I've been pretty terrified of riding a bike since the 4th grade. During an intense race up my street, I took a spill and knocked out some permanent teeth. After a lifetime of dentist visits to correct it, I decided the bike life just wasn't for me.
But as I've gotten older, I've realized biking is a necessity. Parking in the city is such a pain in the ass. Driving just down the street seems like such a waste. I need a form of exercise that isn't super boring. I want to be outside more to enjoy the weather. I'm ruining the environment with my car!! Thoughts like these have given me the push to start biking more frequently. Plus I learned that Kristen Schaal did the same thing when she was riding a bike. So I decided we must be soul sisters, and I feel a whole lot better about the whole bike accident thing.
I made a couple attempts at biking to class in college, and biked a dozen or so times with Eric when we lived in Durham. It never quite stuck with me though, and it certainly wasn't ever something I tried to do alone. Since we've moved to our house in Charlotte though, we're just far enough away from things that biking is a much better option. In the last 6 months or so I've started to bike to my coworking space, bike out to meetings or to eat, and just bike around for fun. Here's what I've learned so far that has made the whole process easier:
1) Find a group to bike with
This is #1 for a reason. Biking alone can be terrifying – especially when just starting out. Cars are whizzing past you, and if you don't bike often, it's difficult to figure out the best way to go. Biking with a group has made things 10x more enjoyable for me. Cars can see you better, it makes busy roads seem less daunting, you learn new routes/what signals you need to be doing, and it makes the whole experience much more fun.
Since I started biking I've discovered there are TONS of bike groups around Charlotte – and I guarantee there's a lot in other cities too. My two favorite right now are the Advent Tuesday Rides at Two - a ride that starts at my coworking space (easy) as a means to take a break from the workday (everyone is welcome to join), and Road Doughs - a monthly ride to a local doughnut shop (how could anyone pass that up??).
2) Take side streets whenever possible
Maybe this seems like a no-brainer, but when Eric and I first started biking we didn't even consider this until we ended up on a main road and one of us would end up super flustered. Take some time to figure out what major roads you could avoid by taking side streets. You'll feel safer and 100% happier – even if it takes an extra 10 minutes to do so. For instance, I live off of a major road where there have been multiple accidents and a fatality for pedestrians and a bicyclist in the past year. No way in hell am I riding on that thing. Instead, I take only neighborhood streets and cross only at pedestrian crosswalks (and try to avoid doing that at rush hour times). Are there more hills and at least 10 minutes added onto my route this way? yep. But at least I'm less fearful of getting hit!
3) Take a class
This sounds so weird to do as an adult, but I couldn't recommend it more. Learning all the traffic signals, and best practices for dealing with traffic is hard - and it's way easier when you have a good instructor telling you what to do instead of the internet. I've been lucky enough to end up alone on one of my free group rides with our group leader, Pam (who also happens to teach cycling classes). When she asked where I wanted to learn to ride to, I immediately said uptown - something I'd been too scared to do since we moved back to Charlotte. I learned things like which roads I should take and ride on, and when to ride in the left lane to avoid parked cars. I've since ridden through uptown several times with friends and even once alone - something I would have never felt confident enough to do without some instruction first. If you're in Charlotte and interested in taking a class - Pam's Cycling Savvy classes come highly recommended. You can also read more about the experience here.
4) Get a bike you love
Getting yourself outside, on a bike is hard enough. You definitely won't do it if you don't like your bike. The first bike I bought in college was $40 from Walmart. As I biked to my first class in 90 degree August heat, the entire thing fell apart. My second bike cost more, but wasn't much better. It was a metallic blue, cruiser-mountain bike hybrid that everyone made fun of because I looked like a nerdy ten year-old riding it. It was also MASSIVE, and too heavy for me to lift onto the bus bike racks or down steps. I rode it a handful of times to class and then left it outside and never returned for it.
A few years a later, Eric bought my current bike as a birthday gift and it has worked out PERFECTLY. It is affordable, light enough for me to lift, built for the road – the primary place I'm riding it, and it's cute. "Cute" you say? Yes, people are always complimenting how cute it is and start talking to me about bike stuff because it looks legit. It makes me feel good and want to keep riding it. Hey, sometimes looks matter!
5) Just get started
If you're waiting for the perfect time, or situation, or weather to start riding, it's never going to happen (especially if you live in NC). My best advice is to just hop on and ride around the block. It'll never get any easier unless you get started!
So, what are my plans now for my bike? Sometime this year I'd like to get a bike bag so I can make grocery store and errand runs, and to a bike rack so I can ride some bucket list routes that are a bit to far from my house.
Have you started riding recently? What did you find made it easier for you? Let me know in the comments below!