How to Prep for Your First Bike Ride
Whether you’re setting out alone or in a group, here’s what to do to guarantee you’ll be hooked on two wheels. – By Caitlin Giddings
Many riders say that what stands out most in their beginner memories is that first ride together. A good first ride sets the tone for future efforts and makes cycling seem a little more approachable and a little less intimidating.
With that in mind, here’s how to make sure that first ride is a good one:
Find a bike that fits you.
The right bike fit makes all the difference between a euphoric spin down the bike path and a joint-straining sufferfest. A good bike shop should be able to help fit your bike to you, but if you’re adjusting at home, two elements are key: seat height and reach. Your seat height should be high enough to give you only a very slight bend in your knee when your foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke. If it’s too low or too high, you risk knee injury. Proper reach means your arms and torso make a 45-degree angle over the bike. Too long, and your back will be sore reaching for the handlebars; too short, and your knees will be too close to your arms. When you’re shopping for a bike, make sure to take it for a test ride to see that the size is correct for you.
Prepare your bike.
Even if your bike is new, you should check whether your tyres are pumped, your brakes are engaging, your chain is lubed, your quick-release is down and locked, and nothing is amiss on the bike before every ride (also known as the ABC Quick Check). You don’t want to risk a flat or other mechanical problem on your first outing. If your bike is used and has been sitting out for a while, you might want to take it to the local shop for a quick check or tune-up before you go.
Make sure your helmet is properly adjusted.
It’s absolutely possible to wear your helmet incorrectly. Avoid this by first make sure your helmet isn’t on backward, which is an all-too-common error among new riders. Once you’ve got that sorted, position your helmet so that it sits level on your head and doesn’t tip forward or tilt backward like a bonnet and expose your entire forehead. Pull the Y-strap down around each ear, and then tighten it under your chin enough that the strap doesn’t hamper your jaw movement but has less than an inch of give. Tighten the helmet enough to where it won’t move but also won’t give you a headache or leave indentions on your face.
Review the rules of the road.
If you’re uneasy about riding in traffic, you might want to try a local bike path or rail trail before taking to the street. But if you are planning to ride on the road, first review your local cycling laws. Most will require you to avoid the sidewalk and behave like a vehicle on the road, including stopping at stop signs and lights. Ride to the right, unless you’re making a left turn, in which case signal your intentions with a left arm extended perpendicular to your body before you ease into the left lane. Most importantly, be predictable: Drivers will be more likely to welcome you into traffic if they understand your pattern of movement.
Plan your route — and keep a map handy.
Nothing sucks the fun out of a ride quicker than getting lost, and we all know how dependable phones can be in that regard. Why not print out a map before your ride so you have a backup? But your best bet is generally asking other cyclists or someone at your bike shop for good local ride routes.
Pack a few tools.
Bring a multi-tool and the basics to fix a flat (pump, spare tube or a patch kit, and tyre levers) on every ride. Familiarise yourself with the basics of fixing a flat — few things will make you feel as confident and independent on your bike.
Let a friend know where you’re going.
In the best-case scenario, your first ride would be with a friend. But we know not everyone who wants to start cycling has friends who are already on board. That said, you should probably let someone know where you’re going in case of an emergency or an unexpected mechanical. If you feel uncomfortable riding alone, ask someone at your local bike shop if there’s a beginners’ group you could join.
Bring snacks and water.
If you’re new to cycling, you’ll probably be caught off guard by how easily hunger can sneak up on you — and how quickly an energy-sapping bonk can set in when you’ve still got another big hill to climb. Bring plenty of snacks and water on your first few rides, until you get a better feel for what you’ll need to stay fueled.
Celebrate your success.
A great way to launch your first ride is to choose a destination like a coffee shop or ice cream store, and then find a safe route to get there and back. After all, riding is fun but finding motivation to saddle up for the first time can be tough and immediate rewards don’t hurt. If you don’t need your ride to revolve around snacks (I’m sorry, but I can’t relate), celebrate your success with a simple, post-ride acknowledgment that you’ve done it — you rode your bike, which essentially means you’re a cyclist now. Welcome to the fold. Feel free to get as addicted and obsessed as you’d like.