If you want to become more fit – or simply hope to get outside more this year – the early summer weather is the perfect time to take up biking.
Just about everyone rides a bike during childhood. But some of us have not pedaled in decades, and the thought of climbing aboard two wheels after all that time can be intimidating.
The key to overcoming this fear is to take things slow. Here are five tips that will get you going again this May, which is also National Bike Month.
1. Understand that things have changed
If you haven’t pedaled in a while, things might not be exactly as you remembered.
“The biking landscape has changed a lot over the past decade,” says Mark Plotz, co-owner of The Smallest Cog Bike Shop, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The good news is that cities are building more infrastructure for biking, such as wider bike lanes and new and more elaborate trails.
On the other hand, automobile traffic has become a bigger concern. “Drivers seem to be less focused on their most important task – driving,” Plotz says.
So, when you return to cycling, start slow and exercise patience as you get acclimated to the new scene.
“Don't be in a hurry,” Plotz says. “Follow the traffic laws. Choose low-traffic routes.”
Google Maps now offers routing for bicyclists. “It isn't perfect but it is a good way to understand what routes are recommended for bikes,” Plotz says.
2. Talk to an expert
Perhaps you can’t wait to hop aboard a bike again. Such enthusiasm is terrific. But if you haven’t been on a bike for a while, it can also be dangerous.
While cycling is fun for millions of people, it does carry some risks. In 2015, almost 467,000 cyclists were injured in the U.S. And about 1,000 people were killed while biking.
Of course, such statistics shouldn’t prevent you from biking. After all, we drive and fly, despite the risks inherent in those activities.
Rather than letting fear grip you, stop by a bike shop and talk to a pro.
“People who want to get back into biking should visit their local bike shop to have a conversation about this lifestyle change,” Plotz says.
Bike shop experts can help you assess the condition of your bike. They can also make recommendations about routes and destinations that are appropriate for those returning to cycling after a layoff.
3. Pick the right bike
Bikes do not come in one-size-fits-all varieties. When choosing a bike, the experts at Bicycling.com suggest standing over the bike and aiming for a 1-inch gap between your body and the bike frame.
In addition, different types of bikes are appropriate for different types of riding.
For example, do you prefer biking on pavement? If so, you might need a bike with skinnier tires than if you plan to tackle dirt trails.
Finally, you need important accessories – a helmet, a mini-pump, a water bottle and more.
Sound intimidating? It doesn’t have to be if you follow our advice in point No. 2 and seek the help of an expert.
4. Connect with other cyclists
One of the best ways to return to cycling – and to stick with it and have more fun – is to make new friends who also enjoy the sport.
In particular, it can help to pair up with someone who is a bit more comfortable with cycling. “Riding with a more experienced biker can make all the difference in the world,” Plotz says.
To find other bikers in your area, ask for tips at your local bike shop. Or, check out a local bike advocacy organization. USA Cycling has a list of such organizations.
5. Stick with it – and have fun
If you haven’t been on a bike in a while, the first few rides may be a little rough. You may even find that your legs, feet and posterior ache for a while.
But hang in there. Your body will adapt over time. And you soon may find that returning to bicycling is among the most invigorating and rewarding decisions you’ve ever made.
“Enjoy yourself -- and share the joy with others,” Plotz says.