Throughout my childhood, my dad was a bike commuter. Every morning he'd buckle his helmet, zip his bike bag shut, and wrap a velcro strap around his right pant leg—ready to seize the day. Living in New York, I've always been more inclined to a mix of walking and public transportation, a way to clear my mind and listen to a podcast. But when the pandemic arrived and the subway, bus, and even Ubers were no longer an option, I needed a new method to get around. That's when I finally discovered the joy of a casual bike ride.
Meet the Expert
As it turns out, I'm not alone. "We saw an unprecedented upswing in ridership over these last two years," says Justin Lamb, brand manager at Public Bikes. "The year leading up to the pandemic was one of the slowest years for the bicycle industry, and the outlook on 2020 wasn't much different. Suddenly, the first wave of COVID hit, and people were rediscovering that bikes could be a fun and healthy alternative to public transportation or just a great way to get outside without involving large groups of people."
Switching to biking as a mode of transportation has obvious health benefits — it's a sneaky way to exercise daily. Studies have shown that even simply adding a daily bike commute can contribute to increased cardiovascular health. I also find that exercise—especially forms that take me outside like running, hiking, and cycling—positively impacts my mental health, helping to clear my head after a long day spent in front of a computer.
As a longtime fashion editor, biking has also offered me a chance to explore a new area of sportswear and reevaluate my wardrobe in a new context. I've picked up a few pieces of formal biking gear—most importantly, a helmet. Still, as a mostly-casual commuter, figuring out the best bike-friendly dresses (not too short at risk of flying above my head), shorts (not too tight in the legs or made of heavy material), and even jeans (careful of anything too baggy that might catch on the chain), has been a fun challenge.
I've also found biking to be an activity that has helped me appreciate my surroundings in new ways. Having navigated the city mostly underground on a subway car or from the back seat of a taxi, I discovered new details from my bike. Being in the open air, immersed in the sounds and smells (mostly pleasant, sometimes not so much) of New York, I felt connected to my city in new ways, like I was in on neighborhood secrets I'd missed out on before.
With major metropolitan cities like Paris and New York investing heavily in bike-friendly infrastructure—closing down specific streets, adding protected bike lanes, and even increasing the number of bikes available in share programs like NYC's CitiBike—it's safer and more feasible than ever to make cycling a regular habit.
Still, the sheer breadth of bike styles available (some with $1000+ price points) can be intimidating for first-time bikers. Luckily, many brands make bikes with newer users in mind, often with a more affordable price point. The most important thing to consider when starting is your user needs. "If you are looking for a bike to commute with every day, you'll want one that prioritizes comfort," says Ely Khakshouri, Founder and CEO of Retrospec. "If speed is what you're looking for, you will want something more forward-leaning and aerodynamic."
A single-speed bike may do the trick if it's relatively flat, while somewhere hillier may require a multi-speed option. "Hybrid bikes, also known as commuter or urban bikes, are a great option for new and beginner riders," suggests Lamb. "Chosen primarily for a more upright riding style, the flat handlebars and relaxed seat angle makes it easy to keep an eye on your surroundings and navigate when riding in traffic. Hybrid bikes are versatile, comfortable, lighter, and require less maintenance than other bikes."
Additionally, for those who may not want to commit to the everyday exercise but are looking to cut down on car use, cycling brands note an uptick in electric bikes (also known as e-bikes). "With the increase in gas prices, people are looking for alternate modes of transportation and are starting to invest in e-bikes," says Khakshouri. "Commuting to work, going to the grocery store, and getting around town on a bike or e-bike is both cost-effective and eco-friendly." These models are speedier than a traditional unassisted bike but can take advantage of the bike-friendly infrastructure.
Ready to take on casual cycling as your new hobby—or potentially even your go-to method of transportation? I've outlined some of my favorite bike options and gear to help get you started.
Oja P, Titze S, Bauman A, et al. Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011;21(4):496-509.