Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tips On Buying Your First Bike

Just in case you missed the blog and Twitter posts, I'm getting a bike for my birthday. When I started shopping, the first thing I learned is that I didn't even know where to start. I figured a few things out along the way, so I thought I would write a quick post with my tips for buying your first bike.

1) Know the area where you plan to use the bike. 

I had not thought about this until someone in one of the bike stores mentioned it, but where you plan to ride/park your bike will affect the types of locks you need as well as the type of bike you buy. If you plan to load your bike on a car rack and drive it to your local mountain biking trail where you have no intention of letting it out of your sight, you may be able to get away with a cheaper lock. If you know that you will be locking up your bike in an area with a lot of crime, on the other hand, you may need more than one lock.

Additionally, where you plan to ride your bike will affect the type of bike you need. I still don't know a ton about the different varieties of bike, but in the course of my research I learned that mountain bikes are built differently from road bikes which are built differently from commuter bikes and so on. To get the most out of your money, you have to think through where you will use the bike so that you buy something that will work for all of your needs.

2) Decide what you want to use the bike for.

The next question you should ask yourself is why you are buying a bike. I bought a bike because I had a sprained ankle and my doctor suggested biking as a way to workout while it healed. Technically he suggested a stationary bike, but I decided that if I could ride a stationary bike with a sprained ankle, I could ride a real bike with a sprained ankle. With that, I was off on a journey to buy my first bike. 

Even though the primary impetus behind my purchase was an injury, I also knew that once I had the bike, I might also use it to commute to school. Based on that information, I knew I wanted a bike that would work for exercise and commuting. I also thought there was a slim chance I would want to use the bike for a triathlon at some point, but I decided to focus on the first two uses since they were more immediate. I don't know how to swim yet, so it will be many moons before I seriously consider a triathlon. By that time I might have the money and the inclination to invest in a nicer bike.

3) Figure out your budget.

The next step is to figure out your budget. Maybe you are someone who regularly makes it rain in the club, but I am a broke law student. I told my family that I wanted a bike for my birthday and then relied on the generous donations of my relatives to determine what I had to spend. I wound up with approximately $600. 

Good bikes are not cheap. The most basic entry-level bikes will run you around $500 and the fanciest bikes can cost as much as a car. Since my budget was fairly small I had limited options, but if you are prepared to spend $1,000 or more you will have more choices.

4) Think About Accessories.

This ties into the whole budget thing. Bikes don't come with everything you need to enjoy them fully and safely. You will probably need to buy a lock and a helmet at minimum, but there is a chance you will need to buy other things too. For example, my bike didn't come with a kickstand. I had to pay an extra $10 to have one put on my bike. You may also need to add lights to your bike if you plan to ride it at night. All of those things add up and I didn't even mention adding things like new handlebars. 

5) Go to an actual bike store.

Bikes are sort of like running shoes in that some will fit you better than others. If you go to an actual bike store they can make sure that the seat is set at the right height, that you have the right kind of handlebars for your needs, etc. Plus, your bike will be put together by an actual bike mechanic who really knows what they are doing.

6) Ask lots of questions.

This may seem obvious, but it is an important one. Buying your first bike is almost as scary as buying your first car. You may not know a lot about bikes and the possibilities that are out there. Having a conversation with someone knowledgeable is the fastest way to get the information you need to choose your bike wisely. If the person you are talking to gets annoyed with you, maybe it's a sign that you aren't meant to get your bike from that store.

7) Shop Around. 

When I say shop around, I mean several things. First, you need to get a feel for the store itself. Are the employees knowledgeable and helpful? What kind of bikes does the store usually sell? I searched Yelp for bike stores in my area and skimmed through the customer reviews for each of the results before I even thought about visiting the store. Since I didn't really know what I needed, I knew that finding a good bike store was crucial for me. I wanted a place where the employees really knew bikes and genuinely tried to help their customers find the right bike for them. 

Once I found a few stores that got good reviews, I called a few places to ask about their prices, whether they did fittings, whether they charged extra for fittings and putting the bike together, and whether they sold new bikes, used bikes, or both. Based on those conversations I decided whether it was worth it to actually go visit the store and see what they had available. I wound up really liking one of the stores I visited and bought my bike there even though they had to order the bike I wanted.  

The employee I spoke to was really patient with my questions, including the slightly crazy ones like, "Have you ever heard of anyone in this city getting run over by a car while biking?" He even sent me home with a map that showed the best bike routes in the city.

Anyway, I hope these tips are helpful! What was your first bike-buying adventure like? Do you have any tips for people who are thinking about buying a bike?

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Momentous Occasion

Today was a big day for me, full of major accomplishments. I mean, some people are proud when they make the swim team or graduate from college. I've never made the swim team so I don't know what that's like, but today I experienced a sense of achievement the likes of which I have not felt since my college graduation. I did a thing I have been trying to do for years, a thing I have never accomplished without adult supervision. Today, I hard boiled an egg.

That's right. I did it all by myself with no input from my mom who normally has to help me because my hard boiled eggs never turn out right. Usually I do everything I'm supposed to and when I peel and cut into the eggs the yolk isn't fully cooked. On the spectrum of yolk doneness they are are far too cooked to be soft boiled but not yet at that crumbly creamy stage they reach when they are hard boiled. Up to this point my attempts have left my eggs right at the cusp of greatness, but rather than reaching the precipice of hard boiled deliciousness they always fall just a little bit short. When I peeled the first egg and sliced into it, I had low expectations. Imagine my surprise when the center was cooked all the way through. In a word, it was beautiful.

The fun did not stop there, though. I was in a great mood after class so I decided to try doing one of my errands on foot. Since spraining my ankle I've had to drive places I would normally walk. My ankle is getting better, but sometimes when I'm doing my physical therapy exercises or walking a long distance, I feel a weakness in my ankle that wasn't there before. It does not hurt exactly, it's more of a feeling that if I push too hard, my ankle will give out. I've been trying to rebuild the stamina in my ankle by doing progressively more walking. One day last week I got in 10,000 steps for the first time since the sprain. Today, I beat that number.

Keep in mind that these numbers reflect an entire day, but I did manage to walk over 2 miles without a break at one point. I am a long way from where I was before my injury, but it feels good to be making improvements. 

It was a beautiful day for a walk and it was fun to see all the people outside and enjoying the sunlight. It was nice to finally feel like I could get out and enjoy the sunlight too even if it wasn't for as long as I would have liked. It was a good day, and I'm looking forward to more good days to come.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Saturday Favorites (Because Friday Favorites Didn't Happen)

I was going to post this yesterday for the alliterative value of having a post called "Friday Favorites," but by the time I got home, blogging was not happening. Instead, you get a favorites post on Saturday. Without further ado, here are some of my favorites from the past week.

Favorite Workout 
My favorite workout this week was all the walking I did on Monday, February 17. I know it seems like a tiny achievement, but that was the first time I got in at least 10,000 steps in one day since spraining my ankle. It felt sorer by the end of the day than I would have liked, but making it that far is a testament to how much I've healed since getting injured.

Favorite Meal
This was my cheat meal for the week and it wound up being perfect. I have not been feeling all that well this week and wanted soup, but they didn't make any today. Instead, I wound up with a foot long roast beef on wheat with onion, spinach, honey mustard, and provolone. Normally I don't get any cheese, but since it was a cheat meal I made an exception. 

Favorite Thing I Read
Macmillan Audio was nice enough to give me a free download of Runner by Patrick Lee to review. The review is coming as soon as I finish the audiobook, but for right now, suffice it to say that this thriller has been right up my alley. If you like Lee Child, you would probably enjoy this too.

Image Credit

Favorite Picture I Took
I took this picture one day last week and had some fun editing it later. I have no idea why I stopped to take a picture of a Barber Shop sign, other than I liked how out of place it seemed in its surroundings. 

Favorite Product I Tried
Sometimes I go in Trader Joe's with a list and stick to it. Sometimes i go in Trader Joe's with a list and buy things I didn't intend to anyway. I did not intend to buy this soap, but I like trying the occasional Trader Joe's beauty product because they are usually more natural than the stuff you find at Walmart. This particular bar of soap caught my eye because I wanted to try a vegetable oil soap and I thought that if drinking green tea is supposed to be good for you, washing yourself in it couldn't hurt either.

Thing I Watched
I have been obsessed with Dance Academy since I binge watched the first season over a year ago. The series is about a group of young Australian dancers who get into an elite ballet school. I know it sounds like just another teen show, but it's actually really well written with great character development and believable story lines. Netflix finally posted the third and final season and I finished it in less than two days. It still hasn't hit me that there won't be another season. 
Image Credit

Favorite Song I Listened To
"I See Fire" is a song Ed Sheeran did for the latest installment of The Hobbit, and I love it pretty hard. The song is super mellow and Ed Sheeran has an amazing voice, so it has been getting a lot of plays.

Image Credit

Anyway, those are my favorite things from this week. What are some of your favorite things?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Delightful Ankle Sprain

The day after I sprained my ankle, I saw a doctor who said the lack of bruising and swelling meant the sprain was really mild and it would probably heal within 6-8 weeks. After living with Crohn's Disease for thirteen years, I have learned to take my doctors' pronouncements with a grain of salt. That's why I freaked out and went to the ER when my foot was more swollen a week after rolling my foot than the day after it happened. The ER doctor told me I should stay off the ankle for a while and make a follow up appointment with a sports medicine doctor, which I did. The sports medicine doctor referred me to physical therapy, and I finally had my first appointment yesterday.

If you have never been to physical therapy, let me clue you in on a little secret: it is more like physical torture. While my ankle didn't feel great when I arrived, it legitimately hurt when I left. This is because my physical therapist insisted that I do things like the above exercise where you wrap a resistance band around your ankle and use your injured foot to pull against the band. The therapist took a break while I was doing said exercise and meandered over to talk to another physical therapist. They had a brief conversation about their schedules for the day and he told her that at the moment he had "a delightful ankle sprain." Yeah, that's me, I thought, as I finished the last repetition of the exercise. I'm miserable over here, but, as ever, I am just delightful.

By the end of the session he had had me stand on my injured foot without holding onto anything, raise up on my toes then rock back on my heels, and do this stretch that involved pulling my foot towards my knee with a towel. My pain threshold is pretty high, but I was hurting by the time I left. The worst part is that I'm supposed to be doing the exercises he gave me at least twice a day. My limp has gotten more pronounced since yesterday and there's a sharp little pain in my foot that I haven't felt since the immediate aftermath of the sprain.

I told the physical therapist that my primary goal was to run again as soon as possible. I was hoping he would announce that he'd have me running again in no time at all, but instead he had me schedule appointments twice a week from now through mid March. Between him thinking I need that much physical therapy and the new pain in my foot, I'm thinking that no time at all isn't going to be anytime soon. Maybe I'll be running again before I graduate...

Other than ankle-related setbacks and disappointments, my life has been a blur of school, trying to get my car fixed, and trying to get better at photo-editing. The photo editing part is going well at least.

I made a cup of Trader Joe's Spiced Chai a few days ago, added some unsweetened almond milk and Splenda, and then took the picture above. I fell in love with the morning light coming through a window a few days later and took the picture below.

On the same day, I took a slow and laborious walk to the local public library. It was the first time I had been, and I will have to go back because I want to explore the building more. Before I left, I snapped the picture below. There was a little sign that said what it was, but I didn't take a picture of it and I've already forgotten what it said. 

I did pretty well walking that day, but it was the day before physical therapy began. Before I sprained my ankle, my goal was to walk or run 10,000-15,000 steps per day or more. Lately, I feel accomplished if my Fitbit says I got in 5,000 steps a day. I probably won't be back in the 10,000 step club for a while, but my birthday is less than two weeks away and I'll be getting the bike I mentioned in an earlier post. I'm ridiculously excited about the prospect of logging some miles again, even though I'll be getting them in on wheels rather than on foot. 

I'll close by mentioning that today is my Blogiversary. Shut up spell check. Blogiversary is a word if I say it is. One year ago today, I decided that my efforts to live a healthy life should be documented. I wrote my very first post that day and I've been going strong ever since. I think I will write a Belated Blogiversary post later to look back on the blog's first year, but in the meantime I just want to thank all the folks who stop by my little corner of the internet. Y'all keep me motivated when I'm struggling and I probably would have given up on this journey a long time ago if it weren't for you!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Tadaa Photo Editing App

If you're in the cult of the iPhone, you know they take pretty decent pictures considering the primary purpose of the device is to be a phone. I really enjoy taking pictures while I'm out running and hiking, and these days I find that I download a lot of photo editing apps. One of my most recent downloads is a free app called Tadaa.

I've only been playing with the app for a few days, but Tadaa seems somewhat similar to Instagram. It offers borders, filters, and tilt-shift like Instagram, but also allows you to crop images to different sizes and adjust brightness, contrast, and saturation within the app. 

I have been using the app without logging in, but I think if you sign in with facebook or create a user name and password, the app saves all your photos to your account and publishes them sort of like instagram so that other people can find and like your pictures. 

You can also post the pictures to Instagram, save them to your phone, tweet them, etc. I've tinkered with the app enough over the last few days to know that I really like some of the filters, frames, and effects. I edited all the photos in this post in the app and I'm really happy with how they turned out.

The developers who designed the free Tadaa app also have two other apps that I have found. One is called Tadaa SLR. You have to pay for it, but I think it's only $1.99. There is also another free app called Tadaa 3D. I haven't played with either of the other Tadaa apps, but if I ever get bored with this one, I will move on to one of those. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Biker Girl

I sprained my ankle, but it broke my heart. I should have run my first marathon on February 2, but instead I limped to student health for my appointment with a sports medicine doctor and tried not to cry. The doctor was equal parts encouraging and demoralizing. He gave me a new brace that laces up and told me I would have to wear it for the rest of my life when I go running to keep my ankle from rolling again. Apparently once you sprain your ankle, it will always be weaker than it was before. He mentioned running in the future which is encouraging because it means I have not laced up my running shoes for the last time but in the same breath he told me my ankle would never be the same. I don't want a weak ankle that's prone to rolling and other injuries and it was really disheartening to hear that I have one more medical issue to add to my ever-growing list. 

Sexy right? I asked when I could start working out again and the doctor said now. He explained that I could start doing light exercise again and that I needed to do stretches and exercises with my ankle including retraining it to take and balance my weight. He told me I needed to start standing on that foot without holding onto anything. I decided to try one activity that would combine all of this advice: walking. I figured that walking would mean stretching my ankle since going up and down hills and navigating uneven sidewalk would mean moving my ankle around. Walking also requires me to put my weight on my ankle without holding onto anything. Plus it lets me get in a bit of light exercise. I started by walking to class and back a few times last week. They were tiny walks considering I was training for a marathon before this happened, but my foot didn't swell up like a little blimp the way it did right after I sprained it. I'm doing better than I was, but I desperately want to get back outside and back to my favorite local parks.

Maybe it's the contrarian in me, but I love the cold the way most people love the heat. Fall has always been my favorite season and while the winter temperatures are sometimes brutal, I find that I tolerate it fine if I wear enough layers. Not being able to get outside and move this past month has been a major emotional blow. While I was training for the marathon, I spent countless hours running each week and the physical exertion helped me deal with the stress and frustration of law school. I need a new outlet, at least until I am able to run again, so I decided that when my birthday rolls around I am going to ask for a bike.

There are always people on bikes when I run in local parks, but I never really thought about getting one until now. The doctor said the stationary bike would be a good place to start at the gym, but stationary isn't really my thing. If it is okay to ride a stationary bike at the gym, it should also be okay to ride a regular bike at my favorite parks. My favorite parks are prettier than the gym.

I don't really know anything about bikes, but I did a few tentative google searches and I'm thinking I should look for a road bike since I plan to ride on paved trails only. If anyone has any suggestions for a good brand, I would love the input!