Tuesday, July 24, 2012

So You Want to Get Back on a Bike: A Re-Beginner's Guide.

So many of us have fond memories of bicycling as children. So many of us abandoned our two-wheeled friends when we 'upgraded' to cars. Many of us would love to get back into bicycling for leisure or fitness, maybe even for transportation. We know have to start somewhere. Yet there is understandable trepidation - "What if I've forgotten how to ride a bike?" "What if I look stupid or fall off?" "What if I buy the wrong bike?" "As an adult, what will it be like?"

When we made our triumphant return to bicycling, "What's it like?" is a question Ginger and I encountered more than once from friends and acquaintances, even strangers. People like us who hadn't ridden a bicycle since their age ended in -teen. And one day, when asked that question yet again, Ginger replied with a revelatory simplicity containing such a fundamental truth that it has also been my answer ever since. I share it here with you in case it's just what you have been wanting to know:

"Remember when you were a kid and you used to ride your bike with a huge smile on your face? Well, it still feels exactly like that."

And it's true. Part of the reason I knew the Schwinn Jenny 7 speed was the perfect bike for me to get back into cycling was because even underneath my cautious awareness during the test ride, even having not been on a bicycle for many years, that feeling was there. It's the feeling Ginger got from the Schwinn Classic Al Cruiser and now with different skills, the feeling he gets from his Trek road bike. And I honestly believe that's the secret to buying 'the right' bike. You can't do that online - especially if you haven't been on a bicycle since you were 15. By all means, do your research online. I did. It's a fantastic way to discover what's available, what you might need and to make a short list. Once you have found a bicycle/s that you think will suit your local topography in terms of gearing and your personal preference in terms of looks and features, find a stockist and go to the shop wearing the type of clothes and shoes you intend to cycle in. Bike Exchange is a great Australian resource listing stock from both independent and franchised bicycle shops in every state. Run your short-list through it and see what pops up in your area. It's also easy to search for sale items and old stock either in your area or in individual shops. If you're on a budget, there are often heavy discounts on last years models and the only difference in larger brands between years is the paint job. In the case of more niche finds like Pashley, the bike will probably look exactly the same.

Really, the only in-store advice you need as a Re-Beginner is if the bike is the right size frame for your body and confirmation that it has the right number of gears for your area. A good bike shop will understand you don't want much more from them at this stage, just a bit of encouragement and disaster prevention. A good bike shop proprietor will not try to sell you something wildly beyond your skill level just to make a quick buck so be honest about your fears and expectations. After all, if they treat you well as a Re-Beginner, they're more likely to get your future business if you ever decide to lay down some serious cash and even if you don't, you'll have to see them again for your complimentary service so it's better for everybody to be friendly. Tell them what you liked about bikes on your shortlist (e.g. "It had mudguards," or "It could carry things.") and give them a price point based on your research. Get them to adjust at least the saddle and possibly handlebars to fit you so that they are not negatively affecting your test ride. This is a minute of their time, two minutes at most so if the saddle needs adjusting and they won't do it, turn around and walk out. As a Re-Beginner, you do not want or have to give these people your money. Once it fits you? Get on it. Test ride it. You don't have to go far but you do have to at least go out of sight of the shop proprietor and your spouse or your friend - whoever came with you to the bike shop*. Go as far as you need to in order to get a moment alone on the bike, to really be pedalling free of the expectations of anybody but yourself. Whether that turns out to be just around the corner of the bike shop where you can go up and down and around the same 100 square metres of car park until you're sick of it or out in the suburban streets a couple of blocks away, make sure you're cycling alone long enough to stop worrying about how you look or if you're doing it wrong. Long enough to do some turns, do some braking, stop and start and gain enough confidence to think beyond any residual anxiety. What you need is to ride long enough to answer the most important question: "Is this making me happy?" It will be an easy question to answer. If you feel giddy inside despite being slightly wobbly outside - if you feel like you're 6 years old going around the block for the first time, you don't need to know anything else.

It should feel like this.

*If you're at the bike shop alone, it's generally good form to leave your handbag/something of personal value with the proprietor so they know you'll bring their bicycle back. At some point you have to trust each other if you want a decent test ride. I personally find it easier to leave a human companion behind but I know that's not possible for everybody and there have been times Ginger and I test rode together and I left my handbag behind as collateral. On that occasion, the bike shop staffer even lent us the lights from his own bike as we were testing at night and riding away from the well lit street the shop was on. It's about a basic level of trust and respect so if you're not getting that from your Re-Beginner retail experience, shop around until you do. Don't let bad customer service ruin the potential joy of cycling.

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