Shake off the winter rust
By Kelly Parker
If you’re like an increasing number of outdoor enthusiasts, you might be thinking of shaking off that winter rust by getting out with the family and riding for ice cream instead of driving. The great thing is, whether you just want to get out for some time together with the family, or maybe blow off steam a bit with a couple of buddies or maybe even get more competitive, cycling is one of the easiest sports to get into, and at a relatively low cost.
The first step toward getting in is to answer one fundamental question. “You have to figure out the type of biking that you’re going to be doing,” points out Graham Madden of Natural Cycleworks, “whether it’s commuting or just recreational. Once you get into it, your ideas might change, so a practical, versatile bike would be a good idea. One bike that we suggest is a cycle-cross bike, which some say is the ultimate commuter – basically a road bike that takes a bigger tire, so that it’s more comfortable and cushioned, and has enough clearance for fenders and racks and things – because a straight mountain bike is a little sluggish on our roads.
“There are a lot of hybrid bikes out nowadays that allow you to go trail riding and street riding,” agrees Tim Woodcock of Woodcock Cycle Works, “and they’re in a much more upright and comfortable position than some of the older bikes. We’re finding that a lot of people are getting back into riding because they’re comfortable on the bikes, but also, they don’t need to buy a mountain bike, per se.”
Once you’ve settled on the style of cycling you’ll pursue, the most important thing to understand at this stage is that comfort is the key to your enjoyment of the sport. As James Dyker of Alter Ego Sports stresses, “get something that fits properly and that you’re comfortable on. If you’re not comfortable on the bike, you won’t want to use it. Bike fitting is so important. If you’re not comfortable wearing your downhill ski boots, you won’t want to downhill ski.” Woodcock agrees, explaining that you “should be able to sit on the bike and feel that the bike is fitting you and not the other way around. The seat is number one, and we’ve always had a policy here where we give people a month to come back and exchange seats, because everyone has their preference.”
Before the seat, however, must come the bike itself, and lucky you; you’ve decided to get into the sport at a time when it’s easier than ever to get a frame that fits your body without breaking the bank. “Generally,” notes Woodcock, “manufacturers will offer lower-end bikes in maybe an 18-inch frame with maybe one or two sizes and try to fit a whole array of body types on it, whereas with the bigger brands, they’ll offer for instance, an extra small or small, medium, large and extra large, so you’re going to get a lot better fit, and they’re designed to be proportionate; just because you get the ‘stand-over’ height right, it’s just as important to get the top tube length right for your reach.”
As important as comfort is, investing in quality equipment is also paramount. “A lot of people will just go in and buy a Canadian Tire special,” says Madden, “and then they hate riding the bike and they wonder why – they just think it’s biking itself – so investing in a good, proper bike, and it doesn’t matter what kind that is, is important – just buy quality. The best advice that I could give you is to spend more than you think you would want to. If you can get a good bike on sale for $800, then you’ve done well and it will last you for years and years.”
Although you don’t need to go all out on accessories, helmets are strongly recommended. “The old issues with helmets were that they were heavy and hot,” stresses Woodcock, “but even the new entry level helmets these days channel a lot more air through your scalp and hair – which actually keeps you cooler than not wearing a helmet – and they’re so light.”
Two of the three experts recommended cycling shorts because they have chamois in them, and no seams, “so they’re going to be much more comfortable,” says Woodcock, “and without the chafing that you might get if you just wear regular jeans or shorts.”
“Proper bike shorts are always a nice added comfort,” concurs Dyker, “because that padding is right where you need it, on your ‘sit bones’.”
Although Madden does wear shorts and likes them, he disagrees that they are a must-have. “It’s really about getting a good saddle, he says, “like a Brooks saddle that molds to your butt – almost like a leather hammock, it’s awesome – and then riding enough for your butt to get used to it. Wear the clothes that you do, wear a helmet and rip it up!”
Once you’re set up, where do you go? Bike Winnipeg (bikewinnipeg.ca) has maps and other helpful information, and if you’re looking to join a club, “your best bet,” says Bike Winnipeg Executive Director Mike Cohoe, “is to get in touch with the Manitoba Cycling Association, or to get out to one of the bike shops which all have active bike clubs. They do frequent rides. Probably at some point, you’d have to join the Manitoba Cycling Assoc. just for the insurance.” Bike Winnipeg itself does occasional group rides, and the website also has information about Bike Week Winnipeg (June 13-19) which offers rides that are more casual and also more open to the general public.