California Cycling

I know, I know, it’s been a while. I’ve been quite ill and recently I’ve had some family issues that have kept me off the bike. But I’m back, I’m feeling great and I’m back in the saddle! I’ll be riding much more over the coming months and I hope I’ll be writing about it too!

There really is nothing better than taking my bike out on a sunny day and getting some fresh air in my lungs. When I first started I didn’t go too far, but there were still lots of places to go and things to see. I was pretty unfit and wanted to get in shape. I tried jogging but I really didn’t enjoy it and so I had to force myself to do it. One of my neighbors told me about a cheap bike in a local second-hand store. I bought the bike and started going for rides around my neighborhood. If you are anything like I was when I started, you just need to get out there and do it.


I didn’t realize how many great places there are to cycle around California. Once you get started you’ll find more and more places you will want to ride through. For beginners I suggest you find a bike that you’re comfortable with. My second-hand bike was OK for a couple of weeks but I quickly realized that the uncomfortable seat and dented wheel rim were not going to do. I did a bit of research on line and ended up buying a mid-range hybrid bike that was a much more comfortable ride.

Once you’ve found your wheels I also recommend some safety wear. Helmets are mandatory if you’re under 18, but if you value what’s inside your skull you should wear one anyway. If you plan on riding at night you’ll also need a light on your bike and reflectors so that cars can see you. If you don’t want to purchase a bike right away there’s always the option of hiring a bike. Many places will hire one out at half or full day rates.

For beginners there’s some easier rides that will get your body used to peddling. Although you never forget how to ride a bike, but I can tell you from experience that your leg muscles may have forgotten. Keep with it though, you’ll get used to it again and it’s well worth it.

California has some great places to ride regardless of your fitness level and expertise. Get the kids involved too, riding is great for everyone. For beginners there are plenty of short distance rides over flat to moderate inclines. It’s easy to spend the day casually peddling along beach causeways, enjoying the fresh salty sea air. The Pacific Coast is ideal for this with many dedicated bike paths that meander right through beaches and light business districts.


I definitely recommend riding over the Golden Gate Bridge if you’re ever near San Francisco. If you’re too tired to double back you can always take the ferry to get home. If you are up for something a little more adventurous you could try a wine tour by bike. Along the central coast you’ll find several different tracks that wind between wineries allowing you to spend half a day or a whole weekend checking out the sites. Another great family outing is Yosemite National Park which offers reasonably flat riding tracks through the valley.


For more experienced riders California offers endless cycling experiences and destinations. For some amazing wilderness you can’t pass up riding through the Joshua Tree National Park in the south of the state. Cycling can take you places where cars aren’t allowed. If you’re really up for a challenge I suggest mountain biking through the Sierra Nevada ranges. Keep in mind if you are going off-road be sure to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. It’s easy to lose track of how far you’ve traveled and not make it back before dark.


For the absolute cycling enthusiast there’s the AMGEN Tour of California. For 8 days in May some of the world’s elite cyclists participate in a grueling 1,255 km (780 mile) race across California. Each year thousands of spectators come to watch and enjoy the race that is the USA’s answer to the Tour de France.


So whether you are just taking up the sport or are a seasoned rider you’ll be certain to find some amazing cycling experiences in California!

A good bike lock: boring but essential

In my last post I mentioned that my first bike was stolen. This reminded me of one of the most important accessories you need to buy along with your first bike: the best bike lock you can afford.

One of the reasons my first bike was stolen was that I’d bought a cheap cable lock from Walmart. (I’d also left my bike in a sketchy place for a good couple of hours, but that’s another story!)

Getting back to the cable lock, I didn’t know this at the time but these just don’t do a good job of keeping your bike safe. They are easily snipped with cable cutters and bike thieves and junkies will target bikes locked up with cable locks because they’re so easy to steal!

Do yourself a favor and get a good lock as soon as you buy your first bike. It’s better do some research and spend a bit more money now, than to loose your bike and your lock and maybe even your enthusiasm for cycling later on.

You don’t even have to spend a lot of money! After my first bike was stolen I bought a Kryptonite Kryptolok Series 2. I can’t remember how much it cost but it wasn’t more than $40. I’ve still got the same lock and I’ve not had another bike stolen. So it sure does work!


Kryptonite have a great reputation for custom care and their locks seem well made. Mine works as well as the first day I bought it and it must be nearly four years old now! But there are other brands like OnGuard and Master Lock that you could check out too.

I chose a U-lock because they were recommended as being the most secure and practical way to keep your bike safe. (And I chose the Kryptolok because it has lots of security awards.) You could also use a thick chain. Just don’t buy a cheap cable lock from Walmart!

Once you’ve got yourself a lock, you need to make sure you know how to use it properly. There’s a ton of useful information online. This is a pretty straightforward guide with good advice.

The most important thing to remember is: always fasten the lock around the frame. This might seem obvious but I see so many bikes where the owner has only locked the front wheel to the the bike rack. If you do this, a thief only has to un-attach the front forks from the wheel to walk away with the rest of the bike. So remember, always fasten the lock around the frame, one wheel and the bike rack!

But the bottom line is: make sure you buy a good lock as soon as you buy your bike. And budget for the lock when you’re deciding how much to spend on the bike. They say you should spend 10 – 15% of the cost of your bike on a lock, but I think you should spend as much as you an afford. Better to be safe than sorry!

How to choose a bike

So if you decide you want to start cycling, how do you know what bike to buy? For beginners, there can be a bewilderingly wide range of different types of bike. And this can be a very confusing and a bit intimidating.

One of the most helpful ways to navigate through this endless choice, is to think about where you might like to ride your bike and how you might want to use it. Do you want to use it  to commute to work in the week? Or would you prefer to use it for leisure at the weekends? What appeals to you most, the smooth, fast tarmac of the road, or the rough, unpredictably of the mountain?

The thing is, you might not know the answers to these questions until you give them all a go! But maybe you’ll get a rough idea if you give it some consideration. Even if you don’t, even if you get it wrong and make a choice you later regret, don’t worry you can easily sell your bike later on (usually without loosing too much money) and then try out the another option. Whichever choice you make I’m sure it will be a positive experience!

But just to help you out I have summarized the main types of bike below, with some explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Mountain bikes

Mountain bikes, (as the name suggests!) were originally designed for riding in the mountains. Or the hills. Or at least on rough terrain. Not tarmacked roads anyway!


They have slightly smaller wheels to improve agility. And thick, knobbly tires that improve grip on loose, uneven trails. They usually have wide handlebars, again to help agility and stability. And most of them have at least some form of suspension.

The ones with suspension over the front wheel and at the back of the bike are called “full suspension” bikes. These are best for technical and hardcore riding. They are usually more expensive and heavier. They’re great up in the mountains but less versatile if you want to use them regularly elsewhere.

The bikes that only have suspension over the front wheel are called “hard tails”. They are usually cheaper and lighter than full suspension bikes. You don’t get all the technical advantages of a full suspension bike, so they wont perform as well in more extreme conditions. But as well as being cheaper and lighter, you can also use them on the road or tracks more easily.

You can use a mountain bike on the road for commuting or just for fun. But be aware that they’re not primarily designed for this. The smaller wheels with thick knobbly tires mean you have to put much more effort in to your pedaling and you’ll never be able to go as fast as you would on a bike designed for the road.

Road bikes

Built for speed, these are the lightest of all bikes. They generally have very thin, smooth tires to reduce friction with the road. And they come with either “drop handlebars” which are the ones that curve down at the end. or more regular “flat bar” handlebars.


Drop handlebars give a wider variety of riding positions, depending on where you grip them. These are the choice of more serious riders who are seeking maximum speed and efficiency. If you grip the bottom of the bars you are immediately in a more forward, streamlined riding position. However this can also be uncomfortable and can put a strain on your back.

Flat bar handlebars encourage a more comfortable, upright riding position. It’s a less efficient position and you won’t be able to reach the same speeds as you would with drop handlebars, but your less likely to strain yourself and you’ll enjoy a more relaxed ride.

Road bikes are fantastically efficient and exhilarating on well kept tarmac roads but they’re horrible to use anywhere else! Uneven roads with potholes are very uncomfortable. And can be dangerous in wet or windy weather. And dirt tracks and canal tow paths are impossible.

Hybrid bikes

Sitting roughly between mountain and road bikes are the aptly named hybrid bikes. These bikes don’t have suspension or drop handlebars. Instead, they have strong, light frames and flat handlebars that encourage a comfortable, upright riding position.


The tires are thicker than road bike tires but are much smoother and thinner that a mountain bike tires. And the wheels are usually the same size as racing bike. All this makes the bike more efficient and easier to pedal while still being stable and comfy.

You can get lots of enjoyment out of a hybrid on the road. But you can also use them on rough tracks and canal tow paths. They’re very versatile. And that’s the whole idea! You can use them for commuting every day, for country roads and tracks on the weekends or just for shooting round town.

Town bikes

These are are the sort of bikes you see a lot in Europe. Built for comfort, they have a very upright “sit up and beg” riding position. And big, wide, comfy seats. Some of the seats even have suspension!


They’re often designed to protect the clothes of the rider and reduce the maintenance of the bike. This means big mudguards, covered chains and internal hub gears.

Town bikes are not built for speed or for hills. They’re often very heavy, with fat tires. But they are very relaxing to ride to the shops or the park and back. If you’re just after a bike to get around town (and your town doesn’t have too many hills) they could be the perfect choice.

My bikes

These are four types of bikes you may come across when you’re looking for your first bicycle. There are of course many, many more and I hope I can talk about them all in future posts!

I started off with a cheap hard tail mountain bike, thinking I would use it out in the forest on the weekends. But then I started commuting to work on it. And I was always too tired to get to the forest on the weekends!

When that bike was stolen I bought a more expensive hard tail, because I was still thinking I would eventually start going to the forest. But this time I changed the knobbly tires for smoother, “slick” tires. This made the commute so much easier!

When I eventually realized I was never going to make it to the forest on the weekends, I sold the hard tail and bought a hybrid. And this was the best decision I ever made. It made such a difference. I was sooo much faster. And on Friday I was sooo less tired. And it was so much more fun commuting on a bike designed for an urban environment.

So you see, it’s OK to make a few mistakes when you’re starting out. The most important thing is starting out!


Cycling vs Running for fitness

When I first realized I needed to take urgent action to reduce my weight and improve my fitness, I considered both cycling and running.

I wasn’t sure which one would be the best option for me. Which one would have the quickest results? Which one would be easier? Which one would be the best choice in the long term?

In the end I chose cycling, not because I’d compared the two and decided cycling would be more beneficial. It was just that I had such good memories of cycling when I was a kid.

And it worked. I fell in love with my bike and lost a hell of a lot of weight and felt much healthier. But I always wondered how it would have turned out if I’d taken up running instead. And just in case you’re wondering too, I’ve compared the two here.

They are actually two very different types of exercise. Cycling is more of a lower body workout, localized on your quads (the muscles at the front of your thighs) and legs. Whereas running is much more of a full body workout and demands much more from you, especially core support. And this means they affect you in very different ways.

Running to get fit

In terms of the calories you use up, running burns more per minute than cycling. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a person weighing 150 pounds that runs seven miles per minute will burn 1000 calories per hour, while someone cycling 16 – 19 miles an hour will burn 850 calories.

Fat oxidation is the process through which fat molecules are broken down resulting in a loss of fat. And both the University of Cape Town and the University of Birmingham have recently published studies that show that running produces significantly higher rates of fat oxidation than cycling.

So you’ll burn more calories and oxidize more fat running. But you might end up cycling for much longer, because it’s less tough on your body. And these are the biggest downsides to running: pain and injuries. Because it’s a weight bearing activity, it’s tough on your knees and joints. It’s painful. There’s a higher risk of muscle damage. And injuries are common.

In terms of practicality, it’s easier to start running than to start cycling. All you need is a pair of running sneakers. Whereas with cycling you need a bike! And while you can run almost anywhere, with cycling you really need to find a place that’s “bike friendly”. It’s also easier and safer to run in bad weather than it is to cycle.

But I think the big things for me are the pain and the injuries! These are especially important considerations if you’re overweight. I think you will probably feel more pain and discomfort if you’re overweight. And this obviously makes the exercise less enjoyable and increases the likelihood of giving up.

So yeah, you burn more calories and zap more fat when you’re running. But can you run for as long as you can cycle without getting fed up?And will you keep on running through the pain? Everyone’s different. But for me cycling was definitely the right decision. I don’t think my body would have endured the pain of running and I would probably have quit before I got anything out of it.

Cycling to get fit

I’m in much better shape now and I could probably take up running without destroying my body! Maybe I will sometime in the future. But for now I’m enjoying cycling too much and I really haven’t got anytime for any other exercise.

And if you’re overweight and unhealthy like I was, I really recommend cycling as a great low risk, low pain way to start loosing that weight and re-gaining your health!

News and Views from the World of Cycling

New site coming very soon!

In the mean time check out this amazing video of what people can do on bikes…