Biking for Beginners: Conquer Your Fear
Fear is the number one reason people don’t ride bikes in cities. They feel unsafe riding in traffic, and they’re not confident in their abilities. A bike is an unfamiliar mode of transport for most Americans, and though many people want to make the leap, they’re not sure how to start biking–so we compiled our favorite bike tips into a guide to biking for beginners that will help you conquer your fear and get on your way.
Rent before you buy
The first of our bike tips is the one that will save you the most money: Before you buy a bike of your own, make sure riding is really your thing. If you haven’t ridden since you were a kid, rent a bike and practice riding in a park or a quiet neighborhood. If you’re considering buying a bike for transportation, use your city’s bike share program as a litmus test. If you use it multiple times a day–great! Time for a bike of your own. If, instead, you use it only once in a month, chances are your own bike will be just as neglected and take up space in your home. Buying a bike isn’t the same as biking, so make sure you’re going to actually do the latter before you commit to the former.
Practice in a car-free area
We don’t think about it too much when we’re safely inside one, but cars are scary. They’re big, they’re heavy, and they’re powerful–so it’s no wonder the prospect of riding in traffic can ruin biking for beginners. That’s why one of our bike tips is to start riding in a place where there are no cars, like in a park, an under-used parking lot, along the boardwalk, etc. There, you can get comfortable starting, stopping, riding in a straight line, and turning. Once you’ve got hang of it, graduate to a quiet neighborhood where the stakes are a little higher.
And if you’re getting started on your own bike, don’t let the logistics of GETTING to the park stop you from practicing. There’s probably a quiet cul-de-sac within a few blocks, and you shouldn’t be ashamed to walk your bike on the sidewalk as far as you need.
Take an established bike tour
A great way to practice riding in traffic is to take a guided bike tour. A responsible tour guide will escort you safely from one stop to another–and you’ll have a blast and learn a little something along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions while you’ve got a professional at your disposal: Is this the right way to lock my bike? How should I signal a turn? And if you have the opportunity to tour at night, do it! Biking at night is different from biking during the day, and a bike tour is a great intro to night biking for beginners.
Not sure if there are any guided bike tours in your city? Bikabout lists comprehensive bike resources for varied cities, so check their website to find a bike tour near you.
Other bikers often model reckless behavior, and cars and bikes alike may try to pressure you into unsafe maneuvers, so it’s important to stand your ground. When there’s no bike lane available, you have the right to ride in the center of the road, so don’t let horn-blowing drivers scare you to the side. Take care not to follow the example of cyclists who ride against the flow of traffic, weave between cars, or fail to yield to pedestrians. Remember that predictable behavior is safe behavior, and that it’s far more important to reach your destination in one piece than it is to be “cool” by blowing through a red light at a busy intersection. The key to biking for beginners is a commitment to safe riding.
While biking for beginners can seem scary, it doesn’t have to be. Remember: all new things take some getting used to. So be brave! The more confident you are, the better riding experience you’ll have; and the better riding experience you have, the more you’ll want to keep riding. Know the rules of the road, abide by those rules, and be brave! It’s empowering to succeed at something new, so take a chance and see how rewarding riding can be.