mountain road bike

Buying your First Bike

If you think most all bikes are the same, you couldn’t be more wrong.  Buying the right bike is tremendously important, especially if you are considering biking or cycling as a way of life. It is a commitment because the bike that you buy will determine your level of satisfaction in your chosen lifestyle.

Bicycles have always been famous but their popularity has never been as high as it is today, precisely because of our growing awareness of the many benefits that cycling will be able to give to the biker and the environment as well.

However, buying the right bike is something you need to think through carefully and review your options. A lot of people are wondering which brands are good to buy, but this is not really the problem.

In this article, we are going to discuss some helpful pointers in getting the right type of bike.

What type?

The first question that you need to ask yourself is this: where would I like to bike? Would I do it on the road? Off road? There are those who like to bike along paved highways, while there are others who enjoy a good commune with the rugged terrain that nature provides. So, which would you prefer? Basically, if you are the smooth and asphalt lover, then you should be looking at a road bike.

As we know, road bikes are primarily designed for speed. They are lightly constructed, and the tires are also thin. It is also designed in such a way that you body would bend in order to make everything more aerodynamic. Again, road bikes are designed for speed. If you love to go fast along smooth highways, then this is the bike for you.

road bikeCan you use this bike for off-road biking? Of course you can, in as much as you can use high heels to traverse the woods. Well, sarcasm aside, you may use the road bike for rugged-terrain biking, but only to a limited extent. The inherent design of the road bikes means that they cannot handle that much pressure as the other type of bike: the mountain bike.

This brings us to the mountain bikes. Truth be told, mountain bikes have grown in popularity in the last ten years or so. There are several reasons for this. First, mountain bikes are very versatile. Modern mountain bikes can be used on the road or off-road. They handle well in both. As a matter of fact, young bikers prefer the mountain bike because they can alter their routes as they please.

Mountain bikes are constructed with wide tires and thick body. This is to ensure that they will be able to endure the most punishing landscapes with relative ease. Mountain bikes are also constructed with springs in order to add comfort to really extreme biking. The best thing about them is versatility – they can be used on the asphalt and they are even better in the rough roads.

So, which is better? Well, it is a rather unfair question. In the first place, the answer would depend on your preference. Mountain bikes may be versatile and they may handle well in rugged landscapes, but they are kind of cumbersome. They are not built for speed, unlike the road bike. So, in conclusion, if you are after speed, buy a road bike; if you are after versatility, get a mountain bike.

If you are still at a loss, do not give up just yet. There are also the hybrid bikes nowadays. Basically, hybrid bikes are bikes which are constructed to possess the best features of both the road bike and the mountain bike. Therefore, hybrid bikes are both fast and versatile.

Carbon fiber or aluminum?

Most modern bikes have carbon fiber frames these days. Carbon fiber is a tough and light material that is truly ideal for light-weight vehicles like the bike. Pond-for-pound, carbon fiber bikes are better than aluminum bikes mainly because the former are tougher and lighter.

However, if you are on budget, then there are hybrids out there in the market. There are bikes constructed with both aluminum and carbon fiber. If your budget still does not allow for this, then you can actually go for the aluminum and alloy bikes. These types of materials produce sturdy yet heavy bikes. But, for new bikers who are still orienting themselves with the feel of biking, then this might be the right bike material for you – especially if you are a little low on budget.

Besides, once you get more experience, you can upgrade your bike or you can get a more specialized one. At the beginning, one must not rush to buy the most expensive bike there is.

helmet

Guide to Cycling Helmets

Putting on a cycling helmet is not really an issue of fashion or fad, it is an issue of safety and well-being. In many countries, wearing a helmet is not compulsory. As a matter of fact, less than half of the states in the US require the wearing of cycling helmets while on the road.

Basically, the reason why bikers are not really required to have a helmet, except for racing, is that biking or cycling in general is not necessarily considered dangerous by all . After all, the manual-powered machine is very light, and it is not very fast.

Still, it would not do any one of us any harm if we take extra precaution. After all, the slightest misfortune can bring us all kinds of accidents – especially those that we do not really expect. Indeed, a basic helmet on our heads can be the difference between life and death.

Why do we need a helmet?

So, why do we need a helmet?  There are several sound reasons. First, even the smallest fall in the smoothest and most paved roads can cause brain damage. Roads might be paved, but there can be debris on them or there can be cracks or just about anything which can cause us to trip over while travelling at 15 mph on our bike. The speed itself might not sound scary, but if you hit the pavement head first, it would certainly sound horrific.

Second, there are some states that require the use of helmet. In these states it’s not even a choice, you need to wear a helmet no questions asked.

Getting in trouble with the law because of not wearing helmets is actually the least of the reasons why we need to wear a helmet. Basically, you need to clearly see the advantages of wearing one.

According to studies, every biker is bound to meet an accident. Surveys say that bikers encounter accidents once every four and a half miles that they travel on their bikes. We cannot control accidents (that is why they are called as such), and we can never control how those accidents turn out. More often than not, you would dive head first to the ground in that unfortunate event. According to that same study, close to 80% of biking deaths involve head trauma. In other words, those who died were typically not wearing protective helmets.

How does a helmet work?

Helmets are made from a combination of thick and durable material including hard plastic and several layers of stiff foam. The external shell of the helmet which is most conspicuous is the plastic. It is not ordinary plastic; rather, it is something that is designed and created to be able to withstand intense abuse. Some modern helmets are made from Kevlar, some are from carbon fiber. The latter is actually lighter than typical plastic, but it is far more durable.  Of course, cycling helmets are much lighter and less sturdy than a typical motorcycle helmet.

The internal part of the helmet is commonly made from expanded polystyrene (EPS). When a helmet made from this material crushes, as the name implies, the foam expands, protecting the head of the biker. The drawback of this material is that it does not go back to its original shape. In other words, once crushed, it cannot be used again.

Another material used is the expanded polypropylene (EPU). This does the same thing as the EPS, but it can be crushed over and over again (not that crushing yourself on purpose is encouraged). Of course the EPU is far less common precisely because it is far more expensive. Also, bikers know that care is still better than any expensive helmet.

How can you buy the right helmet?

There are several pointers that can help you. First, be careful with helmets that have too many vents. The vents, while they are helpful in keeping your head cool, also compromises room for the foam. In other words, this means less foam and less protection.

aero helmetThere are also the “Aero” helmets. These are helmets that are extremely aerodynamically designed. The speed bonus it gives, however, is not even slightly more noticeable than with an average helmet. And, in an event of an accident, the aero helmet can snag and cause even more devastating brain injury, thanks to the protruding aero design at the rear of this helmet.

Basically, the selection of the helmet design is the selection of fashion over safety. Those which are more fashionable will look good, but will not offer that much protection. Those which are not so very stylish will offer the needed head protection, but you may not like its overall appeal. The choice is yours.

Here’s a nice video on how to fit the helmet:

Finally, you need to make sure that the helmet that you want to buy has a sticker that says it is approved by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC is a commission that promotes standards in all products being marketed in the country. A worthy endorsement indeed.

Cycling accessories

accessoriesIn taking up cycling seriously you must put safety above every other consideration. It is easy to assume that cycling is not a dangerous activity because, unlike mountain biking, cycling takes place on smooth paved roads which are relatively safe and comfortable. “Relatively!”

Truth be told, cycling is just about as dangerous as off-road biking, if not more dangerous. Cyclists encounter all kinds of dangers all the time in the form of pedestrians, unforeseen and unseen obstacles, and other vehicles.

It is for these reasons that the cyclist must get important accessories which are essential for his safety and well-being. As a matter of fact, some of these accessories are required by law; meaning, without them, you can land yourself in trouble with the police.

But, the question is: which accessories should you buy? This is a very timely question in the sense that the market is teeming with biking and cycling accessories. Which of these accessories is critical and which are not has become quite a dilemma for some cyclists.

Here are some pointers.

Helmet

The first important item that you need to get is the helmet. As we have established earlier, traffic rules in all states in the country require that cyclists and motorists wear federally checked helmets whenever they are on the main roads. But, why are helmets important? Well, in an accident, the most prone area of your body is your head. You need to protect your head at all times because a forceful blow to it can immobilize you or even kill you. A government-approved helmet can offer this sort of protection.

It must also be understood that there are different kinds of helmets for different kinds of needs. For instance, if you are a downhill biker, then you need a full mask. On the other hand, cyclists only need helmets which are aerodynamic and effective (at protecting your head).

Clothing

The attire that you wear is definitely as important as the helmet. Clothing in cycling is not just a fashion statement. It is not worn to ride with the fad. Indeed, of utmost importance is the effectiveness of the said attire in protecting your body from injury.

What are the different factors that need to be considered in choosing the right clothing for cycling?

First, it should have bright colors. This would make you easily visible to traffic. Dark colors are fine provided that you are sure that you will not be on the road when it becomes dark. Of course, common sense would tell you that dark attire at night is dangerous because it makes you less visible to traffic, and this makes you prone to all kinds of road accidents.

Basically, the best clothing colors are those which are reflective or luminous. Reflective coloring includes those light green, yellow, or orange lights that reflect incoming light. This does not make you only visible, but it also makes you stand out from the road.

Some cyclists make use of leather for their clothing. Leather is excellent at protecting your body from scratches and nasty wounds in an event of an accident. However, this might be a little far-fetched. More often than not, cyclists prefer clothes which are both safe and comfortable. Leather is heavy; thus, it is very unsuited for cycling.

Repair kits

For long range cycling, repair kits are a must. Repair kits can mean life and death, especially if you constantly do long range rides. The most common repair kits include screw drivers of assorted sizes, and tire rupture repair kit including a tire pump and an extra interior.

The chances of accidents involving cycling are pretty low, especially if you have top-of-the-line bikes. However, this does not mean that you will not be in one. It is still best to prepare for the worst.

Water bottle

Of course, one must constantly hydrate if cycling. After all, cycling is an excellent form of exercise because you can lose a few pounds in just a single day!  However, this also means that you are at risk of being dehydrated, especially if you are mostly out under the heat of the sun.

Having one bottle may not be enough. In fact, having two will not always do the trick. It is best to always have a backup water bottle.

Lights

Lights are considered by many to be mere luxury accessories. This is very far from the truth. Lights are critical accessories that a cycling bike must have. The lights are not really for your comfort, or for you to be able to see properly. In fact, the head light of a hybrid or road bike does not really give off much light. The purpose of the light is to make sure that you are visible on the road. It can mean a matter of life and death.

Bike locks

Of course, having security locks is just as important as the others. Bikes are very light these days and they can be carried around easily. Unlike your car bikes do not need keys; they can be used by just about anybody anytime. Therefore, you need to have a decent lock which would make your bike almost theft-proof.

Hope this list makes you think again about what you need for your next ride!

 

races

Top cycle races in the world

Cycling is a very popular sport today and I love watching the races. While the simple pedal-powered machine may lack the power of F1 and other powerful diesel-powered machines, it certainly has its own appeal to the masses. In the first place, bikes are generally affordable. Of course, there are some expensive bikes, but even the most expensive bikes are cheap compared to the cheapest motorcycles. Second, cycling is an excellent exercise. One can burn off several calories in just a few hours of biking or cycling. Finally, it is environment-friendly.

Furthermore, there are several other reasons that make cycling all the more popular. Lance Armstrong, despite his steroid scandals, still is the beacon for cycling. He has made cycling known all throughout the world for his numerous victories in the Tour de France.

Apart from him, there are races which act as ambassadors, thanks to the sheer grandiose and majesty of these races. They are popular for several reasons. First, they are held in the most awe-inspiring places. Second, the price for winning is huge. As a matter of fact, the price for even just being a part of the race is big enough! Finally, the physical demands of the races make them very attractive for those who wish to push the limits of their physical power.

So, what are the most popular races in the world?

In this article, we are going to discuss my favorites. The list is not necessarily something that is universally agreeable. As a matter of fact, there are surely some of the readers who will say that there are other races which were not included.

Tour de France

Tour de France is arguably the most popular biking event anywhere in the world. It is made popular by the victories of certain prominent individuals, like Lance Armstrong. Armstrong has the world record for the most wins in “The Tour”.  However, his victories were recently renounced because of doping allegations. While these allegations had profound effects on the life of Armstrong, it certainly made Tour de France even more popular.

Basically, the race is held every July, and it cuts through the most historic places and most majestic landmarks in France and other European countries. The sheer distance, and the fact that only the most physically and psychologically fit individuals can participate in it, make this Tour de France very popular.

Of course, winners of the event gain world renown. Not to mention they also get rich because of numerous endorsement deals.

Tour down Under

Tour Down Under, a cycling event held in Australia, is the most popular cycling race outside Europe. As a matter of fact, in this list, Tour Down Under is the only non-European contest.

Started in 2005, this immediately gained followers and supporters all throughout the world, thanks in part to the sponsorship and leadership of the International Cyclists Association.

The environment of Australia is naturally very demanding. Unlike in the European continent where the air is cooler, Australia is very hot. If your body is not in the right condition, you will easily fall victim to dehydration. Apart from the searing heat, the Australian continent is home to many of the world’s most venomous creatures including spiders, scorpions, and snakes!

While the race does not necessarily cross the unforgiving Australian desert, it does stretch around the city of Adelaide and culminates at the center of the city.

Summer X Games

The X Games is not technically a cycling event, but it does make use of bikes and my grandson insisted I include it in the list!  Basically, this uses BMX bikes which are made for physical abuse and agility. It is heavy because it needs to be, and because of the numerous suspension springs to cushion huge falls. The summer X games are most popular to adrenaline junkies. Those who love to see acrobatic bikers and daredevils, this is the event for them.

The younger generations, even those who are not very fond of biking competitions, actually enjoy the X Games. The annual event attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators from the country and beyond.

UCI BMX World Championships

The landscape of New Zealand has made it a top destination for tourists. It has also become the favourite of extreme BMX bikers who love to push the limits of their bikes in the rugged terrains of the New Zealand hills and mountains.

Essentially, this is the more global version of the Summer X Games. It is really hard to determine which of the two events are more popular because they have their own credits. UCI BMX World Championships is sponsored by the Union Cycliste Internationale.

Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a Espana may not be heard much by non-cyclists in other parts of the world, but it certainly is all over Europe. Vuelta a Espana is actually one of the oldest biking competitions having been founded in 1935 while the war that would nearly destroy the world was still brewing. This cycling event in Spain is in the same popularity category as the racing contests in France and in Italy.

Sure, there are lots more but these are worthy of a mention in my book.

flat tire

Repairing a Punctured Tire

Biking and cycling is one of the favorite hobbies of the new generation. It is a user-friendly activity, and just about anybody can do it regardless of gender or financial status. Biking is a popular activity specifically because of two important reasons: first, it is an excellent way of keeping fit; second, it is a cheap and effective means of transportation.

However, as I found many times, cycling does have its set of drawbacks. One of the most annoying is getting a flat tire. For new cyclists, getting a tire punctured is a very stressful event, particularly in very uncomfortable times and places. If you do not know how to perform a basic tire repair, then you could be in trouble on the road when the situation arises. On the other hand, if you know how to do fix minor tire repairs, then it would be an entirely different story.

So, what are the things that you need to do in fixing a flat tire?

Here are the steps:

1. The first thing that you need to do is to locate the puncture. Is it in the front? Or the back? Normally, it is easy to spot where the puncture is. When there are small and repairable punctures on one or two of your tires, you would be able to see objects protruding from the punctures site. There would be nails, pins, thorns, sharp bones, and many others.    If the puncture is a small one, then you can fix the said tire. However, if the damage is big, or if the tire has been blown out, then you need to replace the tire interior entirely. It is for this reason that you always need to bring with you a spare interior for these emergency occasions.

2. Once you have found the exact location of the puncture, you now need to position the bike so it is easier for you to remove the damaged tire from the rest of the bike. You have to understand that, in order to perform this operation, you need to remove the interior from the tire body. It is not the outside surface of the tire, or the exterior, that needs to be fixed. It is the air-filled circular rubber lodged in between the rim and the exterior that needs the fixing. Now, removing this is pretty tricky. That is why you need to position the bike properly. Sometimes it’s best to turn the bike over in order to be able to spot where the damage is, and then remove the tire with wheel with the damaged tire. From here, the rest is a walk in the park.

3. On finding the damaged tire, you now need to extract the broken interior. To do this, you first need to remove the air from that interior. Basically, while the tire is currently flat, it still contains substantial amount of air so as to make its extraction difficult if not utterly impossible. To be able to extract the interior, you need to remove all the air by depressing the Schrader valve stem – the protruding part of the tire rim where the air goes in. There are two ways to do this: first, you can use a specialized depressing tool known as a tire valve tool; this completely drains out the air from the interior; and the second is by simply pressing on the small metal cap using a ballpen or anything pointed.

4. Once air has been drained out of the interior, it is now time to pry out the interior from the rim. Now, this is perhaps the trickiest part, arguably speaking. Here is how to do this part….Using tire levers – or any material that can be used as levers (like screw drivers) – expose the interior by putting these levers to split open the gap between the exterior and the rim. Once the levers are lodged, apply enough pressure so as to expose the interior even more. You need to pry the tire loose entirely from the rim in order to make the needed repairs.  Once the interior is exposed, and once there is enough opening between the rim and the exterior, slowly pull out the interior. Make sure that the said interior does not hang from the frame of the bike.

5. Having isolated the interior from the rest of the tire frame does not automatically mean that you will be able to spot the exact place of rupture. Indeed, this is a very complicated task by itself. But, you can simplify this by putting air on your interior. Once you have pumped enough air, put the interior into water to easily find the hole (obviously, bubbles will escape from the punctured part). If there is no such supply of abundant water, you can just put the interior close to your air and listen for escaping air.

6. Once you have found the hole, mark it with any kind of marker. You can easily lose this part if you do not apply any markings to it. Once you applied the needed markings, compress the interior in order to drive out the air.

7. repair kitThe next steps are probably the most important. However, to be able to do this, you need to have a tire mending kit. Without this kit, doing this procedure is but impossible.First, you need to put a buff on the puncture. Then you need to apply a strong adhesive or patch glue. Wait for a couple of minutes for the patch glue to dry. Finally, get the patch from your mending kit, peel it carefully, and then apply the sticky part to the punctured portion. Make sure that the buffed portion is absolutely free from any kind of debris as these can cause the patch to dislodge.  I also recommend a good multitool to carry with you.

8. Last step!….Slide the interior back to the tire. Make sure that the valve stem is properly upright before you pump air. Once this is done, put enough air pressure.

Again, we have to remember that if the damage to the tire is significant, or if the puncture is more than an inch then do not waste your time and energy fixing the tire. At this point, having a spare tire would truly save you!

cycling safety

Cycling Safety Tips

Cycling is one of the most favored exercises, especially here at StrandCyclist.com.  It is popular for several reasons. First, it is a pretty neat way of transportation if you think about it. Indeed, you can save a lot if you use your bicycle to move from one place to another. Secondly, cycling is pro-environment. Bicycles do not need fuel – so, it is both good for your health, and it is good for our planet’s health.

However, there are certain things that need to be borne in mind for individuals who may engage in cycling either as an exercise, or as a way of life, or both. It must be noted that one in five accidents all over the world are cycling accidents, mainly because cyclists do not really adhere to traffic rules as much as they should. Obedience to traffic rules is, in fact, our first tip for safety.  Also, do not under any circumstances ride without a helmet!

Obey traffic rules

Traffic rules and laws vary from one state to another. More so, rules vary greatly between cultures and between countries. The most important thing is, before one rides with the traffic-at-large, he or she must familiarize himself with all the traffic rules of the place. As a matter of fact, simple familiarization might not be enough. It would be very wise for a cyclist to actually put to heart these different rules as this would certainly save him time, money, and even his life.

As we have mentioned in the preceding paragraph, cyclists are involved in accidents largely because they fail to obey rules, not so much because they do not know the rules, but because of blatant disregard for the aforementioned rules. Cyclists, because of the mobility and size of their machines, are arrogantly confident are immune to traffic accidents. Well, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Stay right (or left – where applicable)

In the United States, the correct lane is the right lane. So, as a rule of thumb, you stay on that lane. It is an act of utter foolishness to drive against a flow – this can either put you in jail or in the morgue.

Staying on the right lane is just the first part of the trick. Now, being a cyclist with a very light machine, you need to make sure that you stay on the lane reserved for light machines, like your cycle. Some cyclists actually take this to the extreme by travelling on pedestrian lanes or sidewalks. While this might be relatively safe, this activity is illegal in many cities and states.

Again, stick to traffic rules. These rules say that cyclists should stay on the far right. If you do this, other motorists will respect your place. However, one must not be on the extreme far right – you should make sure that there is still room for emergency maneuvers, just in case the worst happens.

In Europe, and in many other countries in Asia, the correct lane is the left lane. It is important for an American used to American traffic norms to familiarize himself with this orientation.

Do not ride alongside trucks

Trucks are large vehicles which might not be able to see puny road users like cyclists. As a rule of thumb, when you see a truck or a lorry, give way. Giving way to big machines is not simply showing respect to the mammoths, it is also safe since large machines travelling at high speeds can cause turbulence – yes, turbulence – which can throw you off balance. Furthermore, unwritten traffic rules say that cyclists must not attempt to overtake trucks, unless the latter is signaling that he is going to slow down or stop. Cyclists must stay behind trucks – far behind them, in fact.

Be predictable

Basically, this simply means that you need to use your head and your common sense all the time when you are on the road. You have to remember that you are travelling with thousands of metal monsters and a single mistake on your part can cost you your life.

Thus, be predictable; being predictable means that you need to travel at constant path and speed. Changing lanes unpredictably is very dangerous and you can be hit by fast-moving vehicles. Even your speed must be somewhat constant. You have to always bear in mind that the other motorists on the road expect you to be constant; furthermore, if you reduce your speed with an inattentive driver behind, you will be in a very terrible accident. In the first place, this is the reason why you should always stay on the lane reserved for cyclists.

Finally, always stop when the light says stop or you approach a stop sign. Some cyclists seem to trust their machines so much that they actually think they can pass through small cracks in the traffic. Well, sometimes, with luck on your side, you can do this. But, if you push your luck too far, you will lose your life.

It is important to remember that riding a small and light machine like your bicycle makes you very prone to accidents. Plus, you do not have seatbelts; you do not have any protective structures which can protect you from violent crashes. All you have is your suit and your helmet, which can do nothing in violent accidents.

Always travel with the utmost care and presence of mind. Never take anything to chance. Always obey traffic rules.