Nicole Ramsey shares her bike tips for beginners.

Biking for Beginners

by Nicole Ramsey

Several Charlotte residents attend the annual Bike to Brekfast event, kicking on BIKE! Charlotte.

It’s national Bike to Work week! It sounds intimidating, but you can do it. I’m not a professional cyclist. I don’t commute daily to work. I don’t wear spandex bike shorts and I don’t own a $1,000 bike. But It is possible for the average person to commute to work. I learned this last year during BIKE! Charlotte.

Right now is the best time to start learning to commute to work. It’s spring time and there are many events scheduled during BIKE! Charlotte. If you need to get comfortable riding on the road, I suggest trying a group ride first. There are many bike groups and scheduled rides from beginner to advanced. I started with a group ride and then met a commuter group one morning, then I was ready to try it on my own.

I had the ambitious goal of commuting to work, but didn’t know how. What kind of bike do I get? How do I carry my stuff? What type of gear do I need? What do I wear? What if I get a flat tire? How do I ride on the road? Where are bike lanes located? Where do I park? I live outside of Mecklenburg County, but work in downtown Charlotte. How could I possibly bike to work? Here ae some tips on how I tackled some of these questions.

Selecting your bike:

The main thing to know about a bike is how you are planning to use it. Think about the surfaces you’ll be using (trails, sidewalks or roads). Besides commuting, do you want to use it for other things like a bike race or mountain biking on some local trails? When I was selecting mine, I knew my commuting route has a mix of roads and sidewalks, but I also had signed up for the Ramblin’ Rose Triathlon. So I opted for a hybrid commuter bike. There are basically three types of bikes:

Road: Use for commuting on roads or racing. The tires are really skinny on these bikes.

Mountain: Use for trails, greenways and uneven surfaces. These bikes usually have fatter tires.

Hybrids/Commuters: These are usually a mix of the two above with the tires being in between skinny and fat. They can be used on roads and sidewalks.

I’ve seen people use all three for commuting so you’re probably okay starting with the one that’s been sitting in your garage. If you need a new bike, the one thing you want to make sure you do is get sized for your bike and get the proper fit. This usually requires a trip to a bike shop. Bikes can get to be expensive, so once you know what type you need and size, I suggest trying a used bike or checking out The Re-Cyclery in Charlotte first.

Gear/Supplies:

Safety first: You’ll need a helmet and something to make you visible. I suggest getting front and back lights or blinkies for your bike, especially if you are commuting early in the morning. Some people wear vests, but you opt to wear light or bright colors. For clothing, try to wear something you can move comfortably in, but nothing too loose that can get caught in the chain or pedals while riding. Also, it’s handy to pack a light jacket for wind or light rain.

Shoes: You can wear normal gym shoes or other flat shoes with a good bottom. I wouldn’t suggest wearing your finest dress shoes. For the more advanced, there are cycle shoes, but that requires changing your pedals and learning to clip in and out. If you want that same feel of being connected to the pedals, you can also buy shoe cages that you can add to your pedals.

Carrying Things: If you have stuff to carry with you, you can use a backpack or bike bags. It depends on your preference. Some people don’t like the weight on their backs while riding so they use bike bags instead. Some bikes also have a racks where you can tie down items or attach bike bags.

Maintenance: You should at least own a bike pump and be able to check your tire pressure. If you have an old bike and haven’t used it in a while, you might want to take it to a bike shop for a maintenance check. It is also handy to have a small tire repair kit.

Riding/parking:

Plan your route before you head out. You might want to practice on a weekend when there’s less traffic. Charlotte has designated bike routes in this Charlotte Cycling guide, but if you’re outside of Charlotte, try looking up a CATS Express bus. Buses are equipped with racks for your bikes and the park and ride location might be close to you. I use this option when I commute by bike.

You also need to know how to ride in the road. Please note, when you are riding in the road, you are considered a vehicle and need to follow all traffic regulations. This includes stopping at stoplights and stop signs. You also should learn hand signals so other vehicles are aware of where you are going. More information on riding is available here.

Many businesses have bike parking or bicycle racks. If you are not sure, ask your employer. If not, you may be able to ask them to get one. You can also find a pole or other structure to secure your bike next to. The other option is to bring the bike into the office if you have space. Be sure to pick up a bike lock so you can secure your bike wherever you decide to park it.

My challenge to you

Although I haven’t been commuting daily, I figure it’s a great time to pick it back up. So join me in dusting off that bike, finding your bike lock and key, checking your tires and enjoying the ride!

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