The Giant Velocity XC glove has a reinforced palm and breathable mesh upper ($22, giantbicycles.com for info).
- "Never be afraid to hop off your bike and push it up or down a hill," says U.S. Olympic mountain biker Mary Grigson Daubert. "Even when I raced, I got off my bike whenever I didn't feel confident."
- When in doubt, yield to others. When going downhill, always give way to uphill riders.
- On steep descents, shift your weight as far back and off the saddle as possible — having your weight over your rear wheel will give you better traction. To slow down, apply pressure to both brakes simultaneously, putting slightly more pressure on the right (rear) brake. Put too much on the front, and you could go flying off the handlebars and into a tree.
- Use your brakes before cornering, not during.
- Keep your eyes on the path ahead, not on rocks and trees or other natural distractions.
Before Every Ride
1. Check your tire pressure — tires should feel firm when you squeeze them. Also make sure the quick release skewer is in a locked position and the tire is securely attached.
2. Test your brakes. First, lift your front wheel and spin it. Now clamp the left brake handle. The wheel should stop immediately. Repeat with the rear/right brake. If the wheels don't stop properly, you need new brake pads, or the brake cables need to be tightened.
3. Inspect your chain. Use a rag to wipe off any dirt or debris. Rotate one pedal backward so you can access the entire chain. If it needs lubricant, see "chainring" tip on our Cycling Guide to Bike Parts.
4. Pack your saddle bag (Wedgie Bag, $25, specialized.com) — a small pouch meant to hold your mini repair kit: A spare tube (or two); a tire lever, used to remove the tire from the rim ($4); a multi-tool, which has several wrenches and screwdrivers for adjusting saddle and handlebars ($20); and a couple of CO2 cartridges ($8 for 3), which can be used to instantly inflate a new tube. All at backcountry.com.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2009.