o you’ve got that great job you’ve always wanted, a city apartment overlooking a river, and a dog you take for walks every morning. But somewhere between the innocent age of seven and the impulsivity of your 20s, you never learned how to ride a bike. To many, riding a bike may seem like a rite of passage that comes with growing up, but according to a 2015 survey conducted by Breakaway Research Group, about 12 percent of Americans aged 18 years and older have never ridden a bike before.

Biking may be a skill people often learn during childhood, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to start. Yes, they give the “never too late” spiel about a lot of things these days, but with biking this is actually the case. Here are some concrete steps you can take to go from never touching a bike before to ruler of the road. Ok, even if you realize that you don’t like biking, at least you won’t have FOMO every time you look out your living room window on a clear and sunny day and see cyclists cruising down the sidewalk. At the very minimum, learning how to bike is a fun adventure, one that you can pass onto your kids one day. 

Overcome your hesitations

Man on a yellow bike getting ready to push off the ground and pedal.
The first step when it comes to learning how to ride a bike is deciding to learn how to ride a bike. Doing this may mean having to overcome some of your fears. Image courtesy of Engadget.

There’s always a reason to not do something. Maybe you’re afraid of riding a bike because you don’t want to fall on the ground. Or, maybe you keep finding ways to push off learning how to bike by doing other things instead. If you’re afraid of riding a bike, don’t worry--you’re not alone. It makes sense to be hesitant to do something you’ve never done before, especially when that thing means scraping your knee on asphalt. The first step to riding a bike is convincing yourself to try doing it--that in itself is a feat, and these steps will help you get there.

Find a friend

Three young women riding bikes down a street.
Recruiting a friend to help you learn how to ride a bike will make the experience easier as well as more enjoyable. Image courtesy of Concordia College.

Like any new adventure, learning to ride a bike can be more fun alongside a friend. If you know someone who also doesn’t know how to ride a bike, the two of you can make a pact to help each other learn Or, recruiting a friend with some experience—perhaps someone you know who likes to bike to the bagel store on weekends--can be especially helpful if you’re nervous or self-conscious about biking for the first time. 

A friend with biking experience can also provide their insight when it comes to buying a new bike  (although fret not, store employees will certainly help you out when it comes to figuring out which bike best suits your needs and interests).  While this certainly isn’t a necessary step to learning how to ride a bike for the first time, recruiting someone who knows a little bit about your personality and learning style--whether they're a pro cyclist or a beginner--can help you better navigate your new biking adventure.

Buy a pretty bike (and helmet)

An assortment of colorful bikes on shelves in a bike shop.
If you’re going to buy a bike, make sure it fits your personality and aesthetic. You’ll be more encouraged to ride your bike if it’s pretty to look at. Image courtesy of Marty’s Reliable Cycle.

If you want to ride a bike, you’re going to need...well, a bike. But which one? Like anything that money can buy, there are cheap found-it-on-Facebook-Marketplace options and $5,000 dollar options. If you’re really feeling in the thrifting spirit, you can spend some time sifting through people’s bulk trash or looking for used bikes at tag sales. Although, be honest with yourself, doing this would probably just be a way to procrastinate from facing your biking nerves.

There are a few different types of bikes you’re going to need to choose from, most of which . Think about the type of biking you want to do down the line. Do you want to race? Casually ride? Explore trails? Bikes are made with different uses and surfaces in mind, so if you plan to keep biking after learning the basics, thinking about these questions now will save you money in the future. 

Bike shops will allow you to test out the bike before buying it. As someone who has never ridden before, this may be a little nerve-racking. Even if you don’t want to ride the bike at the bike shop, store employees can help you make sure you are buying the right size bike that fits your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help!

If you prefer not to buy your own bike, consider borrowing one from a friend or renting one. Although, buying a bike will allow you to pick out one that is the proper size and fits your aesthetic. After all, buying something that looks pretty will make you more likely to want to take it out of your garage and give it a spin. 

Go to that perfect starting space

A man riding a bike in a parking lot.
Parking lots and other flat open spaces are a perfect area to try out your new bike for the first time. Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.

Once you have your bike, you’re going to need...a place to bike! For the first few times you hop on your bike, consider going to an open and flat area where the surface is fairly smooth. This will limit the number of obstacles and allow you to focus more on the mechanics of biking. Consider finding an empty parking lot or paved area in a park. The bigger the area, the more room you will have to make turns, which will make it easier to maintain your balance and stay on your bike. If you’re concerned about dealing with foot traffic or parked cars, consider going to a shopping center or one of the aforementioned areas during off hours. This will allow you to have ample space while also creating a low pressure environment to get comfortable on your bike. 

 Get familiar with your new bike

A graphic that shows the different parts of a bike.
Once you have your bike, take some time getting to know its different parts and features. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Before you begin to ride, you’re going to want to check the following things:

  1. Seat height: If the seat on your bike is too high or too low, riding your bike will be uncomfortable and very difficult. The seat is at an optimal height if, when sitting on the bike, your knee is slightly extended when the pedal is at the lowest point in its rotation. 
  2. Brakes: If you want to learn how to bike, you’re also going to want to know how to stop. Find the brake levers that extend from the handlebars and make sure the wheels stop turning when you press down on them. 
  3. Gears: Not all bikes have gears, but make sure you’re familiar with them before you start riding. Ultimately, gears help a biker maintain an optimal speed regardless of the terrain’s incline or type. While using gears strategically mainly comes into play when riding up and down hilly roads, you want to make sure you’re not in too high of a gear before learning how to ride your bike. If you are, pedaling may seem unusually difficult.
  4. Kickstand: Kickstands can be a helpful way to make sure the bike can stand up on its own without tipping over. Make sure your kickstand is up before you start riding!

Learn the biking basics

A closeup of a man holding the handle bars of a bike.
Once you’re familiar with your bike, it’s time to learn the basic steps to getting your feet off the ground. Image courtesy of Bikerumor.

Now that you’ve gotten to know your bike a little bit, it’s time to ride! Here are the steps to follow when riding for the first time:

  1. Hop on the bike: With one hand on the seat and the other on the handles, tilt your bike toward you. This will make it easier for you to swing one leg over the bike and to hop on.
  2. Make sure your hands are on the brakes: You should already be familiar with where the breaks are after you’ve gotten to know your bike a little bit, but practice pressing down on the breaks a little bit. When riding, keeping your hands over them loosely will prepare you to stop quickly
  3. Find your balance: Before you start pedaling, you will want to get a feel for what it’s like to balance yourself on a bike. Hoist yourself up on the bike seat, let go of the breaks, and push off the ground with your feet. You don’t need to peddle just yet, instead try to glide by using your feet to give you bursts of momentum when needed and then lifting them off the ground so the bike can balance itself. Keep the bike as straight as possible when moving forward, making slight adjustments when necessary. It’s natural to wobble at this stage, just go as far as you can before you need to put your feet down on the ground.
  4. Begin to pedal: Once you can keep the bike going in a straight line, it’s time to start pedaling. Adjust one pedal so it sits halfway between the lowest and highest point of its rotation. When you’re ready, lift one foot off the ground and push down on the pedal. Lift your other foot off the ground at the same time and rest it on the other pedal. This first step can be a little tricky, especially since it requires quick coordination between your feet and the pedals. It’s not uncommon for the front wheel to wobble a lot during this first step, but don’t worry about it. Once your second foot is on the other pedal, begin to cycle clockwise immediately. This will propel you forward, and make it easier for you to regain your balance in a few seconds. 

Practice, practice, practice

A person wearing a helmet riding down a street on a street.
The only way to get better at biking is to practice. Once you do it over and over again, you’ll no longer be a beginner. Image courtesy of Mapmyrunblog.

Once you’ve been able to successfully put both feet on the pedals and start cycling--even if it only lasts for a few seconds--it’s time to repeat the process over again. Yup, practice, practice, and more practice. It’s the only way to really learn how to ride a bike and move from rookie to racer status. 

Make your way to the bike path

A group of people riding on a bike path.
Once you’ve learned how to ride your bike, say goodbye to the parking lot and hello to the bike path. Image courtesy of Quincycles.

Now that you’ve become pretty comfortable on your bike it’s time to hit the (bikers’) road! The bike path, filled with rollerbladers and kids on tricycles on the weekends, maybe be a little daunting, but face it, the parking lot will only take you so far. Meant for families and casual riding, most bike paths are pretty flat and beginner-friendly. Just make sure to follow proper bike path etiquette, like staying on the right side of the road and making riders in front of you aware of your presence before you pass them. 

Biking is a great form of physical activity, not only does it allow you to get out of the house and explore somewhere new, it can also be a great way to socialize with others and enjoy spectacular weather. It doesn’t matter how old you are--it’s never too late to learn how to ride a bike and change the way you navigate through the world. The best thing about riding a bike is that it’s like riding a bike--once you know how to do it, you won’t ever forget how.

Mar 3, 2021