Jon's Beginner Blog #4 - Facing Your Fears


That is what it felt like anyway when I started cycling.  Heck, sometimes I still feel like that.  I am a large guy.  There is no getting around it.  Sometimes I imagine that I look like a giant spider with a fat body and spindly limbs spinning around on a bike that’s too small.

Amusing?  Sure.  However, I know that along with most new cyclists I am not alone in my insecurities and fears.  When I started riding and training a few years ago, I hadn’t been on bike since I was a twelve-year-old delivering morning newspapers.  Naturally I had lot of concerns.  After 35 years, could I remember how to ride a bike?  I’m 6’6’ and 265 pounds.  Could I find a bike that would not snap like a pile of toothpicks? Do I have to use those stupid clip-in thingies?  Do I have to wear those ridiculous clothes?  Will my heart hold up to the stress?  What if a car hits me?  Will I crash?  Will I look stupid?

That’s a lot of insecurity and fear for an old guy (yet another insecurity).  Can you relate to any of these feelings? The real question for me then and for you now is:

Will these fears stop you from even trying?

The good news is that there are many ways to “hack your mind” to help you conquer your fears and take that first ride.  The payoff for enduring a bit of uncertainty is a ton of excitement, enjoyment and confidence.

A quick note on age and gender:  In my experience, both women and men fall in love with cycling in equal measure.  Cycling is a welcoming activity enjoyed by all.  Women and men regularly train, ride, race and tour together.  It’s a great bonding activity.  Age is of little importance.  There are a ton of riders in their fifties, sixties and seventies.  I know, I get passed by them all the time!

Here are 10 techniques that I used to get off the couch and onto a bike.

  1. Focus on the positive.

Create a short mental list of the benefits you want to achieve from riding your bike. When your fears pop up remind yourself why you are doing this.  My list was simple; gain confidence by trying something new, get fit without hurting my knees, and enjoy a sense of peace by spending time in nature.  Your reasons could be something like: commute to work and reduce my carbon footprint, make new friends, look great for the next World Naked Bike Ride.

  1. Educate yourself.

Knowing what to expect helps you feel in control and alleviate anxiety.  Luckily, there is a ton of cycling information available on the web.  With the help of YouTube or a simple search, you can learn the basics of any cycling topic.  Do you want to know how to shift gears on your bike or change a bike tire?  Do you want to find a place to ride that is off limits to cars?  Curious about local bike laws or the proper way to wear cycling bibs?  It’s all just a couple of clicks away. 

  1. Be prepared.

In just a few minutes, you can make sure you have everything you need for your ride.  Plan a place to ride where you will be out of traffic and feel safe.  Schedule a time to ride and put it on your calendar.  This helps you make the mental commitment to get out there.  The list of things you need for your first ride is short.  You need a bike and a bike helmet.  Make sure your tires are inflated to middle of the PSI range listed on the side of tire. Have a little hydration on hand.  If you want to ride on the road, make sure you have a clear colored bike light on the front of your bike and a flashing red light on the back of your bike.  This will help you to be more visible.

  1. Have realistic expectations.

You are not going to win the Tour De France on your first ride.  Don't plan on spending 4 hours on your bike, going 100 miles, riding up a mountain, or speeding through traffic at 30mph. The goal is to take a little ride and get comfortable on your bike.  Keep the ride short, 15-30 minutes.  This will give you enough time to remember what it feels like to balance on a bike.  Practice pedaling, shifting and braking.  When you feel like you are ready take a ride around the block. Most importantly, enjoy yourself.

  1. Keep it simple.

Don’t worry about clipless pedals, skin-tight attire and advanced gear like a cycling computer.  Just wear something comfortable that you can pedal around in.  If you end up loving cycling, there will be plenty of time to geek out on gadgets, apparel and lifestyle goodies.  Keep your first few rides to daytime hours.  Riding at night introduces additional challenges best addressed when you are familiar with your bike and cycling route.

  1. Reduce the pressure.

Relax and go at your own pace. Whatever you do, don't sign up for a bike tour, group ride, or a charity endurance event as your first ride.  Riding in a group of people can be stressful and dangerous for new riders and the riders around them.  Also, your ass will not be up to the challenge.  I mean this literally.  When you first learn to cycle, you must slowly condition your sit bones to your saddle.  Too much initial time in the saddle and your ass will hurt.  This can discourage new riders.  While some soreness is unavoidable, the goal is to work up to longer rides.  When you feel confident on your steed, many local bike shops (LBSs) have beginner rides.  These are great for helping you get used to riding in a group while exploring biking routes in your area.  These rides are paced for 5-7 mph and have a good mix of people of all ages.  Click here to see an ride offered by my wonderful LBS, Bethany Bike Repair.

  1. Get support from a patient expert.

This is as easy as it sounds.  Almost everyone has a bike crazy person in their life. Bike crazy people know that cycling makes the world a better place and LOVE to help new people start riding.  If you are new to an area or a person doesn’t come to mind, just ask around.  For the price of a coffee, you can find a kindred spirit.  Another option is your LBS.  Your LBS has a vested interest in making you a lifetime customer by ensuring you have a great experience on a bike.  Ask your expert any questions you may have.  Cycling is a lifetime activity and there truly are no silly questions.  Express your concerns.  Trust me, you are not alone.

  1. Build on success.

One of the experts who helped me into cycling, Robert Vizza, gave me a key piece of advice that made all the difference.  Robert said, “First, I pedaled around in front of my house.  Then I rode around my neighborhood.  Next, I noticed I went three miles.  A couple of weeks later, I went five miles. Suddenly, I realized I could do this.”  Robert helped me understand that there are unlimited ways to succeed in cycling.  He made it approachable.  He broke success down into easy, approachable steps.  In fact, I followed his exact advice and have been succeeding ever since.

  1. Give yourself credit.

If you managed to get out and take your first ride, you should feel great about yourself.  It takes a lot of courage to risk embarrassment and try something new.  Now do it again!  There are an infinite number of roads and trails to explore.

  1. Share your excitement.

People are generally interested in and supportive of someone who takes a risk.  Excitement is infectious.  Recently, my sister-in-law Sheila has been mountain biking and sharing her experiences on Facebook.  Her adventures are awesome. She gets tons of likes and positive comments.  You never know who you will inspire!

Most people don’t like being a beginner.  Facing your fears and risking embarrassment to try something new takes real courage and fortitude.  Guess what?  You are courageous.  You have fortitude.  If you need a little help to get started, try the mind hacks in this blog.  We all need a little encouragement and these additional tools can help you take those first steps or that first ride.  If you try cycling, wonderful.  If you try something else, that is wonderful too.  Good luck, I hope to see you out there with the wind in your hair and a smile on your face.