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Beginner Mistakes

Life in the Bike Lane

Tom Frady

So, you have decided to start riding a bike again. Or maybe for the first time since you were a wee tot. Good for you! There are so many experiences out there, some of which I have chronicled in this space.

Of course, take a little time to review the rules of the road. Try for a nice compilation of applicable laws. And vow in advance to always wear your helmet and wear highly visible clothes.

Some major decisions, like what length socks to wear and to which donut shop should you ride can come a little later. But there are a few matters for the new rider to think about from the start.

First, make sure your bike fits you. New riders have a tendency to set the saddle too low, which can be very hard on the knees and cause injury. Even if your plan is to just start on a cruiser bike, being comfortable on your bike will help to ensure you will continue to ride. Handlebar height and seat position are also very important. If you want to avoid the expense of a professional fit, find an experienced rider to help. If you buy a new bike, the bike shop will give you a basic fit as part of the deal.

The new rider should also learn some basic maintenance. Trueing a wheel, changing brake cables or doing a complete rebuild of your old Schwinn Varsity can wait. Right now, you need to be able to fix a flat tire on the road. Planning on calling your buddy to come get you is no better idea than winning the lottery is as a retirement plan. YouTube if full of videos on how to do this. Practice in the comfort of your garage once. Believe me, you will feel much more confident on the road. Of course, be sure to carry an extra tube (I carry two) and/or a patch kit (I carry both). A CO2 cartridge and inflator will fill your tube in two seconds. A frame pump is especially handy for a tire that has just gone a little soft. I carry both.

Also, learn to clean and lubricate your chain and gears. This will not only make riding easier and quieter, but extend the life of the components. And don’t forget to clean the entire bike now and then, especially after a wet or very dirty ride. Veteran trick #457: Lemon pledge wipes will give your bike a nice shine.

Learn to use the gears on your bike. Back when I was a kid, we had only three speeds. Coast. Click. Most bikes now have 20 to 33 gears. The gears make your effort more efficient, thereby adding to your enjoyment. And once you get out far enough to find a hill or two, you are going to appreciate being able to “shift down”. It takes a little practice, but it will become intuitive soon.

It is tempting to do too much too soon. This can lead to soreness, injury or burnout. Increase your mileage slowly, maybe just 10% increments. You don’t want to be out at Camp Far West Lake and totally fried. Even if you’re generally a fit person, cycling takes a different set of muscles from, say, running.

Always carry some water with you. You probably don’t need to carry food with you unless you are going out for more than an hour. Then carry a banana or an energy bar. And oh, learn how to grab your water bottle while you ride. If you have to pull over to take a drink, you won’t.

Finally, if you hook up with a group of riders, hang out near the back of the pack until you learn the group protocols. Riding with a bunch of friends is great, but can also be the source of an accident if everyone is not following the same rules.

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