How to Have More Fun on Your Bicycle

I am inspired to write this for my daughter Jennifer, who has just acquired an apartment that includes an uphill bicycle commute.

Here are my tips to get the most performance and fun from whatever bike you are riding:

Set Up Your Bike Properly

Be sure the seat and handlebars are properly located:

1. When the pedal crank is horizontal and pointing forward and your toes are on it, your knee should be over your toes. If not, the seat is too far forward or back.

2. When your heel is on the pedal and you extend your leg fully, there should be almost no bend in your knee. If not, the seat is too high or low.

To adjust #1, loosen the bolt under the seat that grabs the two seat rails. Then pull the seat forward or back and tighten. To adjust #2, loosen the bolt at the bottom of the seat post and pull the seat up or down. After you adjust one, you may have to readjust the other. Get this right to get the most out of your leg muscles. It may be higher than you are used to, or comfortable with, but get used to it. You may have to jump out of your saddle when you stop. Nothing wrong with that!

Lower the Friction

There are three sources of energy-robbing friction which you should regularly check:

1. Find the maximum tire pressure (MAX PSI) stamped on the sides of your tires and use it! Unless you are riding in extremely hot climates or you are very overweight, there is no reason not to use the maximum. Your tires may look and feel full when you are off the bike, but the "contact patch" (amount of rubber on the road) when you sit on your bike greatly increases when you are not fully inflated, and this will really drag you down. Get a bicycle pump with a built in gauge and use it often.

2. The brake shoes get out of center easily when you lock up or transport your bike. If one is rubbing the rim when you ride, it will rob you of power. Look down, spin the wheels, and make sure the pads are not touching the rim. If they are, just grab the brake assembly and twist it to one side to re-center it over the wheel.

3. Lube your chain. Buy a dry lube that doesn't attract more dirt. After you lightly spray it on, wait a minute for it to seep into the bearings and then wipe the chain dry by holding it in a rag while you spin the pedals. You don't need lube on the outside of the chain, only on the inside. You don't have to do this often unless you get caught in the rain or ride in dusty or dirty situations.

Get the Most Out of Your Stroke

Clip-ins or pedal straps are great, but if you don't use them, improve your stroke this way:

Don't push straight down with both feet. That's the natural tendency, but very inefficient as the foot moving up will actually work against the one moving down. Instead try to push the pedals forward a bit. So if the pedal circle is like a clock, instead of pushing to 6 o'clock, push to 7 or 8 o'clock with the foot moving down, and try to take most of the pressure off the foot moving up. Sit further back on your seat and try to imagine the down-moving foot pushing you back into your seat.

Try to learn to stand up on your pedals as you near the top of a hill and are running out of steam. You may not be able to do it for long, but it is a great way to bring a new muscle group in for a short time when the usual ones are exhausted from the climb.