Learning to Ride as an Adult: First Pedal Strokes

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Robert Forstemann, Image Credit.

Many of you are out on your bike for the first time since childhood. You may remember how to keep the bike upright — barely — but have a hard time with the other aspects of cycling: getting your body to move in unfamiliar ways, obtaining adequate nutrition for long rides, taking direction from annoying ride leaders, and operating your new-fangled road bike. This whole process of learning means stepping away from what you find familiar and can make you feel childish. Instead, with a small adjustment in attitude, you’ll start to feel a child-like awe for cycling.

There are a few things you can do to help see the awe in the experience: Find a bike that fits you. Learn how and when to shift. Wear clothing appropriate for your sport. Keep hydrated and well nourished. Don’t let your dragons defeat you. Learn what to do when you get lost. Listen to ride leaders who are there to help. I’ve written a number of blog posts on each topic, and I’ll provide links below. But none of these techniques will be successful unless you get on your bike and ride.

But the single most important is to keep riding. When you’re coming off years of couch surfing, every single pedal stroke is an achievement. Here are a few tips that will help make your experience more enjoyable and will keep you on the saddle.

Get a Physical. It is important to know that you are sufficiently fit to start out on the bike especially if you are coming in from a fully sedentary lifestyle.

Get the Right Bike. An ill-fitting hand-me-down is the surest way to feel uncomfortable on your bike and discomfort will cause you to skip training. Visit as many local bike shops as you can and try out different makes and models. Speak to the sales people who can let you know which bikes worked for others like you. Once you are more comfortable on the bike, you’ll probably want to get a professional bike fit. Ask a training ride leader.

Learn the Operation of the Shifters. In a parking lot or on a roadway with little traffic, play around with the shifters. Know which operates the large front rings (“macro” adjustments) and which operates the small rear cogs (“micro” adjustments). A general rule of thumb is that when the chain is on the inside ring (toward the bike frame), pedaling is easier. The further away from the frame the chain gets, the more physical effort you need to expend. Don’t wait to learn this when you attempt your first hill!

Start out Slowly. Shorter rides of 10 to 15 miles a couple times a week will suffice this early in the season. That should take you about an hour. As we get closer to the ride, you’ll want to increase the mileage.

Give your Body the Right Cues. Most minor aches and pains will be due, at first, to getting your body used to the exercise. Give it time to recover — but not too much time — between rides. Some aches are due to poor hydration or nutrition. Make sure you’re eating and drinking enough. (Next blog post will be about nutrition!)

Not everyone will have aches and pains, but there are some which are common. Sore butts, sore knees, numbness in wrists or groin. Most cyclist have tips and tricks to help, so ask around. And if any are chronic, you probably need some adjustments to your bike. I recommend a professional bike fit. Worth every penny.

Join Group Rides. As I blogged last week, don’t skip the group rides! Even if they are a challenge, you’ll learn a lot from the others around you and the training ride leaders. And you’ll surprise yourself.

Pay Attention to the Ride. Half the fun is finding adventure in your hometown. The rides we lead are typically on back streets and country roads you may never have known paralleled your work-a-day world. Explore on your own and with the rides. This will take your mind off the little aches and pains and make the ride go by quickly.

Remember: Every single pedal stroke is an achievement!

Your Bear


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