Live in Southern Illinois and want to start cycling? Then this guide is for you! Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, bicycling has really sparked an interest in folks all over the country. Just southern Illinois alone, I’ve noticed a huge increase of cyclists. But with that, I’ve noticed a lot of mistakes being made that should not be made in the first place. So, because cycling is such a growing interest across the nation and in this region, I wanted to create a free guide to sort of show you how to start cycling specifically in southern Illinois. While I focus on southern Illinois in this article, as I do promote tourism here, you can virtually apply these tips to cycling anywhere even if it is not in southern Illinois. So here we go…
Southern Illinois Cycling Step 1: What Kind of cycling do you want to do?
The first thing you need to start your southern Illinois cycling adventure is a bicycle. There are a multitude of different kinds of bikes these days and you need to ask yourself what type of cycling you want to do. Your options are as follows:
- Road Bike: The bikes are often lightweight, created to allow you to get into an aerodynamic position and their tires are super skinny and smooth. Have you ever watched the Tour de France on TV? Those cyclists are riding road bike. If you plan to stick to paved roads or paved trails that are smooth – road biking might be for you.
- Mountain Bike: Mountain bikes are usually heavily and bulkier bikes with more rugged tires. They’re used to ride on trails made of dirt, rock, and rougher surfaces. Mountain bikes comes in different types including hardtails which have shocks on the front and full suspension which have shocks on the front and back. A hardtail is mostly the common mountain bike to get but if you want to do super technical single-track mountain bike trail, a full suspension might be more your style. There are also different wheel sizes people enjoy based on the size of the person. A lot of people go with 26-inch or even the 27-inch series. People like me, who are much taller tend to go with 29-inch which we call, 29ers.
- Hybrid Bike: If you want an in between a road bike and mountain bike, you might consider a Hybrid Bike. These bikes are good enough to ride on the road but can also handle a little bit rougher terrain like gravel or a crushed limestone Rail-to-Trail like Tunnel Hill State Trail. Hybrid Bikes are often referred to as fitness bike choices.
- Gravel Bike: A gravel bike is much like a road bike by the way it looks and the ability to ride in aerodynamic positions. However, gravel bikes have slightly more rugged tires on them and components made to withstand some rougher riding. Gravel bikes are for riding on gravel and dirt roads but are not as rugged and heavy as a mountain bike. The gravel cycling scene is really starting to significantly increase, too.
- Recumbent Bike: A recumbent bike is a bicycle that is lower to the ground. The seat is usually a lot more comfortable with back support. The pedaling aspect is the main component of these bikes. You are usually always in a seated position which no real ability to stand up and ride. Recumbent bikes are often first choice for folks with mobility issues and back problems as they tend to provide a more comfortable riding position.
- Tandem Bike: A tandem bike is usually a 2-person bicycle. The front ride is in charge of steering the bike where they want it to go and both riders pedal. This is often a choice for couple or parents with younger children who might not be able to handle a bike of their own. Tandems are not widely available but can often be ordered. You can also usually get them for road biking, gravel, and mountain biking situations.
- E-Bike: An E-Bike is an electronically assisted bicycle meaning it has battery-powered electronic mechanisms that help assist in pedaling. The E-Bike revolution is significantly increasing and even becoming a preferred choice for work commuting. E-Bikes allow people with mobility issues to enjoy a bike ride while not having to work so hard to do it. There are different styles of E-Bikes whether its for the road, mountain biking or in between.
One thing to keep in mind when choosing what bike to get is the type of cycling you plan to do. Southern Illinois cycling opportunities are everywhere!
We have designated mountain bike trails near Carbondale for al levels and age groups and we have more mountain biking opportunities on east side of the Shawnee National Forest and at Rend Lake. Mountain biking is a lot of fun, but it also requires skill building, tends to be a very rugged form of exercise with hilly conditions and can be dangerous at times. Mountain biking may not be for everyone.
Gravel riding is increasing in popularity in southern Illinois so much that we have races for it that draw thousands of people to participate. There are a lot of gravel roads in southern Illinois especially towards the more southern counties of the region. However, these gravel roads often include hills which not everyone will enjoy. Gravel is defiantly a rugged form of exercise and will require skill building.
Road biking is also a popular form of cycling in southern Illinois. There are many great roads all over the region for road biking. There are rural route highways, paved backroads and now even more paved and concrete bike paths are being constructed around the region especially in between Marion and Carbondale. These paths also provide an opportunity for commuting by bike to work instead of having to deal with the cost of rising gas prices for vehicles.
Dedicated bike paths are also popular and spread around the region. There is a nearly 50-mile Rail to Trail that goes through multiple counties and includes very scenic views and features. There are bike trails in Metropolis, Rend Lake, Equality and in Carbondale. There is even a bike trail being made now that will connect Marion to Crab Orchard Refuge to Carbondale completely allowing cyclists the safety of not having to ride on the busy and often dangerous State Route Highway 13.
There are many different types of cycling activities that can be performed in southern Illinois. You just need to decide which one you want to start with. If you enjoy cycling enough, you can get more bikes for other activities in the future which is effectively what I did. I have road bikes and mountain bikes and I’m looking to invest in a gravel bike shortly.
Southern Illinois Cycling Step 2: Buying your bike, apparel, and essential gear.
Please support local when purchasing bikes, apparel, and gear for cycling adventures in southern Illinois or wherever you might live. Your local businesses depend on your revenue in order to survive and help your local economy thrive. I won’t mention store names but big-box chain stores that sell everything are not ideal for buying bikes and bike stuff at. The employees are usually not well-equipped with the knowledge required to ensuring you buy the best bike for you. If you buy the wrong size for example, it can lead to injury, long-term injury at that. Chain stores are not going to give you the professional and dedicated service that you will need in order to truly have a positive experience. Please choose a local bike shop when purchasing a new bike.
Luckily, we have a lot of good ones around southern Illinois. We have Carbondale Cycle for Trek and Bontrager brand bikes and gear located in Carbondale. Also, in Carbondale is Phoenix Cycling which carried Giant brand bikes. Down the road in Carterville is Bike Surgeon of Southern Illinois which carries the Specialized bike brand. The brand you choose to by is really up to you. I suggest you visit all three shops; test ride the bike styles you want to get and then decide which one feels the best. Personally, I enjoy all three of those brands and think all three are a good choice. But I mainly ride Trek.
Luckily, these local bike shops are employed by people who know bikes. These people ride bikes every day. Some of them only use bikes as their form of transportation. You are going to get genuine true professional cycling expertise on your side when shopping for a bike. They aren’t going to lie, cheat and steal because they want your business and they want you to keep coming back for all your cycling needs. They will also bike fit you to make sure you get the size of bike that is appropriate for your needs. Local bike shops also sell the apparel you will want and the essential gear.
For a good starter shopping list, I suggest the following:
- Bicycle – This is the most important item to get in order to start cycling, right? LOL – there isn’t much more to say about this one other than make sure you test ride a few options and make sure you request to be fitted for the right size of bike.
- Bike shorts – Bike shorts make such a huge difference on a bike. These shorts have built-in padding called a chamois. The chamois helps to prevent chaffing in all of the private sensitive areas that we need to protect. There are many styles of bike short including thick pads, thin pads, tight spandex shorts, loose shorts, shorts, capris, tights, bibs and so on. I have found that skin-tight spandex bib-shorts are the best type of bike shorts. If it gets too cold, I’ll put on a pair of insulated tights on over my shorts.
- Bike jersey – A bike jersey is a special bike shirt made for cycling. It often includes three deep pockets in the back to help you store any items you might need. The jersey is nice to have but totally optional depending on your needs.
- Water bottles with cages – I recommend getting at least 2 water bottles with water cages for your bike. You need to make sure you stay hydrated while riding.
- Extra innertube, portable air pump and patch kit – You never know what can happen during a ride and having the ability to fix a tire or change a tube can help reduce a lot of problems. Make sure you know how to change one or patch one before you start riding (YouTube is your friend here).
- Multi-tool and tire levers – A good multi-tool are required to help keep things tight or to take things off during repairs. Tire levers will help you get tires off the rims when you need to change a tube or patch a hole.
- Saddle bag: A little bag that attaches under your saddle (bike seat) to hold your spare tube, tools, and patch kit.
- Lights: Get a good headlight and back light for your bike. Even if you just plan to ride in the daytime hours, you never know what can happen. Better to be prepared than unprepared.
- Gloves: Save your hands by getting a good pair of cycling gloves. There are different styles, but I like fingerless gloves with slight padding.
- Helmet: Although not required, a helmet can save your life in the event of a crash. Since many drivers are distracted more and more these days from advanced technology, it is important to take protective measures like wearing a helmet.
For starting a hobby in cycling, the above shopping list should be good enough. I will say this though, when it comes to cycling – you get what you pay for. Cheap bikes usually mean break down, part failures and bad experiences. I would not buy a bike for no less than $400.00. Some bikes cost even more but include better features. A lighter weight bike made of carbon fiber for example is usually going to cost a few thousand dollars, but the experience may be worth it. I have a carbon road bike and personally, I can never get away from carbon again. Cycling can be expensive at times if you want better selections, but the benefits usually outweigh the cost especially in terms of commuting to save of rising fuel costs and the fitness and health benefits of the activity.
Southern Illinois Cycling Step 3: Avoiding Negative Experiences
Cycling is supposed to be healthy and fun but like with any fitness activity, you can experience negative results with it. I want touch base on some of the things I have learned over the years of cycling myself. I think cycling can be completely positive for most people if they seek advice before getting to far into it. So, let’s go over some issues!
Common hacks for cycling issues:
- My butt hurts after a long ride or even a short ride, what can I do about?
- Most of the time, a good pair of padded bike shorts will fix this. Don’t make the mistake of getting shorts without a pad, though. You need real bike shorts, not compression shorts with no pad.
- You might need a new saddle (seat). Our backsides are different than one and another’s so sometimes we have special needs for them.
- On longer rides, stand up when coasting or pedaling up a hill to take pressure off yourself for a few moments.
- As a beginner, don’t hesitate to stop and take a break for a little bit and give your cheeks a rest.
- You don’t fit your bike – make sure you get a bike fit from a local bike shop before venturing out on it.
- How can I get better at hills?
- Learn how use your gears properly! Once you understand your gears, most hills get pretty easy to cope with.
- Don’t rush it! I took me years to be able to comfortable climb hills. There were many times I had to get off the bike and push.
- Keep riding in hilly areas! To get better at hill, you need to keep riding in the hills. There more you ride hills, the better you will get.
- Hills take it out of us! Make sure you hydrate and east properly before, during and after riding in the hills.
- I’m in pain when I ride, what should I do?
- Make sure you are fitted on your bike. Go to a local bike shop for a bike fit. It might be something as simple as raising your saddle bar, but you also might be on a bike too small for you. A bike that doesn’t fit will always result in pain and potential long-term injuries.
- If you wear clip-less shoes and your feet, ankles or legs hurt-adjust the cleat on the shoe until you start feeling less pain. Cleats become loose over time and sometimes shift. So, you have to keep an eye on them.
- If your hands, elbows, and arms hurt, try getting padded bike gloves to start and then shift your hands around while riding, holding different parts of the handlebars.
- If your back hurts, your bike might be unproperly fitting. Go to a local bike shop to take care of this.
- How can tell if cycling is helping me?
- Keep a cycling journal with days you ride, how far you ride and your weight. Track it every time you ride and watch the progress.
- If you ride the same route and mileage every time, you won’t notice significant changes usually. Try to mix things up by going to opposite direction or a new route.
- Download a tracking app for keeping track of your bike rides and pay attention to your results. I use Strava myself and have for years. I personally like the paid version better than the free version (not sponsored).
- Just keep riding – you will tell the difference the more and more that you ride!
- Cycling on the road with cars scares me, what can I do?
- If you have a road bike, go to a road with less drivers. I really enjoy riding at Giant City State Park or Crab Orchard Auto-Loop near the Wolf Creek Causeway. A less driven road will help you get used to cars better.
- Bike on bike lanes, paths, or trails instead of the road. Carbondale has a nice bike path. Rend Lake has a nice bike path. Tunnel Hill State Trail has over 40-miles of bike path. There is a bike path in Metropolis and Fort Massac and one in Equality at Glen O. Jones Lake.
- Don’t ride against traffic. A lot of people think that its safer to see the car that might hit you. The truth is, we usually hesitate when something like that is happening. If a car hits you head one, your chances of survival is slim because of something so heavy hitting you from the front. If they hit your from behind, it may push your forward a way and potentially be less lethal. Always ride with traffic.
- Be an ethical cyclist by following the rules of the road. Stop at stop signs, use your hands for turn signals and right on the right unless a clear bike lane is available. If the bike lane is full of glass or debris, don’t ride in it because it will be your main hazard at that point.
I hope my basic cycling guide for Southern Illinois cyclists has helped you today! Please feel free to comment below with your tips! Share this article with others especially on your favorite social media websites!
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Shawn J. Gossman
Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.