Bicycles and Gear
Choose Your Bike
The following tips should help you decide what kind of bicycle to use on the Pennsylvania Perimeter Ride Against Cancer, whether you are shopping for a new bike, trying to decide if you should use your current bike, or figuring out if that old clunker in your garage is worth fixing up. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines, and meant to point out the pros and cons of different styles of bicycles. As the old saying goes, rules are made to be broken, and ultimately, the best bike is the one that YOU like to ride.
If it has been many years since you have owned or shopped for a bicycle, the array of options and terminology may seem very confusing and intimidating at first. However, the basic design and principles of operating a bicycle have not changed in over 100 years, and the bicycle remains one of the most efficient machines ever invented. With a little practice, you will find that the advances in technology have made tremendous improvements in how you ride and maintain your bike.
Most models of bicycles come in a range of sizes to fit a wide range of people. So, when shopping for a bike, make your selection first based on the characteristics and features that you want, and then choose the proper size in that model of bike. A good bicycle shop should let you test ride as many models and sizes as you want, and will help identify the correct size for you. They can also make any minor adjustments necessary to your bike to fit you as best as possible.
Since you will be riding on paved roads during this tour, the ideal bike is a "road bike," one that is designed to perform best on paved roads. This type of bike is most like what we would have called a "10-speed" when we were growing up. However, most modern road bikes have at least 18 speeds, and some have 24, 27, or as many as 30 speeds (more on this later). A road bike is mainly distinguished by a relatively lightweight frame, curled-down handlebars (known as "drop bars"), and narrow, smooth tires. These features help the bike perform as efficiently as possible on the pavement; the drop bars allow you to ride in the most aerodynamic position, and the tires cause relatively little friction with the road surface. You should choose this type of bike if you would like to be able to ride as fast as your fitness level and ability will take you. You may not want this type of bike, however, if you feel that you may not be comfortable riding in the crouched position caused by the drop handlebars.
Flat-Bar Road Bikes
If you want a bicycle that has most of the efficiency of a modern road bike, but would like to be able to ride in more upright, comfortable position, then you should consider a "flat-bar road bike." This is a fairly new category of bicycle in recent years. Flat-bar road bikes have most of the same design features as a traditional road bike, such as a fairly lightweight frame, and smooth, narrow tires. However, the handlebar is one that is flat and straight, so that you are not placed in the crouched-over position as you ride.
You may have heard the term "touring bike." A touring bike is a special type of road bike. It has the same basic design as a regular road bike, but is optimized for use by people who take extended trips by bicycle, carrying their spare clothing, tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear, and any other items needed for survival on their own. The frame and wheels of a touring bike are typically built beefier, sacrificing light weight for durability. Also, most touring bikes use a wider range of gears, to make it easier to climb steep hills while hauling all of that camping gear. Even though you won't need to be carrying your own baggage on your bike on the Pennsylvania Perimeter Ride Against Cancer, a touring bike would do perfectly well, and should you decide to undertake a self-supported cycling adventure in the future, your bike would be able to handle it.
Another type of bicycle that has been gaining in popularity in recent years is the "cyclocross" bike. The term "cyclocross" refers to a type of bicycle racing, where the race course is usually set up on rolling, grass-covered, open fields. Now, before you skip this paragraph, know that many people who have never been near a bike race in their life are owners of cyclocross bikes. Why? Because the characteristics that make these bikes work well for cyclocross racing also make them great general-purpose, go-anywhere bikes. Like touring bikes, the frames and wheels are over-built to stand up to the abuse of off-road riding. The frame is also designed to accept tires that are wider than those on a regular road bike. So, if your riding route occasionally takes you over gravel roads or smooth dirt paths, you can use a wider tire to give you the stability and confidence you need. The increased tire clearance also makes them good foul-weather bikes, which has made them popular with people who commute by bike through rain, mud, and snow. One thing to note, however, is that cyclocross bikes usually come equipped with knobby tires, similar to a mountain bike's tires, although much narrower. You will want to swap them out for a pair of smooth tires for use on the Pennsylvania Perimeter Ride Against Cancer.
Speaking of mountain bikes...how well would one work on the Pennsylvania Perimeter Ride Against Cancer? If you currently own a mountain bike, and you don't want to purchase another bike, then it will work fine. However, there are two big issues to keep in mind. First, as was mentioned above for cyclocross bikes, you will want to swap the knobby tires out for a pair of smooth tires. This will provide a much more efficient, and not to mention quiet, ride on paved roads. Second, you should note that a mountain bike's wheels are smaller in diameter and much wider than a typical road bike's wheels. As a result, even with smooth tires, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with anyone using a regular road bike.
Another issue to consider when using a mountain bike is that most mountain bikes are equipped with some sort of suspension, usually in the front fork, and sometimes on the rear part of the frame as well. While this suspension is a huge benefit when riding on the off-road trails for which the bike was designed, it provides very little benefit when riding on paved roads. The suspension just adds unneeded weight, and it also robs you of some energy, as some of the force of your pedaling is transferred into the suspension as it "bobs" up and down.
The same issues mentioned above for mountain bikes can also be applied to "hybrid" bikes. Hybrid bikes are very similar in construction to mountain bikes, although they usually come equipped with smooth tires from the start. They also typically have a more upright handlebar, for a more comfortable and less "race-like" rider position compared to a mountain bike. Hybrids are optimized for comfort rather than speed. If you have a hybrid and are comfortable and committed to using it, then it will work fine, just remember, again, that you will not be able to keep pace with people on road bikes. Just consider who you plan to be riding with and your relative abilities.
As was mentioned at the beginning of this article, you will learn that one of the distinguishing factors among different models of bicycles is the variety of different "speeds," or gear configurations available. No matter what style of bike or the number of gears or speeds it has, the general principle is the same. The "high" gears equate to harder, slower pedaling, and the "low" gears equate to easier, faster pedaling. When you are cruising along on relatively flat terrain, you will typically have your bike set in a medium- to high-gear, and you may click it up or down a few gears as the terrain warrants. When you are flying down a hill, you may want to shift up to one of the highest gears to enable you to accelerate even more. When you come to a steep climb, you'll need to shift down to the lowest gears to enable you to spin up the hill.
Most modern bikes will have seven, eight, nine, or ten gears on the rear wheel. This collection of gears is referred to as the "cog set" or "cassette." The gears nearer to the front of the bike, where the pedals are connected, are referred to as the "chain rings." If there are two chain rings, it's commonly referred to as a "double;" if there are three chain rings, it's called a "triple." In modern bike terminology, when somebody refers to a bike as a "9-speed" or a "10-speed," they are usually referring only to the number of gears on the rear cassette, regardless of whether the front has a double or triple chain ring set.
The total number of gear combinations available on the bike, therefore, is the number of chain rings multiplied by the number of gears on the cassette. Note that there is some "overlap" within the range of gear combinations on a single bike; in other words, there may be pairs of gear settings that feel the same. Don't worry, you are not getting "cheated" out of any gears; this is just a natural and unavoidable result of the laws of physics.
Most mountain bikes, hybrids, and touring bikes are equipped with a triple to provide the lowest possible gears, to most easily allow you to climb the steep pitches that can be encountered on off-road trails, or to handle climbing hills on the road while on a heavily-loaded touring bike. Until recently, most road bikes came equipped with a double, but now you will find road bikes with a triple just as common. Many experienced and highly fit road bike riders find that the double is sufficient for their needs, even if they ride in areas with steep hills. But, if you are a novice rider, are just beginning to develop your fitness level, or have any possible issues with knee pain, a triple is recommended.
No matter what style of bicycle you decide to get, another option that you will most likely be faced with is the frame material of the bike. Bicycle frames are commonly made of four materials: steel, aluminum, titanium, and carbon fiber. For most of the history of the bicycle, steel has been the dominant material used. Although not as common today, steel is still favored by many cyclists for several reasons. It is inexpensive and durable. Steel has the most flexibility of any of the common frame materials, which gives a bicycle a more comfortable, softer-feeling ride quality. The disadvantages of steel are that it is subject to rust (unless properly cared for), and in most cases, is heavier than the other materials.
In the past ten to twenty years, aluminum has taken over steel as the frame material used in the majority of bicycles. Aluminum is nearly as strong as steel, and is not as subject to corrosion. An aluminum bike will generally be lighter than a similarly-equipped steel bike. Aluminum is much stiffer than steel; to some cyclists, this is an advantage, such as for a racer who wants a bike to be as stiff and responsive as possible. However, for the average recreational cyclist, the stiffness of aluminum can make the bike's ride quality feel overly harsh.
Titanium metal has become popular with many cyclists for its ability to provide a compromise of the best qualities of steel and aluminum. It is extremely durable, lightweight, and virtually corrosion-free. It is more flexible than aluminum, providing a comfort level that approaches steel. The primary drawback to titanium is the cost; typical titanium bicycles start around $2,000 and up.
The advances in the use of carbon fiber, or "composite" material technology in the aerospace, military, and medical fields have trickled down to the bicycle industry. Carbon fiber has been the hot new thing in bicycles for the past couple of years, and the innovations are continuing today, in both frames as well as components. The main advantage of carbon fiber is its very low weight.
Another feature of carbon fiber is that when designing a bicycle frame, the engineers can orient the fibers in the material in specific directions. This gives them the ability to design a frame that will be stiff in certain areas where needed, and flexible and forgiving where needed in other areas. Scientific tests have shown that under normal riding conditions, carbon fiber is as strong as, and in some cases stronger, than any of the metal frame materials. Like titanium, however, the primary drawback of carbon fiber is the cost.
It is common for manufacturers to combine different frame materials in a bike model to try to use the advantages of some materials and balance out the disadvantages. For example, some aluminum bikes will have a steel front fork. (The "fork" is the part of the bike frame where the front wheel is attached.) Many mid- to high-end road bikes use an aluminum frame with a carbon fiber fork, or will incorporate sections of carbon fiber tubing in other areas of the frame.
When choosing a bicycle, you should first think about your intended riding style, your current fitness and fitness goals (both for the Pennsylvania Perimeter Ride Against Cancer and any subsequent riding you plan to do), and decide what features in a bicycle match those. Then, test ride several models of bicycle that incorporate the features you need and match your budget. Feel free to discuss your needs and goals with the staff at your local bicycle shop; they will be able to narrow down the choice of models for you. Then let the shop help you choose the correct size, and make the necessary adjustments to your bicycle to fit you just right.
Okay, you've registered for the ride, and you've got your bicycle. What other essential items do you need? Let's start with the clothing that you'll want to wear while riding.
Many beginning cyclists wear a t-shirt and traditional gym-style shorts. While these may work fine if you are just starting your training, as you progress to riding longer distances more often, you will appreciate the benefits of cycling-specific clothing.
Cycling-specific clothing has a tighter fit than most regular athletic clothing. The reasons for this are to provide friction reduction and moisture transfer. A loose-fitting article will rub against your skin in the same spots over and over, and eventually cause painful chafing. Tight-fitting articles, on the other hand, will expand, contract, and move along with your muscles. Although the feel of this tight clothing may take some getting used to at first, over the course of an all-day ride, it will be much more comfortable in the long run. Plus, when the fibers of the inner surface of the clothing are in contact with your skin, they are much more able to absorb moisture from perspiration. The moisture can then move to the outer surface of the clothing, where it can evaporate into the open air. This process is often referred to as the "breathability" of the clothing.
Cycling shorts are made of various blends of lycra, spandex, and other stretchy synthetic materials. They also have a pad in the seat area that can be made of various types of foam or gel. The purpose of the chamois pad in the shorts is not to provide a cushiony pad to sit on; no shorts are going to make your bike seat feel like your sofa. Rather, the pad helps to further reduce friction from the constant motion of your skin against the bike seat. Cycling shorts can range in price from $20 to over $200. The differences among different price ranges can be seen in various methods of construction, such as the thickness of the pad, the type of material of the pad, how the pad is attached to the shorts (usually either sewn or glued), the number of pieces of fabric put together to make the shorts, the stitching method between the pieces, and different blends of fabric to maximize moisture transfer. Cycling shorts are also available in a "bib" style, meaning that they have attached suspenders, which many people find more comfortable, since they are not prone to slipping down lower on your waist as you ride. The drawback to bib shorts, however, is they are a little inconvenient during your "nature breaks" throughout the day.
Cycling shorts also come in a "baggy" variety. Baggy shorts have the tight liner sewn into a loose outer short, for a more casual and modest look. Like regular casual shorts, baggy cycling shorts often have pockets for your spare cash, cell phone, etc. The drawback to baggy cycling shorts is that they will be hotter and not as breathable as tight cycling shorts.
Now for the question that you've always wanted to ask, but were afraid to...what do you wear under cycling shorts? The answer is: nothing. Cycling shorts should be worn alone to provide the benefits for which they were designed. Another thing to keep in mind when shopping for cycling shorts: under Ohio law, they are classified as "next to skin" wear, just like bathing suits. Thus, you should wear brief-style underwear when trying them on, and once purchased, they are not returnable.
Cycling jerseys are usually made of some type of polyester material to provide the same moisture-management features as cycling shorts. Jerseys typically come in either a "race cut" or a "club cut." The race cut provides a very skin-tight fit that is preferred by racers for the most possible aerodynamic advantage. Most recreational cyclists, however, prefer the club cut, because it provides a good compromise between a too-loose t-shirt and a skin-tight race jersey. Sizing varies greatly among manufacturers, however, so your best bet is to just try on different sizes and styles to see what you like. Most jerseys have two or three pockets built into the lower back to carry some on-the-bike essentials. Jerseys come in sleeveless, short-sleeve, and long sleeve versions, and are available in a fun and seemingly endless variety of colors and designs to fit your style and personality.
Preparing for the Weather
Since the Pennsylvania Perimeter Ride Against Cancer is in summer, you are likely to encounter mainly hot and humid conditions, so you probably won't need anything other than short-sleeve jerseys, or sleeveless if you prefer. You may want to think about getting a pair of arm warmers, which you can think of as temporary sleeves that you can easily pull on and off. That way, if the day starts out a little cool, you can use the arm warmers. Later, as the morning chill burns off, you can peel off the arm warmers, and they are easily stashed in a jersey pocket.
Another item you may want to invest in is a lightweight windbreaker. In the event of rain, don't expect that any type of jacket is going to keep you completely dry. Even with outerwear advertised as "waterproof," you will still feel wet on the inside, due to perspiration and rain leaking in around the edges of the jacket. Plus, even during a rainstorm, most waterproof jackets will be way too heavy for August temperatures. A lightweight jacket should be just enough to keep away the chill of sudden summer downpour, and can rolled up and put away in a jersey pocket once the sun comes back out. Look for a cycling-specific jacket, as these will have features that make it fit better while in a cycling position, i.e. longer sleeves and longer tail.
The use of helmets is required at all times while on your bike during the Pennsylvania Perimeter Ride Against Cancer, so here are a few tips if you are shopping for a cycling helmet. Helmets come in a wide range of prices, but all models must meet the protection standards established by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The features you get in higher-priced helmets are more sophisticated fit adjustment systems, lighter weight, and more and/or larger air vents. These days, though, because of consumer demand and "trickle-down" technology, you can get a very comfortable and stylish helmet for about $35. Helmets from different manufacturers tend to fit better on some people's heads compared to others, so try a couple to be sure you get one that works for you.
Even if you don't need glasses to correct your vision, some type of sunglasses are recommended to protect your eyes from bugs, dust, and other flying debris, not to mention the effects of squinting through the hot summer sun all day. Sunglasses with photosensitive lenses, or multiple sets of interchangeable lenses, are available at reasonable prices to adjust to varying light conditions throughout the day. If you do require corrective lenses, many popular brands of sunglasses can be ordered with your own prescription.
Finally, we are down to your feet. First, you should look for cycling-specific socks, as like shorts and jerseys, they are made of fabrics that help control the accumulation of moisture on your feet. They also come in a huge array of colors and designs that you can match to your jerseys and your personality.
Cycling-specific shoes have an advantage over regular athletic shoes. The stiff sole of a cycling shoe provides a more efficient transfer of energy from your leg muscles to the pedals. This means that over time, you will feel less tired than if you were wearing regular shoes over the same number of miles. Various types of pedals are available that are made to work in conjunction with different types of shoes; you may have already selected a pedal system with your bike. Some of these pedals involve a "click-in" mechanism that provides the best efficiency in your pedal stroke. The pros and cons of the many different types of pedals is a more involved discussion than we can get into here; your local bike shop is the best place to get advice on what type of pedal is best for you. But even if you are using regular platform pedals instead of click-in pedals, you can greatly benefit from a cycling-specific shoe.
Gear for your Bike
Now that we've covered you, the rider, from head to toe, let's take a look at the accessories that you'll need to carry with you on the bike. For no reason other than convenience, we'll work our way from the front of the bike to the back.
A cycling computer (a.k.a. cyclocomputer, or speedometer) is a very useful device. You can get a very good model that has all of the features that most people want for about $30. The most common features are total distance (odometer), ride distance (trip odometer), current speed, average speed, maximum speed, ride time, and time of day. Even if you are not concerned about how fast you are going, the distance function is very useful in helping you find your way using a map or route sheet, or knowing how far you have to go until the next rest stop.
Two water bottles should be enough to provide you with enough fluids to get you from one rest stop to the next throughout the day. Most bikes have standard sets of bolts on the frame to attach water bottle holders, or "bottle cages," as they are called. If your bike does not have the standard bottle cage bolts, various clamps and adapters are available to accommodate your hydration needs.
You should have a small bag that attaches under you bikes seat, i.e. a seat bag. These can be purchased for between $15 and $35. You should have the following emergency repair items in this seat bag: Spare inner tube ($5), Tube repair kit ($3-$5), Small folding multi-tool ($10-$35), Tire lever set ($3-$5).,/p>
You should also have a portable tire inflation pump with you. There are models available for $15-$40) that attach to your bike frame, or even some that can fit inside a larger seat bag. Even if you are not familiar with how to use these emergency repair items, you should have them so that they are available in case you need to enlist help from the tour support staff or your fellow cyclists. Your local bike shop can help you pick the right tools and other supplies that are appropriate for your bicycle and level of expertise.
I wish I did not have to mention this final accessory, but you should also carry a bike lock. No lock can foil a determined thief 100% of the time; you should look for a lock that is thick and durable enough to stop the "opportunistic" thief, or "keep honest people honest," but small and light enough to be easy to carry with you on the bike. A six-foot coiled cable lock with a four-digit resettable combination is a good choice; these can be purchased for $15-$20.
If you are the kind of person that likes to be prepared for any situation at any time, and take the "everything including the kitchen sink" approach to packing, then you may want to consider a larger bag to carry all of your supplies on your bike. You can consider a handlebar-mounted bag, or a rear cargo rack with an attached "trunk" bag. The advantage to either of these is that it would be possible to carry all of your essential emergency supplies, as well as any spare clothing, camera, cell phone, snacks, etc. The drawback, as any person who carries a purse or briefcase knows all too well, is that if you have all of this available storage space, you will likely end up using all of it, with all of the additional weight and clutter that it entails.