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Beginner’s Luck: New to Cycling? Start With These 3 Tips

The gear and training knowledge required to make it from T1 to T2 can feel overwhelming.

The gear and training knowledge required to make it from T1 to T2 can feel overwhelming. “Beginner’s Luck” columnist Meredith Atwood provides three tips that will help you simplify the process. 

Some folks balk at the sport of triathlon because of the swim—either they don’t know how to swim, the “group” swimming in a race is a no-go, or it’s just plain, ole fear. Totally understandable. I have noticed, lately, though that the bike is also a limiter… and the run.

Okay, so let’s just call triathlon one big limiter sport, shall we? Or (perhaps a better choice), we can re-frame our thoughts and mind and think about triathlon as a challenge instead.

If you are a new triathlete or someone attempting his or her first triathlon this coming season, you are in for the ride of your life—literally and figuratively. Tackling the bike is something that you can (and you WILL) do—and it will become second nature. Even if it feels impossible now.

For those of us who are new to cycling, here are some tips that will get you in the saddle (that’s your seat, by the way), and on the right line (that’s the path you take when you ride… hence “hold your line” —stay on a straight path).

See what you’ve learned already?

1. Learn How Your Bike Works

This may seem like a no-brainer, but many of us don’t actually know what the little thingy-ma-bobber on the front is called (your front derailleur), or the name of the whatchamacallit on the back (your rear derailleur) and it helps your chain do its thing. Spend some time with your bike mechanic at your local bike shop—bonus points if you find a great, patient and beginner-friendly guy or gal like Curtis Henry at Cannon Cyclery in Atlanta, Ga. or John Hughes at 90+ Cycling in Columbia, Md.—two really amazing outfits that love beginners. They can take the time to explain the basics to you, which you can follow-up with reading and more on YouTube or in your free copy of my book, Triathlon for the Every Woman, which also explains these things.

2. Then Ride Some More

“But I am TERRIFIED!” I understand, because I was petrified of riding at first too. One of the best tips I give the athletes I coach when they are starting out? Take whatever bike you have—if a mountain bike or a hybrid—and go to a grass field where no one is watching. Practice riding around the open field, and if you fall down—it’s no big deal, because only the deer and the trees will see it. From there, try a closed-from-traffic bike path. You do not have to venture out on the open road with traffic any time soon—wait until you are comfortable. Most newbie triathlons have closed bike courses to cars and traffic, so you can still potentially do your first triathlon without ever riding on the road with cars. I would however, caution and greatly encourage that you still be comfortable riding your bike, holding your line (riding in a straight line), and knowing how to use your gears before embarking on any race environment.

3. Be a Student and Learn the Safety Measures

Remember those hand signals we learned on our driver’s test for turning? We use those for indicating turning on the bike. You can indicate to other riders and cars that you are stopping by turning your hand, palm towards your back and using a stop motion; or raising your fist (not in a crazy, angry way), but a calm, signaling way. Learn how to stop and start comfortably. How to check behind you—where your head goes, you often will go—so to check traffic behind you, ensure that you keep your body straight and your core tight—turn your head quickly, but steadily to get a glimpse behind you. This is something to practice as well in the field before taking it to the road.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. You can download a free copy of the book here. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours, a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. She’s the founder of the sport’s first Virtual Tri Club, which accepts all levels of triathletes from across the globe—and provides amazing discounts from partners. Learn more at BestTriClubEver.com. Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children, and writes about all things at SwimBikeMom.com

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