It's a glorious spring day and bicycle owners across Bucks pull their wheels from the depths of the garage to hit the open highway. They pedal a few miles and the chain falls off. Perhaps those recently inflated tires turn out to be less than dependable. After a long walk home, the bike gets buried in the garage once again.
The pain and frustration of bike ownership can be avoided with a tune-up. Harry Betz, owner of Newtown Bicycle and Fitness, says once a year is fine for casual riders. Skip a tune-up and the bike may not only perform badly, it may be unsafe.
"A bicycle is a machine," Mr. Betz says. "It has to be tightened up, checked out and fixed on a regular basis."
Thomas Maurer, who owns Bike King Cycle & Fitness Center in Morrisville, also stresses the importance of maintenance.
"Most people don't realize that bicycles need maintenance the same as a car does," Mr. Maurer says. "You need to check all the fine points, sometimes even more so than a car. There's no shelter. No triple A to call."
A tune-up includes inflating the tires and checking them for cracks, splits and dry rot. First, spin the tires to see if they run smoothly and the brakes don't rub. Then lubricate the chain and derailleur with a silicon or Teflon spray. The seat should be tight, as should the handlebars.
"I'm probably the only one who does this," Mr. Betz says, as he lifts the bicycle in the air and drops it, "but I bounce my bike." The Newtown, Pa., resident isn't abusing his vehicle, he's checking for wobbly parts. "A loose bike will sound like a jalopy car going over a bump."
After inspection, it is time to take the bike out for a short spin to make certain all is well. Service at a bicycle shop can run from $25 to tune-up a child's bike to $125 for a mountain-bike overhaul.
For better comfort, choose the right-sized bike. Mr. Betz recommends straddling the bike with feet planted on either side. There should be a 1-inch clearance between the top tube and the body.
Evidently, the most common complaint from cyclists is lack of comfort. Riding a bike that is too big or too small is not going to be as pleasant. Neither is an old, rock-hard seat. If your bike is more than a couple of years old, you may want to consider an upgrade before getting back in the saddle.
"Manufacturers would make these outrageously wonderful bikes and put the cheapest seat on them," Mr. Betz says. "After all the years of people complaining, they finally figured out that people would rather have a really nice seat and a crummy bike than a really nice bike and a crummy seat."
The seat is a comfort issue. If a rider chooses to ignore safety issues, he or she could end up very uncomfortable and in the hospital. The mantra among cycle aficionados should be helmet, helmet, helmet.
"Helmets are the most important thing, other than a fine-tuned bike," says Mr. Maurer, who lives in Pennington.
Mr. Betz concurs that helmets are essential. "It used to be geeky if you wore a helmet," he says, "but now it's geeky if you don't wear a helmet. The trend has changed so dramatically. Helmets are so much lighter today. It's like wearing a baseball cap." It's a small price — $30-$120 — to protect the brain.
Water, too, is important for safety. It is essential to take a water bottle and drink before getting thirsty. Bike riders often don't notice they are dehydrating because the breeze of movement dries their perspiration.
Another must-have for anyone planning a lengthy trip is a tire repair kit. A 4-inch vinyl bag fits under the bike seat and can hold an extra tube, tire irons (really plastic) miniature air pump and patch kit. Kits start at $50.
If you're tempted not to bother, Mr. Betz has a warning: "Ten miles riding is nothing. Ten miles walking is really far."
Another way to avoid a trip to the emergency room is to wear bicycle jerseys, typically neon bright. According to Mr. Betz, cyclists displaying such vibrancy are often a source of mockery, but the eye-popping designs are intended to avoid errant SUVs.
Reflectors have the same purpose: visibility. Mr. Betz says a minimum of front, rear and wheel reflectors are required on bikes sold in the United States. Many bikes also have pedal reflectors. A rear-view mirror helps the cyclist see what's approaching from behind. Also consider a flashing red light ($10-$20) for night riding. It never hurts to carry identification and a cell phone, too.
These things will help keep a bike rider safe. Yet, if the operator doesn't follow the rules of the road, all bets are off. Bicyclists should ride with traffic and obey all motor vehicle regulations. If not, they risk incurring the wrath of others, especially experienced riders like Mr. Betz.
"It drives me crazy," he says. "I see bike riders going through stop signs. Bike riders want respect from cars, but if you don't respect the rules and regulations you don't deserve respect."
Mr. Betz would like to see bikes used for transportation. "(People in other countries) wouldn't think of hopping into a 2,000-pound pile of metal to go two miles to get a video."
His Newtown store has been in business for 21 years. "It's a labor of love," Mr. Betz says. "We've gained a lot of experience."
Their experience might help make the first spring bike ride a pleasant trip for everyone.
Newtown Bicycle and Fitness is located at 30 N. State St., Newtown, Pa. Hours: Mon., Thurs.-Fri. 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Tue.-Wed. 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For information, call (215) 968-3200. On the Web: www.newtownbike.com
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