FORT KENT, Maine — Feel free to blame me if a spring snowstorm hits the state.
I know it’s tempting fate, but like thousands of other outdoor enthusiasts in Maine, when the unseasonably warm weather hit last week away went the skis, snowshoes and mushing gear and out came the bicycles.
Though the studded tires do remain on my car.
Whether you’re a roadie, a mountain biker or a combination of both, Maine is a cyclist’s paradise and this year wheels from Kittery to Fort Kent were hitting the pavement or single tracks earlier than many can remember.
Easter Sunday, I was out on the first ride of the year, the smells of outdoor cookouts filling the air combining with temperatures flirting with the 70s to make it feel like a fine Sunday in June.
April 4 in Fort Kent, and I was on a bicycle. Not bundled within an inch of my life on a mountain bike slogging through frozen ruts and sticky mud. Nope, I was cruising down dry pavement on a road bike in shorts and a jersey.
Is there any feeling quite like it?
Not according to cycling enthusiast Penny McHatten.
The 63-year-old Presque Isle resident was also out Easter Sunday as part of a 30-mile group ride through central Aroostook County.
“It’s just phenomenal to be out on bikes before the end of April or first of May,” McHatten said. “But it caught up to us — one of the guys who did 37 miles that day confessed he should have known he was not ready for a 37-miler so early in the season just because the weather is nice.”
Preparing the body and the bicycle for a new season is an important consideration, according to Marc Rossignol of County Physical Therapy.
“At the start of the season like this it’s important to start out gradually and don’t go hard and don’t push it,” Rossignol said. “A lot of people try spin in the higher gears right off to get a good workout, but you’re better off at the start to stay in the lower gears for easy spinning.”
Proper hydration, Rossignol said, is important all season.
“People tend to not properly hydrate,” he said. “You need to be thinking about it not just the day of the ride but the day before.”
When he knows he will be going on a long ride — like last weekend’s two-day, 150-mile trek in Vermont — Rossignol keeps a big glass of water on his nightstand so he’s drinking all night.
“Drink before you go to bed,” he said. “People think they are hungry at 8:30 at night, but really you’re thirsty.”
As for the bike, McHatten, who works part time at Mojo Sports in Presque Isle, said every bicycle can benefit from a little TLC after a winter of storage.
“Figure before you start out for the season you have a winter’s worth of accumulated dust or dirt on the bike,” she aid. “You need to get it checked out.”
This can include a full tuneup, cleaning of the chain, tire inspection and proper lubrications.
“It’s well worth it,” McHatten said. “When the bike rides better, you ride better.”
Before every ride McHatten — who last summer did a 63-mile ride on her 63rd birthday — said tire air pressure should be checked.
Experienced riders know mishaps can happen, so McHatten recommends carrying basic tools along for the ride including an inner tube, a set of hex wrenches and a tire lever.
“If you don’t know how to change a tire, make sure you ride with someone who does,” she said. “But you have to have the repair stuff with you.”
It’s not a bad idea to toss in some snacks — McHatten swears by Snickers bars — extra water and a Band-Aid or two into your bike bag.
Keeping Maine cyclists informed and safe is among the missions of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and its executive director Allison Vogt is looking forward to a great season of riding.
“Our members in the coalition are glad for this warm weather,” Vogt said. “We are seeing tons of people out on their bikes and the more the merrier.”
Vogt’s group works yearround on bicycling education and legislation and recently nine members returned from the annual bike summit in Washington.
“Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood got up on a table, and told us we have a friend in bicycling,” Vogt said. “The sun is really shining on cycling.”
On the state level the coalition is working on its new “Share the Roads” campaign and educating motorists about the 2007 law requiring they give at least three feet of space when passing a bicyclist on the road.
“It’s the variety of scenery that makes Maine so great for biking,” Vogt said. “The coast, the mountains — we have it all.”
With renewed attention being focused on healthy lifestyles, Vogt said cycling is a perfect activity.
“You can actually get somewhere while working out,” she said. “Everyone is crunched for time, so you can use it as transportation and get in shape all at the same time.”
Despite the warm weather getting people out on bikes early this year, the coalition’s official start of spring is its annual bike swap. This year it’s in Orono on April 18.
“There’s really something about that first ride of the year,” McHatten said. “It’s like suddenly you are coming up from under water and it’s a release from the cabin fever of winter.”
Whether you want to ride solo or join a group, there are hundreds of good road and trail rides throughout Maine.
The Bicycle Coalition of Maine offers maps and routes through its Web site at www.bikemaine.org
Local bike shops, like Mojos, also sponsor rides — a schedule may be seen at www.melsmojo.com — and Vogt encourages riders to hook up with the experts at those shops.
“We have a great partnership with the local shops around the state,” Vogt said. “They are just awesome in getting the word out there about cycling.”
For now, that’s where you’ll find me on any given sunny, warm day. Cruising the roads of Aroostook County, tubes, a few spare parts and a Snickers bar in my bag.
Of course, just to play it safe, I am leaving on my studded snow tires for a few more weeks — just in case.