When we do something day in and day out, it’s easy to overlook the obvious. As bicycle people, we often forget that bicycle tires can be a total mystery, and quite an intimidating one, to non-bicycle people. Which is a lot of people, because, despite what you might observe on Milwaukee Ave. on a weekday morning, “bicycle people” comprise only a very tiny percentage of the US population. Tiny, as in less than 1%, by some counts. And the only known source of new bicycle people, ie. the only way to grow bike culture, ridership, acceptance, and -- yes -- the bicycle business, is non-bicycle people.
Since non-bicycle people sounds a bit awkward, I'll shorten it a bit, and just call them "people". So, people, many people in fact, are quite unfamiliar with, and therefore somewhat intimidated by even some basic aspects of the bicycle and bicycle riding.
One of our goals at Cosmic Bikes is to help more people become comfortable using a bike as part of their lifestyle, and therefore, we'd like to help people overcome the 5 Basic Obstacles to Riding a Bike:
- Flat tires.
Bicycle tires encase rubber inner tubes. Just like a party balloon that's been left to hang around for a few days, these inner tubes lose air over time. If your bike has been sitting there for some time, the tires are most likely flat, but probably do not need to be repaired. All they need is a little air. Click here for details.
- Can't carry stuff.
The #1 simplest solution is a backpack. You have one in your house. Your family member has one. If you positively don't have one, you can pick one up at any thrift store for next to nothing, or for a little more at any department store. Problem solved. If you want more sophisticated solutions, I will be covering them shortly.
- Challenges of route and traffic.
As with most things, if you are just starting out on your bike, go easy. You don't have to launch yourself onto Elston Ave. on your first try. Do a couple local trips using neighborhood streets, and plan your street crossings where you know there is a signal or stop sign. Familiarize yourself with the handling of your bike on some shorter, low-key trips before you venture further. Use smaller streets, even if it adds a little distance to your route.
- Not knowing how to lock the bike.
If you haven't already, go to your local bike store, and purchase a U-Lock and a solid cable (10mm diameter). Take your bike home, and practice putting the cable through the front wheel, looping the ends through the U-Lock, and locking the U-lock through the bike frame and rear wheel to a solid post. This will take a little practice, as U-Locks can be a little temperamental, cable locks can be stiff, the bike wants to fall over, and the solid post is never exactly where you need it to be. And you are nervous. That's why I recommend practicing before going live. (Read more here about locking strategy, and why I recommend a U-Lock/cable combination to many riders.)
- Fear of the Unknown.
What if I get a flat? What if it rains? What if the chain comes off, and I can't get it back on? What if I fall? What if it gets dark? These are extremely important questions to consider, and unless you have prepared yourself mentally for facing these potential challenges, you will not be comfortable riding your bike. 90% of these problems can be averted with good prevention: flats with good, puncture-resistant tires; getting wet with quality outerwear; etc. Whenever you venture out, carry a cell phone and some cash, in case you need to bail. True confidence is built over time by acquiring skills and experience necessary to help you get back up and keep moving after a setback.
As your riding becomes more regular, you will become more familiar with this mode of travel, and much more at ease. Chances are, you will interact with other people who bike, perhaps build a relationship with a friendly bike store, and benefit from their experience.
In the meantime, I will be going over these basics in considerable detail. If the details I include here are not enough and you are a Chicagoan, come into Cosmic Bikes for some hands-on assistance (or another helpful bike store if you live someplace else).
Once you have these basics covered, you will be a bicycle person, and nothing can stop you.