Pedal power

Cruise through May is Bike Month with these 10 cycle-ready tips

Illustration by Hayley Doshay

For more information on May is Bike Month events and challenges, visit

May is Bike Month, an annual cycling campaign, has rolled into Sacramento. The effort, designed to encourage an increase in ridership in the six-county region, means it's time for everyone parked behind a steering wheel to put away the car keys and get to commuting with pure pedal power.

Participants can register and track miles online; there are also team and individual challenges, myriad events and prizes. To help you prepare, SN&R chatted with three local experts from whom they culled 10 summer-ready bicycle tips. Advice covers basics, such as seasonal maintenance, as well as overall safety rules and even some MacGuyver-worthy suggestions on what to do if you suddenly find yourself miles from the nearest repair shop with a busted tire (see tip No. 7).

01 Maintain the drivetrain

Debra Banks, owner of Rivet Cycle Works (, a Sacramento-based company specializing in custom leather saddles, enjoys long-distance cycling and randonneuring-style rides—a high-endurance challenge that recently sent her on a journey of more than 200 miles. With thousands of miles logged, she shares the No. 1 tip to ensure a smooth ride, whatever the distance. “[Keep] your drivetrain clean: your chain, cassette, derailleur and crank set,” she explains. “This will lengthen the life of your bicycle immensely, and it will make your ride so much more comfortable for the long haul.”

02 Add some padding

Spring and summer bring out the short shorts and, sometimes, even the hideous jeans-and-flip-flop combo. The change in weather also brings out plenty of wheels. The next time the urge to mount a ride with a group of compadres hits, take another comforting tip from the woman responsible for creating those cozy tush seats: “The next most important thing is your contact points with the bicycle: your feet on the pedals, hands on the handlebars and your bottom, of course, on the saddle,” says Banks. “If you’re having pain in any one of those three areas, it will slow you down, you’ll be miserable and you won’t enjoy the bike ride.” And, she notes, comfortable clothing such as the right pair of shoes or shorts and proper padding wrapped around the handlebars can go a long way when it comes to endurance and comfort.

03 Lube up

With a keen eye for detail and patience for the craft of building and repairing bicycles, Addison Quarles, owner of Addison’s Bicycle Repairium (2311 S Street, Suite 2), says keeping bicycle chains well-greased makes for happy gears. “In the summer, use a wet lubricant, like an oil, and it will keep your chain from wearing out and your gears from wearing out,” he says. Meanwhile, Jackie Musick, service manager at The Bicycle Business (3077 Freeport Boulevard) recommends a wax-based lubricant. “A wax-based lubricant will not only lubricate your chain, but coat your chain with a layer of paraffin wax that protects it from the elements. It works particularly well in wet weather and in dry weather to shed dirt and moisture from the street.”

04 Just say no

That famous blue-and-yellow spray can in Dad’s garage might work when it comes to removing gunk from metal or loosening stuck parts, but think twice before squirting WD-40 or another petroleum-based liquid near any part of a bicycle. “WD-40 and bikes don’t mix,” Quarles says. “It locks in all the bad stuff and wipes out all the good stuff. It’s like chemotherapy for bicycles. It will quiet [the bike] down if it’s squeaking, and then it will strip all the lubrication inside of the chain, drying out and ruining your chain.” Instead, Quarles recommends the Tri-Flow brand of lube, while Banks uses Chain-L—an all-weather variety—and Musick’s go-to alternatives include the White Lightning or Rock “N” Roll brands.

05 Whatever the weather

How you treat bicycle when it rains vs. when the sun is out is important to its maintenance, Quarles says. As such, he reminds all riders to check and change brake pads at the beginning of spring. “All the water and grit you’ve picked up from the road will wear your brake pads out,” he says. “It’s just visual inspection, like the penny test on your car tire tread. Stick a penny in the tread, and if you can see Abraham Lincoln’s face, then it’s usually time to replace them.”

06 Navigate wisely

illustration by hayley doshay

Whether it’s Google Maps, MapQuest or a physical map of a bike trail, our experts all agree that knowing what lies ahead when it comes to mileage and the weather is essential to riding long or short distances. “Be prepared, especially if you’re going out for longer rides from town to town, not just urban rides,” says Banks. “Obviously, it’s a great idea to go out with friends, but if you’re going for a little more adventure, doing a little homework is useful.” Banks adds that researching the day’s wind reports is also vital, as strong gusts can derail plans for an otherwise sunny day.

07 The fix-it ticket

Knowing how to change a tire is, according to all three bicycle enthusiasts, essential—as is having access to the necessary tools needed to get the job done, especially when out on a bike trail. “Never leave home without the ability to change a tire,” Banks says. “Have a new tube, a patch kit, maybe a CO2 cartridge if you use that, or a pump or both.” Another tip: Banks says if a tire is damaged, try inserting a trusty dollar bill, a bit of duct tape or a small piece of punctured inner tube into the inner casing of the tire—this will temporarily keep the new tube secured within the tire casing.

08 Lock it up

With an increase in local bike thefts, properly securing your ride is imperative. Tips from the Repairium include “locking up next to a bike that looks better than yours,” while Musick suggests any strong, U-lock-style device. “If you don’t have a bike to ride, bicycle health is completely pointless. Store your bike inside whenever possible,” he says. “As a mechanic, [I] see a lot of damage done to bicycles over the course of time just from being stored outside or in places where they’re susceptible to moisture and weather.”

09 Protect the neck

After a seven-year stretch living the car-free lifestyle, Musick recently started driving again and immediately noticed how invisible bicyclists really are at night. “Safety is a pretty huge issue. It’s super important to have front and rear lights and wear reflective clothing for the sake of visibility at night. It’s crucial,” he says. Indeed, Musick says he never rides without protective headgear. “Even if I’m running out to pick up … lunch three blocks from my shop, I’ll put on my helmet. I just don’t feel safe without it.”

10 Just ride

With chains greased, routes mapped and all precautionary tips taken into consideration, what’s left to do but pedal forward? “Just ride your bike,” says Musick. “That’s not necessarily being esoteric, it’s actually mechanically better for your bike to ride it from time to time rather than to let it sit. Riding your bike is probably one of the best things you can do for it.”