Learning to ride a bike as an adult can be a great hobby that you can enjoy alone or with friends and family. Bicycle riding is low-impact and is a great way for you to get exercise as well as get around town. In fact, with a properly fitted and equipped bicycle, learning to ride a bike as an adult can turn into your primary form of transportation.
Most adults who are interested in cycling but have not yet learned how to ride are often afraid of looking foolish – or just afraid. They may be embarrassed of what people might think. They often criticize themselves by asking, “Why am I learning to ride a bike as an adult? Why didn’t I do this sooner?” Others are afraid of falling over or crashing into something. If you’re interested in bicycling as a hobby, regardless of the reasons you haven’t learned thus far, learning to ride a bike as an adult doesn’t have to be difficult or risky.
German Baron Karl von Drais invented the “running machine” in 1817. In the first test, he rode eight miles in just under an hour. Made out of wood, the bicycle weighed 48 pounds, had iron shod wheels, no pedals, and was balanced by a 6-inch chain trailing off the front wheel. Over two thousand of his bicycles were sold in Western Europe and in the United States during the early 19th century. Early bicycling popularity faded somewhat, however, when some cities prohibited bicycling due to the risk of accidents.
Despite some early setbacks, bicycling regained popularity as continued innovations made bicycles more efficient, safer and easier to ride. Learning to ride a bike as an adult became a popular pastime as well as a relatively inexpensive mode of transportation. Bicycling became so popular in the late 19th century that bicyclists established the League of American Wheelman (now known as the League of American Bicyclists). The League advocated better roads for bicycling and their efforts led the way to today’s modern highway system.
While many consider bicycle riding as an activity for kids, it wasn’t until just after World War I that bicycle manufacturers started to produce bicycles that appealed to a younger crowd. Today, young and old alike enjoy bicycling so there’s no reason for not learning to ride a bike as an adult.
Bicycling Fun Facts
- Until 1869, bicycle tires were primarily made of iron making for a very bumpy ride!
- According to the League of American Bicyclists, riding a bicycle for just three hours per week can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by 50%.
- According to a 2001 survey by the Federal Highway Administration, 40% of all trips in America are less than two miles. 74% of these trips are made by car. How many short trips do you make in a week where you could ride your bike instead?
- In 2010, Vincent Cox set a world record by riding his bicycle around the world in 163 days. His journey covered over 36,000 miles, around 18,000 of which he rode on his bicycle.
Getting Started With Bicycling
The first step in learning to ride a bike as an adult is to find a bicycle to ride and someone who can teach you. If you’ve never ridden before, it makes sense to try and borrow a bicycle as you learn to ride. This way, you’re not out a lot of money in the unlikely event that you don’t enjoy bicycling.
If and when you decide to buy a bicycle, there are essentially four different types. These include the cruiser, road bike, mountain bike and the cross bike.
- A cruiser bicycle offers a relaxed, upright riding position and is ideal for shorter trips around town or through the park. With fat tires and a large seat, the cruiser offers a comfortable ride. Cruisers generally have only a couple of gears (or only one) and are very easy to operate and maintain – perfect when you’re learning to ride a bike as adult.
- A road or racing bike has drop handlebars and skinny high-pressure tires. A road bike is best for riding longer distances on smooth, paved roads. The riding posture is much more aggressive than on a cruiser and does not offer the same comfort. However, a road bike can cover greater distances at a faster pace than the cruiser model.
- A mountain bike has flat handlebars and wide low-pressure tires with big rubbery knobs. You can ride a mountain bike pretty much anywhere but its design is primarily geared for riding on dirt paths. The mountain bike has a more upright riding style than the road bike.
- A cross bike is a hybrid style that combines features from both road and mountain bikes. While not the same casual riding posture as a cruiser, cross bikes offer a fairly upright riding style that is popular with many recreational riders and commuters. While the cross bike does best on paved routes, you can also ride on smooth dirt paths.
Bicycle costs vary considerably based on model, brand and features. You can find a good, entry-level cruiser for under $200. Road, mountain and cross bikes typically cost more and can range anywhere from $300 to over $1,000.
In addition to your bicycle, you may also want to budget for the following:
- Front and rear lights
- Portable tire pump
- Repair kit (for flat tires and other basic maintenance)
- Bike lock
Steps For Learning How To Ride A Bike As An Adult
Put on your helmet and check the fit of the bike. When seated, your feet should easily touch the pedals with a slight bend in the knee when the pedal is closest to the ground (have a friend hold the bike while you’re on it to check). Adjust the seat as needed.
Please note, if you’re just getting started, keep the seat as low as possible so your feet can touch the ground while seated.
Review the basic operation of the bike, especially the brakes. If your bicycle has two brakes (front and rear), you should gently squeeze both brake levers simultaneously. If you’re going fast and squeeze only the front brake, your bike (and you) can flip over.
Visualize your route. If possible, start to learn how to ride on a paved path in a park. A park often has fewer distractions to worry about. Start your training rides at just a few yards and slowly increase the length of your rides as you become more comfortable.
If you can do so without banging your feet and ankles against the pedals, try pushing yourself around with your feet to get the feel of the bike. You may need to lower the seat for this. The primary fear that new bicyclists have is that they will just “fall over”. This activity can help you overcome this fear as bicycle riding physics kick in.
Once you’re more comfortable with the feeling of the bicycle, it’s time to try and ride. Again, start with very short distances. If your bicycle has gears, make sure it’s in a lower gear to make it easier to pedal. As you start riding, push down on the pedals with your left foot, then your right foot and so on. Don’t be afraid to pick up speed – the speed is what prevents you from tipping over.
Gradually add distance to your training rides and start to introduce curves and hills. Take things slowly, however. Make sure you’re comfortable with bicycle riding basics before you try any large hills or sharp curves. If your bike as gears, you’ll also want to start practicing shifting gears at this time.
Bicycling Tips And Tricks
The following tips and tricks can help you as you’re learning to ride a bike as an adult…
- Try riding a stationary bicycle to get the feeling of the pedals. While you won’t learn how to balance on a stationary bike, you can at least gain confidence with your pedaling.
- Avoid riding your bicycle on sidewalks. In addition to being against the law in many areas, sidewalks often pose many potentially dangerous and distracting obstacles.
- Where you look is often where your bike wants to go. If there’s a pothole or some other obstacle upcoming, focus your sight on the safe route, not on the obstruction.
- When riding at dusk or dawn, make sure to wear light (or reflective) clothing and use both a front headlamp as well as a rear flashing light.
- A little TLC goes a long way. Take care of your bicycle by regularly applying oil to the chain and routinely inspect spokes, cables and brakes.
Growing Your Bicycle Riding Hobby
After you’ve mastered the basics of bicycle riding and are interested in trying new things, consider some of the following…
- Upgrade or buy a new bicycle with more advanced features and capabilities.
- Look for charitable bike-a-thon rides. These rides are a great way to give back to those in need while meeting other bicycle enthusiasts.
- Join a local bicycle club. Before you do so, make sure you know the club’s general riding level. You don’t want to join an advanced riding club if you’re still learning to ride.
- If possible, try commuting to your job on your bike. This is a great way to reduce stress and get some exercise as part of your everyday routine.
Related Bicycle Resources
Check out the following sites for more information about learning to ride a bike as an adult…
League of American Bicyclists – Organization that works to improve the quality of bicycling in America.
Bicycling Magazine – Popular magazine that features bikes, bike gear, equipment reviews, bike maintenance tips and more.
Adventure Cycling Association – Organization whose mission is to inspire people of all ages to travel by bicycle.
Related YouTube Videos
Check out the following videos to learn even more about starting this hobby.