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Old 05-21-09, 07:34 AM   #1
dropdeadchedd
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20 Year Old just learned to Ride - Need Advice

Hi, I just learned how to ride a bike this weekend at the ripe old age of 20. I used to live in a place with terrain that was just about the opposite of conducive to learning to ride a bike, and now I live on a very populated street of Boston which is just as scary. I have literally ridden a bike once, out in a suburb with my boyfriend. My dad is dropping off a new bike for me today (he tells me it's a cheap, old mountain bike).

I don't really know how to practice. I've considered riding on the streets late at night when there are no cars on the road, but I don't like to be out by myself that late. I am not coordinated enough to stay on a sidewalk, much less avoid pedestrians. I have no other means of transportation besides on foot or on the T (subway). I suppose I could bring a bike on one but it would be very inconvenient and inconsiderate for for others.

Basically, I am at the skill level of about a five year old, with no one to teach me, and in sort of a dangerous area. I don't even really know where to start.

Does anyone have any ideas on how I can improve that will not risk my life at the hands of Boston drivers? I am kind of on my own here and I would like to get better so that I can go for rides with my boyfriend (but he lives too far away for me to be able to see him often enough to get the practice I need if I were to leave the bike at his place and only do it when I see him. He usually comes to see me).

Any advice would be appreciated. I am a blank slate!
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Old 05-21-09, 08:01 AM   #2
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Is there a large parking lot nearby that you could walk to? Perhaps a mall or a department store? Parking lots make good practice areas if there is not too much traffic.
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Old 05-21-09, 10:05 AM   #3
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Learning to ride will be more fun if you ride with a friend. Recruit someone who rides on a regular basis to be your "riding buddy" while you build up your confidence level.

I take friends who are learning to ride to a huge school parking lot on Saturdays. It is empty, so we don't have to worry about traffic. After a new rider gets confident with basic bike handling, we do stuff that will build their skill level: practice riding in a very straight line....ride in a straight line while looking back at the person behind you....panic stops...panic turns.

Also good for getting better bike skills are games. We play bike "tag" where the rider who is "it" must chase the other riders, who use evasive measure to avoid being tagged. The games we played as kids eons ago.

When a new rider has a high level of skills in the parking lot, we move to riding on narrow back streets that have very little traffic. When they have a high level of confidence on those streets, we move to streets with a high flow of slow moving traffic. I never take new riders on streets where cars are moving at 40 mph or 50 mph...at those speeds, a mistake by a driver or by a cyclist can be fatal...and NOT for the driver.

When you are skilled enough to begin riding to school, or to your job, or to the grocery store, put some time into planning your route. Google Maps has a feature that let's you request the best route for WALKING...that is often the best route for a bike. In my neighborhood, there are lots of four and five lane roads with high speed traffic. I don't ride a bike on those roads. The Google Maps "Walking" feature will select routes that often select quiet, narrow backstreets...the residential streets with very little traffic.

The very best routes are the ones that go near enough to schools to have speed bumps. Drivers avoid streets with speed bumps, so they are ideal for bikes. I've found in my neighborhood that going in any direction, if I move one street to the left or one street to the right I can often find a street that is a heavily "speed bumped" street.

If you ride at night, have TWO flashing strobe lights on your handlebars and TWO flashing strobe lights on your seat post. Having two lights front and back will enable you to be easily seen even if one light fails. Sporting goods stores have $10 reflective vests that slip on over whatever you are wearing. Avoid driving between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. if you can...people are tired and in a hurry to get home...and many just left "Happy Hour". In my town, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. is a great time to ride. Very little traffic. And the serious drinkers will still be on their bar stool from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.

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Old 05-21-09, 10:31 AM   #4
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Haha, boston is not really known for its abundance of parking lots. But thank you for the advice.

I managed to find a park within walking distance that has a small track that spans around the outside of a softball field. I suppose it's good for practicing staying on a path, and it keeps me out of the way of too many pedestrians or automobiles. What are some exercises that I can do on my own in a setting like that? I need to practice... well... pretty much everything. Today, I managed to stand up on the pedals while coasting, for about 20 or 30 feet.

I'd say that, in case anyone's interested how it is to learn a bike when they're older, that the actual act of learning to balance on the bike was pretty instant. It took me about 45 minutes to get both feet on the pedals and go from one end of the driveway to the other. On the other hand, things like turning, learning to brake and switch gears, starting from a dead stop (I'm still pretty bad at this), maneuvering around things/people, staying on a sidewalk or path, standing on the pedals to go up a hill, looking anywhere other than where I'm going, etc. all seem to be experience-based skills that I haven't really started to acquire yet.

Any other good things to work on? ((That tag game sounds way too scary for me... I'm a very cautious, careful person... which is pretty much why I never learned to ride in the first place))
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Old 05-21-09, 10:37 AM   #5
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Just stay with it. It'll come. I think the learning curve will be pretty steep. In a few weeks you'll be an old pro.
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Old 05-21-09, 10:41 AM   #6
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Google search found this club. Charles River Wheelmen

Clubs like this one would be more than willing to at least give you ideas about local riding areas.
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Old 05-21-09, 10:46 AM   #7
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Join a local bicycle club and ask them. Go to one of the better bicycle shops and look at their bulletin board for adult lessons or ask the sales people. I think in Boston HarrisCyclery.com could help.

Effective Cycling - Doug Forrester might help you. There are other books too.

There may be a local bicycle advocacy group that can help.
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Old 05-21-09, 01:31 PM   #8
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If you can use a quiet path in the park you spoke of, try laying out some small obstacles (stones, drink cans, whatever) about 10' apart and practice riding in and out of them keeping as straight a line as possible. It's useful to try and "swing" the bike rather than steer it. Then gradually bring them closer together till you can do it when they're about 5' apart.

Once you're comfortable with that, try moving alternate obstacles about a foot to one side so that you have a zigzag course.

By the way, don't look at the obstacles but the track you want to ride.

Being able to ride one-handed will be an essential skill when it comes to signalling, so develop that by riding along and lifting one hand (most people are more comfortable steering with the left hand) an inch or so off the bar for a count of, say, 2 and then putting it back and gradually increase the count until one-handed riding comes naturally. Then learn with the other hand.

There are a variety of other basic skills you'll need to develop - looking behind while riding straight, proper braking technique, use of the appropriate gears, plus the kind of streetsmarts that Mass Bike (web address on the family section under my name) can teach.

Welcome to the club and good luck

I assume that there's a decent size bookshop/public library nearby and you should be able to find something on this subject there
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Old 05-21-09, 01:44 PM   #9
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Best place in Boston that I can think of is the paved pathway that runs along the esplanade. It has some grass on either side, good for falling, and usually isn't that crowded, especially earilier in the morning.

In Cambridge on the weekends, there are quite a few side streets in the neighborhoods between the Galleria and MIT that are fairly, if not totally devoid of traffic.

If you're just practicing, Boston Common and the Public Gardens should offer plenty of areas to ride, again it would be better eariler in the morning. You won't get alot of distance work in, but it's a good place to enhance you're skills, with lots of paved and unpaved riding area.

I wouldn't sweat taking my bike on the T, it's allowed, the other riders will get over it.
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Old 05-21-09, 04:16 PM   #10
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If you take the T to Alewife, there begins a very nice bike-path that goes out through Arlington, Lexington, and Bedford. Make for a great weekend ride. And riding around in these towns is an adventure on it's own. And along Memorial Drive, in Cambridge, there is a paved pathway often home to joggers and cyclist.

One thing I can't stress enough: Get a helmet. A good one can be had for around $50 and they are available at any bike-shop. And they are really lightweight and comfortable. I forget I'm wearing mine.

Have a Blast!
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Old 05-21-09, 05:50 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by DX Rider View Post
Best place in Boston that I can think of is the paved pathway that runs along the esplanade. It has some grass on either side, good for falling, and usually isn't that crowded, especially earilier in the morning.
This is what I was thinking. Slow, unsteady traffic is tolerated (unlike on the streets), and the scenery's pretty nice too.

The arboretum or the paths along Jamaica pond would be some other good spots, if you can get there easily.
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Old 05-21-09, 08:20 PM   #12
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On Sundays, during spring and summer, much of Memorial Drive in Cambridge is closed to auto traffic, and makes for fine cycling.
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Old 05-22-09, 05:52 AM   #13
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If you take the T to Alewife, there begins a very nice bike-path that goes out through Arlington, Lexington, and Bedford. Make for a great weekend ride. And riding around in these towns is an adventure on it's own.
The Minuteman Bikeway is the MUP being referred to here. I usually ride it the opposite way. (Bedford > Cambridge and back) It's a nice little ride, but be aware that it truly is a multi-use-path (MUP) and can become crowded with cyclists, roller bladers, joggers and walkers on the weekends. As was mentioned before early morning or early evening would be good times to ride.

Some additional info you may find useful:

Bikes on the T
Metro Boston Bike Paths
Sheldon Brown's Website (the de facto resource for all things cycling)

All that being said, the best thing for you to do is find a place you are comfortable riding and simply ride.
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Old 05-22-09, 06:49 AM   #14
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Haha, boston is not really known for its abundance of parking lots. But thank you for the advice.

I managed to find a park within walking distance that has a small track that spans around the outside of a softball field. I suppose it's good for practicing staying on a path, and it keeps me out of the way of too many pedestrians or automobiles. What are some exercises that I can do on my own in a setting like that? I need to practice... well... pretty much everything. Today, I managed to stand up on the pedals while coasting, for about 20 or 30 feet.

I'd say that, in case anyone's interested how it is to learn a bike when they're older, that the actual act of learning to balance on the bike was pretty instant. It took me about 45 minutes to get both feet on the pedals and go from one end of the driveway to the other. On the other hand, things like turning, learning to brake and switch gears, starting from a dead stop (I'm still pretty bad at this), maneuvering around things/people, staying on a sidewalk or path, standing on the pedals to go up a hill, looking anywhere other than where I'm going, etc. all seem to be experience-based skills that I haven't really started to acquire yet.

Any other good things to work on? ((That tag game sounds way too scary for me... I'm a very cautious, careful person... which is pretty much why I never learned to ride in the first place))
I recommend the parking lot practice other posters have suggested. I did a lot of that when I was learning to ride two years ago, when I was 40. I still remember how long it took me to ride that first mile - nearly an hour. I hope you avoid the usual beginning rider mailbox crash - I didn't.
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Old 05-22-09, 11:14 AM   #15
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You need to develope some basic bike handling skills before venturing onto the road.
There are some useful pointers for beginners at the famous Sheldon Brown website.

Its hard to translate words into actions, you are probably best off just riding around some safe places a lot.
Wear a helmet and gloves and full-length clothing to prevent grazing in case of a spill.
Learn to fall correctly.
Do keep a grip of your bars, keep your head and elbows tucked in and roll onto your upper arm/shoulder/back.
Dont stick your hand out to break a fall.
It is harder top ride slowly and I used to spend hours as a kid doing slow-bike races, riding around slalom courses, braking to a stop at exactly a chosen spot.
The key to bike handling is to understand that bikes steer by balance and balance by steering.
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Old 05-22-09, 04:14 PM   #16
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Ride on a grassy field and fall down deliberately. That will give you an idea of how it feels, and this will reduce your fear of falling.
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