How to Start an Urban Biking Lifestyle

As we near the end of National Bike Month, we hope everyone has gotten a chance to enjoy the joys of zipping through the city atop a two-wheeler. Biking is a wonderful way to get around town day-to-day, and Tim from Streets of San Francisco gives his tips on how to start out with biking! If you have more burning questions for him, you can meet him at our guide meetup next week! 

by Tim McLaughlin

So, you want to ride a bike around your city, but you’re a bit apprehensive? Well fret no more, my friends, there’s a method to the madness. Urban cycling is easier—and safer—than it may at first appear. Here are a few tips to get you started on becoming the confident, joyous, and safe commuter you’ve always dreamed of.

Step 1: Realize there’s help and breathe a sigh of relief.

Your first step should be to research your local bike coalition. Most cities have them, and they typically offer courses (both in the classroom and on the street) on bike safety. These classes tend to be excellent and totally welcoming. So go ahead, ask that silly question you held back from your bike-y friends. It’s OK!*

Step 2: Practice!

You’ve learned some rules of the road, and now it’s time to put them into practice. If you’ve signed up for a bike safety course, you’re well on your way. But what if classes aren’t available to you? No problem. There are excellent practice areas somewhere in your city. For example, in San Francisco, these would include Golden Gate Park, along the Embarcadero (waterfront), or the quiet neighborhoods out by the beach. After you’ve gained a touch of experience, go on a guided bike tour of your city (if they exist). A guided tour allows you to learn the next level of safety while learning the best routes through your city. And you’ll learn some really cool stuff about your very own city (I guarantee!)**.

Step 3: Buy a bike

There is no magic formula to buying the perfect urban cruiser, so here are some folks to enlist in your search: (1) your bike-y friends, especially the ones that wear those goofy cycling caps and keep their pant legs rolled up at parties***. (2) Your friends who are also bicycle-curious. They’re doing their homework, too. Take advantage! (3) Your local bike shop. Find one that your friends trust and perform this simple test: Walk in and explain your situation. If the shop attendant gives you any attitude at all, turn around and leave. Find a shop where the folks are friendly, smile, and are totally non judgmental when they find you’re not all that into Italian-designed derailleurs from the early ‘70s.

New or used? If you want to actually adhere to your meager budget, a used bike is an excellent choice: it’s cheaper, less attractive to bike thieves, and probably has some rusty, scratchy character you can be proud of. Just make sure that your “new” used bike fits! If possible, bring a friend who understands bike sizing and can recognize a good value.

But wait, what kind of bike should you buy? For city riding, you want to keep an upright posture so it’s easier to see your surroundings. Hybrid bikes will certainly do the trick, but if you’d like a bit more style, look into the “European-style” city bikes that have have become so popular as of late (at least in the States, that is). Good city bike brands include Public, Linus, and Globe.

Step 4: Protect yourself

Folks, unless you are living in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or a quiet Japanese village, you will need to wear a helmet. I totally understand that helmets lead to helmet head. Lucky for you, with urban cycling so en vogue these days, helmet head is quite simply all the rage. You may want to even accentuate it before that important presentation. Seriously, wear a helmet. Get one with a pink stars or a skull n crossbones on it. Own it!

Step 5: Protect your bike

Unfortunately, in most cities, bike theft is rampant. To deter your new love (or its parts) from getting stolen, you need a beefy u-lock and cable. Your newly formed friends at your local bike shop can help you get set up with all of this. Just be prepared for the sticker shock.

So, there it is, folks. Five steps to becoming a happy urban cyclist. I’ll leave you with this: remember how fun it was to ride a bike around your neighborhood as a kid? Yep, it’s still that fun!

* And don’t forget to become a member of your local bike coalition : )

** I co-own a bike tour company and this might be a blatant industry plug. Yep, pretty sure it is.

*** I keep my pant legs rolled up at parties.

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