Clearly, I’m not a huge fan of organized events. A personality flaw, I guess. But that’s beside the point.
I know I promised bacon holders, but instead let’s spend some time talking about some things anyone can do to start biking and enjoy it.
Apart from being adverse to organized events, I’m also cheap. So most of the tips I’m going to share stem from cheapness as well as a few years of hard learned lessons.
First, bikes. Do yourself a favor. Don’t go to WalMart, Sports Authority, Target, or someplace like that and think that you’ll get a decent bike.
Here’s the thing. You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to get a bike. But you do need to go somewhere where A) they have someone who is somewhat trained on how to assemble a bike, and B) they have a sales person who can explain the difference between Alivio, Deore, and the no-model-line lines of Shimano products.
Not to pimp out any particular store, but REI is a good starting point, if you’re looking for a brand new bike. The sales people are knowledgeable and the shop generally knows what they are doing. Also, they don’t have an issue with pointing you to a reasonably priced starter bike as some bike shops tend to. But don’t by the first bike you see. Use the shopping experience to learn what you should look for in a bike for the type of riding you want to do.
Also, make sure that if you want a particular type of bike — say mountain or road — that you don’t let the sales person talk you into something else.
Start with a reasonably priced bike. Don’t go too cheap or else the challenges of riding in comfort will outweigh any joy you get from riding. This tends to result in bikes getting dusty from disuse. You can always upgrade later.
Second – you don’t need all the ‘gear’ out of the gate. Face it, bike-specific do-dads are expensive. 80 bucks for a pair of shorts? $200 for a bike backpack? Huh?
Instead, get the essentials: a pump you can take with you, an extra tube, and the tools and knowledge to change it if need be, and a helmet. Helmets look funny, but they are generally good things. I think.
Worry about the clothes and such later, after you’ve committed. And know that you don’t have to buy new. You can find a lot of gear at the thrift stores. Just stay away from cotton and all is good.
As you find out what it is that is comfortable for you, then you can drop coin on new.
Keep you initial rides short. If you can do it, drive to work with your bike, leave the car and ride the bike home. The next day reverse it. After a week start doing a day of both ways. Increase gradually.
I know a lot of people will kvetch about this, but get an iPod and load it up with podcasts that you find interesting to listen to on the ride. It makes the time pass much more quickly. I like the Sprocket podcast, the Morebetternarrative, This American Life, and Studio 360.
I do recommend padded shorts. Avoid those huge gel seats and seat covers. They tend to cause uncomfortable chafing. Not good.
Take the time to look around as you ride. Notice things, like the way the sun rises over the inlet or how the flowers bloom along Chester creek. Notice the ugly things, too, like the new homeless camp or the trash or graffiti.
Give yourself plenty of time to get places. I find for most of my trips in midtown that I can get from A to B in about the same time as it takes to make the same drive, but being on bike does introduce a bit of uncertainty, so allot a few extra minutes.
Pre-bike your commute during a time when you have no pressure to get to work, on a weekend or at night. Take note of the challenging bits and think about how to reduce the challenges. Think about alternate routes in case you need to detour for some reason.
Most importantly, take the time to enjoy the ride and remember that a commute is not a race. Use the time to mentally prepare for the day or to unwind at the end. Enjoy the feeling of blood pumping and the sunshine on your skin. It is a glorious thing.
Really, the only trick or tip I have for you is this: Go for a ride and see how it feels. Then repeat. It’s a good thing. I swear.