Seven Bicycling Tips For Beginners (or Re-Beginners)

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Kathleen's children on her Xtracycle RadishBetter weather is finally here, and more people are getting out on their bikes! I know, there are plenty of articles out there with tips for beginners. But I've been pondering things that I wish I had known when I started bicycling again.

Do the Maintenance

Sure, you probably just pulled your bike out of the garage and rode when you were a kid. But if you do that now, you're likely to become frustrated when your bike is much harder to ride than you thought it would be. Get a tune-up if you can ($40-80, depending on where you go and what you get). If you can't, at least make sure the tires are properly inflated and the brakes are working.

Inflate the Tires

I just said that? Oh, yeah. Well, it's important. You know how you're supposed to keep the tires inflated on your car in order to increase your gas mileage? That's because it takes more energy (gas) to move the car when the tires are under-inflated. It's the same with a bike -- except the energy in this case is YOU. You have to pedal harder to move the bike if the tires are under-inflated. You won't like it. Don't do it.

Adjust the Seat

If the seat is too low, it's harder to pedal. When you're sitting on the saddle, and your heel is on the pedal in the lowest position, your leg should be nearly straight, but without locking the knee. Don't go too high, either.

Go Slow

You're not in a race. Or at least, you shouldn't be, if you're just getting your bike out after a long hiatus. If you need to be at your destination by a certain time, give yourself plenty of time. I'd say at least 10 minutes per mile. You can probably go faster than this, but you need time for traffic, stoplights, rest breaks, and any issues you might have along the way. And if you're worried about getting sweaty, again, GO SLOW. Or slowly, as we say in correct English.

Spin It, Baby

You've probably heard of "spinning" as an indoor workout, done on exercise bikes. But it's also a good description of what you should be doing -- you should be pedaling fairly easily and spinning along, not struggling to push the pedals around. If it's too hard to pedal, you need to get into a lower gear, where it will be easier. It may feel like you are spinning your wheels and going too slowly, but it's still faster than walking! And you'll get stronger as time goes by -- you'll be able to use higher gears eventually.

Get Rhythm

Or cadence. The spandex crowd calls it cadence, measured in revolutions per minute (RPM), or the number of times you are pushing the pedals all the way around in one minute. I never thought this was important until I read an article about hill climbing, which said that you should shift down to where you can maintain the same cadence all the way up the hill. That was a lightbulb moment. I've always struggled with hills, because when I shift down I feel like I'm getting nowhere, while if I didn't shift down I couldn't keep pedaling. But when I tried concentrating on cadence, it worked! I don't use a cycle computer or actually count my RPMs. I just do 8-counts to myself, as if I were counting out a dance number, and try to keep a steady beat. If pedaling becomes difficult, I shift down so that I can maintain that beat. And it works! I'm not sure whether it's the shifting technique or just distraction via counting, but my hill climbing has improved.

Breathe

Speaking of distraction, sometimes I use patterned breathing in addition to, or instead of, counting cadence. You know, just like in childbirth? My pattern goes in, out, in, blow! Yeah. Because it's important to get plenty of oxygen, and it's helpful as a distraction from how hard you're working.

Now. Get out there!

Kathleen rides her bike to work every day in sunny Portland, Oregon. She also blogs at TechnoEarthMama, where this post originally appeared.

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