SEE A SOURCE
Spend even a little time among cyclists and you'll quickly learn a common trait: They love sharing the information they've accumulated during their time spent on the saddle. Whether talking frames or accessories, routes or group rides, someone has not only likely tried it already but is also eager to tell you about it. That biker has probably put the information online, too, as digital resources for those on bikes continue to accumulate.
For a decade, for instance, the listserv "Rtp_bike_ped" has acted as a hub for those with questions about commutes and cycling issues. (The pace has slowed, but sign up and peruse the enormous archive at will.) There's the North Carolina Bicycling Club, the Triangle Cycling forums and a web of Facebook groups with intel for most every cycling niche you can imagine. Municipalities are getting into the biking data game, too. Just last month, Raleigh released a beta version of its map app, BikeRaleigh. The OpenStreetMap project (mapstest.raleighnc.gov/bikeraleigh) highlights designated trails and preferred routes in and around the city, details places to fix your ride and documents deals you can snag if you show up by bike. A dentist on Glenwood Avenue, turns out, will even give cyclists a free "take-home" teeth whitening.
GET A GROUP
When it comes to riding, there's no reason to reinvent the wheel. You can learn a lot from those who have been cycling for decades, like how to work safely in traffic and what routes are best to avoid for just that reason. One of the best ways to do this, says Leah Yngve, who recently launched a group ride in Durham called Adventure Cyclists of Bull City, is to pedal into any number of the popular social rides in the Triangle, follow along and pay attention.
"Riding in a group can be a good way to build your confidence and to see how confident cyclists ride," says Yngve. "For new cyclists, you see where they are on the road, signaling, their behavior."
That said, the options can be overwhelming, as different meet-ups move at different paces, with varying lengths and levels of challenge creating an array of available experiences. Visit a shop and ask or explore any of the available online resources to find a group ride that fits your schedule and your skill level, especially before jumping right into that 20-mile commute. Remember, someone has probably cycled your route before, and that person would probably love to tell you about it.
MIND YOUR MANNERS
Perhaps you think of the greenways and trails that circle and innervate your town as bucolic bike sanctuaries, places where those on two wheels pedal in complete peace and quiet. But Brandon Casper, an employee at Oak City Cycling Project and a frequent user of such trails in and around Raleigh, positions them as something of a battleground. "There continues to be a rift between people walking and running and people on bikes," he explains. "It's not unlike bike versus car, which is unfortunate because it should be bike and car, bike and pedestrian, in the same space."
So how can new cyclists help? First, slow down, Casper says. No one on foot wants to imagine they're playing a game of high-speed chicken with some two-wheeled machine. If you're riding in groups, tuck in single-file or at least limit the action to two-wide, so that you have plenty of room to pass or be passed. And when approaching someone, a polite and clear "On your left" will suffice and do better to inspire long-term conviviality than a yell or a grunt. Or try a bell.
"The greenway is not your personal time trail course," he says. "Slow down, acknowledge others and smile."
FIT YOUR FRAME
If you're looking for a quick way to ride, there may seem no simpler option than a Craigslist search or even a neighborhood yard sale, where you can readily buy a thrifty set of wheels and start moving. It's worth taking the time, however, to go into a proper bike shop, try a variety of frames and styles and find the size that best fits your body, according to Jeff Yuricek, a manager at Chapel Hill's Performance Bicycles.
For safety reasons, Yuricek says, you should have between one and three inches of clearance between your body and the frame's top bar; anything less or more is bound to create problems during a quick stop. What's more, he says, good bike store employees should be able to turn their experience into advice, helping customers know which option fits a desired goal. And when you check out, you should know exactly what you're buying and how long it should last.
"You're going to get the guarantee of the local retailer that the bike is working," Yuricek says. "Buying a bike at any professional shop versus on Craigslist or at Walmart, you have the guarantee that it's been assembled properly. And that's important."