Bicycling has come a long way from the days when the choices were boys' or girls', basket or rack, and the unmistakable sound of that rrrring-a-ding bell on the handlebars. The entire industry has been transformed by the magic of technology and modern innovations have improved all aspects of comfort, safety and performance.
To the uninitiated, this high-tech evolution can make choosing the right bike and gear a little daunting. Local cycling enthusiasts agree that getting some advice from an expert can be the difference between an investment that sits in the garage unused and many hours of outdoor fun and exercise.
"It's becoming much more specialized," says John Ford with Bear Creek Bicycle in Ashland. "There are more options now than ever before. It's so important to get a bike that's the right size and category for the type of riding you're going to do."
Even though choices in bicycles and gear can be very specific, there are some basics that Medford's REI store manager Cynthia Biles suggests for a safer, more comfortable ride. "We definitely recommend the safety gear like helmets, gloves and a pair of padded cycling shorts," she says. "Just the comfort that the shorts offer in chaffing prevention can make all the difference."
If you're over 16, wearing a helmet is a matter of choice, but cycling enthusiasts are a safety conscious bunch, and most agree that no matter what type of biking one favors, helmets are a smart choice. Whether it is an adjustable multi-use helmet, or one suited to a particular type of riding, a correct fit is essential. With brand names like Giro, Bell and Nutcase to name just a few, they range from $35 to $250.
Proper clothing for cycling may seem like a fashion statement, but design, function and specific features can make the difference between enjoyment and misery. Whether you're a road rider, commuter or mountain biker, seasonal jackets and jerseys made of form-fitting material provide freedom of movement and have a multitude of features like reflectivity, insulation and sun and water protection.
Night riding is now safer because of improvements in LED lighting. "Lighting is so important," Ford says. "The bulbs used now have longer run times and they're brighter, smaller and lighter. By law, you have to have illuminated head and tail lights, so that's a great way to improve visibility."
Another high-tech boon to the serious cyclist is the use of measurement devices like the Garmin GPS (global positioning system). Ford explains, "They record heart rate, how fast you're turning the pedals, your speed, location, direction and watts, which is an energy measurement. A lot of competitive riders use them."
Henry Thilemon, sales and service representative with Medford Cycle Sports, says it's wise to be prepared for the unexpected out on the road. "I recommend a roadside kit with a small multi-tool, tire levers that pop the tire off the rim and a tire pump or a little Co2 cartridge."
Most importantly, he says, learn how to do minor repairs and change a tire before you leave home. "It's amazing how many people come in and buy the tool kits that don't really know how to change a tire. I'm always happy to show them how to do it."
Biles, an avid rider herself says, "The great thing about cycling is that anyone can do it and there is a type of bike for everyone."
Whether you love cruising along scenic highways or careening over rough and tumble mountain trails, you can bet that technology has made cycling a safer and more comfortable way to enjoy the great outdoors.