- Save your legs, not your gears. We have gears on a bike for a reason. They make pedaling over any terrain more efficient. And by efficient, that means finding a gear that lets you pedal at a cadence (the number of times in one minute that one foot makes a complete pedal revolution) between about 80rpm and 100rpm. Even if the bike computer you picked up didn't have a cadence function, you can still estimate it by watching the elapsed time while counting the down-strokes of one foot for 6 seconds. Add a zero to that count and you've got cadence. I see too many new cyclists mashing it out in a really big gear at a cadence of 60rpm or even less. While you may think this is giving you a really good workout (it feels so hard, after all!), when you're just starting out this will likely mess up your knees. Later, when you've got lots of miles in your legs, you can try some big gear, low cadence riding to build strength. But that's a specific type of workout. When you're just starting out, use your gears and learn to spin.
- Use various hand positions on the handlebars. Changing your hand position is not only good for hand comfort, but it's also good for your neck, low back and rear end. The most comfortable position should be with your hands cupping the brakehoods. That LBS bike fit (discussed in Part 1) should have addressed this set up for you. Moving your hands to the flat top part of the bars will shift more of your weight onto your sit bones. It's a good position when you're riding uphill, as it creates a bit better leverage for pushing the pedals over. But it's the least aerodynamic, as your chest catches a lot of wind. Moving down into the lower drops will let you ride much faster, and it's probably the best position for bike handling. But it puts more strain into your low back, neck (you need to crane your neck to look up), and adds pressure to the front area of your rear end as you'll be sitting more on the nose of the seat. As with all the gears you have available, you've also got all these hand positions. Use them all to keep your ride comfortable.
- Look down the road. Look ahead and scan the road for obstacles and debris. If you see something, don't continue to look right at it, but look to where you want your bike wheels to go. Staring straight at that sewer grate makes it a target in your mind, and you'll probably hit it! Concentrate on an area about a foot to one side of it. If you find yourself riding with other cyclists, don't stare down at their rear wheel right in front of you. Look up at the rider's hips and low back. Let your peripheral vision mind the gap between their back wheel and your front wheel. And then keep glancing up, over, and around that rider, down the road to see everything else that might be coming your way. The sooner you know something might be happening, the sooner you can react to get out of the way.
- Be predictable! I think the single most easiest way to keep yourself safe while riding in traffic is to be predictable. Follow the rules of the road, and you'll be doing everything the cars will be expecting you to do. Drivers are expecting the things moving on the roads to be doing the same things they do. So use those hand signals when turning. Stop for all traffic lights and stop signs. When you come to an intersection with another driver, look them straight in the eye. You might both be wearing sunglasses, but usually you can tell if they've seen you by the way they hold their head. If you've got the right-of-way, and they really don't seem to see you, then get your hands ready to brake!
Leave me a comment if you've got any tips of your own to add …