Want to ride your bike more? Here are some tips for the casual cyclist

Biking on the Bloomingdale Trail. Photo: John Greenfield
Biking on the Bloomingdale Trail. Photo: John Greenfield

My friend was recently lamenting to me that she hasn’t gotten on her bike in a while and wants to before it gets cold. However, she doesn’t have the motivation to do it. I was inspired by our conversation to brainstorm ways to help people bike when they’re not in the habit of doing so. Here are some steps I came up with.

  • Talk about it: I’m a firm believer that we speak our desires into existence. If my friend hadn’t messaged me, we wouldn’t have chatted more about how to help her start biking more often. Even if you don’t have a person who bikes regularly in your circle, it’s helpful to talk about your desires with someone, even if it seems silly at first.
  • Develop a plan: When I asked my friend a bit more about why she didn’t bike, she said that it wasn’t that she was scared, but it was more of an issue of not finding the time. Biking isn’t a casual activity for everyone, particularly if your neighborhood isn’t bike-friendly. When this is the case, planning ahead and developing personal goals is key. You can make goals that work for you, such as going to the park on your bike on a Saturday or casually cruising around your street one day after work. If the desire is there, it’s important to evaluate your schedule for when a bike ride can take place. I’ve been downtown a lot more in the past few months and I often take the train. Knowing this, I plan ahead to be able to take bike rides after dinner some nights. (Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone.) Ask yourself, “What works for me?”
  • Know safe street infrastructure: Before you ride, it’s important to have a plan for the route you’re going to take, particularly if you’re not a regular bike rider. As someone who rides regularly, I know what streets to avoid and which ones will feel safer. Sometimes you instinctually know which streets are safer based on living somewhere, but if you are venturing out it may be helpful to take a look at a bike map. The Chicago Department of Transportation’s Chicago Bike Map is available online, and you can get free paper copies at bike shops, and you can also check out the Chicago Reader’s Mellow Chicago Bike Map. (The MCBM currently covers the area bounded by Devon, Cicero, 95th and the lake, but it will be expanded citywide later this year. -JG)
  • Check the weather: This one is pretty self-explanatory. There is nothing worse than going on a ride and getting caught in a downpour (unless you’re into that!). If you’re a casual rider, it’s good to pick a pleasant day and time. Pleasant for me means evening rides after sunset on a moderately warm day. We can’t always have it all, though, but we can try.
  • Invite a friend: There is a reason people organize group rides. It’s often easier as a casual rider to get out and do it when there are other people coming along. It can make the experience more fun and motivating. If you’re not as much a solo rider, think about who you can invite along.
  • Gather your gear: Some people are higher-maintenance bike riders or you may be someone who just hops on. I like to ride in shorts and also a short-sleeve shirt, at least in the summer. In addition to my helmet and bike lights, my my Bluetooth speaker is a must for providing a soundtrack when I ride. I try to pump air into my tires fairly regularly — look at the side of the tire for the recommended air pressure. Think about what you need to feel safe and comfortable when you’re going out to ride.

Biking doesn’t have to be an intimidating activity and it doesn’t need to be relegated to commuting. You can be a bike-rider in your own casual way and enjoy the benefits of biking. The first step is simply having the desire to do so.

  • Joe Klonowski

    Great to hear that MCBM map is expanding — was just looking at it last weekend and was bummed that it stopped at 95th.

  • Carter O’Brien

    100% in agreement on the “gather your gear.” I’d go with the same in sight-in mind principle a music teacher told me many years ago, which was “If you want to get good at guitar, just put one on a stand right in front of your television.”

  • skelter weeks

    Couldn’t ride her bike because it was ‘an issue of not finding the time’. You had time to hop in your car to get take out. Next time, ride your bike there. 28% of trips are one mile or less. Take your bike. You know the local streets. The more you bike, the easier it gets. Then you can try biking on streets with more cars, and at longer distances.

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