This summer, why not try to take up biking?  Riding your bike is not only a fun way to exercise, but also an opportunity to experience more freedom as you go farther and faster on the road.  And, it is an environmentally-friendly alternative to driving.  In this post, we will cover some of the basics of beginning to bike.

Pick the Right Bike

There are many types of bicycles available for you to choose from.  The two main categories you may be interested in are road bikes and mountain bikes.  Road bikes are lighter with narrow tires, and they are designed to be ridden on paved surfaces like bike trails or, of course, the road.  Mountain bikes are sturdier with wider tires, and they are used on dirt pathways, such as on trails in certain state or county parks.  There are many sub-categories of both types of bikes.  You will want to choose one based on how you intend to use it.  Will you ride long distances?  Are you using the bike primarily to exercise or to commute to school or work?  Do you need your bike to be able to carry heavier loads if you are commuting?  You can ask at your local bike shop if you need recommendations.

If you are planning to use your bike at the skate park or to do tricks, you will want to look into acquiring a park bike or BMX bike.

Check out Bicycling: A Reintroduction by Karen Ruth and Cyclecraft by John Franklin for more information on choosing a bike.

Find the Right Fit

When choosing a bike, you need to consider not only how you will use it and how much you are willing to pay, but also how it fits your body type.  What you find comfortable will depend on your height and inseam length.  See if you are able to test ride a book before you commit to purchasing.  Adjust the saddle height so your leg is stretched out when the pedal is at its lowest point.  You should have a slight bend in the knee when riding.  Then make sure your handlebars are at a comfortable distance.  Your elbows should have a slight bend, as well.  If you are not sure how to fit your bike, you can ask at your local bike shop.

Assemble Your Equipment

Once you have your bike, you may be eager to hit the open road.  Before setting out however, you will want to make sure you have all you need to ride safely.  You should have a helmet, appropriate athletic clothes and shoes, a bike lock, bike lights for visibility, water to stay hydrated, and a bike repair kit.  You don’t want to be stuck somewhere with no way to repair a hole in your tire!

Check out Bicycle! by Sam Tracy to learn how to repair and maintain your bike.

Follow the Rules of the Road

While on your bike, you need to obey the rules of the road for your own safety as well as that of others.  You should follow all traffic rules just as if you were in a car–so you need to stop at stop signs and red lights, and you need to yield to cars when appropriate.  Keep in mind that some drivers may not be looking for cyclists and so disobeying a traffic rule could end very badly.  Even if you are obeying the law, double check to make sure that the cars around you are yielding to you when they are supposed to.  Make eye contact with drivers if possible and do not assume they will give you the right of way.

You should ride on the shoulder of the road when possible.  If there is no shoulder, stay as far right as you can so drivers have more room to pass–but leave enough room for yourself so you can swerve to avoid any obstacles in the road.  There will be times when you need to ride in the middle of a lane because it is safer.  For example, if you are turning left, you will need to get into the left turn lane.  Or, if the road you are on suddenly has a right turn lane, you may need to move over to continue going straight.  You might also need to use a full lane if there is not enough room on a road for a car to pass you safely.

You should learn basic bike signals to alert others of your movements.  Point to the right with your right arm to signal a right turn and to the left with your left arm to signal a left turn.  To signal a stop, hold your left arm out with the elbow bent down and your palm facing behind you.  Give adequate time when signalling to allow drivers or other cyclists to react.

If passing someone else, shout out, “Passing on your left!”  If you are in a group, include the number with you.  For example, “Three bikes on your left!”  If in a group, ride single file rather than next to each other, so cars can safely pass you.

If you are riding your mountain bike on a trail, you first need to check that bikes are allowed on the trail.  You should yield to hikers and to horses.  If coming up to another group from behind, shout out that you will be passing on the left and tell the group how many are in your party, so they do not move back into the middle of the trail before everyone in your group has passed.

Check out The Urban Cycling Survival Guide by Yvonne Bambrick for tips on riding on the road and Cyclecraft by John Franklin for advice on riding with traffic and riding while carrying children or goods.

Where to Bike

Before you set out, you should map out your intended route.  If biking in the city, you should try to choose wide roads with shoulders.  If you would rather stay off the road and away from cars, Charles County’s Indian Head Rail Trail features 13 miles of pathway for you to bike.  No matter where you choose, be aware of your limits and how many miles you can reasonably expect to bike and still return home.

Check out Rail Trails: Mid-Atlantic for a guide to various trails including uses, lengths, and historical points of interest.

Maintaining and Repairing Your Bike

Maintaining your bike can help it last longer before it needs repairs.  Even if you are not mechanically-minded, you should oil your bike chain regularly and check the tire pressure.  You should own a bike pump so you can add air to your tires when necessary.  Also clean your bike from dirt periodically and dry it off if it gets caught in the rain.

If you wish to repair your own bike, there are many resources available, both in the library and online through video tutorials. However, it is also perfectly acceptable to bring your bicycle to a bike shop if you are not sure what is wrong or how to fix it.

Check out Bicycling: A Reintroduction by Karen Ruth, Bicycle! by Sam Tracy and Just Ride by Grant Petersen for more information on bike maintenance.


Biking can be a rewarding form of travel that gives you the ability to go farther than if you were walking and to be more environmentally-conscious than if you were driving.  It’s good for you, too!  So if you have a bike that you haven’t used for awhile, take it for a spin.  You might be surprised at how fun bike riding can be!