Arts & Culture
12:19 pm
Wed June 5, 2013

3 Ways to Make Cycling as Easy as, Well, Riding a Bike

Lake Effect's Mitch Teich interviews author and former bike racer Grant Peterson.

Before you go out and buy a ton of  gear for your summer bicycling adventures, former bike racer Grant Peterson has some advice - chill out. 

A decked out bicyclist takes to some urban trails.
Credit Jason Pier/Flickr

Last week, New York City became the latest city in the country to host a large-scale commercial bike-sharing program. Six thousand bicycles are available across that city at more than 300 kiosks. Organizers are still working to start a similar program this year in Milwaukee.

The hope is that people will be drawn to the ease of hopping on a bike and scooting across town – whether to get to a meeting or to get some exercise.

It’s part of a movement to return simplicity to the enterprise of bike riding – a reaction against the commodification of bicycling, in which spandex and sports drinks are as important as having fun.

Grant Petersen is on a mission to change attitudes. His recent book is called Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike.

He offers up three myths many bicyclists buy into, and why they are just wrong.

Lycra is a bicyclists' best friend

Spandex, Lycra, powdered shorts...you don't need any of these things, Grant says. Bike shops tend to load up wannabe cyclists with special riding clothes for obvious reasons (think $), but Grant doesn't buy into all the gear.

"It sends the message that this is what is required to be anything other than a casual cyclist," he says. "You do not need to dress like that. That doesn't mean that every garment in your wardrobe is great for cycling, but most casual clothing is."

He says "breathable clothing" can be practically anything - a cotton Tee and comfy shorts work just find.  What's important is to have clothes you feel comfortable in and that are appropriate for the weather you're riding in.

"Most people on a ride, an hour or two, you can wear whatever you got going," he says.

Helmets aren't invincible

Grant isn't anti-helmet - he just wants bicyclists to know that they aren't as protective as some people think. A helmet only offers as much protection as 7 to 8 ounces of styrofoam protection and a hard shell can.

"Whenever you wear a protective garment of any kind, you tend to engage in behaviors you would not do without it," Grant says. "(A helmet) is sort of like a bullet proof vest with a bunch of gaps in it."

Because a helmet's protection can't be completely thorough, he warns bicyclists against risking biking behavior.

"Wear the helmet, pretend you don't have it on," he says.

Eight is enough

Professional cyclists and racers used to have only 10 speeds; nowadays, their bikes feature 30 gears. But average riders don't need that many.

"When Joe Blow goes out to buy a bike, he looks at what the racers are riding, and bike shops tend to do that, too," Grant says. "They're the pros, they must know the best and I must have the same kind of thing, and then you end up with all kinds of gears."

But Grant says eight is more than enough, including a super high gear for peddling down hill, one for dealing with high winds, and an "ultra, ultra supremely low gear" for those killer hills.

Grant Petersen lives in California, where is is the founder and owner of Rivendell Bicycle Works, which makes steel bike frames.