A Beginners Guide to Biking.
HOW TO START CYCLING LIKE A PRO.
On a sunny, Saturday afternoon in May of 2008, I walked my freshly purchased, vintage, brown cruiser across the intersection. I was elated. It was my senior year of college and on an impulse earlier that day, I had shelled over $25 bucks at the Cottage House, (a second-hand store specializing in home and garden furnishings) for what I dubbed my wheels-of freedom. My friend (who had a car) helped me remove the wired-on, plastic-potted geranium from the bikes handle-bars and load it into her trunk.
I walked across the intersection, with visions of biking to parties near my friend’s place at the U, grocery shopping like a frenchman with a baguette in my soon-to-be-purchased wicker basket, and soaking in the sun as I road to the beach with friends. F-R-E-E-D-OM felt good.
Only once I had reached the ‘safety’ of the sidewalk, did I hop on my bike and start pedaling toward my first adventure, the River Road Bike Trail. I cruised past a golf-course covered and picked up speed as I started down the hill, feeling the cool, spring air on my scalp, the scent of fresh cut grass and fertilizer tingling my nose.
An instant later, a ear-splitting squeal sprang from the spot where my brakes should have been.
They were not slowing me down.
At that moment I realized two things. #1. The sidewalk was about to end. #2. I probably didn’t know enough about bikes.
As I squealed through Shel Silverstein’s proverbial “Where the Sidewalk Ends” on my newly named wheels-of-terror, I wished I had done a little more reading before heading out.
In hind-sight, my bike was probably more of a lawn ornament (I’m not sure why the wired-on potted plant didn’t tip me off) than a fixer-upper. It was too small for my frame, perpetually out of alignment, and weighed about a gazillion pounds. Thankfully, I made it (without injury) to the bottom of the hill and am still an elated (although wiser) advocate for cycling.
Cycling is an excellent way to spend time outdoors, get some low-impact exercise in, and makes getting from point-a-to-point-b a heck-of-a-lot more enjoyable. Especially, if you live in a city. Buuuut, it helps to know a few things before you head out.
How Start Biking, Safely.
The first major hurdle in biking is often mental. You can bike — even if you haven’t biked in ages. Even if you think you don’t have enough hand-eye coordination. Even if you think you have no leg muscles. You can do it. There really is truth in the old adage, “It’s like riding a bike” . Don’t psyche yourself out about it. A big part of gaining that cycling confidence is to know more about how what you need for gear, simple bike maintenance, and best bike-friendly routes.
Follow these tips to get you started, and when in doubt, remind yourself, that yes, you really can bike - to work, to school, to get groceries, to grab dinner, or just to enjoy the ride.
2. Make if fun.
If you’re new to cycling (or it’s been awhile) start by taking your bike for a leisurely cruise on a designated bike trail. You don’t have to go 25 miles your first day. Start small and build from there. You might start with a two mile route, and grow it to 5 or 10 miles. Pack a picnic or bike to a coffee shop to grab a treat. My personal favorite is to meet-up with friends for a pick-up volleyball game, for a swim at the beach, or for a beer at Bde Make Ska.
For those of you on the more competitive side, use an app like Strava or Map My Ride to help you track your distance, speed, elevation and even compete against friends and neighbors riding the same distance. You’ll score points and be able to see your progress.
Be easy on yourself. You also don’t have to break records to get to your location, or arrive dripping and sweat and completely spent. Biking can also be about enjoying the journey to get there. There will always be people moving faster than you and people moving slower than you. The point is to go at a speed that you’re comfortable with. That speed and distance will change as you become more confident in your biking skills and strengthen your core biking muscles.
Get friends to join in. The more the merrier! Start a bike to work club. Eventually, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to bike everywhere.
3. Get The Right Gear.
It may sound obvious, but having the right gear (and the right type of bike) can make biking a much more enjoyable experience. I traded in my $25 bike for a much more functional option for about $125 on Craigslist. It was a fully refurbished bike (meaning the alignment was good, there were new tires, and brake pads!) and then about two years later I then traded it in for a $250 bike. It was originally a racing bike, but since I was going to use it for more commuting purposes, I had new cross-lever brakes (think handle-bar breaks) installed for less than $100.
Bike prices rapidly increase from here. The good thing is that, for the most part, well-maintained bikes keep their value. You don’t need to spend $3,000 to find a great bike, especially if you’re not biking everyday, but you might want to spend at least $100.
There are also lots of different types of bikes and the one you choose should be dependent on where you plan to bike (You probably don’t need a mountain bike or a Fat Tire bike if you’re riding on paved surfaces.)
A great resource for finding the best bike for you - at all price points is
Protect your brain, wear a helmet. Most likely, you won’t get in an accident, but if you do, your future self will be so happy you wore one. Find a helmet you like, preferably one with a multi-directional impact protection system (MIPS). This recent addition to helmet technology helps to reduce the rotational force of energy transferred to the head in case of an accident. It is also believed to lower the severity of a potential concussion. Also, a bike helmets should be replaced every 5 years. Sooner, if it’s been in involved in any sort of accident, even if doesn’t look like it’s been damaged.
I especially like these helmets, because they’ve been tested by consumer reports for ventilation, fit adjustments, ease of use, comfort, among other factors.
Scott Arx Plus | $125
Giro Register MIPS | $65
Schwinn Intercept Adult | $22
If you want to get off you bike and grab that ice-cream cone, go for a dip in the lake, or enjoy your picnic, it’s important to get yourself a bike lock. I use a u-lock, because it can easily be attached for your bike while not in use and it’s a great value for weight, cost and security.
Get front and back lights. Even if you swear you’re never going to bike at night. You’ll be surprised by how early the sun goes down by the end of the summer and you’ll find yourself wishing you had them on hand.
Riding on low or flat tires is not only hard on your gear, but makes for a serious workout on your legs. Check you bike tires every time you ride, and make sure that they’re filled with the proper amount of air (which will be printed on the tire.) A lot of bike maintenance will come to seem like common sense, but it’s not always common knowledge. And that’s okay. For instance, I didn’t know that you needed to unscrew the presta-valve lock in order to inflate your tires, because all of my previous bikes had schrader valves. (I also had to look up what the terms for those types of valves are in order to write this blog post.)
You don’t need fancy bike clothing to start cycling, but I don’t like to bike in my favorite clothes as I’ve gotten bike grease on a few of my pants (I should clean my bike more!), which is super hard to get out… but Dawn Soap works pretty well.
If you’re wearing pants (as opposed to shorts), roll up your right pant leg so its less likely to get caught in the chain. Bike shorts really do make a difference if you’re riding for substantial distances, or if you’re just looking for a more comfortable ride, but they’re definitely not necessary.
OTHER HELPFUL GEAR.
Sunglasses - Keeps the sun, wind, and bugs out of your eyes.
Tissues - In case you need to blow your nose after a dusty bike ride, or if you get bike grease on your hands.
First Aid Kit - In case something goes wrong.
Bike pump and patch - In case you need to repair your bike tire onsite.
Water bottle - In case you get thirsty.
Brightly Colored Clothing : Consider getting a reflective vest.
4. KNOW THE RULES OF THE ROAD & FIND THE BEST ROUTE.
When (and if) you decide to bike on the road, it’s essential to know the rules of the road. For instance, turn signals for cyclists, who has the right-of-way, and what to watch out for when biking.
If you live in Minnesota, here’s some great resources to start with:
It’s also important to know the best routes to get you there. Lots of cities (Minneapolis included!) have bike paths, designated streets or lanes for bikers, this can make what would otherwise be a stress-inducing ride a more pleasant one.
5. KNOW BIKE MAINTENANCE BASICS.
If you’re just getting started, I’d recommend taking your bike to a bike shop to get it looked over, they’ll check your brakes (They’ll also replace the brake pads, tires, etc. if needed.) and will make sure your bike is in proper alignment. Most shops will also help fit your bike seat to a height that works best for you. This is super important! You really can do a lot of damage to your body by not figuring out your proper alignment. If you know you’re going to be biking a ton, check out:
(I haven’t made it here yet, but I’m planning on treating myself to this for my birthday.)
If you’re a more hands-on type, or have been biking for awhile, It’s great to know a little bit more about the mechanics of your bike and how to properly care for it.
NEED MORE INFO?