Are you a once-a-year (or, gulp, once-a-decade) cyclist? We hear you. But as Midwest communities ramp up their biking amenities, it’s a great time to challenge yourself to ride more. Here’s how.

By Angela Ufheil
Bicycling illustration

1. Pick the Right Bike

If you need a new bike, don't shop online. Go to a good store and take test rides to ensure a comfortable fit and proper adjustments. Your weight should be evenly distributed between the saddle, handlebars and pedals, says Lisa Olson of The Hub Bike Co-op in Minneapolis: "Too much pressure can make that part of your body go numb on long rides."

Illustration by Ananda Spadt

2. Get a Tune-Up (or do it yourself)

Even a bike hibernating in the garage starts to break down. That's why Rebecca Crouse, a Des Moines Bicycle Collective mechanic, recommends checking your ABCs (air, brakes, chain). Inflate tires and let them sit for a day to check for slow leaks. Look out for crumbling brake pads. And make sure the chain isn't rusty-unless you want it to snap mid-ride.

3. Accessorize

If you're thinking of commuting or running errands on your bicycle, invest in panniers, roomy bags that sit on a rack mounted over your bike's tires. Put them over the rear wheel to start (front panniers tend to throw off your balance), and choose a waterproof material to protect electronics or groceries from unpredictable Midwest weather.

4. Brush Up On Basics

Cyclist-friendly streets in cities like Minneapolis and an explosion of bike-sharing kiosks (Chicago alone has nearly 600) beckon new riders. So it's worth repeating some ground rules: Travel with the flow of traffic. Wear reflective clothing and use bike lights in the evening. And always wear a helmet with a secure chin strap so it doesn't slip back on your head.

5. Plot Your Course

Nothing replaces chatting with an avid cyclist-they love to dish about their favorite routes. But in a pinch, turn to Strava, a website and app with a global heat map using GPS data to highlight paths most popular with cyclists. MapMyRide is another good bet: Trace your path onto a digital map to see distance and elevation changes, or browse others' saved courses.

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