Monday, April 9, 2012

Learning to Ride a Bike as an Adult

I learned to ride a bike as a 21 year old with no prior experience. Several friends of mine are looking to learn as well. I'm writing this somewhat targeted to them. Hopefully my experiences will help a bit and make the whole thing a bit less scary.

When I started out, I was pretty intimidated, but determined. It is ok to be a bit intimidated, but its important to have the attitude that you will make it happen. I think the key to learning is to keep pushing yourself slightly out of your comfort zone.

To get started out, it is certainly worth going with a patient friend to an empty (somewhat level) parking lot. I lowered the seat until I could easily touch the ground with my feet. When you get more comfortable, it is important to remember to raise up the seat. It took me a long time to be confident enough to have the seat at an appropriate height.

The goal when starting out should be gaining comfort and finding the point of balance. It is important to remember that the slower you ride, the harder it is to balance. I'd start walking the bike, then slowly trying to get a foot off of the ground and onto the pedal. For me, this was the most difficult task: having the confidence to trust the motion of the bike to carry me forward and onward. It was a great success getting both feet off the ground and onto the pedals. Once you can pedal a few revolutions, I'd recommend trying to bike in big figure 8's. That will help get a feeling for steering. Taking tight turns is frankly not super easy.

It is also more difficult to learn on a road bike, due to the way that they are set up. I found it easier to learn seated in a more upright position, and Francesca, my daily commuter is a comfort bike geared for a very upright riding position. Having beefier tires also makes it easier to learn balance. You also won't be as affected by potholes.

After you learn how to pedal comfortably for a while, and can hold a straight line fairly well, it is a good idea to get more comfortable with distances by riding on smooth quiet streets, but before you do that, read this. It is a really, really good idea to learn how to not get hit before you start riding a lot. My first ride outside of a parking lot was only a couple of miles (from Binghamton to Johnson City on quiet back roads), with my kind, patient friend, Zachary. I made an effort to ride most days after this before going on busier streets. I will post a second post about continuing to learn.

It took me a long time to get good at starting from a standstill. The best way to do this is to raise one pedal (I'm right handed, but start with my left foot, its really a matter of comfort), and push off. Starting from a stop on an upwards incline is one of the most difficult things about riding. The way to get better at this is simply to do it again and again.

This is a video from a gentleman who learned to ride at age 25. Adult learners can probably fall less than he does. Often, rather than simply put a foot down he just falls. His video illustrates the importance of learning location of brakes and controls before riding.

This is a bit more systematic approach to learning to ride. I personally don't like learning on grass, but it may work for some. Taking off the pedals can be a pain as well, as a standard 15mm wrench may or may not work to take them off.

I found both of these instructive as you can see what the process looks like. Physically it is tiring, as you are learning and getting comfortable with a totally foreign sensation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Steve's Mentality

I tend to agree with Steve of Southern Tier Bike project on many of his values. He told me one story that really clicked with me: He was visiting Portland Oregon with and elected to do a ride with a local club. Members were geared up to a ridiculous degree: top of the line bibs and jerseys, and expensive carbon fiber bikes. Steve showed with a ride that he had recovered and fixed up which was old and painted solid silver, including the chain. Steve is also notorious for his ancient ripped up jean shorts.
He had no serious issues keeping up with the group, despite his less impressive gear.

I felt a bit similar on a recent ride. I was on a bike path near my home town, and saw several individuals with $3000 carbon framed bikes, and matching jerseys and shorts. I was wearing bike shorts under ripped up corduroys and a cotton t-shirt, and was riding my immaculately tuned, though not visually gorgeous Schwinn. Yes, I may have had to work a little bit harder than them, but truthfully not much.

Part of the reason I love biking is that it is generally accessible. Southern Tier Bike Project works hard to make it even more so, by giving out rides to anyone who can use them, and also teaching basics. In a community that where a high percentage of people live below the poverty level, offering even a $100 bike for free or donation makes a big difference. Ridiculously high end gear just flies in the face of accessibility.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Purchasing my Touring Bike

Shortly after learning to ride, I knew I wanted to travel distances. Steve, who initially hooked me with my first bike sent me to an initially mysterious character named Augie. All I knew was that this gentleman lived on top of a big hill, and had a magical garage wonderland of gorgeous rides and parts, possibly including a fairly inexpensive touring bike for sale. I went with my friend Sarah who knew him.

Augie was very friendly and suggested several rides, including a gorgeous Schwinn with racks on the front and back. It fit me perfectly and he was asking 125 for it, but I talked him down to 115, for which he may still hold a grunge. Frankly, the bike is worth way more than what I paid for it. A brief Ebay search yielded one in slightly worse shape for $600.

My gorgeous Schwinn spent the next month positioned perpendicular to my bed so I could raise my head just above the pillow to admire it, and imagine the potential for fun and adventure. I was honestly completely intimidated by it. The riding position was totally different than my mountain bike. 

I've done a bit of research to try to date my bike, and have found that there are some fairly obsessive individuals out there. Linked there is a table with all components listed by year of production.

I've since become good friends with Augie, and put 1000's of miles on the Schwinn. I cracked it out recently after a long winter, and forgot how incredibly sweet it is. It is just in magnificent shape and perfectly equipped for my purposes.

I'm also planning a cross country trip a year from this summer. I will be well equipped and good to go, thanks to Augie!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Great Resource for Greater Binghamton Area

There are many great people in local government working on bicycle and pedestrian issues. If you live within the Greater Binghamton area, one person whose work you should know is Scott Reigle, with Binghamton Metropolitan Transportation Study.

One helpful service that BTMS offers is a system to take information from individuals who walk or bike, regarding specific issues. They can bring appropriate parties to the table and feasibly work out a solution. Often times a pedestrian or biking barrier (huge pothole, unplowed path) exists where various parties are responsible. An example is explored below:

One situation in need of better coordination exists over the 201 bridge between Johnson City and Vestal. The bridge is a major artery over the Susquehanna, and is utilized by many pedestrians and cyclists (including me). The roadway itself is a state road, meaning in winter, the New York State Department of Transportation is responsible for plowing snow and salting it. The situation gets interesting when exploring who is responsible for clearing and maintaining the sidewalk: The municipalities of Johnson City and Vestal are each responsible for clearing half of the sidewalk to a point over the middle of the river, which is technically where the municipalities border each other. The problem is that in the process of clearing the roads, the NYS DOT loads the sidewalk with dense snow. Each municipality needs to get out after they have plowed and clean the sidewalks. Given the real complexity of getting special sidewalk plows onto 201, with the sidewalk to be loaded shortly after with snow, and only going half way across, the sidewalk never gets cleared in winter, leaving walkers and bikers trudging through snow.

So in short, if you know of any bad spots for bikers or walkers, please get in touch with Scott. Don't expect immediate results, but having the appropriate parties be aware of situations is a step.

Scott can be reached at He is a great person to work with!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gorgeous Weather

This week has yielded phenomenal weather. I'm happy to see people cruising all around town. The habit I'm trying to get into is taking my road bike to work, then going for nice rides after work. The hills of Vestal are superb to train on.
Remember to inflate your tires well and go for a nice long ride today!!
Isaac out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Learning to Ride

I'm dedicating this post to individuals who don't know how to ride a bike but want to learn. It is possible and it will be a good decision! It will take some pushing out of your comfort zone, but is so amazingly worth it!

I've made it my New Year's resolution for the past 3-4 years (since about age 18 or 20) to learn how to ride a bike, but I finally took action by getting hold of Southern Tier Bike Project, approximately in May of 2011. Gary, who runs the website referred me to Steve. Steve was very friendly when he met me, and offered a 15 speed blue Pacific mountain bike. He saw how poor of a rider I was (I couldn't pedal one revolution without stopping and, and offered to walk to a nearby parking lot to practice and do some figure eights. We spent a solid hour and a half in this lot.

That night, I again lost sleep about how much fun I would be having in the future.

My first commute was with people who were significantly stronger bikers than I was (not that it would have taken much). They were fearless of traffic and were moving what felt very fast. The first week of commuting was very scary. My comfort zone was pushed to its maximum and then some. I had a few close calls with curbs and nearly skidded out while turning. I think that the only way to really get a full appreciation for riding.

One of my fondest memories of learning to ride occurred at 4 am on a weekend morning. I had enjoyed a relaxing evening with friends and elected to go for a ride over to Johnson City (under 4 miles roundtrip). The joy of rushing down hills with minimal traffic in the cool summer breeze was really fantastic!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bike Give Away

I'm going to take this moment to publicize a very special event: A group of individuals partner yearly with Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church to give away bicycles to those in need.  They give away several hundred bikes. They will happily accept any and all donations, no matter the condition (though obviously better condition would be preferable). The group will find useful parts from any bike though. To drop off a bike:
"Bikes can be dropped off in the parking lot of the church between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, Tuesdays until 6:30 p.m. and Sunday mornings. "Drop the bike and ring the bell," Cardin said. If a tax receipt is requested, bike donors are asked to wrap their information around the handle bar."
To request a bike: "For more information or sign up forms, contact: Patricia Cardin, (607) 797-3938, Ext. 113, or send an e-mail message to:"
A bike safety clinic is held each year as part of the giveaway. This year’s activity will take place on Saturday, May 12 , from 1 to 4 p.m. in the UHS parking lot adjacent to Sarah Jane Johnson Church.  To receive a bike, a youth must be referred in advance of the giveaway, take part in all safety aspects of the day, and agree to wear a helmet while riding the bike.
I also have no problem accepting bike donations personally. Comment on this post to arrange a pickup!

Update: 3/21 Press Connects article