Starting something new can be exciting, overwhelming or darn right terrifying. I find that many women would like to bike but face a myriad of hurdles including anxiety, fear of sharing the road with vehicles or simply not knowing where to begin. Fortunately, these very real challenges do not have to be show stoppers. With the right support, resources and strategies it is possible get off to a good (and safe) start. Here are a few tips that serve as cornerstones for Ride Like A Girl as we help women discover the joy of bicycling.
Invite a Girlfriend to Coffee. Finding a ride buddy is one of the greatest ways to overcome some of the hurdles to getting started because now you have a partner. You can support each other by planning, learning and discovering together. Biking with a friend can transform those anxious feelings into a supportive, social and fun experience.
- Take Action: Think of a girlfriend whose company you enjoy, invite her to coffee and into your adventure.
Find a Friendly Bike Shop. One of the best ways to improve the safety of your ride is to ensure your bike is in good working order. If your bike has been in storage a long time (even over the winter), you need to verify that brakes are working, gears are shifting and the tires are in good shape and inflated properly, etc. A good bike shop wants to develop a relationship with you, so this basic safety check should not cost you anything. If parts need replaced, however, expect to pay and remember it’s for your own safety. If you get good service, reward them with your business and nurture the relationship. If you don’t, find another shop.
- Take Action: Search online for a bike shop in your neighborhood that has good reviews; call to inquire if they will provide a bike-check service and set a date to bring it in.
Take Advantage of Local Resources. Finding easy bike routes is essential to having a positive and fun adventure but don’t waste your time figuring out where to ride – look for the resources or organizations that have already done the work for you: Bicycle advocacy organizations usually have recommended routes; bike shops have bike maps that often include route recommendations; local bike clubs may have beginner rides or routes. Take the stress out of planning by using the tools that others have already created.
- Take Action: Search for and contact your local bike advocacy group, bike shop or bike club and ask for routes and resources.
Assume the Responsibility for your own Safety. Once you have secured resources from your local bicycling organizations read up on basic safe biking practices and bicycle laws for your city and state. If you join a bike club, community ride or simply follow a more experienced bicyclist you can learn a lot about riding safely – but you must own the job of keeping yourself safe. For example, just because someone rides through an intersection, doesn’t mean it’s safe for you to roll through it. Ride at a pace that feels safe and don’t worry if you fall behind. A friend will wait for you. If you don’t feel comfortable with some portion of the route, stop and assess your options; re-route, seek assistance from another rider or transform into a pedestrian and walk until you feel comfortable to get back on the bike.
- Take Action: Make the decision before you get on the bike that you will adhere to safe biking practices, learn how to follow the laws governing bicyclists in your area and seek assistance when you feel out of your comfort zone.
Have Fun in Baby Steps. The best vacation (or visit to the in-laws) is one that ends one day too soon. In other words, make it your aim to end your bike ride early (feeling like you could ride another 30 minutes). This helps you to feel and gain a sense of mastery over your newly developing skills. Some newer bicyclists make the mistake of overdoing the first few rides and suffer for it in the hours and days that follow. This is a fast path to discouragement; and one you can easily avoid.
- Take Action: Be intentional about setting realistic and easy goals that leave you feeling proud rather than exhausted when the ride is over.
Getting back on your bike does not have to be a scary proposition. With a girlfriend beside you, a friendly bike shop behind you and a commitment to ride safely, it can be a rewarding, empowering and fun-filled experience. There is only one warning you should heed: It may be habit-forming!