August22012

How to Become an Urban Cyclist

You were never into riding as a kid. Perhaps you had experienced a traumatic accident, taking off the training wheels too early, only to recover your nerve five years after. You only ride in summer, to nature’s sweet spots in your hometown: a tall waterfall, expansive cornfields bordering a winding rural road, or secret paths through wooded trails. You had thought of it as a leisure activity that allowed you to explore places you could not go by car, and too far to go on foot. Even in a forest of asphalt and concrete, the unique mobility of cycling can lead you to new places.

1. Find friends who already do it. It’s always easier to get into something when you have a friend who’s already into it. Maybe you don’t know they use bicycles for transportation at first. Maybe you just think they’re cool, and secretly admire them for the way their coolness comes off effortlessly, emulating them when you can—sometimes conscious of it, sometimes not. Observe how they love it, ask them why they choose cycling over the T. Think, subconsciously, that this is a way you can be cool like them.

2. Do it because you want to. Never do it because it’s cool—your heart will not be in it, and urban cycling must be undertaken wholeheartedly. You like the idea because it’s a great way to incorporate exercise into your day, and you miss the gust of wind on your face as you accelerate downhill. You never liked public transportation, anyway: how you squashed up against strangers at rush hour, the frustrating delays on the green line, the inconvenient one a.m. curfew. And it’s good for the environment, too.

3. Get some wheels. Ask for advice from your friends, and research your perfect bike: it’s as important as finding the right car. If you want a light weight, go for the road bike; but if you prefer durability, a hybrid may be more your speed. Browse Craigslist and do some comparison shopping; bring your biker friend when you make your final choice, if you want another opinion. Your new ride may feel strange at first—much larger than the one back home—but like new shoes, it will suit you in no time.

4. Buy a bike lock—better yet, buy two. Bicycle thieves are everywhere, and no place is truly safe. It could happen to anyone, and it has already happened to some of your friends. Try not to worry too much—but write down the serial number, just in case.

5. Overcome your fear of fatal crashes by taking precautions. Wear a helmet, even if it looks dorky. Always be alert. If you ride at night, wear reflective clothing or accessories and lights. You can never have too many lights. Start out by taking detours through city parks and low-traffic streets at a slow pace. Don’t get annoyed by the fluorescent speedsters that pass you by. And certainly don’t be ashamed of your street clothes: if they’re comfortable, they are as good as any spandex.

The easiest way to get used to it is to just go out there and ride. Begin with shorter trips, and once you’ve gotten your bike legs (literal and figurative), go out farther. Ride up hills at your own pace, even if motorists honk as they pass. Don’t overexert yourself. In time, the two-mile ride to work will feel like nothing at all.

6. Always be courteous. If a passing motorist gets mad and says you don’t belong there, say calmly that you have a right to the road. The occasional rude encounter might leave you muttering expletives until you reach your destination, but road rage won’t end motorist hostility.

7. Follow the rules of the road, and there will be fewer motorist mishaps. However, if the light is red, and the streets are clearly deserted, it’s OK to go. We all do it sometimes.

8. Love your bicycle. Protect it from the rain with shade or plastic bags, remove any rust that accumulates, take it in for a tune-up every six months or so. If you wish, dress it up with a basket or reflective paint. If you plan on riding throughout the cold and snowy New England winter, prepare ahead. If you take care, you and your bike may be riding together for a long, long time.

And it always helps to have a sense of adventure when you ride. You never know what you’ll find at the end of a wrong turn.

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