Don't laugh. I want to learn how to ride a bike.
March 21, 2005 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Okay, you can laugh a little bit. I'm 24, I moved to a more urban area a year ago, and I want to learn how to ride a bike to get around the city.

I never learned when I was younger because I was a nerd and shunned the outdoors. (Also: hills!) My friends are baffled at a good method of teaching me. My one attempt to try thus far was pretty poor, but the age of the bike might not have been helping. Can anyone give me some pointers or advice? Please tell me the answer is not "adult training wheels."
posted by patgas to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not training wheels, but maybe a bike that is technically too small for you--that is, one that allows you to sit on the seat with both feet flat on the ground. And, regardless of what equipment you have, you might want to start on a "girl's" frame--the kind without a horizontal top tube linking the seatpost and neck. This way, if you need to stop quick, you run less risk of getting a nasty bruise in the you-knows.

Free extra hint: The faster you go, the easier it is to balance.
posted by scratch at 1:09 PM on March 21, 2005

Some basic pointers here and here. If you're looking for something more advanced I'd start looking on Ken Kifer's pages.
posted by rolypolyman at 1:13 PM on March 21, 2005

RIP Ken Kifer.

Learning the mechanics of riding a bike is one thing. Learning how to ride in an urban area is something else. There are lots of little details that you need to pay attention to that will make things easier and keep you safer. I highly recommend that you take an urban cycling class, once you've figured out the mechanical part. Here are some tips to get you started.

Also: where do you live? I'll bet that there's a bicycle advocacy group in your area that offers plenty of resources from beginner to expert level.
posted by casu marzu at 1:20 PM on March 21, 2005

Please see this excellent thread from January. Have fun, good luck, bikes are the best.
posted by fixedgear at 2:03 PM on March 21, 2005

One thing I remember from learning as a kid: turning without falling over is the hard part, and it's much easier to learn on gentle curves than it is to start out with 90° turns. You might want to practice on a path that kind of meanders, rather than trying to ride around a city block.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:13 PM on March 21, 2005

Learning to ride a bike (at 34!) was my 2005 resolution. It's both slightly less terrifying and much more fun than I'd imagined. I'm not learning absolutely from scratch, but definitely still a beginner. A good bike makes all the difference - don't settle for a crappy old bike. And definitely start away from traffic - you'll want to build up confidence before dealing with the crazy driver types.
posted by judith at 2:22 PM on March 21, 2005

I wonder if it's easier to learn with hand brakes, rather than the old-style backpedal brakes we had on bikes when we were kids.
posted by smackfu at 2:26 PM on March 21, 2005

Go to the local park and try riding the bike on the grass. Plus when you fall like most do, it won’t hurt.
Find a slow grading hill with lots of room after it and coast down it with your feet off the pedals. Having your feet off the pedals will allow you to catch yourself giving the confidence needed to try it. Then advance from there with your feet on the pedals. Add if you try this on a pavement surface use a bike with hand brakes.

Had a high school coach that could balance himself feet in strapped in while stopped during the full interval of a stop light w/o even moving an inch.
Have you tried just sitting on the bike and see how long you can balance yourself, feet on & feet out from your sides?
posted by thomcatspike at 2:33 PM on March 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

I think I'd rather learn with coaster (backpedal) brakes; since they don't lock your front wheel, you're a lot less likely to accidentally go over the handlebars.
posted by COBRA! at 2:34 PM on March 21, 2005

Think yes, as remember falling trying to place my feet on the pedals to pedal, yet instead braking and loosing my balance.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:37 PM on March 21, 2005

I'd think that learning with coaster breaks would be easier since then you'd only have to concentrate on your feet, and not on coordinating your hands with your feet. Also, I still find riding on grass difficult since you're going slower, wheels get stuck, etc. I do reccommend the widest wheels possible since they help you with your balance. Basically no road bikes until you can handle switching hand positions on polar or the other kind of narrow handlebars, and have great balance.
posted by scazza at 3:57 PM on March 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

This might not be on your immediate list of to-dos, but I have found polarized sunglasses really helpful for urban bike-riding. If your "urban" area is anything like mine, you have to do a fair amount of riding alongside a row of parallel-parked cars. Polarized shades let you see through the cars' rear-windshields a lot better and can help you spot anyone who might be about to throw a door open in your path.
posted by scarabic at 3:59 PM on March 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

To really ride, you need to spin. Coaster brakes will teach you bad habits. Don't go there.

Steering seems simple, until you're about to dive into a gutter, and until you understands that you need to turn towards the gutter *before* you turn away, you won't fully grok it.

But, hey, kids learn how to ride these things -- it's not hard, and you've almost certainly got a better balance than a 4 year old does.

Avoid toe clips until you're comfortable starting and stopping. (Doubly so clipless pedals.) A straight or high bar will be easier to work with than a bike with drop bars. Your butt will hurt if you ride to far -- don't worry, it'll get better.

Finally, until you've mastered starting, stopping and turning, ride in the park, not on a crowded city street.
posted by eriko at 4:13 PM on March 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

I answered this question in the January thread; here's what I said (I still I think I have the best answer, since I've actually done this):

I have actually done this and I have the definitive answer! :) I learned to ride a bike by myself when I was about 22.

1. Buy a bike. This will be hard because you won't be able to help the bike salesman fit you. I got a Gary Fisher Tiburon hybrid bike for about $250.

2. Remove the pedals with a wrench. The result will be an absolutely pedal-less bike.

3. Lower the seat as low as it will go.

4. Find a slightly graded field--not a steep hill. Practice 'running' the bike, and then lifting your feet up and balancing. Do this a lot. Eventually you will become totally comfortable keeping the bike balanced and it will be awesome.

5. Reattach the pedals. Stand straddling the bike (as though were 'running' it). Engage the brakes, and put your left foot on the left pedal and your right foot on the ground. Rotate the left pedal so that it is at the top of the downstroke (about 2 o'clock, looking at the bike from the left side). Then disengage the brakes; your weight will create the downstroke, and you can easily start pedaling. Off you go!

I taught myself to ride a bike this way a couple of years ago and have been happily riding since. The key is to remove the pedals. This makes learning a lot easier. Also, knowing how to get on the bike and start it going is a big help.

Other advice:

1. Steer by leaning, not by turning the handlebars.

2. Practice braking. Get going really fast, then stop on short notice. One of your brakes will be for your front wheel, one for your back wheel; use them both, but especially do not brake with only the front wheel. You need to learn how to brake because otherwise you will get into accidents because you don't squeeze the brakes hard enough.

3. Check out the articles by Sheldon Brown [google for him]. They are a great help if you're teaching yourself to bike.

That's it! Good luck! You really can do it, it's great fun. Just for clarification, I learned how to ride by myself on a nice grassy field, which I highly recommend. After that find a big wide bike path. It took me a couple days of serious time commitment to get my balance in gear, so it won't happen in just one day. Also, you will almost definitely fall off and hurt yourself--wear a helmet and gloves.

For what it's worth, teaching yourself to ride a bike is fantastic and just like you'd imagine it; you fall, you get up, you fall, you get up, etc. It's like Beckett said: Try; fail; try again; fail again; try agian; fail better.
posted by josh at 4:27 PM on March 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oops, one addendum to my learning-to-ride-a-bike method: the left pedal should be at 10 o'clock, looking at the bike from the left; that would be the top of the downstroke.
posted by josh at 5:01 PM on March 21, 2005

When I was very much younger than josh, this is exactly how I learned how to ride, except the hill was steep, but short, and the pedals were still on, but I was also only 36 inches tall.
posted by caddis at 6:33 PM on March 21, 2005

Buy and use more saftey gear than you will ever need. Not just for saftey but for confidence. Unless you are willing to fall you will spend too much time trying not to fall, and the trick to riding a bike is to not think about falling. It's one of those don't think about purple elephants things.
posted by aspo at 7:59 PM on March 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

I learned to ride a bike when I was 26, also in an urban environment. I picked up a second hand bike for £50, found some nearby bike paths on a quiet sunday morning and just tried to get going in a straight line until I could stay on, then doing some corners. Fell off a few times before I realised that you can't just point the front wheel where you want to go but instead have to lean the bike into turns. Just persevere is the answer really, staying on than staying on in corners are the only real skills you need. It's really not all that hard once you get to it. Once you hit the roads you may find that it's pretty scary, it should really make you think about driving defensively, you really can't trust other road users, but the only way to address this is to get out on the roads. Consider helmets, high visibility clothes etc.
posted by biffa at 2:49 AM on March 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

this thread has discouraged me from wanting to learn how to ride a bike this year. this is way too much to think about. maybe next year.
posted by lotsofno at 5:21 AM on March 22, 2005

lotsofno: honestly, I put off learning for years and it turned out to be a doddle, an hour to pick up a 2nd hand bike and <2 hours of practice and it was done.
posted by biffa at 8:11 AM on March 22, 2005

biffa, think "lot of no" is joking.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:25 PM on March 22, 2005

a) Start with a mountain bike and flat pedals, not a road bike. That way your feet can touch the ground and you can 'pad' (put a foot down) instead of falling over.

b) Learn how to remain upright in a traffic-free area, as the above posters recommended.

c) Helmet.

d) I knew how to ride a bike, but city riding terrified me. This book more or less fixed that. The 'spotlight review' at the moment is mine, by the way - amazon user 'neurotome'.

e) Coolmax and Lycra improved my cycling experience considerably. Go ahead and laugh - I wouldn't have believed it either.

f) Helmet.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:03 PM on March 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

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