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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Suggestions and advice on how to get started in cycling

Suggestions and advice on how to get started in cycling
By:  Michael G. Lander
 
It's a great time to be a cyclist in Memphis with an ever-growing number of
bike lanes and trails throughout the Memphis metropolitan area and beyond. 
With that, the Memphis area seems to be well on its way to meeting many of
the needs and interests of cyclists and giving them, and those interested in
cycling, plenty of reasons to be out riding.

Ask any cyclist around Memphis and they'll tell you that there's so much to love about cycling here in our River City.  It offers a great way to get around, it gives you a chance to spend time with friends and family, and it's an excellent way to get some fun-filled exercise outdoors.  If you're interesting in giving it a try yourself, there are some very simple and easy steps that you can follow in order to get started. 

THINK ABOUT WHERE AND HOW YOU WANT TO RIDE
To begin with, avoid the temptation just to run out and buy the first good deal that you can find on a bike.  Take a little time to think about where and how you want to ride.  Most bikes are made for specific types of riding, but essentially there are two types of riding, or a combination of the two and these are done on mountain, road and various street bikes. 
If you're most interested in getting up close and personal with nature, and the thought of getting off the beaten path appeals to you, then mountain biking might just be the thing for you.  This is definitely the way to go if you want to be able to ride into the woods or into fields, through rough terrain, and trails that might have dirt, mud, sand, or gravel on them. 
If, on the other hand, you'd really rather take in all the scenery around you from a much smoother surface, liked a paved road or a bike trail, then you will be looking more at road or street bikes instead.
For those who want to be able to cross over and ride just about anywhere, you might want to have a mountain bike with tires that you can switch out or you may want to have two different bikes with each one made for the surface or terrain on which you can ride.

FIND A BIKE
As soon as you make your decision on what style of riding that you want to do, the next big step is to begin your search for the bike that will accommodate your specific wants and needs.  One of the most important parts of your cycling involves finding the right bike that will be what you want and need now, and for many years down the road. 

For those of you who want to do off-road trails, the mountain bike is an absolute must.  There are several distinctive features that you will want to look at, one of which is the composition of the bicycle frame itself.  You will find that you have a choice of steel, aluminum, carbon fiber and titanium.  The steel and aluminum frames are less expensive and are durable, and can take the pounding of the rough riding, but the drawback for them is their weight.  Carbon fiber frames are lighter, but they are more expensive and may not hold up well to mountain bike riding.  Like carbon fiber frames, titanium frames are light, but they are also a lot tougher and they are the best option of all.  Their only downside comes in their cost. 
Other things to look at on mountain bikes are the shocks and suspension, which will need to adequately absorb the vibration and the hits it'll take), and the tires that should b wide and knobby for much better traction. 

For those who wish to ride exclusively on paved surfaces, and who want speed, a road bike would be what you you would want to look at.  There are even more types and variations of bicycles to meet the specific needs, interests and desired uses of the cyclist. You can learn even more about the different types of bikes that you can get by going to http://www.ebicycles.com. One other helpful source, when looking for a bike, (or for equipment and gear), is to also take a look at reviews, like at http://www.bicycling.com/gearfinder, which should help guide you in your decision-making process.

As with the mountain bikes, you also have the same choices of what the frame is made out of.  Steel or aluminum frame bikes are affordable, but they are some of the heaviest bikes that are available on the market and this would be a definite drawback on the longer rides and when it comes to trying to sustain higher speeds.  Since road bikes made of carbon fiber and titanium are lighter, they are much more preferable to most serious and competitive cyclists, but it does come at a higher price.

For those who may want to ride on the road, with an occasional dirt, gravel, or paved surface, a hybrid bike might work best for you.   If, at this point, you are not sure, you may want to borrow a bike or look for a good deal on one that you can use until you know for sure what you want to get. 

After you decide what you want and need in a bike, you have plenty of options on where you can get it, especially if you're not in a hurry to get your hands on one.  And, if you are not set on buying a new bike, you can often get a good deal on a used one from someone wanting to upgrade to a new one themselves.

As for buying a new bike, you can search for one over the Internet, but most cyclists would probably recommend that you go to a local bike shop instead since that gives you the opportunity to test ride the bikes and see what sort of bike works best for you.  One other consideration that you have to also factor in when you buy on-line is the cost of shipping and a return policy should you get the bike and not like it.  There is also a lot to be said for the face-to-face interaction that you get when you buy from a local bike shop and, when you go there, you are helping support the local economy and jobs in your area.

Mountain biking is an excellent alternative for those who want to get
out and enjoy nature and who are looking for a little more rugged and
adventurous experience than what they are likely to get by riding on
paved trails and city streets.

GET A BIKE THAT FITS YOU
Other than determining the right type of bike, the other most important thing that you want to consider when buying a bike is that it is the correct fit for you.  Your body type and your measurements (inseam, arm length, and height) will help to determine what bike frame will work best for you.  After taking that into consideration, some adjustments can also be made to the height and position of the seat, if necessary.  Choosing the right size bike means you will ride more comfortably and efficiently. 

DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND ASK QUESTIONS

Aside from looking for a bike that is the right size, you can also find one that is made for your fitness level and riding experience. With those things in mind, it is always a good idea to do your research before heading to the store, and then ask a lot of questions once you are there. (Click here for local bike shops).
With the exception of road bikes, the price range for a new bike will often vary from a couple hundred to under a thousand dollars. (Click here for the Consumer Reports Bike Buying Guide).

LOOK AT PRICES AND BE WILLING TO SPEND MORE
When buying a bike, the best advice is to consider purchasing one that is at the top end of your budget.  Cheaper bikes might seem like a good deal, but they tend to be heavier and are not made for speed.  The old saying that "you get what you pay for," is often true for bicycles as it is for just about everything else.  If you are willing to spend more, you will get a much higher quality bike and it will be a good investment and one that you will likely not regret over time. (Click here for the average price range for bikes).

LEARN ALL YOU CAN
Experience can sometimes be the best teacher of all along with reading and talking with more experienced cyclists.  Here are some links that might be of interest to new cyclists:
http://www.treadmillreviews.net/a-beginners-guide-to-healthy-cycling/ , http://sheldonbrown.com/beginners/index.html and http://www.bikeleague.org/resources/better/beginningcycling.php.
And, if you're just getting started in cycling, here is a link to an effective cycling course for riding in traffic. It is shown from the cyclists perspective and the basic premise of it is that if you act like a car, the cars will know what you're going to do. Here is the link to the first of 3 videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFjCza5e1kw.


Road and street bikes offer a practical way of getting around, on
roads and paved trails, enabling cyclists to travel much longer distances,
and at greater speeds, than what can be done on mountain bikes.

KEEP AT IT
After the purchase of your bike, and you've already begin your cycling adventure, you should be sure to set aside some time to ride and then try to stick with it.  To stay motivated, it can help if you can find others to ride with and to come up with one or more reasons to ride, such as to get exercise, to get into shape, or just to do it for the pure enjoyment that you can get out of it.
If you want to get better or faster at it, it can be done by setting goals for yourself, tracking your progress, and putting forth the time and effort that is needed in order to improve.
Potential is where skill and ability intersect with one another and improvement and success in cycling comes about from the culmination of all the previous bike rides that came before it.  Getting there is simply a matter of getting started and never quitting.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

For the love of the ride

For the love of the ride
By:  Michael G. Lander

This image is of some artwork, that was created using, among others, a bicycle rim
with spokes and a cogset.  When placed outside, the wind can make either of these
pieces of art spin around.  Both were among a dozen or more items on display at the
2014 Bikesploitation in Memphis.

 This following is an adaptation of the poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., "High Flight" that I have written for cyclists.  With my love of cycling, (and after having spent most of my military career around some of the finest men and women who have dedicated their lives to our country and to aviation), it is not so much of a stretch for me to have come up with the idea of merging the two into one.  Magee's poem contains some of the best and most poignant words that I have ever read about flying and it is my hope that what I've come up with, myself, in no way takes away from any of that.

"Oh! I have felt as if I have slipped past the boundaries of time and space,
And smoothly glided my way to a peace and joy that can only come from a bicycle ride;
Upward I have climbed, and felt the exhilaration of reaching the tops of hills and mountains;
of sun-draped paths and trails, - and done a thousand things
You may've only dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung,
High in magnificent silence.  Pausing only briefly there,
I have faced and chased the shouting wind along, peddling
My bicycle through wind and rain and through the cold of winter and the heat of summer......
Upward, downward, and steadily onward I have gone along many long, delirious ways,

And occasionally I have even topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
And where few others ever seem willing or able to go -
While with silent, lifting mind I have rode,
The wondrous beauty and sanctity of nature, and the urban scenery that lay before me,
I have leaned forward, lifted my face upward, and felt the ever-loving grace and presence of God."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Cycling may lead some down the road toward faith and a life of service to others

Cycling may lead some down the road toward faith and a life of service to others
By:  Michael G. Lander

Along with those who ride either for exercise or for recreation,
there are some (like missionaries and itinerant preachers) who
ride in order to share their faiths and to serve those in need.

He has been described as a bicycle disciple.  The 76-year-old Maryknoll priest, Father Robert Mc-Cahill, began his life of service and calling to mission work in 1956. 

Often traveling by bicycle, it has taken him to many parts of the world with the simple goal of making a mark of Christianity where he can, not for the purpose of conversion, but to show what he believes a Christian is and what they are led to do with acts of love and giving.  In his later years, he has traveled the countryside of Bangladesh by bike to serve the sick and poor.

Father Mc-Cahill is not alone.  Other missionaries and itinerant preachers from other faiths and denominations have found good use for a bicycle to get around in remote parts of the world where they can help others, giving of their time and resources, sharing their faiths, and answering what they see is their life's calling. 

It is for purposes like this that some people may see the bicycle as a way and means for providing for the greater good of others.  Around the U.S., and here in Memphis, many non-profit, charitable organizations host rides as a way to raise funds for their causes.  For those who participate, this adds a greater dimension and an altruistic purpose to their riding.

For those of faith, charity rides give these cyclists an opportunity to put their faith into action and to demonstrate to the rest of the world what they believe while doing something that will benefit others.   An important element of this also involves being a good example to others around you. 

Living your life in a way that will inspire others is always important, and it allows you to show others how you live and walk in faith, and in some cases, even ride for it.

While some to chose to ride alone, there are others who enjoy
riding with family, friends, co-workers, and those with whom
they share the same faith with.

As relationships are often formed by those who share the same profession of faith, this is even further enhanced when they also have a common interest in an activity or sport like cycling.  One Memphis area cycling team, Temple Israel, has done just that and have, for at least five years now, participated in the National MS Society's FedEx Rock-n-Roll MS-150. 

Other religious groups, outside the Memphis area, like the International Christian Cycling Club, provide the opportunity for Christians to come together as a community, without regard to denomination.  Their mission is to unite Christian cyclists with one another for a worldwide testimony in lifestyle, training, and sportsmanship.  

In a more introspective way, cycling can also provide a person with a time of solitude, reflection, contemplation, and prayer.  For some it may be the only time that they might have when they are alone without the countless distractions that otherwise can take over and rule our lives. 

Having that time can provide us with more insight into our lives and give us a sense of enlightenment and an awareness, perhaps even on a more spiritual level, that we may not be able to achieve when our lives have been hijacked with more worldly concerns. 

While many people may be seeking a greater understanding to the meaning of the world and their lives, we often don't have the time to make sense of it all.  Cycling, for some, may be one of the best ways that will enable us to at least take a few moments out of our day to step back and see the world and our place in it.

Seeking reasons and answers in our lives is something that most of us invariably do at one time or another, especially as we face adversity, disappointments, heart aches, and pain.   With life and with cycling, we often find that not every road that you end up traveling on is always easy.  It can sometimes seem quite formidable and maybe even impossible. 

Cycling, in many ways, can be like life itself with lots of challenges,
headwinds, and uphill climbs.  For some, faith is the best way to
face all of these head on and to overcome them.

At any time, on any ride, we may face a lot of challenges, strong headwinds, and many uphill climbs.  Even though it may sometimes seem  difficult and overwhelming at the time that we go through all this, we often find later on that we usually benefit most during those times that we suffer and struggle the most. 

Through this, we learn the value of hard work and sacrifice and some are comforted in the thought that they can turn to an outside source to provide them with the strength and stamina to help them get through the tough parts.   

For cyclists who do believe in a higher power, they may feel like they are never really riding all alone.   For them, it is God who is with them, a constant companion in their lives and on their rides. 

For Robert Lee Scott, Jr., God was always at his side.  In his book, "God is My Co-Pilot," the Flying Tigers pilot in WWII, shared his experiences while flying combat sorties and how, throughout each of these, he found great comfort and solace in the thought that God was always by his side, even in the face of death. 

Even though the cycling experience does not require that you have any faith or a belief in God, it can be one way where you may able to connect with or enhance the spiritual side of your life.  You need only take the time and make the effort to try it and see where that road may eventually lead you.