Pedal Your Way to Health, Wealth and Happiness
Thirty-five years ago this week, my brother and I took off on our Raleigh ten-speeds on the first major bicycle trip of our lives, a 3,200-mile pedal-powered journey from our parent's home in Ohio to the Black Hills of South Dakota and back again.
At the audacious ages of 18 and 16 — with the Allman Brothers Ramblin' Man playing on the 8-track in our minds — the world was ours to devour. To say that we considered ourselves invincible is an understatement; our young minds were crammed with thoughts of high-adventure, rowdy times, and pubescent fantasies. Fortunately, we got more than our fair share of each of those over the next two months, and on countless bike tours in the years to come.
That trip and that machine — the simple bicycle — changed my life forever. Still today, hardly a day goes by when I don't pedal at least a few miles, usually to run errands or just stretch my legs, which admittedly aren't as supple or strong as they were thirty-five years ago. I recently pedaled my 85,000th lifetime mile and in another couple of years — crazy drivers willing — I hope to cross the 100,000 mile mark. Not bad for having owned just two bicycles (both relatively inexpensive) in my adult life, with my "new bike" having only about 30,000 miles on it.
If you've not been on a bicycle since you were a kid, maybe this is the summer to rediscover the joy and freedom of what it arguably the fastest machine ever invented by man, when you factor in the energy it requires to build/buy and get on down the road.
Or better yet, why not make your family vacation this summer a bicycle trip? It's inexpensive, eco-friendly, healthy, and, I bet, will give you memories to last a lifetime: Here's some tips:
Go the distance
With just a little practice, novice cyclists and even children (approximately age 12+) should be able to comfortably pedal at least 10-20 miles a day. And for adults and older children, it doesn't take much practice before 50 miles or even further is a manageable distance to cover in a single day, depending on terrain and your physical condition.
Keep it simple (and cheap)
Start and end from home. It's as easy as drawing a circle on a map of say a 100-200 mile radius from home and figuring out what there is to see and do in your own backyard. I bet you'll be surprised.
Pick a route
There are more than 38,000 miles of designated bicycle routes in the U.S. that connect two or more states, and many times that amount of local bike-friendly routes, hiking/biking trails, and other roads well-suited for cycling. Check with your state's Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator.
You don't really need fancy and unnecessary equipment. For short trips, an inexpensive bicycle or even a used bike from a thrift store is fine. Don't go gear-crazy: ten-speeds are more than enough.
Take along only the bare essentials. Wash your clothes along the way rather than pack more. Buy food as you need it rather than take it from home. Ask yourself: "What's the worst thing that will happen if I don't take this with me?" Once you're packed, take a ten mile test ride, then go through your gear again and see if you've changed your mind about anything.
Helmets and reflective clothing/gear are a must. Learn the rules of the road. Riding safely with saddlebags (aka "panniers") and other gear on your bike takes practice; take some training rides and specifically practice the skill of riding in a straight line and controlling your bike with the added weight.
Take a course
Have fun, and stop and say hello if you see me along the road. I'll be the tall guy on the old ten-speed, wearing the Allman Brothers Band t-shirt.