A few years ago, this column mentioned that the League of American Bicyclists, or LAB, ranked Maine as the nation’s fourth most bike-friendly state, based on legislation, education, policies, programs, infrastructure, evaluation and planning, but since then, LAB has moved us to third place.

LAB’s endorsement offers proof that the Pine Tree State reigns as one of America’s top places to bicycle — and it’s getting even better. Such a grade will surely spur tourism and foster resident interest in the sport.

Because of increased participation these days, bicyclists have long since surpassed five individual Maine hunting sports in popularity — waterfowl, bear, rabbit, squirrel or bowhunting for deer.

Deer hunters with firearms and grouse enthusiasts may still draw more participants, but the key word is “may.” The last time I looked, Maine had no reliable figure on bicyclist numbers.

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reports that it sells more than 200,000-plus deer-hunting licenses per year, but IFW officials count each of the different type of deer-hunting licenses sold. In truth, this state has upwards to 170,000 individual deer hunters, but when one person buys a bow-hunting, regular firearm, muzzle-loading and expanded archery license, IFW considers it as four different people instead of as one.

In Maine, I doubt bicyclists exceed deer hunters, but bikers are giving whitetail stalkers a run for their money in attracting participants.

Also, the ranks of bikers is growing while deer hunters decrease.

In my experience, people with an interest in getting into bicycling do not need much of a push. A little advice from the right source gets them into a bicycle shop in a hurry to purchase a machine.

Folks have asked me about getting into bicycling so often that my answer sounds like a recording, beginning with the following advice:

Novices should go to a reputable bicycle shop and have an experienced sales clerk fit the bike to them and furnish instructions on how to ride safely and properly.

On the first day of bicycling, stretch and warm up before hopping on the bicycle and taking off for the first day of a wonderful, new, life-recreation experience. Follow this regimen everyday before a trip to avoid muscle or joint injuries.

Start off from the front driveway, head in the flattest direction and pedal 10 minutes before turning around and coming back — a 20-minute workout five times during the first week.

If new bicyclists live in hilly terrain, buy a bicycle rack and drive to a flat stretch of road to start the 20-minute initiation. That way, folks can build up slowly to climbing hills.

The second week, repeat the regimen but go 12 minutes one way and then the next week pedal 15 minutes. Work up to 30 minutes from the driveway — or a one-hour trip in all. (And remember, novice bicyclists easily go 12 miles an hour and an experienced one — particularly in flat terrain — 16 to 20.)

Limit the rides to 60 minutes for a while before reaching out for the eventual goal of pedaling 100 miles in a day. Yup, the coveted century ride.

My instructions for the first weeks may strike folks as too cautious, but for novices, a 20-minute ride will elevate the heart rate and tire muscles. Folks will feel it the following morning — my promise to you.

Also, even teenagers need a somewhat slow introduction to avoid injuries from overexertion.

For example, in my teens, I played interscholastic football, basketball and baseball. Naturally, teenagers are strapping, healthy individuals full of energy, but our coaches brought us along slowly enough so we would not hurt ourselves.

My coaches might have hollered like banshees at times so we would work harder, but they made sure we all survived.

Older bicyclists must be particularly careful. I recently suffered an injury that shouldn’t have occurred because I knew better. I really did.

One cold morning in early June, I stretched and warmed up before leaving the yard — my normal procedure — and traveled about 14 miles before throwing my chain at the bottom of a very steep hill.

After putting latex gloves on my hands, it normally takes but seconds to get the chain back in place, but this particular morning, for reasons too boring to explain, the chore required upwards of 15 minutes in a crisp wind that cooled me plenty.

I should have warmed up by pedaling away from the hill for 200 to 300 yards before turning around and coming back for the climb, but I went straight up the hill, resulting in a severely strained piriformis muscle, one of the body’s most difficult muscles to heal, according to my physical therapist.

I cannot leave this topic without mentioning a huge appeal of rural bicycling.

Unlike walking or even jogging, average bicyclists cover 12 to 20 miles in an hour, but they’re doing it slowly enough to see lots of flora, fauna and geology. That’s a tough appeal to beat.

 

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]