I think I've got the basics down; how can I improve my bicycle skills?
August 15, 2013 1:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm new to bike riding as an adult; I'm riding to work but would like to improve in the areas of balance, stamina, and pace.

After twenty years walking and driving, I finally got up the courage to overcome my childhood bicycle trauma and I bought a bike! It's a 7-speed hybrid commuter bike and after having it a week I feel comfortable riding to work in a bike lane, navigating traffic, and toodling around the neighborhood.

However, I'm quickly realizing that there's a lot I don't know.

1) How can I improve my balance on my bike? Ultimately I would like to be able to mount/dismount while the bike is moving, e.g. with the left foot on the left pedal, push off and swing the right leg over onto the right pedal while the bike is moving. Same with dismounting. Right now I am climbing on, straddling the bike, pushing off with left foot, and scooting up and back on to the seat. It doesn't feel very efficient.

2) How can I improve my stamina going up hills and the like? Luckily my town isn't very hilly but I'm consistently surprised at how hard I worked to get to the top. Like, out of breath, panting like I just ran up six flights of stairs. I think maybe I don't understand how to efficiently use the gears, but are there things other than practice that will help me get better, faster, at going up hills? In addition to biking I work out about four or five days a week, doing yoga, elliptical, and P90X; are there specific bike-muscle-building exercises I can do there that will help?

3) How can I better pace myself? When I am riding I feel that I am floating along at a dreamy pace, but when I get off my bike, hills or not, I'm a sweaty mess. Like, way more than if I walked. Is this normal? Is it a matter of pacing, or is it just a fact of bike riding, since the air cools you so you don't realize how hard you're working until you stop? It is okay right now since my office is pretty casual in the summer, but how'm I going to manage it when I have to look more professional? I know people take changes of clothes, but is there a way I can just...sweat less?

4) What is bike lane etiquette? Right now I'm usually the only one in our lanes but I am sure that will change soon. If I am going slower...should I stop every so often to let people pass? If I am going faster, should I try to pass on the move? I'm seeing a lot of different advice online and want to be a safe, mannerly cyclist. I already know about claiming the lane, signalling, and watching out for doors :)

Thank you for any and all insight, including links to past Asks I may have missed. I have asked friends and at my local bike shop but they kind of all just say, "I dunno, you just have to ride more". I am definitely going to do that (I am surprising myself how much I am loving riding!) and if that's the only answer I will live with it, but if anyone has any hacks that helped them when they were beginning to ride I would love to hear about them.
posted by stellaluna to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
1, 2, 3 - the answer is the same. RYDE MOAR. Hit the rural bike trails on the weekends, bike around the city just for the fun of it, just get on that beastie and ride. It will all come with time.

4) Pass on the left (if in a country that drives/rides on the right) and ring your bell and say, "On your left!" If someone is passing you, squeeze over to the right and let them through. Stopping shouldn't be required - bikes can leave the bike lane to pass other bikes safely. Just keep an eye on traffic.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:47 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1) I've been riding, a lot, for years. I never do this, but that's maybe because I use clipless pedals and it's not really very practical. It probably looks cool but I wouldn't rate it highly as a skill.

2) This is mostly a matter of practice, unless you're using your gears horribly wrong. You should have your gearing set so that you can maintain at least 80 rpm if possible. The easiest way to get good at it is to do it a lot. Find a local hilll, go up it, ride a few min, turn around and do the loop again. i.e. "Hill repeats". There are also intervals that will improve your hill climbing ability.

There are really 2 physical systems at play on a hill: your respiratory system, and your muscular system. If you can put more power into the bike, you don't quite have to breathe as hard. If you can handle the respiratory load, you don't have to push so hard (you can do high rpms at a low gearing). Improving either system or both helps.

3) I commute a lot but I do it in bike clothes. I live in TX, and unless it's freezy cold outside I arrive soaked in sweat. I got nothing for you there.

4) No, you do not need to stop and let people pass. They will pass you if they need to. If they're nice, they'll pass on the left and before they do it, they'll say "on your left" or "coming up behind you" or something like that.

I understand how it feels to be a little unsure on the bike. The best thing is experience. And stay safe. I used to think that cyclists got way more conservative as they got older but now I realize that conservative cyclists are just way more likely to stick with the sport, because they don't crash and die/get injured/quit
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:48 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

One last thing - I appreciate you thinking about what the right thing to do is for other people (cyclists, peds, drivers) and you definitely should. But also remember that at the end of the day, a reasonable percentage of them are going to be annoyed with you if you're not doing Their Favorite Thing so don't get too worked up about it. Try to be a nice guy but you can't please everyone.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:50 PM on August 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Congrats on getting into cycling! My favorite subject :)

1) The most efficient way to mount the bike varies per person. The way that I mount my bike is by having the right pedal up, so that the momentum of me pedaling down is enough to get me moving forward so I have time to position my left foot and get seated. Doing this gracefully comes over time.

2) You can improve your stamina by riding more and getting more in shape over time! Shift into a lower gear so it's easier to pedal, but not so low that your legs are spinning like crazy. You want it just easy enough that you can contribute energy, but not hard enough that it's killing you. If it's a really steep hill you may try standing up to pedal so the entire weight of your body is put into it, not just your legs. Also, use your arm muscles to pull upward on the handlebars - climbing uphill can be a full body exercise involving arms, abs, legs, etc. Your bike may be heavy or your chain may not be clean - both of which can slow you down.

3) Yes, sweating while cycling is normal :) It's exercise and it's awesome! Make sure you wear comfortable wicking clothes if it bothers you to show up somewhere sweaty. You could also just not ride as fast or go up hills really really slow but... who wants to do that?

4) Not only should you pass only left and call out "on your left", but LOOK to your left as well for cars and anyone else that may actually be there. The same thing applies whether you are in a car or on a bike - check your blind spots!!!
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 1:54 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agree with everything thus far, just wanted to say: When you get a little more experienced, see if your local bike club has a group riding skills clinic. I'd picked up a bunch of paceline etiquette and behavior by osmosis, but the couple of hours I spent practising trading leads and talking with people about comfortable and uncomfortable behaviors when riding close together (pacelining and drafting usually happens with clearances of inches) was invaluable.

And helped my riding near anyone skills a lot.
posted by straw at 1:54 PM on August 15, 2013

Best answer: Welcome to cycling! A few quick answers:

#1. I almost always mount and dismount when the bike is stationary, and I have been cycling for decades. If you want to learn to mount and dismount while the bike is moving, you need to practice that particular skill, ideally on a soft surface. As far as balance in general, practice helps. The faster you're going, the more stable you'll be. Riding slowly can help you develop better balance.

#2. Squats are good off-bike exercises. Otherwise, you can improve your stamina by doing interval training. Find a hill, ride up it as hard as you can for a minute, coast back to the starting point, wait 2 minutes, and repeat a few times. Take it easy the next day. High-intensity intervals suck if you're doing them right, but they will build stamina quickly.

Also, as RustyBrooks writes, make sure you're in a gear that you can spin (I recommend 70-90 rpm); otherwise, you'll tire your muscles out. Depending on the gearing on your bike, and how steep the hills are, you may have to pedal more slowly on some hills, but if you can spin, do so. There's nothing shameful about using your lowest gear.

#3. I struggle with this too. My commute is only 3 miles each way, scarcely worth the time for a shower.

#4. People differ. Usually it's easy to pass another cyclist, so when I do that, I make sure that the lane to the left is clear, then change lanes, pass, and pull in ahead. Bikes need a lot less space than cars. No need to signal unless it looks like the rider I'm passing can't keep going in a straight line.

If it's a multi-use path, on the other hand, I'll ring a bell when I'm about 10 yards back and then say "Passing on your left" as I approach. (Some roadies say "On your left," but I've noticed that inexperienced cyclists, and pedestrians too, often respond to that by moving to the left.)

Basically, if it's a circumstance where, if you were running and you were passing a walker, you would notify them, you should do the same on a bike. But other people differ. Then there's the whole question of whether you should wave at cyclists coming the other way, which has spawned many a bitter thread on BikeForums....

Enjoy your bike! I recommend reading John S. Allen's Bicycling Street Smarts; the late Sheldon Brown's website is also a fount of knowledge.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:56 PM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oops - forgot to finish #3. Basically, I try to remind myself not to go too fast when I'm wearing work clothes. It doesn't always work. I keep a change of socks and underwear in the office.

Also, I recommend a rear view mirror for anyone who cycles in traffic. You can get one that mounts on your glasses or your helmet, or one that attaches to the handlebars. I prefer the former. Just like a rear view mirror in a car, they don't eliminate the need to look over your shoulder before changing lanes, but they can tell you when it's definitely not safe to do so.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:00 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding RustyBrooks, ie: 
1. I've ridden my whole life (well, you know, since I was six or whatever) and can't do the leg swingy over thing, and I've  never tried to learn - doesn't seem necessary. Otherwise, better balance is just about practice (and maybe a little bit about improved fitness the longer you cycle, which makes it easier to be in control of the bike, rather than the other way round).

2. Just keep practising. It really does make a difference - the more often and harder you ride up hills the easier it gets.

3. Getting off sweaty is just what happens when you bike, unless it's only a couple of minutes or you're very, very slow. Bike commuting has always meant showering and changing on arrival for me.

Congratulations on your new lease of life - cycling rocks!
posted by penguin pie at 2:02 PM on August 15, 2013

I returned to biking just a few years ago, so I have some perspective on where you're at.

1. I cannot figure out how to do this. Seriously. I watch other people do it but if I try the bike falls over on top of me. The steps to learning are (apparently): first learn to coast while standing on the pedals, then develop the skill of coasting with your body on one side of the bike (the side that you would board from). I'm still working on the whole "standing" thing.

2. I lived in a very hilly area for several years, and the answer I found was: ride up hills as frequently as possible (daily, if possible). The more often I did it, the more I could do it. I found if I didn't bike up a hill for a week I would lose some conditioning and after a month off I'd lose all of it. There was one short but extremely steep hill that I managed to hurdle only once, and that was after trying every day for a week. (I did not bike every single day again while I lived there, and never managed to get all the way up the hill again.) So frequency and sticktoitiveness is clearly important.

3. If you figure out a way to sweat less, do share. I keep hearing all this, "Oh, if you just bike at a moderate pace you won't sweat!" But that "moderate pace" is awfully slow, for me at least. If I wanted to travel places at only four miles per hour, I'd walk. I do find that I don't start really sweating until about 5 minutes after my ride.

I am lucky enough to have a shower at my office. At another job when I didn't, I had baby wipes in my office and used them to wipe down (after the 5-minute wait for the outpouring of sweat). I also carried my professional clothes in a messenger bag and changed at work. I now have panniers to carry my stuff in, which are an absolute joy.

4. On the bike lanes I ride here in LA, etiquette is for the slower cyclist to move to the right side of the lane and the faster cyclist to pass on the left. The bike path I frequent has a lot of people training on it, so I live in the right half of the lane. I keep going, I just leave enough room for them to get by. On the very rare occasions when I'm passing someone, I say "On your left" and sometimes honk my little handlebar horn if they don't seem to be paying attention. (Then I do a little bike-seat dance after I pass them, but that's purely optional.) Most of the racer cyclists that whip by me don't show that courtesy. Grr!
posted by rednikki at 2:29 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm so proud of you. I learned late in life too. We made it!

I'm going to skip the rolling mount for now, but if you want to learn a rolling dismount, you need to try a few things. Let's assume you are going to get off on the let side of your bike. Stand on your pedals and coast. Lean the bike to the right and put all your weight on your left foot while swinging your right leg behind you and over the rear wheel. Put your right foot on the ground behind the left pedal. Start walking to keep up with your momentum. You should be able to do each of these steps and keep balance on the bike. So first, practice leaning your bike right while putting all your weight on your left foot. You should be able to coast like this for a while. You can watch youtube videos of a cyclocross dismount to get an idea of what you need to do. Don't bother learning the step through for now.

To ride up hills comfortably, there are a few things to consider. Some hills will defeat you and that's OK. If you can't get too sweaty, walk your bike up the hill. You'll also want to carry some momentum into the hill and shift to an easier gear before you need to.

For the arriving sweaty part, I take it super easy the last ten minutes of my ride. This cool down part of my ride lets my heart rate drop and allows the breeze of cycling to cool me down some too.
posted by advicepig at 2:38 PM on August 15, 2013

Not to derail, but this is essential:

If you will ride with any auto traffic you must learn how avoid being hit by cars.

Ride assertively, but not aggressively. Meaning- be visible and predictable. Take your right of way when its your turn, but don't demand it. Signal your turns. Don't hug the curb or the white line on the edge of the road-- take the lane when you need it for your own safety and maneuverability.

You are not obstructing traffic- you are traffic, along with the other vehicles.
posted by TDIpod at 2:47 PM on August 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am also new to biking - I learned in my forties and have just had my 2nd bikerversary. So I'm with you on the balance and hills issues. I have a 24-speed and an uphill morning commute, and more than once I've used ALL THE GEARS. So use 'em if you got 'em.
posted by expialidocious at 3:34 PM on August 15, 2013

Best answer: Seconding the excellent bicyclesafe.com for everything to do with traffic. The design's awkward, and it's dense, but read it, learn it, live it.

Sheldon Brown addresses proper mounting procedure here, and there's a video. Have a look at his other beginner articles, too -- I found useful info there that I'd never learned after years of riding a bike.
posted by asperity at 3:58 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. The answer really is just practice, first building up your sense of balance by just riding a lot and then, once you've done that, trying to incorporate the moving dismount. One thing I've noticed, though, is that focusing on how you counter-weight the handlebars really helps with this. You might also try teaching yourself to ride hands-free by finding a safe, traffic-free area and riding while holding your hands just above the handlebars for longer and longer stretches, but I don't think that's essential.

2. I totally agree with everyone above who recommends an off-bike strength-building exercise for your legs, like squats. I found that I tended to plateau on stamina even as my aerobic capacity improved because my relative lack of leg strength demanded a minimum level of exertion that remained taxing no matter how much I rode. Squats really help there.

3. Believe it or not, strength building helps a little bit here, since with stronger legs you'll exert yourself a little less and not sweat as much. In general, though, I think it's just the way of things. The only way I've found to not sweat with my bike is to walk it.

4. This has pretty much been covered, but yeah, passing on the left is fine, and there's no need to do anything other than go the speed that makes you feel the most comfortable.

Happy riding!
posted by invitapriore at 4:25 PM on August 15, 2013

  1. Yes, I have to agree with asperity that Sheldon Brown has the beginner articles dead right. I'd look at the braking and turning one, as well as the mounting. One thing that may help with ...
  2. ... is being able to keep the bike going straight while riding as slowly as possible, because then it's second nature to ride up hills in bottom gear, pootling along at a little over walking pace and not getting especially out of breath. You really needn't stand on the pedals. The main bike muscle, however, is the heart. Your legs are nearly always big enough to use as much energy as your heart and lungs can get to them, so feel free to do whatever you want for exercise. There are other muscles involved, though. Not so much for exercise, but you'll be a lot better in control of the bike if your upper body and hip strength is adequate to keep your torso still while you pedal, and keeping the weight off your hands. It is really useful for bike handling to be able to make sure your upper body doesn't move no matter how much power you're putting through your legs.
  3. I'm the world's sweatiest person, but generally sweat less when cycling than when walking. Make sure you are riding along in a low enough gear that you're pedaling freely (i.e. it feels like you're hardly putting any pressure on the pedals), and make sure you're not carrying anything on your back. I normally ride to work in shirt and trousers, putting gloves on if it's less than 10°C (50°F), but very rarely wearing a coat.
  4. If someone catches up to you on a bike path, carry on as you are, but following the edge of the path a little more closely. They can pass as they want. If you catch up with someone else and can't just go straight past, hold in behind until it's OK to overtake, and then accelerate hard as you start the pass.

posted by ambrosen at 4:31 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have biked all my life as my main means of transportation. Other people have commented on 1 and 4 with what I would have said, but I can add to 2 and 3.

As well as just going up hills more often and making sure your gears are on the right setting, you might find that improving your cardio abilities in general translates to improved hill cycling. I found hills much easier after I started running regularly.

And I think hills are the answer to your sweatiness issue too. I don't sweat when cycling on the flat unless I am overdressed (you need far fewer layers in cold weather than you think you do), or am really pushing myself speedwise. I don't cycle super slow - maybe 1 person in 10 passes me, and I pass two or three people in 10 myself. So I think I go an average speed. But I don't sweat and don't need to shower after my work commute (which admittedly is only 7km/4 miles each way).

But riding up a hill always makes me sweat. Usually the sweating starts a few minutes after the hill. So if you have a lot of hills on your route, that is probably responsible.

One thing that can help if you have the sort of bike that allows it, is to get a basket or carrier, or panniers, so that you don't have to have a bag on your back while riding. That sort of traps the sweat and makes things really nasty.
posted by lollusc at 5:02 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

1) Improving balance on bike.
I wouldn't worry about how you mount/dismount. Just do what feels natural to you for now, and as your balance and feel for it improves, you'll find yourself doing more efficient mounting/dismounting techniques.

2) How can I improve my stamina going up hills and the like?
I don't specifically know any good exercises for improving your skills on hills. I would just say make sure you find a good gear where you can pedal comfortably. For my old commute, I had a monster hill every morning and the hill always hardcore wiped me out. There was a morning where I'd had wayyyy too much caffeine and I felt a panicky because my breathing was choppy and ineffectual. Anyway, it's normal to feel wiped out on hills, but that's a good thing. You'll get better little by little. I remember after a couple years of commuting up the hill, I went from a walking pace to a beast mode, charging pace.

3) How can I better pace myself? And how to sweat less.
I always get sweaty on the bike. Summer, winter -- doesn't matter. I'm sweaty every morning when I get to work. I think as long as I take a shower right before I leave, and if I change into fresh work clothes once I'm there, I usually don't smell at all. My feeling is that sweat doesn't smell too bad if it happens right after a shower.

A tip is to try to not wear a backpack. If you have a basket on your bike, or panniers, try to load all your stuff in there. Or load a backpack and put it in the basket. I sweat far less when I don't have a backpack trapping the heat on my back.

4) What is bike lane etiquette?
Don't worry about how slow you're going. If people need to pass, they'll pass. But do try to get comfortable looking behind you as you bike, kind of like checking your side and rear view mirrors when driving. It's just good to have a sense of what's going on behind you. If you see someone who's gaining on you, then you know you should make a point of hugging the right side of the bike lane to give him more room to pass.

Your instincts and muscle memory and all that will get better each day. Just be safe. Stop at lights. Don't weave through cars. Be deferential to cars. Blah blah blah. Biking to work is awesome.
posted by qivip at 6:51 PM on August 15, 2013

I've been bike-commuting 90% of the time the last few months (in ABQ, NM). My commute is short-- only 5 miles round trip, but I've gotten much better at biking!
  1. I have a friend who does the graceful leg-over-glide on-off, and it's slick, and I was jealous, so I tried the dismount a few times (at a park, on grass). I tripped over my bike every time-- couldn't keep my momentum up. I decided riding was more important than dismounting. My mounting is really awkward too, when I'm in stretchy pants less so but jeans are so constricting! It's a tilt bike away -> right leg over-> awkward hop -> left foot on pedal down and stand up to seat. I'm only slightly embarrassed when someone witnesses my wearing-jeans-super-hop at this point :)
  2. squats! I also started lifting weights (for the first time in over a decade) a few months ago. As my squat max goes up, I get faster up hills.
  3. Isn't there a biking adage, "it doesn't get easier but you do go faster"? I make sure I'm clean when I leave, bike in, change pants, bra & shirt (same underwear & frequently same shoes/socks), reapply deodorant, and I ask my coworkers to tell me if I smell. I also have an office with a door that locks, so when I get to work the first thing I do is go to the bathroom, wash my face and rinse my wrists/hands/forearms in cool water, then go to my office, strip to underwear, check email, cool down a bit (15min max), then get dressed. If I'm really sweaty, I bring a damp cloth into my office to sponge off, but I haven't done that in weeks.
  4. Sorry, I have no idea. I was riding less frequently on more populated trails & bike lanes in Madison, WI before I moved here; ringing my bell to signal a pass seemed to scare people (pedestrians & bikers), 'on your left' was confusing, and I was usually the slowest biker around. Other bikers seemed to have no qualms about zooming past me. I try to stay just to the right of center of whatever lane I'm in, although I don't know if that's a Best Practice. Now, if I see another biker and they're not being a Dick, I try to wave or smile or say hello. If they're riding at dusk without lights against traffic no helmet flipflops holding a case of beer rolling through a stop sign, I make an angry face.

posted by worstname at 6:55 PM on August 15, 2013

1. I've ridden with some pretty serious cyclists and I've never seen them do this sort of flying start. It's more flashy than useful because until you get both feet onto the pedals you can't accelerate at all or turn quickly or brake hard. Almost everyone I know starts straddling the bike with one pedal about 45 degrees above horizontal, pedals a half-stroke quite hard, and coasts for just a fraction of a second while clipping the other foot in.

Depending on the crowd, you can show off by swinging your leg over the handlebars instead of the seat. Racer types associate that with track racing, which is cool. But be warned that commuter types often associate it with having a milk crate mounted behind, which is decided not cool.

2. Ride more hills, in the lowest (spinniest) gear you can.

3. This actually has more to do with physics than biology. When you're riding, the wind evaporates your sweat rather quickly. When you stop, there's no more wind but you're still sweating just as much as before. You can sort of finesse it by ramping your effort down gradually so the wind dies down about as slowly as you stop sweating, but it's often more trouble than it's worth.

4. Other people have answered this well. I'll just add that many people get annoyed if you repeatedly pass and then fail to stay ahead. In that case, you should just resign yourself to following. And do it at a safe distance, so the guy in front doesn't have to worry that you'll ride up his rear if he has to make a sudden stop.
posted by d. z. wang at 7:11 PM on August 15, 2013

1) Your balance will definitely improve over time! Also, I cycle daily, and I get on/off in the way you describe. Keep in mind that a rolling stop can be hard on your knees.

2) Your stamina will also improve over time!

3) If it's cold out, I take off my coat, so I start out feeling as cool as possible. Right after I stop, I try to drink a lot of very cold water. But for the most part, you just have to wait it out.

4) There's no need to stop to let people pass you. Drastically reducing your speed or stopping for no apparent reason (like, you're not approaching a stop sign) can be dangerous for the cyclists behind you, because you aren't behaving in a predictable way. If you need to stop, signal with your hand and pull out of the lane as much as possible before coming to a full stop.
posted by neushoorn at 3:08 AM on August 16, 2013

Best answer: You say you've had the bike for a week - most of the things you mention will come with time. I could barely walk up stairs after riding my first week!

On hills/shifting - this will improve with time too, but the basic idea is to shift down so as to keep things at a steady pace. That is, don't stay in gear "5" until you can barely turn you legs then have to jump down to gear 3 or 2 (I'm assuming 7 is your biggest gear decreasing to 1). As you start to feel resistance in a higher gear, switch to the lower gear so you maintain a steady pace (aka rpm - rotations per minute). This will vary based on the hill as well. If it is increasing at a constant angle you might start taking it as 6-----5-----4-----3-----2 then have to keep it in 2 until you get to the top. But if it is an uneven hill it might be something like 6------5--4--3----2 etc.

Probably you can find YouTube videos that explain it more clearly!

No magic cure for sweating but when you get to work try just coasting around the parking lot for five minutes. This will give your metabolism time to slow down as well as evaporate some of the sweat. When you bike to work and just hop off your bike, your body is still in go-go-go mode.

I used to just commute in my work clothes but switched to shorts and a tshirt (or whatever is weather appropriate) when I started enjoying my ride and wanting to go faster (and further!) as opposed to just being happy to survive the ride. I carry my clothes with me and keep shoes (heavy/bulky) and a belt (otherwise I always forget it) at work. Another reason to consider this is reducing wear on your work clothes.
posted by mikepop at 5:48 AM on August 16, 2013

I've been an avid cyclist since I was 5 year old. I used to do century rides in and out of urban traffic but weight gains and other stresses have me down to regular 20 mile rides. I am in agreement with a lot of what is stated in the previous posts.

1. Practice and time on the bike.

2. Strangely enough, the thing that seems to help my bicycling strength for things like hill climbing is by also jogging. There are lots of couch to 5K programs and podcasts out there and the huffing you do for them will pay off in the saddle! Building up biking muscles requires biking, but building up cardiovascular stamina can be done with anything that makes you breath hard for a sustained period of time....biking isn't the best thing for that.

3. see #1.

4. It is the responsibility of the slow rider to do what they can to stay out of the way while still maintaining their riding and fun. So, try to stay on the right and definitely give faster riders a chance to pass WHERE IT IS CONVENIENT FOR YOU!. I will sometimes move extra far to the right to give extra space if I know some fast dude is waiting for me. You shouldn't have to stop just to let other riders pass, but there are good places where you might be stopping anyway (like red lights and stop signs). It is the responsibility of the fast rider to pass safely while giving the slower rider or jogger warning ('On your left'). This may mean having to slow down and wait for a safe place to pass. I hate it when I slow down behind a slower rider to wait for a good place to pass and some jerk on an $8000 bike blows past us while endangering oncoming bike traffic. There is a special place in hell waiting for those guys!

Sometimes being a sweaty mess is a good thing! Have fun!
posted by BearClaw6 at 6:57 AM on August 16, 2013

Response by poster: Glad to know that some of what I'm experiencing is normal...and grateful for the practical advice you all have given me! Coast around the parking lot to cool off before heading to my office--now why didn't I think of that? Thank you all--happy riding!
posted by stellaluna at 1:12 PM on August 17, 2013

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