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  1. #1
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    Newbie cyclist needs some advice

    Cycling questions

    Hi all,

    I am quite literally a newbie cyclist; I never rode as a kid, and have managed in the past month and a half to teach myself (from various pearls of wisdom on the Ďnet) to ride. But I still have a bunch of questions and things that cause me some difficulty, so I would appreciate it if you folks could help me out

    1) How is it possible to take one hand off the handlebars to signal turns? Every time I try, I almost lose my balance and wobble over the road. Is this something that will get easier with more experience in riding?
    2) I need to be able to stop myself quickly, since I have the occasional tendency to run into bushes, or head off the sides of the sidewalk. When I first started to learn, I had my seat down almost as far as it would go; yes, I know this is a bad thing to do, but I needed (and to some extent still need) to be able to put my foot down to stop myself. Iíve read Sheldon Brownís articles on starting/stopping a bike, but Iím having a hard time following his recommendations of coming off the bike seat to put a foot on the ground. Every time I do this, itís very awkward and I feel like Iím going to fall over. My commute has a lot of stop signs along the way, so doing this multiple times is a problem! So basically, my question is what I should do for the time being: leave my seat a little low (to touch a toe to the ground), or try to stop the other way? I should also say that I donít have the worldís best balance, which doesnít help
    3) Any advice for learning how to climb hills? I kind of suck at theseÖthereís a fairly steep one on my commute that I can (if Iím lucky) make it 2/3rds of the way up before my legs and lungs give out.
    4) How do you guys take a sharp turn when you have to? Like for instance, changing from a sidewalk to a bike lane that runs at a 90 degree angle to the sidewalk? Iím really bad at this, and this is the main reason I end up in the bushes What do you guys do when you donít have the room to move to the center of the lane before your turn?
    5) And finally, since I am a true newbie, what advice do you folks have for me on how I can improve my skills?

    Thanks for putting up with my long post

  2. #2
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    Not that it matters, but could I ask how old you are? I think it is kind of cool that you have decided you will learn to ride and actually did it on your own. What area of the country are you in? I only ask because here in the NE, winter is just around the corner and weather turns many riders indoors. I took gloves with me today. It was very in between whether I needed them or not. I was constantly putting on unzipping taking off layers.

    1) Practice. It is easier with some speed and when you are not stressed about obstacles in the road. Slow speed makes you have to concentrate and work harder to maintain balance. Obstacles may cause you to have to make quick avoidance maneuvers. Practice and sense of balance are key.

    2) You should not need to stop quickly. Like driving you do not want to be looking right where you are, you want to look ahead and plan your moves in advance so they are smooth and less abrupt. Abrupt moves are more likely to cause problems for you and others on the road or trail. Slow down prior to a turn. Try not to brake in a turn. This means have the appropriate speed before entering the turn. Braking is one way to lose traction, add in the forces of the turn and you increase the chances your wheel will slide out. Have your seat down such that you can stand flat footed from the saddle. Anymore will not do much for you. It will lower you center of gravity but that is not an issue for biking. You need to get your sense of balance, and that takes time on the bike. Coming off the saddle prior to stopping is the best way to stop, especially when your seat is adusted to the correct height. This again follows the rule of advance planning. I start to brake to help my body roll forward and off the saddle and stand on the pedals. With your seat being lower, this will be more difficult for you as you will need to stand up to come off the saddle. With your saddle at the appropriate height, I merely slide forward and not up. Maybe coming off the saddle won't work as well for you until you raise the saddle some, especially if you are carrying extra weight. Again, you will need to practice your handling skills.

    3) Hills are hard for everyone, join the club . Practice and you will get stronger, but they will never be easy. Take the little victories. A great one for you will be the first time you make it up that one hill. It will hurt, but you can try to think back to when you could not do it. You will feel good that you did it but you will realize that hills will never not hurt.

    4) Slow down before the turn, plan it out. Just like driving a car, you don't enter a 90 degree turn at 40mph, you slow down to say 15-25mph. To do that you give yourself enough distance to smoothly brake. When you start riding single track and have your NORBA card then you can investigate other turning techniques, but for now, keep it smooth and under control.

    5) Ride more miles. There are some games you can play to help you refine the skills. Essentially, it would be doing trick riding 101. Things like, teaching yourself to coast with no hands, then pedal with no hands. Ride side saddle, while riding, swing one leg over so that you are standing on one pedal and both legs are on the same side of the bike, remount whils still coasting. Teach yourself to bunnyhop. Trying going over obstacles, that are larger and larger. Learn to ride down stairs. While riding slowly try to pick an object up from lower and lower heights until you can pick up something on the ground. Teach yourself to track stand (stay balanced on the bike while at a complete stop.

    I hope none of this sounds harsh I as I have no intent to sound that way. I truly am impressed that you are teaching yourself to ride later in life, i.e. older than 7. Keep at it and you will look back on this and see how far you have come.

    Good Luck.

  3. #3
    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mcg448
    1) How is it possible to take one hand off the handlebars to signal turns? Every time I try, I almost lose my balance and wobble over the road. Is this something that will get easier with more experience in riding?
    Practice will make it easier. Also, if your front wheel wobbles, you're putting too much weight on your handlebars. Try leaning back a bit and letting the bike steer itself (so to speak--not literally).

    Quote Originally Posted by mcg448
    3) Any advice for learning how to climb hills? I kind of suck at theseÖthereís a fairly steep one on my commute that I can (if Iím lucky) make it 2/3rds of the way up before my legs and lungs give out.
    Keep plugging away. Your body will adapt to the situation and you'll gradually get stronger and stronger. That said, even european professional bike racers have trouble on some steeper climbs...they even occasionally fall over!

    However, being new to the sport, I would recommend finding flatter roads until you've put in 500--1,000 miles. Riding steep hills before your body is ready can hurt your knees (voice of Experience talking).

    Quote Originally Posted by mcg448
    4) How do you guys take a sharp turn when you have to? Like for instance, changing from a sidewalk to a bike lane that runs at a 90 degree angle to the sidewalk? Iím really bad at this, and this is the main reason I end up in the bushes What do you guys do when you donít have the room to move to the center of the lane before your turn?
    <sarcasm>Slow down for turns.</sarcasm>

    Seriously, as you ride, your eyes/focus should be down the road far enough so you can see what's coming. Your hands should always be on--or near--the brakes. Slow down and take the turn under control. You don't want to be a danger to yourself or anyone else that may be coming the other direction. Bike crashes can break bones (some pros have even died from high speed crashes). If the turn is suddenly necessary, well, do what you can to avoid the obstacle and survive. We all have experienced unexpected obstacles.

    Occasionally, even this doesn't help and seasoned riders wind up in the bushes too (try falling over at a stop light in front of lots of cars & drivers---talk about embarassing?! )

    Quote Originally Posted by mcg448
    5) And finally, since I am a true newbie, what advice do you folks have for me on how I can improve my skills?
    You could find an empty parking lot and practice these skills there. Sundays, the malls don't open until noon or so.

    Once you feel comfortable, find some other people to ride with! Find a local club and call them. Ask if there's someone who can teach new riders. Ask if there are any short rides designed for beginners. At this point, you probably don't want to get hooked up with a racing club. Ask them if they are focused on touring or racing style. You're more interested in touring clubs. They have a wider variety of riders and speeds at which they ride. Riding with others is also way more fun!

    Enjoy. God bless. Good luck.

  4. #4
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Good tips but I'll add some stuff

    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68
    Practice will make it easier. Also, if your front wheel wobbles, you're putting too much weight on your handlebars. Try leaning back a bit and letting the bike steer itself (so to speak--not literally).
    Practice helps but try to ease up on the grip and your shoulders. Lots of newbies ride with stiff arms and hunched shoulders. Relax. If you find your shoulders up around your ears, you are too tense! Your arms should have a slight bend in them...at the elbows, preferably ... and you should grip the bars lightly. If you have white knuckles, you are gripping the bars too hard!

    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68
    Keep plugging away. Your body will adapt to the situation and you'll gradually get stronger and stronger. That said, even european professional bike racers have trouble on some steeper climbs...they even occasionally fall over!

    However, being new to the sport, I would recommend finding flatter roads until you've put in 500--1,000 miles. Riding steep hills before your body is ready can hurt your knees (voice of Experience talking).
    Especially with your saddle as low as you have it! Raise the saddle!


    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68
    <sarcasm>Slow down for turns.</sarcasm>

    Seriously, as you ride, your eyes/focus should be down the road far enough so you can see what's coming. Your hands should always be on--or near--the brakes. Slow down and take the turn under control. You don't want to be a danger to yourself or anyone else that may be coming the other direction. Bike crashes can break bones (some pros have even died from high speed crashes). If the turn is suddenly necessary, well, do what you can to avoid the obstacle and survive. We all have experienced unexpected obstacles.

    Occasionally, even this doesn't help and seasoned riders wind up in the bushes too (try falling over at a stop light in front of lots of cars & drivers---talk about embarassing?! )
    Absolutely! An technique that we teach new mountain bikers is to look down the trail. Don't focus on what you are avoiding or you will run right into it! Pay attention to the road and to things on the road but focus beyond the stuff that is right in front of your wheel.

    Additionally, use your brakes to stop! You are releasing your brakes and trying to put your feet on the ground before the bike has come to a stop. Your feet are not effective brakes! Keep them on the pedal until you are almost stopped. When you bail off and put your feet on the ground, you are much more likely to fall.

    Also, as you brake, slide your weight towards the rear of the saddle. This weights the rear wheel and makes the rear brake much more effective. If your rear wheel is starting to slide...not a good braking technique...ease up pressure on the front brake. The physics of the situation is that your front brake is your strongest brake. As you apply more pressure, the momentum is shifted towards the front and the rear wheel starts to come up off the ground and stops spinning. Then it starts to skid. Braking isn't any good for a sliding wheel but much better for a rolling wheel.

    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68
    You could find an empty parking lot and practice these skills there. Sundays, the malls don't open until noon or so.

    Once you feel comfortable, find some other people to ride with! Find a local club and call them. Ask if there's someone who can teach new riders. Ask if there are any short rides designed for beginners. At this point, you probably don't want to get hooked up with a racing club. Ask them if they are focused on touring or racing style. You're more interested in touring clubs. They have a wider variety of riders and speeds at which they ride. Riding with others is also way more fun!

    Enjoy. God bless. Good luck.
    Practice can also be performed in a grass area at a local park. Grass slows you way down which makes control a bit easier. Also if you fall over, grass is easier on your parts than pavement...it's easier on the bike too
    Stuart Black
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  5. #5
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by masiman
    3) Hills are hard for everyone, join the club . Practice and you will get stronger, but they will never be easy. Take the little victories. A great one for you will be the first time you make it up that one hill. It will hurt, but you can try to think back to when you could not do it. You will feel good that you did it but you will realize that hills will never not hurt.
    You should also learn how your gears work, if you don't already know. Downshifting on hills is necessary to climb them easier.

    Quote Originally Posted by masiman
    4) Slow down before the turn, plan it out. Just like driving a car, you don't enter a 90 degree turn at 40mph, you slow down to say 15-25mph. To do that you give yourself enough distance to smoothly brake. When you start riding single track and have your NORBA card then you can investigate other turning techniques, but for now, keep it smooth and under control.

    One way that I taught my daughter to corner better is by doing figure 8s in the park (see my other post). Also try to learn how to do tight circles around a single point. The best way to do this it to ignore the previous advice I gave about not looking at ground in front of you. Find the center of the corner and look right at that point as you go around the corner (don't over do it ). This pins you to the center of the corner and allows you to go around it. Practice this by doing slow circles in a park or parking lot. Don't go faster than walking speed and try to make them as tight as possible. Then do them the other direction. Eventually, it'll feel natural.
    Stuart Black
    Solo Without Pie. The search for pie in the Midwest.
    Picking the Scablands. Washington and Oregon, 2005. Pie and spiders on the Columbia River!
    Days of Wineless Roads. Bed and Breakfasting along the KATY
    Twisting Down the Alley. Misadventures in tornado alley.
    An Good Ol' Fashion Appalachian Butt Whoopin'.

  6. #6
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    ) How is it possible to take one hand off the handlebars to signal turns? Every time I try, I almost lose my balance and wobble over the road. Is this something that will get easier with more experience in riding?
    If I had to guess, I'd say you are leaning too heavily on your handlebars. You may need to adjust your saddle back a bit. It will get easier as you ride more. I go 18-20mph no hands and look over my shoulder, wave at the cows, eat Clif bars and drink; all at the same time.


    2) I need to be able to stop myself quickly, since I have the occasional tendency to run into bushes, or head off the sides of the sidewalk. When I first started to learn, I had my seat down almost as far as it would go; yes, I know this is a bad thing to do, but I needed (and to some extent still need) to be able to put my foot down to stop myself. Iíve read Sheldon Brownís articles on starting/stopping a bike, but Iím having a hard time following his recommendations of coming off the bike seat to put a foot on the ground. Every time I do this, itís very awkward and I feel like Iím going to fall over. My commute has a lot of stop signs along the way, so doing this multiple times is a problem! So basically, my question is what I should do for the time being: leave my seat a little low (to touch a toe to the ground), or try to stop the other way? I should also say that I donít have the worldís best balance, which doesnít help
    Keep practicing. Stopping by putting the foot down is not a good way to stop. I only put my foot down when I've completely stopped and I need to hop off the seat first. Having the seat too low robs you of power and is uncomfortable unless the bike is designed for this.

    3) Any advice for learning how to climb hills? I kind of suck at theseÖthereís a fairly steep one on my commute that I can (if Iím lucky) make it 2/3rds of the way up before my legs and lungs give out.
    Again, keep practicing. I just got my first road bike last year and I couldn't climb speedbumps. Now I can make it up the climbs around here. Slowly, but I make it. Practice riding hard and fast on the flats to build yourself up more; it'll help on the hills.
    4) How do you guys take a sharp turn when you have to? Like for instance, changing from a sidewalk to a bike lane that runs at a 90 degree angle to the sidewalk? Iím really bad at this, and this is the main reason I end up in the bushes What do you guys do when you donít have the room to move to the center of the lane before your turn?
    I lean with the bike rather than turn the handlebars unless I'm going slow. A ninety degree turn is best taken slowly at first until you gain experience but it sounds like you aren't getting set for the turn until it's too late. If there's room, swing wide to the left in preparation for making a right turn, like the big rigs do.
    5) And finally, since I am a true newbie, what advice do you folks have for me on how I can improve my skills?
    Ride, Ride, Ride!

    What kind of bike do you have? How tall are you and how big is the bike? What sort of gearing does it have? You may be on the wrong bike.

  7. #7
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    mgc448: What is the make and model of the bike you are riding, or at least tell us the type?

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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute
    You should also learn how your gears work, if you don't already know. Downshifting on hills is necessary to climb them easier.

    One way that I taught my daughter to corner better is by doing figure 8s in the park (see my other post). Also try to learn how to do tight circles around a single point. The best way to do this it to ignore the previous advice I gave about not looking at ground in front of you. Find the center of the corner and look right at that point as you go around the corner (don't over do it ). This pins you to the center of the corner and allows you to go around it.
    +1 on the gearing.

    Another tip for those emergency situations, kind of an extension of what cyc says. Do not look where you do not want to go. This applies to when you are in a stressful riding situation. If you see a pothole, don't look at the pothole, look at the track you want to take. If you are stressed and headed for a bush, do not stare at it, you will crash into it. Find the the safe path and look at that. I am amazed at how this little fact works.

  9. #9
    Senior Member localtalent's Avatar
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    I actually had to double-check the post to make sure I didn't write it - sounds just like me.

    I taught myself at age 20, attempting to ride a Fuji Palisade hybrid down a sidewalk in Rochester - and now, 4 years later, I blast through Manhattan traffic on the Peugeot beater roadie that I repaired myself.

    I still have my seat a little low because I'm on and off it all the time - I still gotta work on that. I've never been great with balance, so I can't do no hands either. It all comes in time - I just switched to drop bars two months ago, I'd always ridden MTB or North Road style bars.

    My big piece of advice - spin more. Mashing the pedals in a hard gear is murder on your knees.

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    Many of us who learnt to ride as children spend hours riding in circles in the driveway, up and down the road, doing a little off-road circuit. All of this developed bike handling skills to quite a high std.
    You need to train yourself in a similar manner, the road is no place to learn basic bike handling skills.

    Try setting out some cones (or cans) in a slalom course.
    Play games on your bike, riding to a point and stopping exactly where you want to or balancing at a stop.
    Try picking up a coke can or placing one on the ground from the bike.

    The secret to riding in a staright line is to realize that bikes never go straight , always in curves. Changing to a parallel track (ie changing lanes) is more difficult than it seems. You need to counter steer.
    I would jink in to towards the lane, swing out then lean in and ride into the lane, THEN jink out a bit and back to regain balance. It all happens in autopilot with very small movements.

  11. #11
    Two H's!!! TWO!!!!! chephy's Avatar
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    Hi - and welcome to the club!! Some general advice first. One thing you need to do is improve your handling skills - this should be done in a traffic-free area. Next you should learn practices for safe cycling on the road: it may help to browse the Advocacy and Safety forum here, read a cycling book, or take a LAB (League of American Bicyclists) course. Here is a good summary of riding safely and efficiently on the road.

    Quote Originally Posted by mcg448
    1) How is it possible to take one hand off the handlebars to signal turns? Every time I try, I almost lose my balance and wobble over the road. Is this something that will get easier with more experience in riding?
    Practice makes perfect. Don't practice while on the road! Find a flat smooth area such as an empty parking lot, preferably with some straight lines painted (note: paint gets slippery when wet so take care if riding on wet ground!). Ride straight on the line and take your hand off the handlebars - first for a second at a time, then for longer, as you get more comfortable. Do not grip the bars too hard with the other hand or lean on them, do not tense your arm/shoulder. Lean back, relax and steer/balance with your body, not with the handlebars.

    Though scarier, it actually helps to go somewhat fast (a bike is generally easier to balance at higher than at lower speeds... just try balancing a stationary bike and you'll see what I'm talking about ).

    You should also practice looking over your shoulder while keeping a straight line. Those are absolute essential skills for riding in traffic!

    2) I need to be able to stop myself quickly, since I have the occasional tendency to run into bushes, or head off the sides of the sidewalk.
    First, a note on sidewalks: they are often not a very safe place to ride: your potential for collisions at intersections (including driveways) increases greatly. There is a sticky thread at the Advocacy and Safety forum regarding sidewalk riding.

    Anyway, it sounds as though you lose control of your bike at times, and you should definitely work on that! Of course you should also learn how to stop too.

    When I first started to learn, I had my seat down almost as far as it would go; yes, I know this is a bad thing to do, but I needed (and to some extent still need) to be able to put my foot down to stop
    Do you have good brakes? There are some very bad brakes out there, and even good brakes can be turned into bad brakes by maladjustment. You can test them as follows: stand next to a bike on dry pavement, squeeze right brake lever and push the bike forward - the rear wheel should be locked (i.e. not rotating as bike moves forward). Now squeeze the left lever and push bike forward again - the front wheel should not be moving and the rear wheel should be lifted off the ground. If you can't get your brakes to do this, or you have to squeeze them extremely hard, you need some mechanical work on your brakes!

    Position of brake levers also makes a difference. Can you easily reach them? On a lot of bikes they are set so that your palm needs to be parallel to the ground in order to grab the brakes. If that's the case with your bike, consider rotating the levers, so that the fingers are pointing a bit downward when you grab the lever (see attached picture, if for no other reason than to poke fun at my artistic abilities ).

    I’ve read Sheldon Brown’s articles on starting/stopping a bike, but I’m having a hard time following his recommendations of coming off the bike seat to put a foot on the ground. Every time I do this, it’s very awkward and I feel like I’m going to fall over.
    I worked with many newbie riders this year, and found this to be a surprisingly common problem. They seem to be glued to the seat at all times and find it impossible to lift their tushy off it.

    First thing you need to practice is not actually braking: it's riding while not sitting on the seat. Do this: get up to speed, stop pedalling, and pick a foot, any foot. Say, you pick left (different people have different preferences for this). So coast (ride w/o pedalling) with left foot down and at some point lift your bum off the seat and ride with your weight on the left pedal (you may also need to put more weight on the handlebars). The left leg should be fully extended, the fight leg bent, with right foot resting on the pedal. It's going to be hard if you just try to lift yourself an inch off the seat or so - do more! Move forward, so you are not above the seat but a bit in front of it. As the bike is slowing down (since you're not pedalling), put yourself back on the seat and pedal some more. You can also practice pedalling while not sitting on the saddle.

    After you've mastered that practice combining this technique and braking. Pull your brake levers, and as the bike is slowing down, get off the seat resting all your weight on one foot (we'll stick with "left" for the purposes of this example) and get the other foot off the pedal. When the bike is completely stopped, put that other foot on the ground.. of course, as the bike is coming to a stop, it'll want to tip one direction or the other... make sure to tilt it to the right (since left pedal is supporting your weight). I've seen a lot of people who practice this jump off both pedals at once as the bike is slowing down. Wrong and dangerous! One foot will stay on the pedal through this whole process until after the bike is completely stopped.

    my question is what I should do for the time being: leave my seat a little low (to touch a toe to the ground), or try to stop the other way?
    Learn the other way, but not while you're commuting. The road is a dangerous place to practice handling skills.

    3) Any advice for learning how to climb hills? I kind of suck at these…there’s a fairly steep one on my commute that I can (if I’m lucky) make it 2/3rds of the way up before my legs and lungs give out.
    First of all, if your seat is set low so you can touch the ground with your toe, you are not getting maximum pedalling efficiency. In fact, I would not be able to ride like this at all without major discomfort let alone climb hills!

    Anyway, there are two basic approaches to hill climbing: seat'n'spin and stand'n'mash. With seat'n'spin the rider remains in the saddle, shifts gears way down and pedals relatively fast against relatively little resistance (spinning) up the hill. With stand'n'mash the rider stands up on the pedals (bum off the seat) and pushes hard on the pedals. The first way is generally a slower and easier on the body. The second is harder, faster and exhausts one more.. except for shorter climbs when momentum may just carry you over if you help it a little by standing up and mashing on those pedals. With both approaches the most common newbie mistake is to use gears that are too high (that's a general newbie mistake on all terrains except for extreme downhill maybe). Learn to use those low gears!

    4)How do you guys take a sharp turn when you have to? Like for instance, changing from a sidewalk to a bike lane that runs at a 90 degree angle to the sidewalk?
    Slow down before the turn. Don't brake and turn at the same time. Make sure not to turn the handlebars too far. Lean into the turn. Don't pedal during sharp turns; keep the inside (e.g. left for a left turn) pedal up to make sure it doesn't scrape the ground... and possibly send you flying. Avoid sharp turns (don't ride on sidewalks ).

    What do you guys do when you don’t have the room to move to the center of the lane before your turn?
    In general you need to plan in advance to make sure you can execute your moves. I mean, what would you tell to a newbie driver who asks "What if I don't have room to move to a left-turn lane before my left turn?" Well, tell a newbie biker the same thing. Estimate your speed and speed of other road users, and from that figure out when you'll need to start negotiating your way into the centre of the lane to complete your turn smoothly. (I hope I understood the issue correctly; perhaps you're talking about something different... something related to handling skills rather than traffic dynamics).

    Thanks for putting up with my long post
    Thanks for putting up with my longer reply.
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    Last edited by chephy; 10-19-06 at 05:39 PM.

  12. #12
    Two H's!!! TWO!!!!! chephy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbattle
    I just got my first road bike last year and I couldn't climb speedbumps.
    Good one.

  13. #13
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    Wow, I do not think I have ever seen so much written on how to ride a bicycle for beginners.

    Anyway, you might very well enjoy Mark Twain's experience and suggestions on how to ride a bicycle. Remember, he was learning to ride one of those high-wheeled penny-farthings, but his experience is still hilarious and we can all relate. As Mr. Twain says, "Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live."

    The following is "How to Tame a Bicycle" written by Mark Twain written in the 1880's:

    I thought the matter over, and concluded I could do it. So I went down and bought a barrel of Pond's Extract and a bicycle. The Expert came home with me to instruct me. We chose the back yard, for the sake of privacy, and went to work.

    Mine was not a full-grown bicycle, but only a colt -- a fifty-inch, with the pedals shortened up to forty-eight -- and skittish, like any other colt. The Expert explained the thing's points briefly, then he got on its back and rode around a little, to show me how easy it was to do. He said that the dismounting was perhaps the hardest thing to learn, and so we would leave that to the last. But he was in error there. He found, to his surprise and joy, that all that he needed to do was to get me on to the machine and stand out of the way; I could get off, myself. Although I was wholly inexperienced, I dismounted in the best time on record. He was on that side, shoving up the machine; we all came down with a crash, he at the bottom, I next, and the machine on top.

    We examined the machine, but it was not in the least injured. This was hardly believable. Yet the Expert assured me that it was true; in fact, the examination proved it. I was partly to realize, then, how admirably these things are constructed. We applied some Pond's Extract, and resumed. The Expert got on the other side to shove up this time, but I dismounted on that side; so the result was as before.

    The machine was not hurt. We oiled ourselves up again, and resumed. This time the Expert took up a sheltered position behind, but somehow or other we landed on him again.

    He was full of surprised admiration; said it was abnormal. She was all right, not a scratch on her, not a timber started anywhere. I said it was wonderful, while we were greasing up, but he said that when I came to know these steel spider-webs I would realize that nothing but dynamite could cripple them. Then he limped out to position, and we resumed once more. This time the Expert took up the position of short-stop, and got a man to shove up behind. We got up a handsome speed, and presently traversed a brick, and I went out over the top of the tiller and landed, head down, on the instructor's back, and saw the machine fluttering in the air between me and the sun. It was well it came down on us, for that broke the fall, and it was not injured.

    Five days later I got out and was carried down to the hospital, and found the Expert doing pretty fairly. In a few more days I was quite sound. I attribute this to my prudence in always dismounting on something soft. Some recommend a feather bed, but I think an Expert is better.

    The Expert got out at last, brought four assistants with him. It was a good idea. These four held the graceful cobweb upright while I climbed into the saddle; then they formed in column and marched on either side of me while the Expert pushed behind; all hands assisted at the dismount.

    The bicycle had what is called the "wabbles," and had them very badly. In order to keep my position, a good many things were required of me, and in every instance the thing required was against nature. Against nature, but not against the laws of nature. That is to say, that whatever the needed thing might be, my nature, habit, and breeding moved me to attempt it in one way, while some immutable and unsuspected law of physics required that it be done in just the other way. I perceived by this how radically and grotesquely wrong had been the lifelong education of my body and members. They were steeped in ignorance; they knew nothing - nothing which it could profit them to know. For instance, if I found myself falling to the right, I put the tiller hard down the other way, by a quite natural impulse, and so violated a law, and kept on going down. The law required the opposite thing - the big wheel must be turned in the direction in which you are falling. It is hard to believe this, when you are told it . And not merely hard to believe it, but impossible; it is opposed to all your notions. And it is just as hard to do it, after you do come to believe it. Believing it, and knowing by the most convincing proof that it is true, does not help it: you can't any more do it that you could before; you can neither force nor persuade yourself to do it at first. The intellect has to come to the front, now. It has to teach the limbs to discard their old education and adopt the new.

    The steps of one's progress are distinctly marked. At the end of each lesson he knows he has acquired something, and he also knows what that something is, and likewise that it will stay with him. It is not like studying German, where you mull along, in a groping, uncertain way, for thirty years; and at last, just as you think you've got it, they spring the subjunctive on you, and there you are. No -- and I see now, plainly enough, that the great pity about the German language is, that you can't fall off it and hurt yourself. There is nothing like that feature to make you attend strictly to business. But I also see, by what I have learned of bicycling, that the right and only sure way to learn German is by the bicycling method. That is to say, take a grip on one villainy of it at a time, and learn it -- not ease up and shirk to the next, leaving that one half learned.

    When you have reached the point in bicycling where you can balance the machine tolerably fairly and propel it and steer it, then comes your next task -- how to mount it. You do it in this way: you hop along behind it on your right foot, resting the other on the mounting-peg, and grasping the tiller with your hands. At the word, you rise on the peg, stiffen your left leg, hang your other one around in the air in a general and indefinite way, lean your stomach against the rear of the saddle, and then fall off, maybe on one side, maybe on the other; but you fall off. You get up and do it again; and once more; and then several times.

    By this time you have learned to keep your balance; and also to steer without wrenching the tiller out by the roots (I say tiller because it is a tiller; "handle-bar" is a lamely descriptive phrase). So you steer along, straight ahead, a little while, then you rise forward, with a steady strain, bringing your right leg, and then your body, into the saddle, catch your breath, fetch a violent hitch this way and then that, and down you go again.

    But you have ceased to mind the going down by this time; you are getting to light on one foot or the other with considerable certainty. Six more attempts and six more falls make you perfect. You land in the saddle comfortably, next time, and stay there -- that is, if you can be content to let your legs dangle, and leave the pedals alone a while; but if you grab at once for the pedals, you are gone again. You soon learn to wait a little and perfect your balance before reaching for the pedals; then the mounting-art is acquired, is complete, and a little practice will make it simple and easy to you, though spectators ought to keep off a rod or two to one side, along at first, if you have nothing against them.

    And now you come to the voluntary dismount; you learned the other kind first of all. It is quite easy to tell one how to do the voluntary dismount; the words are few, the requirement simple, and apparently undifficult; let your left pedal go down till your left leg is nearly straight, turn your wheel to the left, and get off as you would from a horse. It certainly does sound exceedingly easy; but it isn't. I don't know why it isn't, but it isn't. Try as you may, you don't get down as you would from a horse, you get down as you would from a house afire. You make a spectacle of yourself every time.

    During eight days I took a daily lesson of an hour and a half. At the end of this twelve working-hours' apprenticeship I was graduated -- in the rough. I was pronounced competent to paddle my own bicycle without outside help. It seems incredible, this celerity of acquirement. It takes considerably longer than that to learn horseback-riding in the rough.

    Now it is true that I could have learned without a teacher, but it would have been risky for me, because of my natural clumsiness. The self-taught man seldom knows anything accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much as he could have known if he had worked under teachers; and, besides, he brags, and is the means of fooling other thoughtless people into going and doing as he himself had done. There are those who imagine that the unlucky accidents of life - life's "experiences" - are in some way useful to us. I wish I could find out how. I never knew one of them to happen twice. They always change off and swap around and catch you on your inexperienced side. If personal experience can be worth anything as an education, it wouldn't seem likely that you could trip Methuselah; and yet if that old person could come back here it is more than likely that one of the first things he would do would be to take hold of one of these electric wires and tie himself all up in a knot. Now the surer thing and the wiser thing would be for him to ask somebody whether it was a good thing to take hold of. But that would not suit him; he would be one of the self-taught kind that go by experience; he would want to examine for himself. And he would find, for his instruction, that the coiled patriarch shuns the electric wire; and it would be useful to him, too, and would leave his education in quite a complete and rounded-out condition, till he should come again, some day, and go to bouncing a dynamite-can around to find out what was in it.

    But we wander from the point. However, get a teacher; it saves much time and Pond's Extract.

    Before taking final leave of me, my instructor inquired concerning my physical strength, and I was able to inform him that I hadn't any. He said that that was a defect which would make up-hill wheeling pretty difficult for me at first; but he also said the bicycle would soon remove it. The contrast between his muscles and mine was quite marked. He wanted to test mine, so I offered my biceps -- which was my best. It almost made him smile. He said, "It is pulpy, and soft, and yielding, and rounded; it evades pressure, and glides from under the fingers; in the dark a body might think it was an oyster in a rag." Perhaps this made me look grieved, for he added, briskly: "Oh, that's all right; you needn't worry about that; in a little while you can't tell it from a petrified kidney. Just go right along with your practice; you're all right."

    Then he left me, and I started out alone to seek adventures. You don't really have to seek them -- that is nothing but a phrase -- they come to you.

    I chose a reposeful Sabbath-day sort of a back street which was about thirty yards wide between the curbstones. I knew it was not wide enough; still, I thought that by keeping strict watch and wasting no space unnecessarily I could crowd through.

    Of course I had trouble mounting the machine, entirely on my own responsibility, with no encouraging moral support from the outside, no sympathetic instructor to say, "Good! now you're doing well -- good again -- don't hurry -- there, now, you're all right -- brace up, go ahead." In place of this I had some other support. This was a boy, who was perched on a gate-post munching a hunk of maple sugar.

    He was full of interest and comment. The first time I failed and went down he said that if he was me he would dress up in pillows, that's what he would do. The next time I went down he advised me to go and learn to ride a tricycle first. The third time I collapsed he said he didn't believe I could stay on a horse-car. But next time I succeeded, and got clumsily under way in a weaving, tottering, uncertain fashion, and occupying pretty much all of the street. My slow and lumbering gait filled the boy to the chin with scorn, and he sung out, "My, but don't he rip along!" Then he got down from his post and loafed along the sidewalk, still observing and occasionally commenting. Presently he dropped into my wake and followed along behind. A little girl passed by, balancing a wash-board on her head, and giggled, and seemed about to make a remark, but the boy said, rebukingly, "Let him alone, he's going to a funeral."

    I had been familiar with that street for years, and had always supposed it was a dead level; but it was not, as the bicycle now informed me, to my surprise. The bicycle, in the hands of a novice, is as alert and acute as a spirit-level in the detecting of delicate and vanishing shades of difference in these matters. It notices a rise where your untrained eye would not observe that one existed; it notices any decline which water will run down. I was toiling up a slight rise, but was not aware of it. It made me tug and pant and perspire; and still, labor as I might, the machine came almost to a standstill every little while. At such times the boy would say: "That's it! take a rest - there ain't no hurry. They can't hold the funeral without you."

    Stones were a bother to me. Even the smallest ones gave me a panic when I went over them. I could hit any kind of a stone, no matter how small, if I tried to miss it; and of course at first I couldn't help trying to do that. It is but natural. It is part of the ass that is put in us all, for some inscrutable reason.

    I was at the end of my course, at last, and it was necessary for me to round to. This is not a pleasant thing, when you undertake it for the first time on your own responsibility, and neither is it likely to succeed. Your confidence oozes away, you fill steadily up with nameless apprehensions, every fiber of you is tense with a watchful strain, you start a cautious and gradual curve, but your squirmy nerves are all full of electric anxieties, so the curve is quickly demoralized into a jerky and perilous zigzag; then suddenly the nickel-clad horse takes the bit in its mouth and goes slanting for the curbstone, defying all prayers and all your powers to change its mind -- your heart stands still, your breath hangs fire, your legs forget to work, straight on you go, and there are but a couple of feet between you and the curb now. And now is the desperate moment, the last chance to save yourself; of course all your instructions fly out of your head, and you whirl your wheel away from the curb instead of toward it, and so you go sprawling on that granite-bound inhospitable shore. That was my luck; that was my experience. I dragged myself out from under the indestructible bicycle and sat down on the curb to examine.

    I started on the return trip. It was now that I saw a farmer's wagon poking along down toward me, loaded with cabbages. If I needed anything to perfect the precariousness of my steering, it was just that. The farmer was occupying the middle of the road with his wagon, leaving barely fourteen or fifteen yards of space on either side. I couldn't shout at him -- a beginner can't shout; if he opens his mouth he is gone; he must keep all his attention on his business. But in this grisly emergency, the boy came to the rescue, and for once I had to be grateful to him. He kept a sharp lookout on the swiftly varying impulses and inspirations of my bicycle, and shouted to the man accordingly:

    "To the left! Turn to the left, or this jackass'll run over you!" The man started to do it. "No, to the right, to the right! Hold on! that won't do! -- to the left! -- to the right! -- to the left! -- right! left -- ri -- Stay where you are, or you're a goner!"

    And just then I caught the off horse in the starboard and went down in a pile. I said, "Hang it! Couldn't you see I was coming?"

    "Yes, I see you was coming, but I couldn't tell which way you was coming. Nobody could -- now, could they? You couldn't yourself -- now, could you? So what could I do?"

    There was something in that, and so I had the magnanimity to say so. I said I was no doubt as much to blame as he was.

    Within the next five days I achieved so much progress that the boy couldn't keep up with me. He had to go back to his gate-post, and content himself with watching me fall at long range.

    There was a row of low stepping-stones across one end of the street, a measured yard apart. Even after I got so I could steer pretty fairly I was so afraid of those stones that I always hit them. They gave me the worst falls I ever got in that street, except those which I got from dogs. I have seen it stated that no expert is quick enough to run over a dog; that a dog is always able to skip out of his way. I think that that may be true; but I think that the reason he couldn't run over the dog was because he was trying to. I did not try to run over any dog. But I ran over every dog that came along. I think it makes a great deal of difference. If you try to run over the dog he knows how to calculate, but if you are trying to miss him he does not know how to calculate, and is liable to jump the wrong way every time. It was always so in my experience. Even when I could not hit a wagon I could hit a dog that came to see me practise. They all liked to see me practise, and they all came, for there was very little going on in our neighborhood to entertain a dog. It took time to learn to miss a dog, but I achieved even that.

    I can steer as well as I want to, now, and I will catch that boy out one of these days and run over him if he doesn't reform.

    Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.
    Mike

  14. #14
    Grumpy Old Bugga europa's Avatar
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    Not hard to see why Mark Twain is regarded as one of the greats.

    Now, back to riding.
    Lots of advice, but one which hasn't been mentioned and which is one of the secrets.

    Look where you want to go.

    Yup - there is a link between your eyes and where those wheels roll.
    Coming up to a hole? Look at the hole (like any normal person will) and you'll hit it every time.
    But it works in turning too. Look through the corner to where you want to go and the bike will follow. In very tight turns, like u-turns, turn your head over your shoulder and look back to where you want to come out, and you will. Normal humans look right down at their front wheel or just in front of them and, guess what, they don't get around the corners. It's scary to try but it works.

    Head up. Eyes looking to where you want to go, and you'll find your riding transformed, even in a straight line.

    My girlfriend is in the same position as you are - first climbed on a bike in her late forties. She too started with the seat very low, for the same reasons you did. She too was very wary of putting the seat up, but we did (partly because I got her a suspension seat post and it didn't go as low as she'd had it). There was an immediate improvement in her riding, both in confidence and control ... once she'd got around the mounting and dismounting bit. So, although you were right to start with the seat low, once you take the courage to put it up, you will notice an improvement.

    Richard
    I had a good bike ... so I FIXED it

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by europa
    Lots of advice, but one which hasn't been mentioned and which is one of the secrets.

    Look where you want to go.
    See post #8, but great reinforcement.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by mcg448 View Post
    1) How is it possible to take one hand off the handlebars to signal turns? Every time I try, I almost lose my balance and wobble over the road. Is this something that will get easier with more experience in riding?
    Yes, it will get easier.

    A tip: When I'm signalling a turn, I like to show the turn signal intermittently, not continuously: for example, for a split-second every few seconds. You didn't tell us where you live, but here's the relevant law in the US state of Delaware: "A signal by hand and arm need not be given continuously if the hand is needed in the control or operation of the bicycle."

    P.S. If you've never taken a cycling course, may I suggest you take one. If you can't, I suggest you read a well-organized treatise on safe cycling. Bicycling Street Smarts is a good start. For more detail, see the North American edition of Cyclecraft. If you can't find a copy, check out Effective Cycling by John Forester.
    "As Helmet Head suggested, [scuba] divers are much more serious about safety. They study on land before they even take their first dive, and most continue to study and learn throughout their diving careers. [...] As cyclists, we often learn everything we ever know in kindergarten, and we love to blame any mishap on cagers, poor road design or an autocentric society." --Roody.

  17. #17
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    1) You are having trouble signalling because you think that you steer with the handlebars. I say this because I just recently taught my daughter how to ride and she did the same thing.

    A wheel in motion WANTS to stay upright and straight. You don't HOLD it straight.

    Try this: Find a hula-hoop. Roll it. Notice it stays very straight and rolls upright until it slows down, then the effect wears off and it starts to dip to one side. Nobody is balancing that hoop; due to its motion it wants to stay upright. Your bike is two of those hoops bound together.

    The handlebars are to steady you, not for you to steady them. You don't steer with your handlebars, you steer with your body, even if you don't realize it.

    Try this somewhere safe: Start riding in a straight line. Now, sit up more so your weight is mostly on your saddle. Un-grip your handlebars so your hands are on top of them but not circling them. Try to keep your touch as light as you can, like a feather. You'll find that, with a super light touch, you still feel secure and steady (you might have residual fear). Because your touch is so light, it is pretty much nothing to take one hand slightly off. Once you can do that you can signal and still feel secure. Nothing about your riding has changed other than your anxiety.

  18. #18
    Senior Member apollored's Avatar
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    Coming off the saddle prior to stopping is the best way to stop.

    Thats a completely new one on me.

    I have never seen anyone come off the saddle to brake and I certainly never have done.

    Is it a more American way of cycling?

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