Updated on 06.27.11

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Three Bicycling Tips Edition

Trent Hamm

I’ve been bicycling a lot this summer after previously not bicycling much at all for several years. I’ve learned three simple things that really make bicycling enjoyable for me rather than the punishing exercise I imagined it to be.

Go slow. It’s not a race. You don’t have to fly along the road or bike trail you’re on. Build up a little speed, then coast for a while and enjoy the environment. Sure, if you feel up to it, go faster.

Keep your tires highly inflated. Before you go, every single time, make sure your tires are inflated well into the range noted on your tire’s side wall. I usually try to push the upper end of that range. This makes a huge difference when riding.

Avoid steep hills until you’re in great shape. Going up long steep hills is miserable for a lot of people on bicycles. Don’t start your bicycling journey by climbing a small mountain or you’ll grow to hate it.

I absolutely love pedaling around my neighborhood, rolling over to the post office, or going to the town grocery on my bike.

The best goal is no goal That’s not entirely true, because if you have no goals at all, you have no reason to ever work toward anything. Instead, work towards flexible positions so that you can do whatever you want to when you get there. Don’t work toward a goal that inherently boxes you in. (@ zen habits)

Everything Else Is Icing Whenever I get nervous about something, I think about my children and my wife. I have a great relationship with them. Everything else in my life is really just icing on the cake. (@ jonathan fields)

Paid to Eat Pancakes: The Truth About Passions Making money from your passion requires both a legitimate, deep passion and someone willing to pay you for that passion. I think the former is more important than the latter. (@ nerd gap)

31 Life Lessons in 31 Years This is simply a great list of little life lessons well worth reading and reflecting on. (@ think simple now)

Are Your Finances Fragile? I tend to believe that most people have more fragile finances than they think they do. (@ wise bread)

The Value of Following Passion in a Jobless World This is a great article about how a down economy is a great time to chase something you’ve always wanted to do so that you’re set up with a unique resume and set of skills and experiences when the economy rebounds. (@ the atlantic)

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  1. lurker carl says:

    Most modern adult bicycles have multiple gears. Learn how to use them and hills aren’t the obstacle most leisure riders make them into.

  2. *sara* says:

    This might be a no-brainer, but better than avoiding the hills is learning how to use your gears properly.
    Hubbs and I started out on our first ride together, towards a local mountain (one that I laughed when I saw people biking up – because who would want to do that??) We planned to turn around at the base, but then got caught up in a bicycle race (no kidding!) and decided to just go to the first hill. Long story short, when you’re in the right gear, its really not too difficult to climb even a crazy looking mountain. That’s why they make the gears, after all!

    And yes, we ended up all the way at the top of the mountain. Who would have thought.

  3. marta says:

    Avoid hills? Go slow? Punishing exercise?!

    Sorry to say, but you sound like a big wimp in which concerns exercise.

    Others have already mentioned gears and learning how to use them. Are you on a fixed gear bicycle? They ride them in San Francisco, and I don’t think Iowa is tougher than SF…

  4. Katie says:

    If someone is enjoying bicycling because they’re not conquering hills that they find intimidating, let them. Not everyone has to be up to your standards right away (or at all). Over time, as they gain confidence, they’ll likely venture to more difficult terrain. Conversely, if they get tired of the holier-than-thou types telling them what they should be doing right this very second, you wimp, they’re likely to give up all together and find something that doesn’t come up with that level of verbal abuse.

  5. Jon says:

    For someone who claims they want to get in shape and be active and energetic at 70+ you sure seem to always try to make things easy. Exercise is supposed to be challenging if you want to improve. Tooling around town and evening strolls will not help your lack of fitness. Lame!

  6. SwingCheese says:

    I agree with Katie on this one. When I go biking, I prefer to keep a steady pace and enjoy the scenery. I’m never going to take up mountain biking or bike on off-road trails or ride for long distances. I simply don’t have the interest in learning how to do so. My husband loves off road biking and really challenging himself with hills and distance, but doesn’t have any interest at all in running, whereas I’m considering a half-marathon in September. Not everybody has to push the limit on everything.

  7. Johanna says:

    I agree with Katie and SwingCheese. The holier-than-thou exercise types are becoming a whole lot more obnoxious than the holier-than-thou nutrition types ever were (and that’s saying a lot).

    Find a way of moving your body that’s enjoyable *for you* and do it, and you’ll be a whole lot better off than most people are.

  8. valleycat1 says:

    Sometimes cycling is about having fun (riding like kids do) instead of work or exercise.

    Paid to eat Pancakes – um, to get paid for following your passion, you do have to have someone willing to pay you for doing it.

    31 life lessons – it took me longer than 31 years to figure out #27, but finally came to realize that I enjoy art of all kinds when it’s obvious the creator was doing it from an honest place out of love for the craft.

  9. lurker carl says:

    Nobody mentioned leaving the pavement, only using the gears so hills aren’t obstacles to avoid. Bicycles don’t have automatic transmissions, it’s up to the rider to choose the appropriate gear to make the hill easier to navigate.

  10. marta says:

    All right,”wimp” may have been a too strong word.

    But Trent is basically telling people to avoid hills because they suck — it doesn’t have to be like that at *all*, if you are using the proper gear.

    While I definitely agree it’s better to do something then nothing at all, Trent mentions every now and again his struggles with his fitness goals. I kinda see why he could be struggling because there is a pattern in posts like this, not just about bicycling (which, granted, doesn’t have to be for actual exercising), but physical activity in general — don’t work up too much of a sweat, don’t push yourself… which seems to be a bit pointless.

    YMMV, though.

  11. marta says:


  12. valleycat1 says:

    My motivation for cycling up a long hill is the fun I’ll have coming back down!

  13. Michelle says:

    So, it’s better to push yourself really, really hard, so that you give up all together, and couch surf, than start slow, enjoy the activity, and stay moderately active for a long time? What a load of hogwash. My doctor encouraged me to start slow, find an activity I really liked, then naturally move to more aggressive exercise. If you start hard, you are much more likely to wind up injured, and much less likely to stick with the activity.

    Although I will add that a cyclist should learn the rules of road for cycling. Never ride on the sidewalk, signal your turns, and follow all posted road signs (yes, this includes stop signs!. Most people don’t realize that bikes are treated as slow moving vehicles under the law, and as someone who has received a citation for both riding on the sidewalk AND not stopping at a sidewalk, the Judge will laugh at you when you contest the citation and your reasoning is, “I was on a bike, so the law doesn’t apply to me.” It does, and you will be responsible for paying the ticket.

  14. Brittany says:

    Ditto, Michelle. Finding the right bike paths (and the right bike fit–I wasn’t a huge fan until I discovered the wonder of hybrids) is key to enjoying cycling. I built up from a couple miles of leisurely riding to not buying a new car after an accident and becoming a full-time cyclist after realizing this. Although a summer change in responsibilities has reduced my commute temporarily, I was biking about 20 miles a day in the spring. I don’t mind a 10 mile ride, at a pushing pace (because I only had an hour break for my midday commute), in 100-degree Houston heat. But the one medium-sized hill I have to ride regularly? Hate it. Absolutely hate it. (And I know how to use my gears.) I sometimes bike an extra 2-3 miles to take the route that avoids the single hill. To each their own.

  15. prodgod says:

    Stopping at every stop sign while bicycling may seem like the right thing to do on paper, but it’s not very practical if one hopes to build any kind of momentum. I ride in a manner that is safest for me, while still maintaining respect for other vehicles on the road, laws be damned. Sometimes that includes riding on sidewalks, riding on the wrong side of the road toward oncoming traffic and occasionally blowing through stop signs. Sometimes these choices, although illegal, are the safest ones to make.

  16. Johanna says:

    I’m not a cyclist myself, but it’s my understanding that in some places, riding on the sidewalk is allowed and even encouraged, and in others, cyclists are allowed to come to a “rolling stop” at stop signs and continue on if it’s safe to do so. So, to amend what Michelle said, learn the rules of the road for cycling *where you are*, and don’t rely on internet rumors or anecdotes that may not apply to you.

  17. Gretchen says:

    Well, he does say “steep” hills, not any hills.

    Not that the latter would be possible for any length of time around my house- robably much more possible in Iowa.

  18. Gretchen says:

    I’m not sure there are any places/states where adults can legally ride on the sidewalk but have heard this rumor as well and would be interested if it really is true.

    While it seems safer, cars aren’t looking for you there.

  19. krantcents says:

    Don’t forget to maintain your bicycle besides tire pressure, keep the chain lubricated and check your brakes.

  20. Katie says:

    I think it might be legal to ride on the sidewalk in Phoenix, but I really wished it wasn’t when I lived there. It’s really difficult on pedestrians, which is what I usually was then.

    And, statistically, more dangerous for bicyclists – cars are expecting entities moving at pedestrian speed to come off of sidewalks, not entities moving at bicycle speed. It’s generally safer to insert yourself naturally in traffic – sometimes that will slow cars down, but on the right streets, it usually isn’t too bad. Though of course YMMV by your area.

  21. Johanna says:

    @Gretchen: It’s legal in most of Washington DC (the exception is the central business district) and in some of the surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia. (Google “DC cycling sidewalk” for details.)

    I agree that there are times when it might be safer to ride in the street than on the sidewalk. Plus, on the sidewalk, you also have to worry about whether you’re posing a safety risk to pedestrians.

  22. Allie says:

    @Gretchen: It is legal to ride on the sidewalk in Indianapolis. Again with what Johanna said about learning what the rules are where you plan to ride.

  23. TLS says:

    In Seattle, it is legal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. I usually ride in designated bike paths, but sometimes the sidewalk is the safer choice.

  24. JS says:

    I moved to the Phoenix area recently, and I believe it is legal to ride on the sidewalks.

    Even with some of the careless drivers on the road, I prefer to ride on the street or bike paths. Another reason to not ride on sidewalks are problems stemming from the fact that you’re much taller and slightly wider on a bike than you are on foot. A bus bench that you normally walk by without incident can scrape your leg if you’re not paying enough attention while riding by. A low tree branch I can walk under without a second thought became something I had to suddenly duck on a bike.

  25. Kristina says:

    Please remember that if you are riding on the sidewalk that the ‘line of sight’ at times is not enough to see and react to a fast moving vehicule. They are designed for pedestrian speeds. Especially, if you are travelling against traffic on the side walk.

  26. Gretchen says:

    Who knew?

    Thanks for the info.

  27. kristine says:

    In NY, you cannot ride a bike on the sidewalk-it endangers pedestrians- we have many. However, small kids ride the sidewalk, and that is kind of expected.

    I avoid steep hills when I ride. I average at 10mph (pretty fast) on a 1970’s Schwinn World Tourist that cost 10 bucks used. It is frozen in 10th gear- suitable for flat open spaces. But I am used to it. So I pedal as much as I can up a hill, and when I end up standing still and almost falling of, I just get off and walk up! It uses different muscles, and lets my calves stretch out.

    But I am definitely not a wimp- I have gone as much as 50 miles in a day solo (no one in my family loves biking so much), enjoying a ferry ride, nice dinner and a hotel room at the end of the day, and then cycling back in the am!

    My bike is rusty, and ugly, and it I will repair it till the frame breaks under me! A bike you love, and find incredibly comfortable, is a jewel. I ride in normal khaki shorts and a neon T, and conspicuous helmet. While I love to see the bike clubs gliding like a school of brightly colored fish, I have never felt the need to spend a fortune on a bike, gear or clothing. I stuff food an water in my basket!

    Riding a bike, even can be done very, very cheaply!

  28. SwingCheese says:

    I suspect that some of the commenters think that Iowa is flatter than it really is. It isn’t San Francisco, but it isn’t flat, either. There are plenty of long, rolling hills in Iowa (especially the western portion of the state) and climbing them is an endurance workout.

  29. Carrie says:

    Trent, do you have bike trailer for the little kids? I’ve been thinking about getting one. I think it would be pretty easy to pop a kid or two in the bike trailer, and maybe let the oldest ride his own bike on a trip into town for the post office or library.

    And, to others talking about going up long steep hills – I know some of the landscape Trent grew up in, and even as a kid who biked all around town on a daily basis, there are some hills that *really* are for people in great shape, even with the best gear for the hill. The driveway of a mutual friend and my driveway are two fine examples of hills worth walking if you have to go up them.

  30. Julie says:

    As relates to the lessons learned by the 31 year old, many will tell you that the secret to happiness in life is to stop focusing on your own happiness. It sounds as though this blogger is a bit self absorbed.

  31. Jules says:

    Bikes have been my primary mode of local transportation for almost 7 years. Knowing the rules of the local roads is definitely the most important part of riding. Figuring out how to balance groceries on a bike that’s too big for you (seriously, being 5’3″ in the Netherlands is not easy!) is icing on the cake.

  32. Andrew says:

    Since Trent is in Iowa, it would be interesting to know if he has ever contemplated participating in RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.

    I’m kind of out of shape and 1000 miles away from Iowa, but this ride is something I’m making a goal of (realistically, for 2013).

  33. SwingCheese says:

    My husband has done portions of RAGBRAI – he’s doing a day again this year actually. From his experience, I would recommend that you consider your gear in particular. Most folks who do RAGBRAI have vehicles that caravan along from stop to stop with their food, clothing changes, sleeping equipment, etc. It’s a fun, wild ride, that’s for sure! :)

  34. gail says:

    Some of the best, well-conditioned cyclists have trouble with elevations, no matter what gear they use. My husband rides with a cycling club, and the average ride is 50 miles @ 19-20mph overall. Some riders in the group can keep up a 25 mph pace on the flats. But when they hit the hills, the fastest riders drop back, and the climbers take over. It doesn’t mean that the fastest cyclists are not in good condition, and not “pushing” themselves”…it means that some people can climb and some cannot do it as well. And for a novelist cyclist, take it easy or you will become discouraged and give up.

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