Road Wimp to Road Warrior

If you've always wanted to take up cycling but were intimidated, we've got 6 tips to help you ride off into the sunset.


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Photo: Robert P. Hunt/istock

Dawn Dais, author of The Noncyclist’s Guide to the Century and Other Road Races, wants to make cycling fun and accessible to everyone. Whether you’re training for an official ride or just want to bike around town, Dais offers up some basic tips to get you started on your new two-wheeled adventures.

1. Your butt is not the boss of you
Even if you have the right equipment, chances are your first few rides are going to be unpleasant for your undercarriage. So while the rest of you might be challenged and exhilarated, the parts of you most intimate with the bike saddle will be doing their best to get you to take up square dancing instead. Dais urges you to keep in mind that there will be sunnier days for your moon. “The goal is to minimize pain so that you actually want to keep doing this sport.” She recommends getting a professionally fitted bike equipped with a seat that works with your anatomical set up, and well-fitting cycling shorts.

2. Getting ready for action
“My advice for people is to go in and get the necessities and try and fight the urge to buy everything in the store on the first trip,” says Dais. The necessities include bike, helmet, lock, cycling shorts, flat tire repair kit and water bottle. Almost everything else can wait until you have a few rides under your spandex. Craigslist can also be a good source for finding slightly used stuff on the cheap. If you already have a dusty Soloflex or kayak in your garage, Dais recommends renting a bike for a day, to make sure you enjoy the ride and not just the thrill of new gear.

3. Death, taxes and flat tires are all inevitable
So it’s best to be prepared. Dais strongly recommends taking a basic bike maintenance class, especially if you’re not mechanically inclined. Even if you never get the hang of changing your own tires it’s important to have the right equipment, especially spare tubes so that a heroine on a two-wheeled steed can come to your rescue. If you’re really paranoid about flat tires, ask for the extra-sturdy kind favored by urban bike messengers.

4. Fill’er up!
“You want to make sure you have plenty of food. Cycling will sneak up on you. Sometimes you don’t realize how hard you’re working until you’re really, really hungry and you’re out of energy,” says Dais, who learned this lesson the hard way after bonking on a few rides. She recommends bringing munchies and snacking along the way. And of course hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

5. The more the merrier
And not just because it’s easier to wear spandex in groups. For Dais, one of the best ways to get motivated to ride is to ride with others. She likes the accountability, camaraderie and added safety of group riding. “With cycling I found that I could actually talk and ride at the same time, which I could not do with running. Plus it’s just fun to have somebody to complain with.”

6. Getting into gear
“Gear shifting is a lot of trial and error and getting to know your gears,” says Dais. The best thing for a newbie to do is find a nice, traffic-free stretch of flatness and practice. Keep in mind it's best to be pretty well acquainted with shifting before you tackle any significant hills.

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