New Riders: Do This


Life in the Bike Lane

Tom Frady

In the years I have been scribbling this column, you 5 loyal readers will have noted I often encourage non- or infrequent riders to get out on a bike. Any bike. Because I spend so much time in the saddle, it is easy for me to forget the fact that all that goes along with the “first’ ride can be a little daunting, even though I was there, did that.

Here are some thoughts aimed at new or returning riders. Some of the ideas come from a recent issue of Bicycling magazine, but I’ve made them better.

It is important for you to have a basic understanding of the laws pertaining to bicycles. You can search the California Vehicle Code online for laws and rules governing bikes and the CHP and most police stations have pamphlets. One of my favorites can be found in Wikipedia by Googling “Bicycle Law in California”. Pass on what you learn to your kids.

New riders often set the seat height too low. I get it. If you are unsure of your ability, you want to be able to touch the ground while sitting on the saddle. This may not be a problem for 12-year-olds riding three blocks to school, but if you plan on more distance, get it right or your knees will scream. Your knee should be just slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal stroke and your hips should not rock when you pedal. Most bike shops will help you out. Again, Google “Bike Fit” for more detail.

You probably have a bike in your garage that will do nicely to get started. Don’t spend money on a high-end bike ‘til you catch the fever. By that time, you will know better what you want. Look for a good used bike, if you need to buy one.

You also don’t need $350 bib shorts, six $75 jerseys, a pair of $300 shoes, etc. (At least not at the start.) Be sure you do have a good helmet, but cargo shorts, a bright sweatshirt and ratty tennis shoes work.

Learn a little maintenance like cleaning/oiling the chain, cleaning the bike and fixing a flat. Speaking of which, always carry a pump, patch kit and spare tube when you ride. That friend you were going to call in an emergency may not be home.

It is very likely whatever bike you use will have gears. Learn how to use them. Not just how to shift, but when. Life isn’t all a level bike path.

If you are able to join an established group of riders, be sure you know the group etiquette. Hang at the back at first, giving yourself a few extra feet of space to react to turns, slow downs and stops. Ask questions to keep everyone safe.

Always carry a water bottle, even on a short ride. If you are going to be gone for a couple of hours, carry a snack. A banana, granola bar, some nuts. Be sure you know where the nearest donut shop is.

Finally, don’t do too much too fast. Build up slowly, both distance and speed. Otherwise, both burn out and injury may find you. Resist the urge to try to keep up with an experienced rider for 10 miles. You’ll get there before long.

your butt will hurt after your first ride over 500 feet. Keep riding. It will get better. Honest.

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