Bike riding was my favorite way to get around as a kid, just hop on and pedal. Besides being one of my only options (pre-driver’s license), the fact it was free was unbeatable. When I moved to the DC area, I was amazed at how many people ride bikes as their main form of transportation. Fearlessly dodging cars and potholes, these riders incorporate exercise into their daily routine in a way I had never seen adults do before. While I love riding with my little one, I decided it was time to learn more about how to ride on the road as a grown-up. Here are the 9 tips I can share with you:
1. Choosing A Bike
For those of us on smaller budgets, this may feel similar to buying a car. Road bikes can be expensive! Do some research on brands that are dependable and basic. Really, basic is ok in the beginning. Don’t worry about too many extra features or buying the lightest bike on the market, you can always upgrade after you have more miles under your belt. Getting fitted is important. You need a bike that fits your individual body type. (For example, I have a longer torso and shorter legs in my 5’ 4” frame; the way I sit is different than another 5’ 4” woman with a shorter torso and longer legs.) One of the best ways is to talk with local riders and bike shops.
2. Make Adjustments
Once you have chosen a bike, you may need a few adjustments. Or in my case, about 1000. The seat was too high, too far back, I wanted my brakes tighter, my wrists had too much pressure, etc. All of these little adjustments make a HUGE difference in riding. Listen to your body! Every time you ride, notice what feels good or what hurts (muscles should feel sore like a workout, but any joint pains are a clear sign something isn’t right). Head back to your local bike shop and ask for help making these changes.
3. Look The Part
The clothes make the rider, or at least they make the rider more comfortable. When you use a road bike, you’ll quickly realize how the seat is different from other types of bikes (and way less plush than the car!) No question, first things first is a helmet. My contacts dry out from the wind so sunglasses are a must-have for me. Another important article of clothing you will start to own is padded pants. The padding, called the chamois (KA-moy), is designed to protect your nether region which is essential for riding. And these fancy pants are designed to reduce chafing (i.e. don’t wear underwear with padded pants). Bike shirts are lightweight to keep you cool, while also having these elastic pockets to hold everything you need. Seriously, like a backward fanny pack; you can fit everything in those pockets!
4. Whoo-Ha’s Shouldn’t Hurt
Mamas, after the incredibly exposing act of childbirth, I hope you are more comfortable talking about your lady parts. Do not be afraid to speak up if you have pain while you’re riding. There is a fine line between getting used to riding soreness and pain. Don’t suffer through the pain. The first time I rode, it felt like every ounce of my body weight was balancing on the most tender bits and pieces. A quick seat adjustment changed everything and the pain was gone. Get friendly with that bike shop!
5. Chamois Butter (Hold the Toast)
This no-carb option might be your new favorite butter. Chamois cream is anti-chafe lotion that can be spread anywhere and everywhere you need. Experienced riders shared the importance of slathering this stuff all over the chamois before getting dressed. Some may say you don’t need it starting out since your rides will generally be short, but this mama is all about prevention.
6. Start Slow
Literally, slow. The first time I pedaled on my road bike, I was incredibly surprised at how much faster it was compared to my cruiser bike. Same person, same force, just a completely different feel on this style of bike. Also, road bike tires are incredibly narrow! As a previous gymnast, it felt like going from running on the floor to running on the beam. Find a place you can practice getting used to the feel of your new bike with pressure to keep up with others. I love heading to the closed sections of Sligo Creek in Maryland on the weekends. Focus on how you feel riding, practice changing gears, and gain some confidence.
7. Get a Trainer
Trainers lift your back tire off the ground while holding you steady so you can ride indoors. I know the article is about road biking, however, you’re always going to have bad weather. Or a crazy day with kids which means you can’t leave the house. Even though I’d prefer to be outside, I love riding indoors while watching a movie with my little guy. An hour on the bike goes a lot faster when we can laugh at a Pixar favorite together!
8. Make A Plan
When you’re ready to get out there and start putting in some miles, take some time to plan your route first. You may think just exploring your neighborhood might be fun, but if you live in the hills of Silver Spring like I do, it’s exhausting. Many websites or apps help you to search by distance, flat or hilly routes, or top-rated. Check out some of these options: Curbed DC, Bikemap, TrailLink.
9. “On Your Left”
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Share the road” if you are a driver, but as a cyclist, you need to share the road too. You’ll start to see tons of dog walkers, runners, and other riders on your path. Typically, you ride on the right and pass on the left, just like cars. Without rearview mirrors and blinkers, you’ll need to let others know about your plans to avoid collisions. Make sure to say, “On your left” loud enough to be heard over outdoor noises as you pass others. As a new rider, you’ll probably hear this as experienced riders zoom past you. The first time I finally passed someone else, it was the proudest, “On your left” you’ve ever heard!
While the list is nowhere comprehensive of everything you need to know starting out, these are the tips I felt every mama should know from my experience. There are tons of resources online, blogs, and chats with other riders who are happy to share their experiences to help as you start out. There are so many things to learn starting out, don’t be afraid to ask. You’re not alone wondering these questions!
Making time to ride is a whole other blog post for busy mamas. Just like anything else, you need to fill your bucket before you can fill up others. If riding is your thing, find a way to make it work. For me, it is going as soon as the sun is up. For others, it might be during naptime or post-dinner. In the beginning, you don’t need a ton of time. 30 minutes will feel like a great workout and keep you energized to keep going with your day.
I hope this helps you get out there and start biking! Happy pedaling!