They're everywhere. Decked out with enough gear to traverse the state. Pedaling in skirts to Farmers' Market. Powering past you in the forest. That guy you're passing on the highway, the one covered in so much bicycle gear you almost fail to notice his bulging calf muscles. (But you do!) That woman bouncing down the trail ahead of you, her mountain bike steady as she dodges rocks and powers over teeth-rattling ruts. The families riding together along the Hammond Trail, little kids with training wheels, older siblings showing off with no hands. People in Humboldt love their bicycles.
Naturally, several organizations have sprung into existence to support this habit: Green-Wheels, sustainable transportation advocates; the Humboldt Bay Bicycle Commuters Association, dedicated to improved bicycle commuting; and Bigfoot Bicycle Club, promoting cycling in Humboldt County. The Tour of the Unknown Coast draws cyclists from all over the country, as do the trails snaking between big trees in Arcata Community Forest and even bigger trees in the state and national redwood parks. For the less adrenaline-dependent, the cushy flatness of Arcata's Bottom awaits, as do the gentle inclines of the Hammond Trail.
But what if you're a beginner? You probably know how to ride a bike, but commuting, mountain biking, committing to spend more time on two wheels? That can be a big next step. Fortunately, resources abound.
First off, what's your goal? Drive less? Get more exercise? Incorporate more adventure into your life? Make new friends? Explore new places? All worthy goals, the specifics of which will determine what sort of bike you need, as well as where you'll go.
Craigslist deals run from $20 to upwards of $1,000. A basic used road bike at a local bike shop starts at about $150 with new ones costing $250 to $400 for an average, no frills starter. Mountain bikes run $350 to $400 to start. You can get them cheaper at Costco, but research reviews online first -- some serious cyclists raise questions about the longevity of bikes bought from non-specialists.
Shop vs. Garage Sale
If you're a real do-it-yourselfer, you could buy a good bicycle maintenance book and take your chances online. But if you prefer having someone who knows what they're doing help you out, you definitely want to invest the extra money in buying from a place where the staff stands behind the bikes they sell, used or new, and will be kind when you come in needing help with a flat tire, bent derailleur or loose chain. If you do buy used online or at a garage sale, do some in-depth research on what to look for. Dents are bad. So are cracks and loose handlebars. You need a frame that fits you. "A lot of people think bigger is better," Revolution Bicycle's Sean Tetrault warns. "Modern bikes are different. The fit has changed and evolved." Generally, when straddling the bike with both feet on the ground, at least one or two inches of space should exist between the top bar and your nether regions.
A word on bike seats
Speaking of those delicate parts, bike seats can be notoriously uncomfortable. Remember, anything that is slightly painful when pedaling around for a few minutes will only grow horribly uncomfortable after a few miles. Invest in a quality seat, something that won't detract from the awesomeness of riding past gliding herons, diving osprey, scampering calves and winding rivers. Go for a test ride.
Beyond the bicycle
You'll need accessories. A lot of them have to do with protection. First, a helmet. Don't be an idiot -- wear one. Lots of people crash or are crashed into. If you're one of them, won't you be happy you protected your brain? For a road bike, fenders offer protection from, as avid cyclist Jack Durham says, "one's face and ass being covered in mud and grit." A good lock provides protection from thieves. A pump and patch kit ward off having to walk your bike miles home in case of a flat. Even if you don't plan to ride in the dark, lights are recommended for increased visibility, especially if the fog rolls in. A rear rack is useful for packing a change of clothes if commuting or a picnic basket if frolicking. If you're embarking on a mountain biking quest, Tetrault says fenders are optional, but tool kits are important. He recommends full-fingered gloves.
For road biking, fingerless gloves help provide warmth while maintaining dexterity. If you have some old wool ones, you can just hack the fingers right off. You don't need to suit up in primary colors that scream, "I'm a bicyclist on a mission!" but the aerodynamics of bike pants -- and the fact that they don't catch in your chain -- make the ride smoother. You will want a brightly colored lightweight jacket that's comfortable in both rain and shine, drizzle and wind. Don't forget your ears! They chill easily. Durham says you can invest in a fancy ear warmer for $10 or just cut the top off an old beanie.
In addition to the helmet, a rearview mirror can help provide awareness of oncoming vehicles. You don't have to don the garish uniforms favored by pros, but bright colors, please! Awareness is key. Pay attention to the drivers around you; assume they don't see you. Make eye contact as much as possible. Don't wear headphones. Watch out for folks opening their car doors. Be particularly cautious at intersections and on the highway.
You should be having it.
GPS-enhanced descriptions of bike ride routes around Humboldt County: northcoastbikerides.blogspot.com
Humboldt Bay Bicycle Commuters Association: humbike.org
Bigfoot Bicycle Club: bigfootbicycle.org
Jennifer Savage chairs the Humboldt chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, works days for Ocean Conservancy and generally loves being at the beach or biking alongside hawks and cows. If you'd like to write for "Get Out!" please pitch your column idea to Carrie Peyton Dahlberg, at firstname.lastname@example.org.