Author Archives: John Brown

Kid’s mountain bikes: tips and tricks to get them on the trail

by John Brown,

I love riding my Mountain bike and want to share that passion with my boys. I am dedicating weekends to kids’ mountain bikes to teach them to love the sport. The sense of freedom and excitement it gives me has been amazing to experience through their eyes. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

Kid’s mountain bikes

Dozens of companies produce kid’s mountain bikes. They often have suspension, brakes, and gears similar to adult versions. The kid’s bikes usually have either 20″ or 24″ wheels to determine the overall bike size. Be sure to find the right size at your local bike shop.

Teach to shift kid’s mountain bikes

One big difference between riding around the neighborhood and on trails is the need to shift quickly and frequently. Most kid’s mountain bikes have between six and 21 gears, with the higher gears used on the pavement and the lower gears for off-road conditions. Teaching your kid(s) how and when to shift will become more comfortable while riding over varying trail conditions. I find it is easy to train them on the sidewalk, in front of my home. Have your child ride down the sidewalk in one gear, then shift to an easier gear and pedal on the grass when returning. By shifting between gears and conditions, kids can get a great feel for how the gears work.

Teach braking on kid’s mountain bikes

Stopping on kid’s mountain bikes is about balancing two things; stopping power and control. Most brakes can easily produce enough stopping power to skid the wheels, but you lose control when the wheels skid. I found an easy way to teach this balance: find a short but steep hill with a clear run-out at the bottom. Position yourself below them on the hill as a safety precaution and have your kid head down. The first time down, tell them to squeeze the brakes (front and rear) as hard as they can.  On the second trip down, have them squeeze a little less and feel the difference. Then have them apply the front brakes more, then more rear brakes on each successive trip. After a little while, they will have a good feel for the best way to use their brakes.

Standing position

When kids learn to ride a bike, they do so sitting down. While sitting is fine for smooth roads, it can become uncomfortable when riding over rocky trails. Try to teach your kid to stand while riding, using your legs to absorb bumps. You want to encourage them to have some bend in their knees and elbows and keep their weight back over the seat. This position lets them absorb all the rough terrain they might encounter.

L-r: Matt Johnson and his sons Jack 10, and Cole, 9, mountain bike in Salem Park in Inver Grove Heights on Sunday, June 12, 2011. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

Board trick

A fun trick to teach some skills involves nothing more than using a plank. A 2×6 piece of wood that’s about six feet long works best. You need to set it on the ground and have the kids ride over it. Riding perpendicular helps them work on absorbing impact in the standing position while riding along its length, which helps teach control. A significant part of the board trick is that it gives a person a visual indication of where to ride without penalty if they can’t stay on.

Up and Over

Once they get comfortable with the standing position, you will want to teach them how to get over objects. To start, find an object on the trail that might be challenging for your kid to ride over. Please take a minute to show them where to ride to get over it. Have them back up, get a moving start, and run at the object. You can be a safety net by standing over that object if it doesn’t go too well. Reach out, straighten them out, and congratulate their try. If your trails don’t have an excellent place to practice this, you can build an obstacle with a pair of two-by-fours and some lengths of PVC (see picture below).

Short and sweet

Please do your best to keep it fun. Pack treats, snacks and drinks, and take a lot of breaks. If a section of trail was super fun, turn around and do it again. Keep the pace slow and have fun. If you meet a puppy, stop and pet it. Do anything you can to keep it fun, and a big part of that is keeping it short. Rides over an hour can start to wear out new riders and take some of the joy out of it. And regardless of the duration, be sure to encourage the things they did well.

Bribery

Kids are like politicians, as they aren’t above bribes. After the ride, I always take my son for a treat (our current favorite is a smoothy from Wendy’s). This Pavlovian exercise can do wonders to reinforce the fun experience of a mountain bike ride, and encouraging the fun is an essential part.

The best way to stay dry is to wear waterproof clothing. While most synthetic fabrics still insulate when wet, being wet diminishes their ability to keep you warm.

Staying dry with waterproof clothing is a sure fire way to stay comfortable

by John Brown, HaveFunBiking.com

Staying dry is the most critical and challenging part of riding when biking in the rain as spring arrives. The best way to keep warm and dry is to wear waterproof clothing. While most synthetic fabrics still insulate when wet, being damp diminishes their ability to keep you warm. Therefore, a waterproof jacket and pants are a great way to start, but waterproof socks and gloves make the outfit complete. While many materials are naturally waterproof, once perforated with stitching, zipped closed with generic zippers, and left to be loose at all the cuffs, their waterproofing goes out the window. Before you go out and buy anything labeled “waterproof,” read on to understand that all waterproofing is not the same.

Waterproof Clothing and Gear for Staying Dry

To keep water out, look for waterproof clothes that have sealed or welded seams (see image). Also, look for waterproof zippers (pictured) or large flaps that prevent water from driving through the zipper. Make sure all the cuffs are adjustable enough to be snuggled tight against your skin.

Examples of cycling clothes with taped seams (Left), welded seams (Center), and a waterproof zipper (Right)

A waterproof garment is measured in mm of fluid. For example, a fabric that was 5,000  mm waterproof is tested as follows. The fabric is placed over the end of a long tube. Following that, the tube is filled with 5,000 mm of water and the fabric needs to support the pressure without leaking. Take a look at the table below for a quick reference.

Rating Resistance Weather Conditions
0 mm – 1,500 mm Water-resistant/snowproof Dry conditions or very light rain
1,500 mm – 5,000 mm Waterproof Light to average rain
5,000 mm – 10,000 mm Very Waterproof Moderate to heavy rain
10,000 mm- 20,000 mm Highly Waterproof Heavy rain

 Breathe Sweat Out

In addition to measuring waterproofness, textiles are also measured for their ability to breathe water vapor out. Breathable means that water vapor (sweat) being produced by your body can escape through the fabric. Breathable fabrics work because water vapor is smaller than water droplets. In order to breathe, the material will be perforated with holes small enough to stop water droplets from getting in, but large enough to allow water vapor to escape.

Breathability is important because, as far as insulation is concerned, it’s just as bad to get soaked with sweat as with rain. Therefore, using a breathable material in tandem with base layers designed to pull moisture off your skin is a sure-fire way to stay dry and warm.

Breathability is expressed in terms of how many grams (g) of water vapor can pass through a square meter (m2) of the fabric from the inside to the outside in a 24 hour period. To that effect, the larger the number, the more breathable the fabric. For example, a coat with 5,000 gsm breathability, 5,000 grams of water pass through a square meter of the fabric.

Waterproof even when it isn’t raining

During the spring thaw snow melts during the day and freezes again at night. In my commutes, during the thaw, I focus on wearing waterproof clothing to keep warm. The rivers of salty water I end up riding through would soak any non-waterproof clothing rendering it useless.

When Waterproof is Not Important

As the temperature rises, waterproofing becomes less and less important. It’s less important because, at a certain temperature, waterproof materials cannot breathe enough to keep you dry. Therefore, if it rains hard enough, and it’s warm enough, you’re going to get wet.

In the spring and fall, be sure to have your waterproof gear ready. The cool temps and wet conditions can be very dangerous if you aren’t prepared. Being dry is the #1 way to maintain your comfort and safety while riding in inclement conditions.

About John Brown, the author

As a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer, John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit and that particular fever is still there. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. Starting, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he could about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then to a store manager.  Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the bike of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, parts, or just share your latest ride. You can also see more of John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.
I recently spent some time in Philadelphia. While there I enjoyed a few rides, but the most enjoyable one was Trek of Philadelphia’s Doughnut Ride.

Consider a casual doughnut ride with your friends over 30 Days of Biking

by John Brown

Recently I spent some time in the cradle of liberty, Philadelphia. While there I enjoyed a few rides, but the most enjoyable one was the Trek of Philadelphia’s Doughnut Ride. I was reminded of the joys of simple rides and good company, rather than difficult efforts and a competitive pace. Now with 30 days of Biking a little over a month away here is a fun idea you may want to consider with friends, as warmer weather moves our way.

The Doughnut Ride

We left the shop at 7:30 a.m. with a group of eight. Our bikes were a mishmash of road bikes, commuter rigs, single-speed, and an e-bike. When we departed the shop and headed toward the center city, it was immediately clear the pace would be conversational. Our cruise headed out on the river drive bike path, through Fairmount Park, and toward the center city. Rather than stay on the path, we crossed the falls bridge and onto West River Drive. On the weekends, Philadelphia closes West River Drive so we had our run of the entire roadway. After a bit of riding and a lot of talking, we found ourselves at the end of West River Drive and at the base of the Art Museum.

At the Art Museum, our ride began to slip through the surrounding neighborhoods until we reached our hallowed destination – Federal Doughnuts.

After stuffing our faces with warm doughnuts we hopped back on our bikes. Full of sugar and fat, we made our way back to the bike shop along the same route. Ultimately, the ride took a little under two hours, including the time eating. Everyone had fun, the conversation was great, and we all got the chance to meet new people.

Why does this ride work?

The ride was great because the pace and route are clearly stated in advance. Therefore, everyone knew what to expect and where to go. The route itself was carefully chosen to promote great conversation and a casual pace. By including traffic-free paths and streets and a casual destination, every rider could enjoy the trip stress-free. Additionally, the pace is controlled by the ride’s start time. As an example, a competitive-minded rider has a list of fast-paced rides leaving on Saturday morning, so there would be no need to come to the Doughnut Ride to try and get a killer workout with so many other options. From start to finish, this ride is a winner.

How to plan your own ride

If you already lead rides for a local club or shop, then setting up a casual ride should be easy for you. If this is your first attempt at leading an organized ride then there are a few things to keep in mind. First off, you want people to be at your ride! To make sure you have attendees, start talking about and advertising (if you’re working with a local club or shop) a minimum of two weeks in advance. Also, make sure all your information explains the pace as well as the payoff (in this case doughnuts) for your ride to build interest. Finally, make sure your route is friendly to a group of riders. As an example, I’ve been on a few rides that required riders to be single file almost the entire time due to narrow roadways. in contrast, the Doughnut ride promoted conversation with wide paths and clear roads.

According to Paul T. at Perennial Cycle, Minneapolis does a great job with these types of rides and has a lot of them. Watch for the upcoming events there this season.

About John Brown, the author

As a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer, John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit and that particular fever is still there. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. Starting, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he could about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then to a store manager.  Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the bike of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, parts, or just share your latest ride. You can also see more of John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.
Give a call to the shops closest to you and verify they have the models you want to test ride.

Winter in a bike shop is a great time to visit and learn!

by John Brown, BrownCycles.com

The winter months are the perfect time to visit a bike shop and learn. Other than just enjoying bikes at a time when you may not be riding, there are many benefits to visiting your bike shop during the ‘down’ cooler time of the year. In the slower winter months, you can learn more, get better deals, and have faster service.

Faster turnaround time, at your bike shop, on repairs.

Most bike shops operate on a “first in / first out” repair schedule. This means during the busy summer months; there will be dozens of bicycles ahead of yours in line to be repaired. Those dozens of bikes could equal weeks of waiting before your bike gets fixed. Through the winter months, there are fewer bikes in for repair. That means you can expect a really quick turnaround time. Plus, with fewer bikes in the shops to be worked on, each seems to get more attention. That’s not to say your shop won’t do a great job in the summer months. I’m just saying that it is always a good thing when service isn’t rushed and the mechanic has more time.

Bike Shop

Quiet time in the shop is the best time for quality service.

Bike shop discounts and deals!

As fall turns into winter, bicycle brands change over from one model year into the next. Because of that change, the transition becomes a sweet spot for buying a bike. In some cases, you can get last year’s models for a discounted price, and if those aren’t available, the new models are readily available. Along with the new model year shift, many shops also run sales through the winter to maximize store traffic.

A bike shop visit is worth more than a discount

It’s no secret that winter in a bike shop is slow. Why not take advantage of that slow time to talk with both the salesperson and mechanics? Need to know more about all the different bike types? Where is the best place to ride your fat bike? How do the new shorts differ from the ones you already have? These individuals in the bike shop can help.

If it’s a question about your bike’s service or adjustments, the mechanics are likely to spend more time with you and not be rushed. Even better, at this time of the year, some shops will allow customers to watch and learn as they fix their bikes in the winter. Due to the time added to teaching, this is not an opportunity to be considered or offered through the summer.

Learn more at your bike shops, clinics, and classes

As many bike shops have evolved from normal retail locations into community cycling centers, most have adopted a strategy of education and involvement. Because shops have far more time in the winter, most schedule their programs during this downtime. In the most basic cases, you can enjoy trainer rides at most shops. Typically these rides are a “bring your own trainer” affair, where customers come and ride together.

Bike Shop

Park tool School in full effect.

More ambitious stores are running classes on home bike repair as well. Usually, those classes focus on one part of the bike, like wheels or derailleurs. Finally, the most forward-thinking shops are doing classes and clinics as well as inviting speakers to come and give presentations. Many riders have questions about subjects like bike packing or fat biking, and shops will schedule professionals to come to talk about those subjects.

Classes at Browns Bicycle

Don’t let simple mechanicals ruin an otherwise great ride. Come learn the basics of fixing flat tires, mending a broken chain, and getting home on two wheels rather than two feet. Please bring your bicycle with you for a hands-on instruction session. All ages are welcome, although we require all minors to be accompanied by an adult. Check out class dates here.

Just to show the love.

If for no other reason, stop by the shop and say hello. Depending on how quiet the shop is through the winter, things can get pretty boring for the staff, and they would love to share their knowledge. Storage can only be cleaned and re-organized so many times after all the boxed bikes get built. After that, the friendly face of a customer is a welcome sight.

About John Brown, the author

As a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer, John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit and that particular fever is still there. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. Starting, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he could about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then to a store manager.  Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the bike of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, parts, or just share your latest ride. You can also see more of John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.
Discovering how things work here is a group of neighborhood kids learning about bicycle maintenance. 

Teaching your child the ancient art of bicycle maintenance

by John Brown, HaveFunBiking.com

As a parent and tinkerer, one of the most fun activities I share with my two boys is teaching them how bicycle maintenance works. Now that my older son is riding more and helping me review a bike for HaveFunBiking, the time has come to teach him how a bike works. Almost everybody gets the basics, but after 20 years working in shops, I want to give as much of my experience to him as possible. Take a look at my plan for teaching my sons bicycle maintenance.

This father, son team assemble a bike for a school program.

Here this father, son team assemble a new bike for a school program.

Safety first in bicycle maintenance

Like wearing a helmet when riding a bike, working on a bike has safety gear as well. Eye protection is a must. With safety glasses on the next step is to show your child the danger zones on a bike. Spinning wheels, spinning brake rotors, along with the crank, chain and cogs are all dangerous to little fingers. Teach your children to stay away from those areas when the bike is moving. On that subject, it is also important for kids to wear clothing that is snug fitting. Loose clothing can get caught in moving parts.

bicycle maintenance

Caution areas are highlighted in red. These are the places fingers can get pinched.

Tools of the trade-in bicycle maintenance

The next step is to teach your kid what the tools are and how to use them. Bikes only use a few different tools like metric hex wrenches, screwdrivers, and metric box wrenches. First show your child how to hold each tool for best leverage, and what part of the tool engages with the bike. Then, show them where each tool fits on the bike before beginning the fix.

bicycle maintenance

Hex wrenches, box wrenches, and screwdrivers used by professional bike mechanics across the country.

Having fun with bicycle maintenance

Now that the safety and instruction portions are over, make the process fun! Your kid is more than likely dying to get their hands (and wrenches) on the bike as quickly as possible, so let them have at it. Considering you gave them the safety and function basics already, their exploration of the bike will be safe and enlightening. Once they play a little, ask your kid to teach you how the bike works! Have them exercise their brain and logic by explaining how the bike functions.

Teaching a little at a time

It’s easy for parents to get overzealous when teaching. If you are mechanically inclined, sharing that gift with your kids can be exciting, but try not to overwhelm them. Feel comfortable stopping the lesson when they lose interest. I like to start teaching with the rear brake (assuming it is a rim brake). The rear brake usually needs adjustment and is a rather simple example of how the rest of the bike functions. Once the rear brake is dialed, and your kid is comfortable with the process, have them adjust the front brake.

Next, I start teaching about how to adjust the shifting system. Hopefully, you and your child had a good conversation when they “taught” you how the shifting worked, because that conversation is a great baseline for teaching how to adjust the shifting. Because of the barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur, start with the rear shifting first. Once they get the hang of that move to the front derailleur.

After the bike is functioning properly, teach your kids how to adjust the seat, bars, and controls. You may ask why I would recommend the simple adjustments last? Simple answer, these adjustments require the most leverage and are best saved for once your child is practiced at using the tools.

Test ride

Once your child completes the adjustments, it’s time to take a test ride. Have your kid test ride in a supervised area away from traffic (like a driveway). Once the test ride is complete, make any additional adjustments needed, and be sure all the hardware is tight.

bicycle maintenance

Test rides are fun!

Learn through mistakes

Most of the fun of learning to work on bikes (or anything for that matter) is the process. Nobody gets it right on the first try, and all of us learn from the mistakes along the way. In fact, mistakes are more valuable than successes. So the most important part of teaching your kids to work on bikes is to let them make mistakes and be a resource for the solutions if needed.

There are tons of exercises, drills and products to help you keep your fitness through the winter riding months.

Fun and fitness when winter bike riding isn’t your thing

by John Brown

Snow, ice, and cold make for excellent conditions for fat biking, but how do you keep in shape when winter bike riding isn’t your thing? Luckily, there are tons of fun activities, exercises, drills, and products to help keep you in shape through the winter months.

winter riding

Fun is fat through the winter

Fitness ideas if winter bike riding isn’t your thing

Even the smallest efforts can help you stay fit. Trying things like taking the stairs rather than the elevator, parking on the opposite side of the lot and walking when shopping, or taking time in the evening to go for walks around the neighborhood will make a big difference when the riding season comes back around. You can also start putting some time in at the gym. In the past, I had a gym membership that I would turn off except for three months a year. I enjoyed yoga classes, weight training, treadmills, spin classes, as well as all sorts of other gym-related activities.

On a bike trainer vs. winter bike riding

Besides fat biking (which is the best winter bike riding option) you can enjoy your bike through the winter by buying an indoor trainer. An indoor trainer holds your bicycle upright and offers resistance when you pedal, thus turning your bike into a stationary bicycle. When using an Indoor trainer, you can ride from the comfort of your own home or in a group setting. Most bike shops have trainer nights in their stores through the winter.

winter riding

Trainer rides are a great way to connect with other riders

If you join a shop’s group trainer ride, there is usually a leader. However, riding alone can still be fun. Most people start riding their trainer while watching TV and it’s a great plan at first, but that quickly gets boring. I find it interesting to use trainer-specific workouts online. There are plenty of free and for-pay versions. Additionally, depending on the trainer you buy, some of those workouts will change the resistance through your trainer.

Spin classes

Most gyms offer spin classes. These classes use a stationary bicycle, music, and instructors to guide a course through a one-hour workout. These rides are enjoyable and offer an intensity that is difficult to achieve riding alone at home.

Winter riding

Spin Class is a fast and fun workout

There are, however, a few downsides with spin classes to keep in mind. One issue is that a spin bike won’t fit the same as your bike. Many riders will install their saddle and pedals on a spin bike before each class. The other potential problem is that the courses you can select, are not tailored toward your personal goals. The levels are usually high tempo, high effort workouts that might not fit with your training plan.

Fun in the Snow

If you live in a colder weather climate and snow is the reality for months at a time you can enjoy the white stuff and keep your fitness. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating are fantastic ways to get your heart rate up. I love skating on our pond with my boys because one, I’m not good at it, so I get to use new muscles and two, I have to work hard to keep up with them.

winter riding

Our winter oasis where I fumble through learning to skate

However, you find your fitness through the winter, enjoy your time off the bike. The brief time between fall and spring is perfect to strengthen new muscles, work on flexibility, and let your body recover from a full season of cycling. Additionally, time off the bike always makes me more excited to get back on it once the weather clears.

No bicycle discomfort is as debilitating as back pain. Luckily, back pain is usually caused by a few, simple to fix issues.

Searching for the cause of back pain and finding the solution for biking

by John Brown

Over the past quarter-century, I have helped all manner of riders get going on their bikes. I’ve been lucky to see the life-changing power of a bicycle. Sadly, I have also seen riders walk away from the sport forever due to simple discomforts. No discomfort is as debilitating as back pain. Luckily, back pain is usually caused by a few easy fix issues. These issues manifest themselves in lower back pain and upper back pain. See below for the causes and fixes.

Lower back

The sky-high seat rider can result in back pain.

The #1 cause for lower back pain is saddle height. Not only is this problem common and painful, but also easily fixed. While trying to get a more efficient pedal stroke, many riders will raise their saddle too high. If your saddle is too high, you will tilt your hips at the bottom of each pedal stroke, trying to reach the pedals. That tilting forces the very small muscles in your back to do the job that the very large muscles in your leg should be doing. To find a proper saddle height, check out our bike setup article, or visit your local shop for a bike fit.

The shocking truth

Another frequent cause of lower back discomfort is road shock. While riding, it is common for the small imperfections in the road to send vibrations through the bicycle and into your body. After some time, this constant vibration can fatigue the muscles in your back. There are a few quick fixes for this problem. The first and easiest solution is tire pressure. Rather than maxing out your tire’s pressure, lower the tire pressure in 5 psi increments until you find a pressure that works for you. Another quick way to squelch road vibration is by adding a suspension seat post. A suspension seat posts absorb the shock before it gets to you.

How is your reach?

Finally, the last common cause of lower back discomfort is your reach. If the distance from your seat to bars is too great, you begin relying on small muscles in your lower back to support the weight of your upper body instead of your core and arms. Look into having your bike properly fit at a local shop or follow our simple fit guide.

Upper back

Shrugging off your responsibilities

The leading cause of upper back pain is riding position. More specifically, the shrugging of one’s shoulders. In my experience, many riders don’t know they are lifting their shoulders when they ride. It is just a tense habit they formed somewhere along the way. Paying attention to where your shoulders are located will help you relax them, alleviating pain. Additionally, try moving your hands to different positions on the bars. That change in grip does wonders to rest different muscle groups. In some cases, a proper bike fit is needed to remedy shrugged shoulders, so if the problem persists, visit your local shop for a fitting.

Don’t become a pack mule.

Be careful how much weight you carry on your shoulders. Riding with a backpack is a great way to carry the things you need, but be careful not to overdo it. If you use a pack to commute, try leaving heavier items like shoes at work. If you absolutely need to carry a lot of weight, install a rack with panniers and move that weight onto your bike frame and off your body.

Keep on going

Like I stated before, I have seen riders get off their bikes forever due to discomfort. It’s always sad to see, especially because I know that most cyclists’ pain can likely be eliminated with some simple adjustments. Be vigilant about eliminating discomforts. After all, small pains today can manifest into serious problems later. Find a bike-fitting professional you feel comfortable with and talk about your issues. Your back will thank you.

About John Brown, the author

As a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer, John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit and that particular fever is still there. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. Starting, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he could about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then to a store manager.  Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the bike of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, parts, or just share your latest ride. You can also see more of John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.
No matter your level of bicycle riding skills, bike lights are essential to make sure you have a safe ride, day or night. Bike lights aren't only needed when the sun goes down.

Bike lights will help to keep you safe day and night!

by John Brown, HaveFunBiking.com

No matter your bicycle riding skills, bike lights are essential to make sure you have a safe ride, day or night. Lights aren’t only needed when the sun goes down. In fact, lights are super helpful when riding in conditions where traffic may be present or limited visibility. That’s where proper lighting comes in. Plus, many states, like Minnesota, require you to have lights on your bike. The two types of bike lights on the market are lights that allow you to see and lights that allow others to see you.

Bike lights that Help You See

Lights that help you see are usually high-output LEDs that cast a focused beam of light in front of you. These lights start at 600 lumens and increase output from there—their size and run time depending on the battery. For example, rechargeable and battery-operated lights are usually larger, while lights run by a generator are smaller.

So, how do you know which one is best for you? It all depends on how often you plan on using it. The battery-operated kind works well as backups in the rare chance you get caught in the dark. The rechargeable kind is best if you plan to use them regularly and want to save on the cost of buying batteries. If you ride long periods in the dark, it’s hard to beat a generator-powered light. Any of these lights will be great for unlit roads, trails, or paths.

When you look to buy a light, they are all compared by the lumens they produce. What’s a lumen, you ask? Well, lumens are the most popular description of brightness. In the past, lights were measured by the amount of energy they consumed (watts), but with LEDs that get more light output with less power consumption, measuring brightness with watts has become impossible. Simple rule, more lumens equal brighter light. As a comparison, the iPhone flashlight is less than 10 lumens.

Bike lights to Help People See You.

The lights designed to be seen use an LED to flash intermittently when turned on. Surprisingly they can be as small as a few coins stacked on top of one another and have run times in the hundreds of hours. Additionally, they are usually easy to move from bike to bike if needed and are great for city streets and well-lit paths. Some riders are now finding added security in running these lights during the daytime.

Reflectivity

Another great way to ride safely in the dark is to use reflective products. Thanks to advancements in reflective technology, you can find completely reflective clothing, looks like normal fabric and glows when hit by light. There are reflective stickers you can adhere to your bike and reflective bags you can mount behind the saddle or on your handlebars.

How to be Seen

Visibility is about safety, so it’s best to use a belt and suspenders approach. A headlight will allow you to see and be seen from the front. Match that with a reflective jersey, and you become visible from the sides as well. Mount a rear blinker, and you become visible from 360 degrees.

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Beyond Laws and rules, we should work to employ some common courtesy toward each other while riding our bikes on the road and trail.

Tips and tricks for riding on roads more efficiently and more comfortably

by John Brown, HaveFunBiking.com

Riding on Roads

Let’s get this out of the way first – Be Safe! With spring biking season soon here, you will be riding on roads with pedestrians, other riders, and cars. With more road traffic each year it is possible to have an accident even if you do everything correctly. To protect yourself most easily and comfortably possible, wear a helmet, review the following tips, wear a helmet that fits.

riding on road

Helmets are safe and fun.

Comfort when riding on roads

Some riders experience upper body pain while riding on roads. Some of the most frequent pain is associated with the upper body due to position and fatigue. The position most responsible for this pain is the shrugging of the shoulders while riding. That shrug compresses all the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and back and fatigues them needlessly. Fatigue comes into play, starting at the hands. A firm grip on your bars is a great way to keep control of your bike, but if you hold on too tightly, you can prematurely fatigue your hands, arms, and shoulders.

riding on roads

Shrugged shoulders fatigues all the muscles in your neck, and shoulders

Rather than shrugging your shoulders and squeezing the bars into dust, try to relax your back (see picture) and shoulders and hold the bars firmly. By relaxing your upper body, you will preserve strength throughout your ride, making for mile after mile of pain-free riding.

Vision and Route

Riding on roads

Cars, pedestrians, other riders, potholes, grates, as well as traffic lights and signs, need your attention while riding on roads. The best way to keep yourself safe and in control is to direct your attention outside your immediate area. Try to focus thirty or forty feet down the road rather than right in front of you. If you need to change direction or stop quickly, thirty feet is about the minimum distance you need to react. As you ride more, you will get comfortable with what your reaction time is. Additionally, knowing your route in advance leaves your mind free to concentrate on the things going on in front of you.

Control

Front brake

Your front brake is your most powerful tool in stopping. As a new rider, we get taught that the best way to stop is to use both brakes evenly and that if we use too much front brake, we are prone to crash “over the bars.” While going “over the bars” is a real concern, you can avoid it with a little practice. Not only can going “over the bars” be combated, but you will learn to stop your bike more effectively in the case of an emergency. As you begin to stop, your weight shifts forward and adds more pressure to the front wheel. This pressure can do two things. If you brace properly with your arms, that pressure to the front wheel increases traction and stops the bike. If you do not support yourself moving forward, the increased pressure to the front wheel turns into a fulcrum. Practice stopping by finding a piece of unoccupied road you are comfortable with. Get up to speed and begin applying only the front brake (see picture below). Be cognizant about bracing yourself with your arms while stopping. Do this a little at a time; each successive stop should be a bit more power. Stop once you are applying enough power to stop while the rear wheel is slightly lifting.

riding on roads stopping

As you brake harder, more pressure is applied to the front wheel

Rear Brake

The rear brake is far more susceptible to skidding than the front. While skidding a tire, you are not in complete control or reducing speed effectively. The bright side is that a rear-wheel skid is far more controllable than a front-wheel skid. In wet, loose, or slippery conditions, a rear brake can be safer to use. The rear brake is also great for controlling your speed in small amounts.

Both Brakes

The ideal time to use both brakes is during turning. As you turn and brake, you are sharing traction between turning and stopping the bike. It is crucial to try and control your speed before turning rather than after turning.

Cadence

Your chances of lifting a 1000 pound weight once are pretty slim, but you might be able to lift 100 pounds ten times and can more than likely lift 20 pounds 50 times. Riding a bike is the same way. If you try to shove the bike up a hill in your hardest gear, the chances of making it are slim. Shifting your bicycle into easier gear and pedaling faster (higher cadence) will propel you up almost any hill. Higher cadence riding is just one way to be more efficient on your bicycle.

Draft

Riding on roads drafting

The riders above are both working too hard. The riders below are drafting well.

Another way to be more efficient is to use the work of others to your advantage. Most of your effort goes to moving your own mass at lower speeds, but as your speed increases, more and more of your effort goes to moving the air around you. In fact, air resistance grows exponentially at a rate of about 7 mph. That said, the amount of effort required to move your bike at 14 mph is twice as much as at 7 mph. Also, as you approach 21 mph, that effort is four times more than going 7 mph. A way to save energy is to ride behind another rider who has already moved the air (see above). By drafting, you are riding in the slipstream of another rider. To draft, try to ride at the same speed ahead of you and keep your front wheel within two feet of their rear wheel.

Be Prepared

Be sure to ride with the materials needed to get home. Train yourself to fix a flat and carry enough food and water to keep your energy up throughout the ride. Consider carrying packable rain gear with you as well. If you liked this info, take a look at our Mountain biking hacks also.

The best way to verify you are buying the best bike for you is to test ride a lot.

Buying a new bike? Test ride tips to make the most of your time

by John Brown,

The best way to find the right bike for you is to do some research on models you like. Then verify their size to your body and test riding your choices a lot. How do you make the best use of your time while test riding these bikes with so many choices? Read on for a complete list of how to test ride efficiently.

Test ride bike plan research

Any good test ride begins with research. First, review what type of bicycle you would like, then check out the websites of some popular brands. Please pay close attention to the prices of each bike and what it buys you. A few things to look for are the number of gears, what type of suspension it has, tire size, frame material, and brake type. Once you have gotten a general sense of what is available, you can plan a trip to the bike shop.

Pick a shop

Give a call to the shops closest to you and verify they have the models you want to test ride.

Before looking further, call a shop closest to you and verify they have the models you want to test ride.

Once you have researched a few bikes you like, give some local dealers a call. Most brand’s websites have a dealer locator to help you find the closest shop. Give a call to the shops closest to you and verify they have the models you want to ride. Because shops can’t stock every possible model in every possible size, call to ensure they have the right model in a size that is close to what you are looking for.

Make a date to test ride.

Check the weather and your schedule, then pick a good time to head into the shop. Keep in mind that shops and roads are less busy during the workweek. Therefore, Monday thru Friday is the ideal time to test ride bikes. If you need to go in on the weekend, call the shop and see when they are least busy and make an appointment if possible.

Dress appropriately

It makes no sense to test ride bicycles if you are not dressed for the occasion. Wear your Jersey, Shorts, bring your helmet, and bring shoes and pedals if you ride clipless. Another helpful thing is to bring your existing bicycle with you. They can replicate the setup of your current bike to new bikes you would like to test ride.

Bring your ID

When test riding bikes, you are potentially borrowing thousands of dollars from the shop. Therefore, it’s expected for shops to ask for some form of collateral. At the minimum, bring your ID and a major credit card.

The test ride

Test rides don’t need to take hours, but a three-minute spin is rarely enough time to make a real impression. Expect to take at least 15 minutes on each bike, with more time spent on the first few bikes you ride. When riding, try to focus on how the bike accelerates, how easily it changes direction, and how stable it feels. A great way to do this is to pick a set route with some flat area, some climbs, and at least one good descent. Riding the same course with different bikes makes comparing them easier.

Narrow it down to bikes

Once you get a feel for a few bikes, you can start narrowing down your choices. I find it best to pick two and then ride them back to back, concentrating on fit and comfort rather than speed and stability. Have the shop begin dialing in your fit on these two bicycles to see which one really is the best for you. Once you have a bike that rides well and fits well, you are ready to buy.

Buy everything you will need

A bike that rides great is the key ingredient in a great bike ride, but it’s not everything. Remember that your new bike needs things like a water bottle cage, kickstand, lights, and maybe clipless pedals or a better fitting saddle. Consider all the situations you may run into on your new bike and buy the products you need to be prepared.

Hopefully, your next bike purchase will be fun and informative.