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.
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.