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I?m Andrew Broan, and I?m a bikeaholic. I?ve got 11 bikes in my garage, and whenever I see a map I devise fantasy tours. After a two-year round-the-world cycleganza with my ex-husband in the late ?90s, I began leading dozens of LGBT bike tours with riders of wildly different abilities for Alyson Adventures (800-825-9766, GayBike.com/alyson.htm). The benefits of a cycling vacation are legion, from experiencing a place up close through all your senses to being able to eat anything you want without gaining weight to firming up your posterior beyond your wildest dreams. Here?s how to make the most of your time on two wheels:
GUIDE OR NO GUIDE?
Decide whether you want to do it yourself (i.e., carry everything on your own bike) or join a commercial tour where someone provides the bike, plans the route, reserves lodging and meals, and schleps your gear. Many companies rate their tours with levels of difficulty depending on miles ridden, terrain, and road surfaces. If you haven?t done much cycling, a guided tour is the way to go.
PICK THE RIGHT BIKE
For beginners, I recommend a hybrid mountain-street bike; it?s good for getting around town but can also be used for longer distances and even on trails. Also, hybrids have a more upright (i.e., less scary and uncomfortable) seating position. Err on the small side for frame fit, and get a cycle that?s neither too cheap nor too expensive.
If you?re carrying your own stuff, set out everything you plan to bring, and then pack only half of it. Even on an organized tour, you won?t need as many clothes as you think. Two cycling outfits are usually enough, since they wash easily in any hotel sink or tub and dry overnight.
LYCRA AS A FASHION STATEMENT
It may seem dorky, but Lycra is a must. Cycling-specific jerseys are aerodynamically designed, don?t sop up sweat, and usually feature a nifty pocket in back to stash a snack, a cell phone, and some cash. Cycling socks can add some gay flair?I like flower designs on mine!
PROTECT YOUR ASSETS
For any trip over a few miles, padded cycling shorts are mandatory. Gloves are also essential, protecting your hands from handlebar vibrations and falls. Leave your iPod at home and be hyperaware of traffic, assuming that every parked car bears an invisible passenger about to fling a door open in your path. Use hand signals to indicate turns and stops. Helmets can save your life?and come in many fashionable colors.
PEDAL TO THE METAL
You can opt for flat pedals or toe clips, but ?clipless? pedals?with platforms that interlock with special cleats on bike shoes?are the modern way to go. Make sure you get lots of practice clicking your special cleats into and out of your clipless pedals at home (preferably in an empty parking lot) rather than learning in, say, Vietnam. I use SPD pedals because they are suitable for both road and trail riding.
ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES
Carry a minipump, tire levers, and a patch kit on even the shortest rides, and a spare tube if you might be in too much of a hurry to mess with patches. It?s also useful to know how to fix a broken chain, adjust your seat, replace broken cables and spokes, clean and lube the drive train, and tweak the brakes and derailleurs. Your local bike shop probably offers free, short courses on these basic skills.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Listen to your body and stop or slow down when your system has had enough. Cycling is tremendously good for your ticker but sometimes hard on your lower back, butt, hamstrings, shoulders, and other muscles. In the weeks or months before a long ride, start training with five miles a day cycling or spinning, and keep adding miles to build stamina. Since it?s low-impact, biking is suitable for anyone with a reasonable fitness level?or for someone looking to get into better shape.
BE SURE TO COOL DOWN
On a multiday jaunt it?s important to stretch your hamstrings, quads, and lower back at each day?s end. Try kneeling with your knees together and then lean back as far as possible and breathe deeply. Soaking with a cute friend in a Jacuzzi is also great for soothing aching muscles!