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ABC on Getting Started with Bicycling





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Some people who are "getting started with bicycling" are five years old and literally doing just that.  Some people getting started with bicycling are fifty-five, but with a whole different base of knowledge than a five year old.  Some people are getting started (again) after having not bicycled for decades.  And some people might see their move up from the occasional recreation cycling to trying to become regular bicycle commuters as "getting started with bicycling."  Because there are so many different "starting points" you may need to read this with a little creativity.

Tips For Getting Started Bicycling:

  1. Have fun getting into bicycle. Include a farmers market, street fair, bakery, ice cream stand or espresso kiosk on you trip.  The experience should bring a smile to your face.
  2. Like any new (or expanding) experience, expect to take some time building your skill set, confidence, strength and endurance.  The gradual approach will help prevent injuries. Feel comfortable getting into bicycling incrementally!
  3. Select a bike you are comfortable riding; it also needs to be in good working order.  Accept that the comfortable bike that you pick starting out might not be the most comfortable bike a couple years down the road as you pick-up you pace and increase your distance, so there might be additional bicycles in your future.  An example of this is; "comfort bikes" tend to be comfortable for a half-hour ride at 6 mph (10 km/h), but start to loose some of their comfort when you are on an hour ride at 12 mph (20 km/h).  [Tip: A good bike shop is a good resource for helping you sort out the different kinds of bikes and their advantages and disadvantages.] We have posted some specific information on Choosing and Buying a Kids Bike.
  4. Learn the basics of bicycling: balance, starting, pedaling, stopping and turning.  If you don't know how to bicycle there are some tips at "Learning to Bicycle Without Pain, Teaching Bicycling Without Strain."
  5. Learn on-road skills like the rules of the road, being predictable, how to select lane position, signaling and making turns.  We have an article for adults working with children heading out to roads at Teach Your Child Well.  If you will be bicycling with a group we have posted some additional tips on Group Riding Safety and Etiquette (PDF format) .
  6. Make a plan and set some goals for the development of your bicycling. This can include the number of times a week that you will bicycle and the distance.  You can set some goals for building your distance and/or increasing your speed.  If you plan involves doing something like commuting to work, but you can't initially bicycle the whole distance look for strategies to build up to it.  For example: If you live 12 miles (20km) from work you might initially take your bike on the car/bus/rail to within 3 miles (5 km) of work and bike from there.  Or you could bike the first 3 miles, lock your bike up and bus/rail from there.  As your strength, stamina and confidence increases you can lengthen the distance of the bicycling.
  7. Pick Your Route: Depending upon how fixed your origins and destination are you will probably have to balance safety, convenience and aesthetics.  It is sometimes best to reconnaissance of your route on the weekend, and/or with the help of a car.  If you are not totally acquainted with the gears on your bike it is good to pick a relatively flat route (this allows you to start with the front gear in the middle chainring and then can concentrate on just changing gears with your right hand (rear gears) and learn how these work.  As this becomes second nature to you, move on to routes with more topography that require changing the front gears (left hand). If it is practical you might want to scout out several routes for different moods. [Tip: Members of the local bicycle club are a good place to look for help on this. To find a bicycle map of a particular city go to, replace "city" in the URL with the location you are looking for.]  Test your route on a day off when you are not under pressure; not only do you learn the route, you test your equipment and learn about how long the ride takes.
  8. Route Safety: Parsing the safest route can be complex.  Be ready to think! Don't assume that what is best route for a motor-vehicle is best for a bicyclist -- but you also can't assume that it isn't.  If you can take advantage of infrastructure that was design for bicycles this might be the route to go.  But this isn't a guarantee.  Bicycle facilities often intersect with motor vehicles in ways that put bicyclist in very ambiguous positions about right-of-way and for visibility.  These intersection can be as or more dangerous than alternative on-road route that might be on low-traffic volume roads.  Many bicycle/non-motorized facilities are poorly designed; being too narrow, too curvy, and/or too poorly maintained for the user volumes. Some bike lanes are essential striped "door zones" for the cars parked next to them -- car doors opening in your path are not your friend. On hills you might find it safest to go down hill using the road lane (because your speed, the irregular surface, and a lot of penetrations of the sidewalk make it more dangerous) Up hill the sidewalk (still riding with traffic) may be the place to be. If you are going use a trail it is worth reviewing Guide to Sharing Multi-use, Non-motorized Trail Etiquette
  9. Clothing: Select comfortable clothing.  Some people do a lifetime of bicycling without every getting any specialized bicycle clothing. If you are going to go the direction of specialized clothing, the first piece is likely to be shorts.  There are options to lycra!  In addition to skin tight shorts (which are designed to be worn without underwear), there are a wide variety of baggy bike shorts, and specially designed underwear (i.e. Andiamo) which can help make almost any loose street clothes comfortable for cycling.  By select light, bright colored outerwear you can't make yourself more visible -- even if it is only an oversized white or Hawaiian shirt from the thrift store.  Expendable oversized outerwear also can help keep garments under it cleaner, if that is a concern.
  10. Shoes: The sign that your shoes are not working for you is cramps in your feet.  Usually the solution is a stiffer sole.  There are two strategies here: buy an expensive shoe designed for bicycling, or some people can get away with buying a cheaper gym-type shoe, which often have stiffer soles (and less arch support) with lower prices.
  11. Load: If you are going to be carrying very much (tools, patches, pump, food, camera, extra cloths) it is usually easier to carry it on the bike than on your back. Get bike handle bar bag, trunk pack or panniers, or a ruck sack -- longer rides and heavier loads favor panniers.
  12. Weather: Develop your skills and build your confidence when the weather is comfortable.  As you get some miles under your belt you can choose what you want to tackle in terms of extreme weather conditions.  Depending upon the local climate and the cost effectiveness of specialized clothes you can invest in foul weather gear for foul weather as the need arises.  Eventually you might make bicycling into a year round activity, or you might not.  Generally, it is best if your foul weather gear is designed for cycling.
  13. Security: If you expect to be stopping and leaving your bike buy a lock; learn where to park and how to use the lock for maximum effectiveness.
  14. Abandoning the Bicycling: There are times when because of the weather, a mechanical problem or family emergency that you may need to have your bicycle routine interrupted.  Depending upon the circumstances you lock you bike, change to taxi/bus/rail and return to retrieve you bicycle at a late time.  Increasingly it is practical to take you bike along on the taxi/bus/rail.  The money you save and the health benefits you gain will probably far exceed the occasion emergency expense that you might incur.
  15. Personal Protective Equipment: Helmets and gloves top the list of PPE.  Wear a helmet. Even with good training on how to ride like a vehicle, and riding defensively, accidents occasionally happen; studies show that helmets can reduce the severity of the injury. When people do fall often they go down on their hands.  Glove can reduce the amount of gravel that you have to dig out of your palms.  Reflector and lights are also part of this but probably are not essential when you are "getting started" on a nice sunny day.  They still aren't a bad idea and you should certainly use them once you start riding in any kind of low light conditions.

Selecting a Bike  |  Bicycle Safety Checklist (PDF) |  Benefits of Bicycling  |  Bicycle Parking Criteria

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The International Bicycle Fund is an independent, non-profit organization. Its primary purpose is to promote bicycle transportation. Most IBF projects and activities fall into one of  four categories: planning and engineering, safety education, economic development assistance and promoting international understanding. IBF's objective is to create a sustainable, people-friendly environment by creating opportunities of the highest practicable quality for bicycle transportation. IBF is funded by private donation. Contributions are always welcome and are U.S. tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

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