There are few things more fun and simple as riding a bicycle — for those who ride or race them regularly.
Like anything we do and do again, it's easy to forget that muscle memory long ago replaced our memories of learning to ride.
So for those just getting into biking, here is a primer on how to get started.
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Helmet: Vital for anyone concerned about head and brain injuries should an accident occur. Good helmets cost less than $45. You can find less expensive certified helmets at big box stores.
Bicycle: This gets complicated. Road, mountain or hybrid? How many speeds? What brand? Where to buy? How much? The choices can be overwhelming.
Plan to spend at least $250. This is a great time to buy, because the recession has hit the bicycle industry hard. Don't be afraid to haggle over prices.
I wouldn't go much over $800 on a first bike. Twenty years ago I decided to return to riding. I bought a big box bike. It was great. Then I upgraded to a top-of-the-line hybrid thinking it would last me forever. I outgrew it in nine months. As I became more enamored with cycling, it was neither adequate mountain bike nor road bike.
The lesson is to anticipate your next-next goal while putting off your Lance-like dream of a $5,000 carbon fiber lean machine.
Where to buy? Try your neighborhood bike shop or sports store. They are interested in having you and your family and friends as long-term customers. Visit a few. You'll find a salesperson in tune with your needs. And be sure to test ride several bikes. If they decline to allow it, that's a deal breaker.
What's the most important thing in buying a bike? Fit. If the salesperson can't help, find one who can.
Other stuff: Carry a spare tube or patch kit and know how to use it; also a pump and a water bottle. Consider padded bike shorts. Skipping them is fine your first few rides. You'll just appreciate them more when you buy a pair.
The check list: Correct pressure in tires (before every outing), lubed chain (before every outing), brakes.
It's a good idea to keep your bike moderately clean and check for frayed cables and the overall condition. Or take advantage of the free tune-up you negotiated when you bought your bike.
Jam it in your vehicle or put it on the front on a bus bike rack if public transportation is your thing. Pop off the front wheel if need be. Hold off on buying a bike carrier as long as possible until you know what you want. The choices, as with everything these days, are wide.
Where to go
A park with an old paved road or gentle dirt road is a great place to start. You can try trails with the more interesting features — trees and streams — a couple of rides in.
Relax your shoulders, ease off on the death grip. Breathe. Practice taking one foot off the pedal and putting it on the ground. Then the other. Now push off. And pedal. Just like the parking lot at the bike store.
Next, forget you have a front brake (the lever near your left hand). Later you'll learn to feather it so you don't discover what an "endo" is flying over the front of your bike.
Play around with the gearing. This probably will be insanely frustrating at first. But during your third or fourth outing, it will all come together.