How do I get into biking/cycling?
June 12, 2007 6:13 PM   Subscribe

How do I get into biking/cycling?

After searching through AskMeFi, it doesn't seem like this question has really been asked before, so here goes.

I'd like to become a "serious" cyclist. I've always enjoyed biking, but it's never been more than a "once in a while" type of thing. So, how should I get into the world of cycling?

A little about me: I'm 19, male, and live about 25 miles out from Boston, MA. I'm not too interested in mountain biking, but rather in road biking. Mostly, I've ridden mountain bikes, but I have tooled around on my dad's old road bike and enjoyed it. I'd like to use that for a while until I really feel that this is something I plan on continuing before I buy myself a bike.

So, with all that being said, how do I get going? (And, yes, I know I should just "get out there," and don't worry, I'll have that covered, but anything beyond that, as far as how often I should be biking, tips, etc. would be real helpful)

posted by deansfurniture5 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Look into the Charles River Wheelmen or the Boston Chapter AMC Bicycle committee, or the Worcester chapter, if that's closer.

They all do organized rides that you can sign up for. From there you get to know people, you learn about other rides, and it snowballs until you're One Of Them.

Have fun!
posted by bondcliff at 6:20 PM on June 12, 2007

I'm in the same position as you, really. I finally decided to "get into" cycling within the last few months. I loved it when I was younger, but fell out of the habit. I'll let someone else better qualified talk about bikes, training, etc. I can tell you this: I decided to start biking to work. It's about 4.5 miles each way, and I am fortunate to be able to ride on tree-lined streets with little traffic. Yes, it takes some planning and effort, but I have to to say that after a few rides to work, I am absolutely bitten by the bug. I look forward to work now! Since I am in the muscle-building stages, I know I need recovery days, and it takes self-control to NOT ride. In addition to work, I ride on nearby paths and for errands.

I am not interested in competition or racing, but just for health (I'm 45, male). I would say: try to commute, if not to work, then on errands. I keep my bike right by the front door in my apartment, so I don't have to go to the garage, then be tempted to use the car.

If my experience is any indication, once you get going a little, the bug will set in and bend you to its will.
posted by The Deej at 6:24 PM on June 12, 2007

yes! join a club or better yet, if you're in college, find out if they have an NCAA club programme.

you can't do any better for your goals of getting into serious biking than joining a collegiate cycling programme IMO. i have a couple collegiate racing guys that i coach and they are thriving within this structure.

also: cycling can be a bit of an 'insider' sport. if you are anywhere near Harris Cyclery, i'd definitely urge you to stop by and check them out. much of the culture and networking of serious roadies is done at the local bike shop.

good luck and enjoy. i got into it seriously back in the mid-late 80's when i was around your age. i'm still at it.
posted by lonefrontranger at 6:33 PM on June 12, 2007

I'm more of a mtber these days but commuting is an EXCELLENT idea. I began by doing 5 miles each way and slowly lengthened it.

Hang out on good cycling forums and you will very quickly pick up some local friends. Cycling is very social.

Road Bike Review is where the roadies tend to hang out.

Don't be too quick to dismiss MTBing... most competitive riders seem to do a bit of both... very different skillsets which cross-fertilize.

Above all don't be sucked in by the 'more expensive is better' bike bug. A good rider on a shit bike will pretty much always be better than a shit rider on a good bike.

Welcome to the world... there are few unmitigated goods in the world but cycling is pretty much one of them.

Wear a helmet.
posted by unSane at 6:40 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Several years ago, I was in your position and I've gone through the transition to becoming a more seasoned rider. I'll offer you my perspective on how I made it to this point.

In the beginning: few hills. Start slow (10 miles or less), increase mileage by 10% per week. Get a proper bike fit and eat well to both recover from and power your rides. Once you're up to 20-30 miles per ride, try some hills. You'll find that 15 miles with hills will seem just as long as 30 miles flat (depending on the grade).

Do hills only maybe once per week. Then get back to the flats and work on pedaling efficiency. With clip in pedals, you should learn to spin the wheels rather than pushing down on the pedals. This will increase your speed and teach your muscles the proper movements to power the wheels. Bad form is bad, just as it is in running and you'll spend more energy in the wrong way. Learn to spin all the way through the pedals even on the upswing.

Then really, it's all about mileage after this point. Once you have the basics, learning to ride in a pack is way different. You'll go faster, and you'll need to learn the subtle nuances of right of way etc.

Then, if you get more serious that doing just group rides... for example century rides, you'll have to follow training plans. At this point it really helps to have a friend who will be able to suffer along with you and who is about the same level of conditioning (so you can push each other).

If you make it this far, it's really fun and rewarding. And you'll see cool things that you wouldn't have had access to otherwise. Let me know if you need more specific suggestions. My email is in my profile.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 7:06 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree with the above comments about the LBS being a haven of new friends and supporters. I've been road cycling for a little over 2 years now, and I regret that my first year was mostly lonely miles with the odd long-distance route with a group. Having a group of friends, or just acquaintances, is great for the distances and support. Also, if you have a local cycling group (if the shop doesn't fit your needs) hang out with them. Mine has an active listserve and various weekly rides all over the area. Having them around pushes me harder to keep up with them.

One thing I haven't seen - now's the time to consider a bike repair/emergency class. Get the basics of tire/flat repairs and a few other issues under your belt before you're out alone on a 60-mile training ride.

Helmet, yes, indeed. And some form of emergency ID. Not to end my answer on a morbid note, but a note to be prepared.
posted by fijiwriter at 8:04 PM on June 12, 2007

Serious? The Cyclist's Training Bible.
posted by forallmankind at 8:51 PM on June 12, 2007

If I wanted to be a good cyclist, I'd avoid taking the "serious" route. I'd take the "I like this and want to be good at it" route. In cycling there's a big difference, trust me.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:25 PM on June 12, 2007

Ahhh, Ironmouth speaks the truth! If it's not fun you won't do it. In fact, a big motivation for me getting back into cycling, is that I need to get in better shape, but I hate exercising. My plan was to play lots of tennis, but my doc forbids me due to severe tennis elbow. I wanted to do something active that was fun, and so didn't feel like exercise.

Listen to Ironmouth, and make sure you make it fun for yourself. Don't get too caught up in trying too hard to "get good." Have fun, keep at it, and before you know it you will BE good.
posted by The Deej at 9:56 PM on June 12, 2007

Schedule it to be a regular event. Cycling to work is great so long as there's showers if it's more than a few miles. If you're in school, you may well be able to do a loop before you head off to class each morning (or every other morning, or whatever). I've done both of these, usually with a longer ride on the weekend with friends/roommates and it was making it routine that kept me at it.
posted by beerbajay at 1:46 AM on June 13, 2007

I can tell you one thing that really shaped my early days of road biking was having a great book of local rides & maps. The book I got had some 40 different routes with the ride marked out on a contour map, a cue sheet, and some little commentary about the ride - how hard it was (bring on those crazy hills!) , or interesting things to see or places to eat along the way. All of a sudden there was a world of places I wanted to go & roads I wanted to see, not just an abstract exercise duty.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:40 AM on June 13, 2007

Don't totally dismiss mountain biking! "Riding on a trail" vs. "riding over ramps, logs, rocks, obstacles, and getting utterly coated with mud while trying not to ricochet off of trees" are two very, very different things. It's a mental thing, less speed and more agility. My wife and I recently got into it, and (despite the fact that I'm 33) we both feel exactly the same as we did when we were kids screwing around on dirtbikes. It's amazingly fun. We've never gone for a ride that left us dissapointed; we're usually exhausted, dirty, usually sore in places but already looking forward to the next run.

The problem is that the initial investment sucks - we don't do a lot of road biking because we purchased off-road monsters, and the high per-person investment in a good bike makes it hard to go shopping for a road bike now that we opted for trail bikes first. If you get a chance to try both, and think you'll like both, throw some money at a good entry-level bike in whichever style is currently more fun or accessible to you right now. Find a good bike shop, talk to people who ride, and don't discount the idea of picking up a middle- or high-end used (but well-maintained) bike rather than purchasing a new low-end one for the same money.

Any shop that doesn't give you a chance to test ride or doesn't spend time helping you adjust the bike to fit you isn't worth going in to. Same goes for the helmet - if it doesn't fit you well you are no better off.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:08 AM on June 13, 2007

I really love cycling for a number of different reasons, and I think about them whenever I ride.

For one, it's one of the most efficient ways to turn your own effort into distance covered. You travel ~4x faster than a person on foot.

Second, a bike is a really simple machine, with no real mystery to it. All of the parts are exposed and available for your perusal. "I put my foot here and press, and the bike goes."

Third, I think about places like China where bicycle use is wicked popular compared to cars. I think about what a non-automobile town would be like.

Fourth, cycling doesn't isolate you from nature the way riding in a car does. You can see animals, hear birds, feel the wind and sun (and rain!). You can sing your favorite song while you ride, or practice a speech, or anything you want. You WILL see something different every time you go for a ride, so keep your eyes open.

Fifth, if you're a geek, there's all sorts of stats and numbers that you can get into. Gear ratios, speed, distance, percent grade of your favorite hill, GPS, finding the flattest route between two points...

Sixth is the fitness aspect of it, that you're better off sitting on a bike saddle than on your couch or in your computer chair.

Seventh is the opportunity for achievement. As long as you're turning the pedals, you're getting closer to a goal -- whether that's total number of miles ridden, total time spent in the saddle, or fastest time to complete your favorite loop. I remember hearing or reading somewhere one of my favorite cycling quotes related to effort and performance "It doesn't get easier, you just get faster."

Anyway, I've loved bikes from the moment my Grandma brought home my first two wheeler from a garage sale. Now I'm finding great fulfillment in showing my 9 year old daughter how to use the gears on her bike.

I find it to be a really rewarding activity/sport/foundation for philosophy. I wish more people participated.

Thanks for giving me a chance to put these feelings into words.
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:04 AM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

It turns out that "It doesn't get any easier, you just get faster" is from my childhood cycling idol, Greg LeMond.
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:50 AM on June 13, 2007

Check out the Northeast Bicycle Club. I belong to the club (but race for a different team) and it's wonderful. They have lots of organized rides and clinics (mostly road, but some cyclocross and MTB as well), and have 300+ members all the way from casual riders to elite racers. Everyone is really friendly and willing to help out new cyclists. Charles River Wheelmen (suggested above) is also a great club. Also, think about trying out the track at the New England Velodrome. So fun.
posted by mingshan at 12:57 PM on June 13, 2007

(NEV rents out track bikes for $2 per night.)
posted by mingshan at 12:57 PM on June 13, 2007

Seconding the 'don't get too serious' comments.

I was a slave to a cycle computer for a while, and then I finally ripped them off all my bikes and threw them away.

Man, that was a good day.

I often ride with a GPS but I take no notice of speeds, although I like to know distance covered and altitude gained/lost.
posted by unSane at 2:24 PM on June 13, 2007

re trail riding vs. mountain biking, caution live frogs has it exactly right.

In MTBing, your skills count at least as much if not considerably more than your overall fitness.

It is possible to get into MTBing relatively cheaply by going the rigid, singlespeed route (which is pretty hardcore, but increasinly popular). I ride a Misfit diSSent 29er rigid singlespeed and it's a blast (although I have a FS for the really gnarly, steep stuff).

You could pick up a 2006 Redline Monocog 26" SS for $400, and have a deeply respectable trail bike.
posted by unSane at 2:39 PM on June 13, 2007

Everybody's different, but I found that when I had a goal to train for, it really helped me do the right kind of training in a shorter amount of time. I registered for the AIDS LifeCycle two years ago and got on a bike and started training. Like I said, maybe you don't want to start with a daunting committment, but for me it was a great way to start.
posted by menace303 at 7:36 PM on June 13, 2007

Wild_Eep, great comments, thanks! A lot of that sums up my feelings as well.
posted by The Deej at 9:46 PM on June 13, 2007

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