Take a ride along the Boise Greenbelt on a weekend or late afternoon, and it’s easy to see that there’s a spring celebration of bicycling going on.
Warm, sunny weather has brought out parents towing children in trailers, road cyclists toning up for the bigger rides, commuters getting exercise going back and forth to work and recreational riders just heading for the nearest burger and beer place.
Don’t be left behind. It’s time to dust off the bikes in the garage and get them primed for riding.
Don’t be surprised by the heightened activity along Treasure Valley’s greenbelts and bike paths. Cycling is booming.
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The Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance estimates that cycling has grown about 40 percent in the last five years with roughly 4,000 to 6,000 daily commuters. ACHD says bike lane mileage in the county has increased nearly fivefold since the mid-1990s, when the tally was 57 miles.
Nationally, about 786,000 Americans commute by bicycle, up from about 488,000 in 2000.
But you don’t need stats to get you out on your bike. Now’s the time to get rolling.
Give your bicycle the once-over. Is the chain a little rusty? Are the gears a little gunky and slow-moving or out of whack?
Tires flat? Handlebars straight?
If you are not comfortable giving your bike a tune-up, get it into a local bike shop as soon as possible. Chances are they’re pretty busy this time of the year.
If you’re thinking about commuting, you may have to make some minor or major adjustments to your bike to make it right for constant riding. You might need a more comfortable seat or more pavement-friendly tires. Raising the handlebars might help you be in a more comfortable position for constant commuting.
You may also think about a totally new bike for riding. We all change over the years, and our bikes may need to change, too.
CHOOSING A BIKE
There is truly a bike for everyone today.
“We have a lot of choices now,” said Sandy Rust, an avid cyclist who offers advice to customers at George’s Cycles on Front Street in Boise.
With the advent of so-called comfort bikes, riders have a lot more options for getting a bicycle that is surprisingly easier to ride.
The first questions Rust asks customers are, “Where do you want to ride and who are you going to ride with?
“You’ve got to focus on the experience (of cycling) because it makes such a huge difference,” she said.
The buzz word in cycling today is the comfort bike, which is a generic name for bikes featuring such things as higher handlebars for upright riding, cushy seats, moderately wide tires for stability, good suspension and, in some cases, a step-through frame to get on and off the bike more easily.
Be open to all kinds of bikes and the changes you might experience as you get older.
I’ve been commuting by bike for more than four and a half decades, and I’ve gone through an evolution when it comes to cycling.
I started out with a 10-speed from Montgomery Ward, went to one of the earlier clunky mountain bikes, then a recumbent, then a road bike, and now I love my Cannondale mountain bike.
The newest mountain bike didn’t quite fit because I didn’t want to lean over while gripping the straight handlebars. I took the bike into a shop and a mechanic there suggested curved or raised-end handlebars instead of the flat bars on the bike.
Now I have the best all-around bike for commuting, running shuttles while whitewater boating, riding trails and also towing the dog in a canine trailer.
Although a bicycle right off the rack may be the right one for you, bicycle sales people will definitely have you ride it and check to see if it fits properly.
The position you take from seat to the handlebars is the most critical. The wrong position while riding can lead to neck, back, hip and knee problems.
Sometimes it takes minor tweaks like moving the seat up or down or back or forward, raising the handlebars or getting a bike with a step-through frame to alleviate any discomfort.
The step-through frame (what used to be called the girl’s frame) is now unisex. Riders who have a difficult time trying to swing a leg over a bicycle frame definitely should look at step-through frames that are found on cruisers or other comfort bikes.
For riders who are going to spend a lot of time in the saddle, like on long commutes or Century rides, cycle experts recommend going to professional bike fitters, which can be found throughout the Valley. Google “bike fit boise” for several locations.
If you’re riding your bike for commuting, taking the kids out for an adventure or heading to the grocery store, you’ll end up carrying something.
The easiest way to carry groceries or gear on a bike is with panniers. They are a must and come in a variety of styles from full-on waterproof bags to regular nylon bags to baskets. Panniers require some kind of rack that has to be installed on the bike.
Some cyclists wear daypacks, but an overloaded day pack can cause back, neck or shoulder pain or cause problems with balance.
Make sure you have a good bike lock or a secure place to leave your bike at work. Cable locks work if your bike is in a fairly safe place. If you have to leave your bicycle in an isolated area, you might think of the stronger Kryptonite-style locks.
The keys to riding safely are being seen and making noise.
You shouldn’t walk out of a bike shop with a new bike without front and rear lights, which are normally not included in the bike sale. They let you be seen at night or even on cloudy days and at dusk and dawn.
A bright front light that has the option of a blinking strobe is extremely effective, even while riding during the day. I have a Cateye Opticube that does the job.
I’ve found that a powerful blinking rear light is more effective than one that doesn’t blink in attracting the eyes of motorists coming up on your rear. Cateye has a small rear light that is as effective as its front model.
A brightly colored reflective vest is recommended, especially for bicyclists who will be commuting on streets or in bike lanes. Lightweight vests can be worn over jackets when there’s a chill or over a shirt on a warm afternoon. If you don’t want a vest, wear the brightest shirt or jacket you can find.
Reflective tape also helps with visibility, and reflective pant-cuff wraps keep your pants out of the chain.
Never assume drivers will see you. Lights and vests add to safety. Cyclists even turn on their headlights and tail lights on the Greenbelt to be seen by other cyclists because of high ridership during commuting hours.
On crowded days on the Greenbelt you’ll wear out your voice saying, “On your left.” A bike bell is handy to warn other bikers and walkers when you are passing.
Warn that you are passing well in advance. Ring the bell gently. Don’t wait until you are a few feet from a walker and slam on the bell. You never know what direction a startled walker will jump.
If you like talking, say, “Good morning, on your left.” It goes a long way in promoting a good image for cyclists among walkers.
Helmets are a must
Wear a helmet. If you ride around town or on the Greenbelt, you’ll see one in four cyclists actually not wearing a helmet. That was my survey on a recent ride. It’s a no-brainer that any kind of a fall or crash can lead to serious head injuries. Modern helmets are comfortable, well ventilated and not that expensive.
Riding the Boise Greenbelt is fun and easy, and there’s no motor traffic to deal with. The problem can be clueless walkers and cyclists. So be on your toes.
If you plan to commute to work, however, you need to plan your route ahead of time. Drive to work and get a feel of what the streets would be like if you were bicycling. Take alternate routes on less busy streets through neighborhoods. Look for streets with the best continuous bike paths, even though the route may be longer. It will be more relaxing and a lot safer. If you can use the Greenbelt for much of your commute, that’s even better.
Advice on routes can be found at achdidaho.org on its “Bicycle Page” under “Your Neighborhood.” The Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance also has commuter tips on its website at www.biketreasurevalley.org
If you have to ride busy streets, try to avoid rush hours from 7 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. When riding on city streets, you need to communicate with motorists. Use hand signals to alert drivers where you are turning. I wear orange glow-colored gloves that everyone can see when I’m signaling. I also have reflective tape on my helmet.
Always ride in the same direction as traffic. Some of us were educated as children to ride against traffic, but most cyclists say that’s not good advice. A lot of accidents occur because of this mistake, even when cyclists are on the sidewalk. It’s legal to be there, but motorists don’t expect something moving fast on the sidewalk to come at them from the right at an intersection especially when they are trying to make a right turn. They are concentrating on traffic coming from the left.
BIKING AND BUSING
If you have a long commute or shopping trip and want to combine bicycling and riding the bus, it’s pretty easy. Here are some tips for getting your bike on the rack of a ValleyRide bus:
Scope out the bus before it arrives to make sure it has room for your bike. Each bus rack has room for two or three bikes.
• Remove any loose items from your bike prior to the arrival of the bus.
Load the bike quickly. If you have any questions about how to use the bike rack, ask the driver.
• If you are loading your bike on an empty rack, place your bike in the slot closest to the windshield of the bus.
• For safety reasons, the driver is not allowed to help you load or unload your bicycle.
To fit on a bus rack, your bike tires must be between 20-29 inches with a maximum width of 2.35 inches. The bike wheelbase cannot exceed 44 inches.
Make sure the front tire stabilizer is securely in place. Your wheels must fit completely inside the wheel channels. The bus operator will make the final determination as to whether your bike has been successfully secured on the rack.
When getting off the bus, use the front door and tell the driver you will be unloading a bike.
Load and unload bikes toward the curb. Don’t get in the line of traffic.
Panniers can remain on a bike if they don’t get in the way of other bicyclists trying to mount bikes on the rack.
DEALING WITH FLATS
If you’re buying a new bike or getting your old one tuned up, ask to have the tires slimed (filled with sealant). It will save a long walk pushing your bike if you get a flat tire.
Stickers (or goat heads) are notorious on city pathways and low-elevation trails all across Southern Idaho. Make sure your tires are in good shape (and, as mentioned, have a sealant, such as Slime).
I’ve actually come out to find my bike with a flat after a commute and found the cause to be a goat head. Since the tire was slimed, I pulled the goat head out, pumped up the tire, spun it and started riding again. The sealant filled in the hole. Although experts recommend getting the tire tube patched or replaced, I’ve had the Slime repair hold out for many miles.
I don’t like dealing with air pumps or carrying one on the bike, and I certainly don’t want to fix a flat on my commute and be late for a meeting. So I carry a small CO2 tire inflator in my panniers. If I get a flat (anything but a full-on blowout), I blow up the tire with the CO2 device, spin the tire to make sure the sealant spreads out to the puncture and start riding again.
Some tube punctures are irreparable, in which case you’ll need to get it fixed.
Cyclists who don’t mind getting their hands dirty carry a spare tube, a pump, tire levers and a multi-tool to fix the flat on the spot.
There are bike tire liners that also prevent flats, but depending on the performance and efficiency you want from your bike, they can add weight.
BIKE FIX-IT STATIONS
If you don’t like carrying a tool kit or air pump on your bike, you’re in luck if you travel some of the areas around Boise.
Fix-it stations are found at:
• Riverside Park, near the restroom, 1775 W. Shoreline Drive
• Municipal Park, 500 S. Walnut St.
• Willow Lane Athletic Complex, near the BMX track, 4623 W. Willow Lane
• East end of Julia Davis Park near Broadway Avenue
• The entrance to Boise Bicycle Project, 1027 S. Lusk St.
• The north side of Whole Foods Market Boise, 401 S. Broadway Ave.
• The Greenbelt intersection on Eckert Road east of Marianne Williams Park in the Barber Valley
The stations don’t have to be just for emergencies. If you don’t have a bicycle stand in your garage, you could use the fix-it stations to work on your bike.
• There are mobile bike repair businesses in the Valley that you can call to come and fix your bike. Check with your bicycle shop or Google “Boise mobile bike” repair.
BIKING WITH KIDS
The most important thing when bicycling with kids is constant coaching. Kids love riding but they also like looking around and not paying attention. It’s important that they keep their eyes on the path on the Greenbelt and not veer into oncoming cyclists or bump into walkers.
Parents usually put the kids between them, with one parent leading and the other running sweep. That way both can talk to the kids and warn them of oncoming cyclists or those coming up on the rear.
Kids should learn early to say, “On your left” when passing walkers and to remember that if they hear, “On your left,” they have cyclists approaching from the rear. Emphasize that they have to stay in their lane when riding and that there shouldn’t be racing, swerving or horse play when riding in street bike lanes or on the Greenbelt.
I found that a good way for my grandkids to enjoy a long ride on the Greenbelt is to “Bike for Pizza.” You’ll still hear, “When are we going to get there? When are we going to get there?” But the thought of pizza keeps them going.
Helmets are a must and kids love them, especially those with cartoon or superhero characters.
If your kids are too young to ride, child bike trailers have come a long ways with a lot more safety features. They are light and fairly easy to tow.
BIKING WITH DOGS
One problem with riding a long distance is that you can’t take your dog. Yes, there are specially designed trailers for a dog.
I got the Burley Tail Wagon for our retriever and it tows easily, is enclosed with screening for safety and has pockets for doggie gear.
Some cyclists have their dogs run along side their bikes and that’s OK for a short distance according to the dog’s stamina. However, if you want to ride longer distances, a dog trailer takes a lot of the stress off the dog.
Running on a paved path for a long distance can be hard on a dog, especially older ones.