Just as “Leinenkugel’s beer ain’t just for breakfast anymore”1, riding a bike ain’t just for transportation anymore.
How do you get ready for bicycling season? First, disabuse yourself of the notion that there is A Season. Any season is a season for bicycling. For some, the winter is for fatbiking. For others, it’s indoor cycling. For still others, it’s cyclocross. For me, it’s mostly for transportation. It’s how I get to work, the store, the library. Riding just for the hell of it is not common except for my New Year Ride.
On the other hand, if “just for the hell of it” is not part of most of your rides, it’s time for an attitude adjustment.
Do you need a special pre-season exercise program? No. You ride your bike. Start slow and easy. Gradually increase speed, distance, time. You don’t need to be a slave to numbers. Listen to your body.
For me, spring is the time to feel the wind without the word “chill” attached to it. It is time to explore the back roads and watch for potholes. It is the time to look for the first robin, the first crocus; to listen for the Spring Peepers; to smell the earth and the lakes come to life; to watch the grass turn green and buds appear on the trees; to notice all of the different greens as they appear. Notice that tree flowers are a different green than the leaves. It’s a time to ride with friends again.
Sunday I rode with friends. We chatted. I still needed tights and a jacket. We rode through “The Only Waunakee in the World” to get high on Bong Road. Monday I rode alone, in shorts and a short-sleeve jersey. I rode beyond Hope and into Coffeytown. Was it a week ago that I shoveled snow?
Do you need a special bike? No, you need the bike you have, if it is well-maintained and fits you. If either of those criteria are puzzling to you, talk with a knowledgeable friend or visit a reputable bike shop (with your bike). I am riding my commuting bike. It reminds me that I’m not in the shape I’ll be in come July. It makes me get into a rhythm to climb hills rather than just charge up them. It is better suited to spring road conditions, with wider, lower pressure tires, and fenders. When I switch to a bike that’s 6 pounds lighter, I’ll feel faster. When I switch to the bike that’s another 6 pounds lighter, I’ll feel ready for a century, or to ride across the country. I won’t be, but I’ll be in that frame of mind.
Which brings us back to paying attention to your body. In these early spring rides, I don’t have a power meter, a heart rate monitor, an altimeter, a speedometer, odometer, or a clock. I ride how I feel. The “goal” is to have a good time. Numbers do not add to that good time. I know my heart is beating. I know when I’m exerting myself. I know the sun is high in the sky so I don’t have to hurry home before it gets dark. I don’t need more data.
Do you need special gear? Depends on the conditions. Bike shorts are a lot more comfortable than jeans, but I wear regular clothes to ride to work. I’ve written extensively on clothes for winter. It’s not winter. Wear a helmet that fits well. Try a few on. Lean forward into the position in which you ride. Can you see under the brim of the helmet? Ask for help in a bike shop if you’re not sure. If they steer you straight to the most expensive helmet, try another shop. On the other hand, even the most expensive helmet is cheap compared to a craniectomy to relieve bleeding on the brain. You might argue that helmets are unnecessary. That may be true until you hit your head. You might argue that folks in the Netherlands ride more than we do in the US and they don’t wear helmets. I’m not in the Netherlands. Yes, I’ve read the study that claims that people ride more dangerously with a helmet on. They had people ride through a course with and without helmets and they rode marginally faster with helmets. Were they riding dangerously, or without helmets were they overly cautious? The study was not clear. Remember that, if you’re going to quote a study’s conclusion and jump to your own conclusions from that, you might want to read it. I know a hill that I can descend safely at 40 mph. I’ve ridden it at 50. Would I ride it at 40 without a helmet? No way. Did I ride without a helmet in the 1970s? Sure, but then I also rode in cars without seatbelts in the 50s.
1 Song lyric from “Guys on Ice”, book and lyrics by Fred Alley.