Biking The City: Surprising Things Biking Can Teach You About Life

1. Everyone thinks the road belongs to them.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a biker, a pedestrian, or a driver, everyone somehow thinks the road belongs to them; everyone thinks they have the right of way. It becomes a reminder that people are probably not thinking about you much of the time – they are mostly thinking about themselves. Remember that the next time you think a stranger is doing something to you that has the potential to ruin your day.It’s probably not to you or about about you, it’s about them. Once you realize that, it’s easier not to sweat the small stuff.

2. Courage is more important than skill.

Skill, for the most part, can be learned. Many of us learned how to bike when we were kids. And biking the city, whether you’re a child or an adult, does take some skill. But more importantly, it involves courage: The courage to do it knowing that you are smaller than the SUV next to you, or to get on your bike the next day even though you got caught in the rain yesterday. This courage teaches you that if there is something you want – whether it’s the romantic attention of someone, or to make a difference in some way, or a new career, or a new life – how “good” you are is not as important as how brave you are.

3. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make you get better.

Dispel any notion that one day you’re going to be perfect. Sure, you become familiar with certain routes and you know the psychology of drivers better with each passing day. But no matter how good you are, you’ll never be perfect. Not only because of the unpredictability of the day, but because perfection is not really the goal. It’s really about getting from one point to another, and with a certain kind of freedom as you ride. Life is sort of like that, isn’t it? Getting from one point to another, and with a certain kind of freedom. And you get there…without perfection.

4. Don’t try something new half-heartedly – really give it a chance.

Trying anything new starts in the mind and heart before anywhere else. Even something like biking. Loads of people want to bike, and some people might even try it out. But only with half a heart in it. And much like anything else, if you put half your heart into it, you won’t get much out of it. Think of all the things you’ve done half-heartedly. What if you had put your whole heart into it? Would you have enjoyed it better? Could it be something meaningful to you now? It’s hard to be half-hearted when you’re on the road anyhow. And not only that, it’s kind of dangerous too. You’re either in or you’re out. What if we participated in the things in our life with that sort of attitude?

5. Loving something is the easy part. Committing to it is what is difficult.

I can’t say that I love (city) biking yet. I mean even biking for fitness is not my go-to. I’m a runner – running will always be my first love. And walking in the city still feels more my speed. But you know what? I could see myself loving biking too if I do it enough. But committing to doing it regularly is what will make all the difference. It’s sort of like being in a relationship in that way. You can fall in love and it can be the grandest love you’ve ever experienced. But if you don’t commit to the other person, chances are, that relationship has an expiry date.

6. Even the best fall down sometimes.

For the record, the above line is from the Howie Day song, Collide. It’s really interesting that when you become a city biker, you all of a sudden become part of this weird community of people who tell you stories about themselves in relation to biking. You discover quickly even the best bikers, the most bad-ass of all, the veteran bikers, etc. have all been in some near-death accidents. Did that stop them? No. You fail, you fall, you get hurt, and you decide if that will mean you get on your bike again. Why do we expect life to go smoothly? Wewill fall, we will fail, we will get hurt. It’s okay because we canget up again. (As long as we’re not dead.)

7. A little kindness goes a long way.

At this point, I would like to give a personal shout out to every driver on the road who probably saw my facial expression of, “Please don’t kill me,” and by their motions, made it known they were aware of me. I was eternally grateful for this in my earliest days. And because of that, I try to do the same sometimes when I bike – letting pedestrians or drivers pass through ahead of me. Or while I’m making a turn, seeing how I can make life easier for them. Or maybe just waiting patiently. Taking that off the road, how much better is life when you and I can put others ahead of ourselves? If only a little bit every day.

8. Don’t be obsessed with the outcome.

Let’s say you try biking and you really give it your all, and it’s just not for you. Guess what? That’s okay. Or maybe it’s okay that even after many months and years of biking, you’re still not as hardcore as you’d like to be. Maybe after trying your hardest, the only time you ever really want to bike is on a warm summer day and with all the time in the world. What matters is that you tried. We become attached to the person and the things we conceive in our heads must happen – that we must have a certain kind of life, love a certain kind of person, and be a certain kind of person. But when you try something, the important thing above all, is a discovery of what you really want and don’t want. Let the outcome be.

9. Fear is an enemy you can turn into a friend.

Fear, believe it or not, is something you can turn into your friend. In fact, a little fear is healthy. It’s good for the soul, for self-preservation, and for one’s own humility. The key of course is to not let fear cripple you. It’s been said a million times and in different ways but overcoming your fears in spite of them, is where the amazing truly begins. I was afraid of biking, and sometimes when I get nervous about a big truck in front of me or wonder if I’m going to make the light, or when I’m trying a new route, I still get afraid. But that fear keeps me vigilant and focused. And when I overcome it, it frees me. When we think of how we interact with people, how we want to love them, and how we want to live with them and with ourselves – our fears can hold us back. Or they can be the very reason we say, “I’m afraid but I’m going to keep going anyway.”

Explore Florida’s Ten Best Bike Trails

With plenty of sunshine, natural beauty, and unique landscapes, Florida has a variety of trails perfect for a leisurely bike ride. Discover some of the most diverse and scenic trails found in the Sunshine State.

1. Shark Valley Trail, Everglades

The king of trails in Florida, here you can bike with and around alligators in addition to a variety of birds and turtles. A paved loop spanning 15 miles, Shark Valley is one of most unique and memorable trails in the Sunshine State.

2. Withlacoochee State Trail, Dunnellon

A massive 46-mile trail, Withlacoochee gives riders an option to explore Withlacoochee State Forest, Floral City, and Inverness. Here you can ride along Withlacoochee River and miles of natural lands on a wide asphalt-paved trail.

3. Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, Pinellas County

Linking fantastic parks, coastal areas, and residential areas, the Pinellas Trail is 38-mile’s alongside some of the most scenic landscapes in Florida. Cruise through Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, and Honeymoon Island State Park for a peaceful and pleasant ride.

4. Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail

Explore quiet wooded areas and winding hills in this 16-mile trail, where bike enthusiasts can ride through Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and Lochloosa Wildlife Management area. For a scenic pit stop, hike the nearby Paynes Prairie trail to the gorgeous overlook.

5. The Lake Trail, Palm Beach

Perfect for a family ride, bike alongside the mansions of millionaires at this picturesque trail where you will cruise past private docks on the Intracoastal, historical buildings, and the Henry Flagler Museum.

6. Nature Coast Trail, Fanning Springs

Offering 32 miles of paved bike trails, this high-quality trail in North Florida provides stunning views of the Suwannee River near Fanning Springs State Park and Chiefland as you retrace the historic route where trains eventually replaced the steamship.

7. Legacy Trail, Venice

Beginning in Palmer Ranches and running through Sarasota, Oscar Scherer State Park, and downtown Venice, the highlights of this enjoyable 11-mile trail include the Venetian Waterway Park, Intracoastal Waterway, and Casperson Beach.

8. Sanibel Island Bike Trails

With 22 miles of pristine trails, bikers will enjoy exploring nearby Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge for its diverse bird watching in addition to cruising alongside Sanibel’s lighthouse, beaches, and quaint roadside attractions.

9. Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail

Tree-lined and away from traffic noise, this trail is full of natural landscapes. Here you’ll find stunning pine flatwoods, wetlands, and hardwood uplands in addition to a variety of wildlife such as hawks, wild turkey, and turtles.

10. West Orange Trail, Winter Garden

Locals love the West Orange Trail, as it runs through urban and suburban sections of Orange County. A highlight includes the route from old Winter Garden to the trailhead at Killarney Station with many interesting sites along the way.

Tired of Bike Shares? Here’s Your Guide to Buying the Perfect Bicycle

Up until recently, I’ve been riding a rental from one of our city’s great bike share programs. It took me from point A to B, but it was definitely time for an upgrade. As a total beginner, I discovered picking the right bike isn’t as simple as I thought. From frame size to extra features, here’s how to find your perfect ride.

Choose the Right Bike Type Based on Your Needs

When I walked into my local bike shop and they asked what I was looking for, I had no idea what to say beyond, “a really cool bike.” I didn’t know where to start, so I told them I just wanted something for riding around the neighborhood. Even then, I discovered there were options.

The National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) lists the general types of bikes you can find at most stores here. You probably know the difference between a mountain bike and a cruiser, but there are a few types in between. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Mountain bikes: Rugged and meant for off-road use, but you can use them on pavement, too.
  • Road bikes: Meant for pavement use, like riding around in the city. Built for speed.
  • Hybrid bikes: A cross between mountain and road bikes. Not as fast as road bikes, and not as rugged as mountain bikes, but good for commuting.
  • Cruisers: Casual bike for, you know, cruising. The kind of bikes you see people ride around boardwalks near the beach.

Of course, there are all sorts of additional, specific types of bikes: tandem bikes, BMX bikes, fixed-gear bikes. But for us beginners, these four are a good place to start. I wanted a good transportation bike, but maybe even one I could take on nearby trails, so the salesman suggested a hybrid.

Calculate How Much You Want to Spend

It goes without saying that bikes can be expensive. Those prices range quite a bit, though, from a hundred bucks to several thousand depending on what you buy. Ebicycles.com says beginners can expect to at least spend a few hundred bucks, and CostHelper breaks down the price points (emphasis ours🙂

  • The low range is $80 to $300. Usually these basic metal frames are just functional, though often still stylish. Target sells low-range models by numerous brands, including Huffy and Forge.
  • Mid-range bikes cost $300 to $1,000. These aluminum or lighter metal bikes are the best bet for everyday riders because their higher-quality wheels, chains and pedals increase their durability.
  • High-end bikes cost $1,000 and higher. These models are usually made of the lightest metals, including carbon and titanium, and are designed for more rigorous, everyday use or light competition. Riders can build their own model in a store or online by choosing from several different frame sizes, colors and wheel type.

You can also find decent, affordable bikes second-hand. For example, the store I visited, Around the Cycle, specializes in recycling people’s old bikes, so there were plenty of mid-range options between $200-$300. Bicycle Blue Book can help you figure out what kind of used bike you can get for your price point.

Once you know what kind of bike you need and what quality level you’re looking for, it’s time to dig into the specifics.

Make Sure Your Bicycle Fits You

I’m not a tall lady, so my juvenile bike did the job, but it was still way too small. Not only did I look ridiculous, it was also uncomfortable. It was tough to find an adult bike, though, because most of them were really big and tough for me to maneuver. As Around the Cycle explained to me, the bike’s frame size has to be just right, otherwise, it can be uncomfortable and hard to control.

Your ideal frame size is based on the type of bike you choose, your height, and your inseam (the measurement from your crotch to the ground). Here are some frame sizing charts that can help you pick the right bike frame based on all of these factors. Or, even better, use this calculator to determine your bicycle frame size.

And here’s a quick rule of thumb: the frame size should be about .65 times your inseam. If you have 25” inseam, you’d need a bike with a 16” frame.

Most bike stores will tell you what the frame size is, but maybe you’re buying one from Craigslist or at a garage sale, and the owner has no idea. You can at least get a rough estimate by standing over the bike frame and measuring roughly how many inches come between the bike and your crotch, as Bicycle-and-Bikes demonstrates in the above video. And eBicycles further explains:

If you have an inch or so between the frame of a racing, touring or hybrid bike and your crotch it should be about right. For a mountain bike the distance to the frame should be greater. For children the best way to ensure the frame is the correct size is to have the child sit on the seat and be able to place the balls of their feet on the ground and reach the handlebars comfortably. You should also ensure they have a 25-50mm clearance between the bar and their crotch if they are standing over the center bar.

Handlebars matter, too. You want to be able to reach them, after all, so make sure the reach between your seat and the handlebars is comfortable. According to REI, the farther the seat is below the handlebars, generally, the more comfortable the ride. But higher handlebars let you apply more power to the pedals. The shape and position of your handlebars also depend on the bike you get.

Here are some common handlebar shapes and what they’re used for:

  • Drop bar: Found on most road bikes. Lightweight and aerodynamic, so ideal for fast riding. You are in a lower, hunched over position, which can be uncomfortable for your back.
  • Flat bar: Common on hybrid bikes, sometimes on road or mountain bikes. They allow you to sit upright in a more comfortable position that reduces strain on your hands, wrists, and shoulders.
  • Riser bar: Common on mountain bikes. They extend slightly upward and back and allow you to sit farther back to see ahead and maintain steering control.
  • Mustache bar: Found on some road and hybrid bikes. Kind of like drop bars but the drop isn’t as deep. According to REI, “they give you a variety of hand positions while allowing you to sit more upright than with drop bars.”

Once you decide what type of bike you want and the fit you need, it’s time to decide what you want out of its features: gears, wheel size, suspension, and brakes.

Know Your Gears, Suspension, and Brake Type

When I was a kid, 10-speed bikes were the fanciest you could wish for. These days, bikes come with all sorts of gears, and there’s a lot that goes into it—enough to write an entirely separate post. As a beginner, though, here’s what you need to know, according to REI:

To keep it simple, the most important things to consider are your fitness level and the terrain you’ll be riding. If you’ll be riding lots of hills and you find climbing challenging, then you’ll want to opt for more gears. If you’re a strong cyclist or you only ride flat terrain, you won’t need as many low gears to power up a hill so you can get away with fewer gears, which will keep your bike light.

You may also want to consider your bike’s suspension. Suspension is meant to keep you well, suspended, if you’re riding in a rough, rugged area. If you’re looking for a mountain bike, you probably want one with full or at least front suspension. Full suspension helps you maintain control and increases traction. Front suspension absorbs impact and makes for a smooth ride, and it’s ideal for hybrids, too. If you’re getting a road bike, your bike may not include any suspension at all.

Finally, there are the brakes. There are a number of different types of brakes, and they all have pros and cons. Here are the most common:

  • Rim Brakes: Pads that grip onto the rims of the wheel. They’re simple and easy to maintain, but they can wear out the wheel rim and they might be less effective if the rim is wet or muddy.
  • Disc Brakes: Pictured above, these are brakes that are attached to and grip onto the wheel hub. They can be more complicated to inspect and replace than rim brakes, but they work better in different weather conditions.
  • Coaster Brakes: These are the brakes that work when you pedal backward. There’s not much maintenance involved, and they’re good for kids, who may not have much hand strength. They may not be ideal when you’re biking downhill, though.
  • Drum Brakes: Integrated into the wheel hub. They’re low maintenance and weather-resistant. If the drum wears out, though, the hub and wheel may need to be replaced, too.

Depending on the bike, you might not have much choice over the brakes, but it’s good to at least be familiar with what kind of brakes your bike comes with.

Adjust the Fit and Go for a Test Ride

When I picked out my bike and the salesman adjusted my seat, I was confused. My feet could barely touch the ground, and that didn’t seem right. He explained to me that they shouldn’t touch the ground, though. Ideally, my knees should only be slightly bent when pedaling and my leg is all the way down. Bicycle Universe explains why:

When you’re pedaling and your leg is all the way down (pedal is in 6:00 position), your knee should be slightly bent. If your leg is straight (knee locked), your seat is too high. If your knee is very bent… your seat is too low. Either problem can hurt your knees, and a seat height that’s too short robs you of power and makes it harder to ride…Also, in normal riding position with the pedals parallel to the ground, your front knee (from almost the front edge) should be directly over the pedal spindle (the middle of the pedal). This avoids knee pain.

They add that your seat angle also shouldn’t tilt down. Even though that might feel comfortable crotch-wise, it’ll cause you to lean forward and put stress on your hands, arms, and neck.

Take your bike for a test spin. When you do, there are a few important things to look out for, as eBicycles suggests:

  • Comfort: Are you comfortable with the posture of the bike you picked? If it’s a hybrid, are you okay with sitting upright? If it’s a road bike that you’re going to use for a commute, will you be comfortable pedaling in the amount of time it takes you to get to work?
  • Ability to handle the terrain: Ideally, you should test ride your bike on different surfaces. See how it handles corners, hills, and descents.
  • Carrying capacity: If you plan on carrying stuff with you on your bike, you want to see how it handles when you’ve got a load on you. If it’s a lightweight bike, you might find it difficult to ride. As eBicycles suggests, you may need accessories, like a tow trailer, or you might just need a heavier hybrid or mountain bike.

You may also want to test ride multiple bikes to get a feel for different styles. There’s a lot to choose from out there, and the process can be complicated if you’re not a bike enthusiast. These are just the basics, but they should help you get started and pick a bike that’s perfect for your needs and your comfort.

How to Bike to Work in Florida Without Looking Like a Hot Mess

Bike season is in full swing, and it’s easy to daydream about skipping the stale-air subway in favor of a cycling commute. Riding to work is efficient—it’s eco-friendly and has predictable travel times—plus, you’ve got natural air conditioning as you zip around in the breeze. But you might get sweaty, and that can be a bit of a problem if you need to quickly clean up for a meeting or presentation. With a bit of planning, though, it shouldn’t be a problem. Here’s how to stay cool during—and after—your ride.

Plot your route

Whenever possible, plan a route along quiet, shaded side streets. Tree-lined minor arterial roads often have better air quality and provide shade. And if you can, opt for bike lanes. Any street that keeps you farther away from hot cars will help you keep cool.

Pick the right clothes (and pack extras)

You can ride in just about anything, but it’s helpful to take your outfit for a test run at home. Sit down and imagine yourself on your bike: Stretch out your arms like you’re grabbing your handlebars, and sit and lift up a leg as if you’re pedaling. This will help you identify clothes that pull or restrict your movement.

Think about color, too: I won’t pick a light green cotton shirt, for instance, because I know it will go dark green under the arms when I sweat.

I highly recommend always wearing a pair of non-padded bike shorts underneath dresses or skirts. These will decrease the distraction caused to you when your skirt blows or hikes up.

Long, flowing dresses or skirts could potentially snag between the brakes and the rim of the wheel or get dirty from rubbing against the back tire as you ride. Before you set off, sit on the seat and look at where the fabric lands. If it’s in the way, tie one or two side knots that still give you enough flexibility to pedal. Some skirts can be tied in the middle to create a sort of culotte.

Shoes are also important. I sometimes cycle in heels, as long as they have rubber soles; shoes with a slippery leather bottom are not great for bike pedals. But even fancy shoes can be adapted: a cobbler can add a thin rubber layer to give them extra grip.

If you have a tendency to overheat, you might find fingerless bike gloves helpful for keeping a better grip during longer rides in hot weather. A dark bandana on your wrist is good for wiping sweat off your face. And a light-colored helmet with a built-in visor and plenty of air holes will help with ventilation, too.

If you know you’ll be hammering hard to get to work on time, it might be easiest to pack a change of clothes—or at least a fresh t-shirt to throw on when you arrive.

Store your stuff

If you don’t already have one, install a rack on the back of your bike to eliminate the sweat that accompanies lugging something on your back. Make your bike do the work by adding detachable baskets bungeed onto the rack, or attaching waterproof panniers. A front basket can be a great way to add even more carrying capacity.

Find a place to clean up

Factor an extra 5-10 minutes into your commute time to cool off at your destination, have some water, smooth helmet hair, and change your shirt if needed.

If you have a more involved makeup routine in the morning, consider simplifying the pre-ride stage to just sunscreen, then pack up a tight little travel kit so you can finish your routine on the other end. Some offices have showers and changing stalls open to employees who cycle to work—check out your building to see if you’ve got access to one. If not, some people find it handy to have a membership at a gym or YMCA near their office and then keep a locker there, or at least use the space to shower and prep for the day. If you’ve got a short commute, though, you might not need to do anything more than walk into the air-conditioned building and get straight to work.

Work out a hairstyle you can wear under a helmet and fix up or let out on arrival. A silk scarf or bandana over your hair under your helmet will help keep your ‘do tidy on the morning ride. On windy or damp days, a hoodie or snug hat can help keep your hair in place, too.

I’ve offered a few tips here to help beat the heat while cycling, but you’re the expert on what will work for you. No matter how you’re getting around on these long summer days, keeping cool is easier when you slow down, stick to the shade, and stay hydrated. Enjoy the ride.