Great! You’ve decided to start biking more (just in time for National Bike Month)! Maybe you’re commuting to work. Maybe you like to stick to the trails. Regardless, biking’s a great choice: it’s better for the environment, it will keep you more fit, and it gets you out in the fresh air. But before you bolt out the door, make sure you don’t make any of these common cycling mistakes that many beginner bicyclists (especially commuters) make.
Not wearing a helmet. Wear a helmet. It takes practically no effort and could save your life. If you are concerned about helmet hair, pack a spray bottle of water, some hair gel, or some dry shampoo in your pack. Helmet hair can be remedied. A crack in your skull isn’t quite so easy. Plus, some helmet designs can look pretty awesome. Just be sure you don’t put it on backwards.
Starting out too hard. Don’t decide to tackle 40 miles on your first day! As with any new form of exercise, you need to ease your body into it. Otherwise, the crippling soreness to follow might sour you on cycling altogether — or worse, lead to overuse injuries. Start small. Bike to work 1 or 2 days a week. If your commute is long, try biking there and getting a ride home the first week to build your stamina.
Acting overconfident. Trying to look cool doesn’t fool anyone. Some commuters bike in high heels or dark clothing, and it’s just dangerous. You should be sure to wear bright or reflective clothing so that drivers can see you and pedal-gripping sneakers. Also you need to learn/use proper hand signals when riding on streets. It’ll make life more pleasant both for you and the drivers around you.
Proper hand signals for bike users
Image credit: www.AustinTexas.gov
Locking your bike incorrectly. If you have to leave your bike outside, learn how to use your bike lock. Bikes get stolen every day, and an incorrectly placed lock is practically an open invitation. I’ve seen friends’ bikes diminished into a lonely locked front wheel — the rest of the bike was easily stolen. Do everything in your power to lock up your bike properly — U-locks are generally more effective than cable or chain locks – or store it inside your place of work.
Buying a bike you don‘t love/doesn‘t fit you. The fact of the matter is, if you don’t love your bike, you won’t ride it. Sure, you got a great deal on your bike — 50% off! It works, it isn’t too ugly, and it still left some padding in your wallet. But the seat is a little uncomfortable and all you can do is dream about that heavenly, full-priced blue bike you saw at the back of the store. If you are in love with your bike, no matter what the price, you’ll be aching to get out and ride. Riding a bike that you’re not that into or doesn’t fit properly is more like a chore. So, if you truly want to commit to riding your bike more, spend the money and buy a bike you love from the start.
Forgoing regular maintenance. Bikes require a significant amount of maintenance. You need to clean it semi-regularly; make sure the bolts, pedals and wheels are on tight; keep your chain lubed; and make sure your saddle is on straight. Your tires need to be pumped full to a proper volume and inspected for punctures before almost every ride. The less you maintain it, the sooner it will break or start to have issues. Also, please don’t leave your bike out in the rain to rust. If it does get wet, dry it off with a towel.
Not making efficient gear changes. If you have a hilly commute or ride, learning how to change gears efficiently will make the ride a lot more enjoyable. Gear changes cannot be made under pressure — like when you are pushing up a hill. You need to have the foresight to change gears ahead of time. It will be much easier to ride and your chain won’t slide off.
Not knowing your environment. You need to know your city like, well, the back of your hand to start bike commuting. If you’ve only been living in a new place for a month or two, you may not know the intricacies of one way streets, high traffic areas, and construction zones. This can be very dangerous as a cyclist. Go the wrong way down a one way and risk getting run down by a charging bus. Ouch. Do your research and become familiar with any urban landscape through which you plan on riding. It will be less stressful when you actually set out to ride.
Biking is a great form of exercise that nearly everyone can do. If you’ve never commuted by bike, or just want to go cruise through some trails, take the above into consideration. As long as you’re safe and have respect for the bike, cycling can be a relaxing, healthy and fun addition to your daily routine. Go ahead — get out and ride!