February 2 is Groundhog Day. It’s also the birthday of one of my good friends. Elizabeth is a Western Pennsylvania native who has actually made the road trip to Punxsutawney to celebrate the mid-winter emergence of Phil from his burrow. She has cheered as the furry prognosticator looks for his shadow and predicts either an early spring or six more weeks of cold, nasty winter weather.
Elizabeth Deasy is also a very talented artist whose small colorful abstract paintings often celebrate the emergence of spring. For me, her bright dreamy landscapes have a sensual beauty that chases away the gloom and chill of winter.
Even with Elizabeth’s paintings to look at, like many of you, I shivered inside during the Christmas holidays as Santa Barbara had its annual week of winter. While much of the country deals with shoveling snow and wonders if Phil will see his shadow, here in Santa Barbara we’ve already moved from winter to spring. I ride year round, but I still find that spring is a good time to do some maintenance on my bike and myself. Here are a few ways to get your bike in shape for summer riding.
Redd up your bike using a damp cloth. Remove all that dust and grease from the frame, rims, derailleurs, brakes, and handlebars. Don’t forget to clean off the lenses of your front and rear lights. Redd up is Pittsburghese for clean or tidy up.
Inspect the tires by deflating the tube to about half its pressure. While rotating the wheel, slowly manipulate each tire in your hands to expose cuts in the sidewalls or tread. If you find any deep cuts, replace the tire. If the tires look fine, inflate them to the recommended PSI (it’s listed on the sidewall).
Check your bikes brake pads to see if they need to be replaced. If they’re worn down, replace them now.
This year, make maintenance a priority, and fix it before it breaks. Regular checkups will not only lengthen your bike’s lifespan, but they are key to your safety as well. Check your tire pressure before every ride. Inflate tires to the level indicated on the sidewall. Lube your chain every 100 miles, and tune up your bike at least once a year. Also, learn to fix a flat and do simple on-road repairs; it’s empowering to know you can take care of a breakdown while pedaling to Ventura.
Inventory your gear, and make sure it’s in good shape. Helmet: If it’s old or cracked it’s time for a replacement. Saddle bag with spare tube, tire levers, multitool, CO2 canisters, and inflator or a mini-pump. Water bottle. Shoes and pedals (consider a clipless system which increases power and efficiency and helps smooth out pedal stroke). Bike shorts and, if you want, a comfortable jersey that can hold important items such as snacks, keys, cell phone, and a rolled-up rain jacket. In Santa Barbara you may not need the rain jacket for a sudden shower, but it will be great as it cools off in the evening or on a windy day.
Spin the wheels to see if they’re running crooked. If you see any wobbling, or hear strange rattles or clinks, either take the time to do it yourself or take the wheel down to your local bike shop.
Okay, your bike is clean and road worthy. Now it’s time to get your body ready to roll. A few other simple steps can make sure you are in good shape, especially if you haven’t been riding for awhile or have been riding less than in the summertime.
Wear your most comfortable bike shorts, and take a shorter ride than you normally would for the first couple of training rides. Your butt will need a couple of rides to get used to your saddle.
Learn the rules of the road. Cyclists have all the rights and rules applicable to the driver of any other vehicle and can be penalized for violating traffic laws. Learn and use hand signals. Play it safe at all times.
Consider getting a professional bike fit even if you had one a few years ago. Our bodies and riding positions change as we get older. An expert will make sure you have the most comfortable and efficient position for the type of riding you do. This includes dialing in the perfect saddle height. The number one way to prevent mid-ride aches is to start with the correct fit.
Have a plan. Map out a few routes that will help you build your cycling fitness gradually. Strava is a great tool for finding new routes. Start with a low mileage goal, and add to that goal each week. Pay attention to nutrition (on and off the bike) and recovery.
That’s it. A few simple steps and both you and your trusty two-wheeler will be ready for miles of riding. If you want a challenge this year, start training for the Santa Barbara Century. With over 9,000 feet of climbing, you will be challenged.
My other annual indicator of spring is when my friend Randy starts pruning roses. Randy is Santa Barbara’s Mr. Greenjeans. He makes roses and orchids bloom.