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Cycling: Exploring on Two Wheels

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Patty is a licensed physical therapist assistant. She uses her active lifestyle to inspire her patients to stay active and healthy.

More than just a great mode of transportation, cycling boasts many benefits.

More than just a great mode of transportation, cycling boasts many benefits.

Discovering Sidestreet USA on Bike

Although anytime spent on a bicycle is worth it, coasting down alleys and back streets of America's small towns in search of a coffee shop tucked under a low awning, or a park bench under a shade tree to eat an ice cream cone excites me.

It's not so much about getting in twenty miles of pedaling in three hours; it's more about exploring. It's about taking a step back and enjoying a slower pace, cruising slowly down a hidden alley in search of something tucked back far enough that Main Street hides it. It might be the discovery of a clay outdoor oven or maybe it's the back door to a quilt shop I missed on the main avenue. The number of miles loses its importance, it's more about the find.

Many towns have regular bike paths, paved or at least well maintained and if they are available, you should use them, they will take you to places and through towns that are both memorable and intriguing.

Quirky Shops and Charming Arts

On a recent trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the owner of the Airbnb we rented from offered us a couple of bicycles he had parked in the shed behind the adobe guesthouse. We pumped up the tires on the two cruisers and set off on an adventure that took us into parts of Old Town, Albuquerque that we undoubtedly would have missed had we been trying to weave through the narrow cobblestone streets by car.

We slipped down alleys and across side streets that had we needed to find a parking spot or paid a parking meter, we probably would have skipped. What we found was a trove of New Mexico eateries, quirky shops, and charming southwest arts and gifts not visible from the mainstream traffic.

What Is the Best Time to Ride?

Is it better to start before noon or in the afternoon? It's a preference. I like to ride when the weather is a bit cool and the roads are dry. The benefit of riding early is less traffic, therefore more road freedom.

While peak performance is considered to be in the afternoon, for the purpose of this article, which focuses on exploration and fun, I choose to ride in the mornings when streets and small towns are just waking up.

A grassy knoll above Yorktown, VA. This view overlooks the river along which nestles Yorktown Beach during a morning ride.

A grassy knoll above Yorktown, VA. This view overlooks the river along which nestles Yorktown Beach during a morning ride.

Is Taking Your Bike on Vacation Worth It?

The last time we spent our vacation at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, we rented two bicycles through a company that also rented beach equipment. They delivered the bicycles to our rented beach house and picked them up at the end of our vacation.

We used the bikes all week to explore Corolla, NC. If we needed another loaf of bread, one of us hopped on a bike and rode to the convenience store. If it was pizza for lunch, we climbed on our bikes and rode to the pizza shop. Not only did we enjoy doing our traveling old-school, but we also got lots of exercise, one of the things I enjoy most about vacations.

When renting a vacation home or staying at a bed and breakfast, bicycles are sometimes listed in the amenities, but if not, ask. Of course, you are at the mercy of the lender as to what kind of bikes they offer but for the most part, if bicycles are listed, they usually have at least a couple of cruisers which might be fine for exploring around town.

When we can, we take our bikes with us. We use a trunk mount rack strapped to the back of our car to haul our bikes because, for us, a trunk mount is easier than trying to lift the bicycles onto the roof of the car. A trunk rack is cheaper than a hitch-mount rack but any type of mount can damage the car's paint. And if you forget that the rack and the bikes are there, the damage to the car can run into the thousands. I suggest placing a sticky note on the dashboard to remind you that there are bikes attached to the car.

Give Your Bike a Tune-Up

Imagine riding down a hill on a bicycle and your brakes fail? Or even worse, the front tire comes off. Spokes need to be tightened, brakes adjusted, tires checked for pressure, etc. A well-operating bicycle is key to a safe, fun ride. Like a car, a bicycle has moving parts that need to be kept working well to avoid a breakdown and or injury. A simple bike tune-up should be done yearly and includes:

  • Cleaning away grease and dirt
  • Checking and adjusting the brakes
  • Replacing old, cracked, or worn tires and tubes
  • Oiling the drive chain
  • Adjusting gears and derailleurs
Simple tool kit with a spare tube, portable tire pump, tire lever, and wrenches.

Simple tool kit with a spare tube, portable tire pump, tire lever, and wrenches.

Emergency Kit and Other Necessities

There are a couple of essential things to carry with you when bicycling. Whether you are borrowing, renting, or using your own bike, you will never want to cycle without these:

  • Cell phone
  • Personal ID card
  • Cash or credit card
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Lightweight rain jacket
  • Basic bike repair kit including a portable tire pump
  • Bike lock
  • First aid kit

The total weight is around three pounds and if you are riding with someone else, you can split the weight between two lightweight backpacks.

Always wear a helmet.

Always wear a helmet.

The Right Clothes

As with any other sporting activity, you should wear clothing that is comfortable and not restrictive. I prefer loose-fitting shorts and top and close-toed shoes, without dangling shoestrings. Flip-flops and beach sandals are not appropriate for bicycling. Clothing should prevent road rash if you and your bike part ways.

Sneakers are a good choice because they have some grip on the soles and will stop you when you put your foot down on the ground. Loose flowing clothes might catch in the bike chain or in the pedals, causing an accident. Tight jeans are hard to move in; I don't recommend them for bicycling. Padded bike shorts are an excellent choice if you plan to ride for a long time. They can help to prevent saddle sores and/or chafing. Reflective clothing or at least reflective tape will help motorists to see you better.

Wear layers if the weather is cool. You can warm up pretty fast on a bicycle and what felt good when you started out will become stifling in a short time.

Follow the Rules of the Road

Knowing the rules of the road means riding responsibly. If you are riding on busy streets, follow the same rules as automobile drivers. Signal your intentions and ride with traffic. Let drivers and pedestrians know what you are planning to do, whether it's turning, passing, or stopping.

Left turn hand signal

Left turn hand signal

Enjoying a Slower Pace

A bicycle can take you somewhere memorable. A slower pace in the fresh air, cruising down back streets, enjoying the scenery, taking your time to take in the smells and the activity of small towns. This is one of the best ways to enjoy bicycling.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Patty Poet

Comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 15, 2021:

We have noticed that many more people are riding bikes in our neighborhood since the start of the pandemic. Our city has embraced the availability of rental bikes and there are miles and miles of bike routes. Your idea of using them on vacation is a great way to discover more things than one might see from a moving car. Great article!

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