Give me some beginner cycling advice.
September 10, 2012 7:14 AM   Subscribe

What advice would you give beginning cyclists interested in getting exercise as a couple? Bonus points for Rhode Island specific recommendations!

Mrs. LouMac and I are thinking about getting bicycles as a way to get exercise together. For the most part, we will be taking short rides (an hour or less) in residential areas and bike paths/trails. We will be buying from a bike shop to get properly fitted, etc, but feel free to recommend bikes for us. She's completely open, but I'm leaning towards a commuter/hybrid style bike.

What advice would you give new cyclists? What would you tell a couple to help them maximize the enjoyment of the ride and each other's company? What do you recommend for beginner cycling resources? What are the gear/bike accessories you cannot live without? We understand the importance of a helmet and promise to wear one.

Rhode Island-specific advice (bike shops, favorite ride routes, etc.) especially welcome.
posted by LouMac to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Get a tandem! That way you can't leave each other behind on your rides. We have one and it's a great way to go biking together. Matching jerseys are optional.

If you're interested, Belmont Wheelworks (in Belmont, MA) has a whole second shop devoted to specialty bikes including tandems. They could help you find a decently priced new or used one.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:35 AM on September 10, 2012

Best answer: RI Bike Shops - Umm. I've had some terrible experiences, here. Uninterested or over-aggressive sales and service people are a real problem. I wound up buying my bike from the REI in Cranston - not a lot of knowledge, but not a lot of hassle, either. The good news is that there are some really ancient shops with interesting stuff in the parts bin and in dusty old display racks, if you can stomach someone sneering at you for asking about them.

I would definitely recommend a city bike or a hybrid - super comfortable, generally reliable as they're typically equipped with mountain bike parts, and easily customizable into a bike-path and bike-commuter champ. Be sure to try before you buy - REI let me tool around the (very large) parking lot before I plunked cash down.

Gear: Lights up front and out back, in case you're caught out after dark. A rear rack and a pannier basket to hold a picnic, water bottles and some rain clothes. Spare tube, tire levers and CO2 inflator. A good bike lock - an Abus, On-Guard or Kryptonite lock, from a bike shop and not Walmart.

East Bay Bike Path is awesome, going from Bristol to East Providence - the Phoenix bike path is fun, going from Fairhaven to New Bedford - and the Blackstone River bike path should be a RI tourist attraction in and of itself.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:35 AM on September 10, 2012

Welcome to cycling.

I'm not sure how cycling is in your neck of the woods, but if you ride in traffic at all, I would be most cautious with the possibility of being doored (someone opens their door on the car, which can hit you or force you into traffic). If possible, ride a bit away from parked cars and look into them - if you see someone about to open a door, point it out to the other cyclist. Along these lines, here are other safety recommendations(these are carried away for NYC, but you get the point).

Not sure if this map will work for you, but google maps now lets you see cycling routes. Hit directions and then the cyclist button.

You are both new to this and it can be lots of fun with more mileage (you can explore, yeah!) I think the best and more comfortable way is to join cycling groups and ride with them (pick slower rides or something rated a C or D to start).

I have sometimes met couple riders and in a few cases, one person feels comfortable (other does not) or one person rides fast (other does not) and it somehow intimidates the other person. Just be aware of this and at the beginning, again, be open to riding with club rides.

For tools you should bring - this is what I carry (or another person that I ride with carries), but YMMV: Helmet,tire iron, tubes for your tire (2), small pump, and 2 water bottles. I go on ~50 miles rides, so if you are riding for an may not need any tubes at all...but have some idea as to how and where to change a tire.
posted by Wolfster at 7:37 AM on September 10, 2012

I don't have specific advice, but I wanted to affirm that this is a great thing to do. My wife and I have been riding together for years and it is a great shared experience. Whatever challenges you may face know that it is worth it.
posted by dgran at 8:23 AM on September 10, 2012

Best answer: First off: Don't overthink this. If you get a full-paged list of everything you "have" to have to go cycling, you won't do it.

You need a bike and a helmet. Your bike needs to have the basic safely stuff required by law. That's pretty much it to get started.

I personally was pretty unsteady when I was starting out. I think starting on a path that's very low traffic would be best and would let you get used to managing the bike. Some bike paths in the area are insanely high-traffic and it can be very hard to manage at first. So definitely take it slow -- start with a few rides on very low-traffic streets, or even a big parking lot, until you're used to the bike.

Used bikes can be fine, although they can also require a lot of upgrades. (My boyfriend has a $10 bike that needed $30 in upgrades -- that's a deal. Me, I tend to buy the $10 bike that needs $80 in upgrades and still doesn't work very well. Much less of a deal, especially when Target has new road bikes for under $100.) If you don't know about bikes, I'd recommend getting a new (but cheap) bike, or if you do go used, getting one from a proper bike shop that will stand behind the condition of the bike. Don't buy an expensive bike right away -- do some biking first and figure out what you're looking for.

I found Sheldon Brown's website useful for some of the basics. Mass Bike also has useful and general resources, including a trail list for MA (some of which are quite close to you) and a guide for new riders.
posted by pie ninja at 8:30 AM on September 10, 2012

The guys at Blackstone Bicycles are really nice and low-key: They have a friendly dog around the shop, too. :7)

If their bikes are pricier than you would like (and I don't know your budget or their price range: I only bought a kid's helmet), consider going in anyway and talking to them. Consider buying your helmet from them if you feel the advice was worthwhile so they don't end up like Best Buy.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:32 AM on September 10, 2012

Best answer: Buy some padded shorts and a decent bike. Get skinny tires. Get a helmet, obviously. Buy gloves (fingerless or otherwise) because coming off a bike and grazing your hands is no fun at all.

Buy an inner tube repair kit and leave it at home. Cycle with a spare inner tube and fix your damaged spare when you get home.

Get a bell. Use it. It's more fun than trying to work out if pedestrians have heard you approaching.

If one of you wants to ride harder than the other then establish the route and have regular breaks so you don't each end up basically riding solo. Regular breaks are wonderful things for cyclists getting fitter. You can get up steeper hills, go faster and then you get nice little breaks to chat about life the world and everything. Break every 6-10 miles when you start and every 15-20 when you are fitter.

Don't buy lots of expensive kit early. Take your time. For every bit of kit that is expensive and deservedly so there is another where the basic thing will do you just fine. Part of the fun is cooing over kit in brochures when you decide you're getting more serious. Cycle pornography is some of the healthiest kind and side effects do not include blindness. Only poverty and tight fitting lycra.

Coffee. Wonderful stuff. My favourite bike rides are a mixture of great scenery, quite roads and somewhere decent to have a coffee. Just a thought. Water. Also wonderful stuff. Easy to forget on leisure rides but the rule of thumb is one bottle per hour in summer when you are riding. Toilets. Also wonderful things. Us chaps don't mind so much but the lady cyclists I know prefer longer rides with plumbed in pit stops. Do not underestimate how much better quiet roads are. You can cycle side by side and you aren't fearing for your life as cars whiz by too close.

Hills. A massive bone of contention with Mrs MM. Just the idea of them ruins rides. Build up to hilly rides slowly unless you are both fit. Seasoned cyclists rave about hills. But they've forgotten what grinding pedals on a heavy bike when you are out of breath feels like. It's a wilful thing. They're loonies. What they really mean is that going downhill is awesome. And the views from on high are awesome. Learn to love hills, but learn to love small ones first. When you do, you'll find long, flat rides boring. But don't listen to anyone who tells you big hills are fun when you are starting out.

Cadence, cadence, cadence. Your heart is stronger than your legs. Well, I hope it is. If you don't need to be in a big gear then move to a smaller one and spin. As you get fitter you'll find you can spin all day. Once you get a break and catch your breath your heart will be ready for another go. But if you knacker your legs going up hills or even modest inclines you'll feel it and keep feeling it. Cyclists call this blowing up. Cadence is your friend.

Finally: matching clothing and kit. For the love of sweet Jesus do not do this or I will have to track you down and cut it off you with my rusty scissors. It isn't big. It isn't clever.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:04 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unless you are on a tandem. In which case it is A-OK. You are a team. You may sleep easy at night.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:10 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here is one suggestion for riding together if you find you are at different levels of speed and distance. I ride with my SO and he is much faster and goes farther than I can manage. We ride on a bike trail which is 6 miles long, then you have to ride back, so it's 12 miles total. We start out riding together at my slow speed for the first mile or 2, then he takes off and goes to the end of the trail by himself. I know about how long it takes hime to do those 10 miles, so I keep riding slowly (or I stop to rest) for half of that time and then turn around, regardless of how far I've gone. On the way back, he rides at his fast speed until he sees me, then he slows down and we ride together for the last mile or 2. Then we stop for lunch or a cold drink.

The point being that we drive to the trail together and we drive home together, but on the ride we only ride together for about 1/2 of our scheduled time and we ride apart for the rest of the time.
posted by CathyG at 9:13 AM on September 10, 2012

Best answer: You get great service at Dash; stop by Legend for an array or local biking maps. Both in Providence.
posted by munyeca at 10:25 AM on September 10, 2012

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