Introducing people to bike riding (without ruining their day)

April 29, 2013

by Kristin Butcher

green lanes
Image: Chicago DOT

If you’re reading this, chances are you already love biking. You have fond memories of weaving through trees, finding serenity in the blur of asphalt passing beneath your wheels, and enjoying a soundtrack made up entirely of your own heartbeat and the hum of rotating tires. And there’s probably someone out there who you wish felt just like you do about riding bikes.

Go ahead and make a convert out of them. But before you do, read this quick and dirty list of do's and don’ts for sharing the bicycling love:

DON’T dress for the Tour de France. No matter how happy you are to toodle along on your bike, new riders will always be certain that they are holding up your ride. Ditching the team kit in lieu of shorts and tennis shoes goes a long way in making new riders feel comfortable.

DON’T show off. Your ability to hop over a log one-handed while singing Yankee Doodle Dandy is an impressive trick, but save it for another ride. This is especially true if you’re on a first date and have aspirations for a second.

DON’T use the word “easy.” While it’s natural to try to alleviate a new rider’s apprehension by assuring them: “Don’t worry, it’s easy,” you’re inadvertently causing problems. If the rider succeeds, you’ve devalued the accomplishment. If they don’t, you’ve created a sense of failure. Instead, relate the obstacle at hand to other obstacles the rider has encountered.

DON’T tell them about all the bike stuff they “need” to get. Sure it’s fun to vicariously shop for bike stuff via the newbie, but before you know it, you’ve told them about the newest bike suspension and how they need to get a hydration pack, $80 bike shorts, and socks with martini glasses on the cuff. Remember, most new riders will have just as much fun on a 15-year-old bike and wearing boring old crew socks.

DON’T let your helpfulness get in the way of being helpful. Yes, you’re experienced. Yes, you have insight. But too much advice can take away the thrill of discovery, at best, or, at worst, overwhelm new riders. Instead, focus on one skill each ride and let everything else slide.

no drop ride
No-drop rides are great for beginners.

DO make the ride about the journey, not the destination. A 10-mile ride can seem like climbing Everest to someone who hasn’t been on a bike since childhood. Pack a lunch, choose fun places to stop along the way, and make sure the ride has early bailout options.

DO check their bike for safety and fit. Even the most excited novices lose steam if their first ride is on a bike with dragging brakes and an upward-tilting saddle. Before setting out, inspect brakes, tire inflation, rider position and helmet fit.

DO introduce new riders to their peers. No matter how excited you are to introduce someone to cycling, there is a special bond among people who are just getting started together. Many local cycling organizations offer no-drop beginner rides where new riders can enjoy learning new skills together.

DO listen. If the new rider says they’re nervous, take them on an easier route. If they seem frustrated, suggest a break and offer some food. If they say they’re uncomfortable, find out why (Pro tip: If they just got their first pair of bike shorts, there’s a decent chance they’ve got underwear under those bad boys.)

DO tell new riders about skills camps. Whether it’s mountain bike skills, road racing, or basic commuting safety, there are clinics available with professional instructors who are trained in breaking down skills into bite-sized pieces creating not just better riders, but more confident riders.

group ride
Grab a friend and hit up a skills clinic or newbie group ride. 

 

Kristin Butcher is a freelance writer based out of Boulder, Colorado, she spends her time writing about people, the outdoors and, of course, bikes. You can read her column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE Magazine.

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