Cycling 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Biking

Illustration by James Coreas.


Adventure and the ability to go anywhere are what three local biking experts say excites them about cycling. It’s a feeling created by two wheels rolling along the hot pavement of a city street, wind in the hair and the freedom of moving yourself independently. Beyond just fun, biking can be practical and good for the environment, when used as a car alternative to commuting to work or running errands. But what if you are an adult who has never biked before? How do you know what cycling classes, events, groups, trails, equipment and safety tips to choose from, join and/or follow?

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA)’s adult education coordinator Sydney Sotelo, Gearin’ Up Bicycles Program Coordinator Tori Riemersma and Balance Gym CEO Devin Maier spoke with us about how to start biking as a beginner. Each is uniquely qualified to share advice. Sotelo teaches adult cycling classes and is a part of a nonprofit that advocates for cyclists in the DMV; Riemersma works at a cycling nonprofit that educates youth about bike mechanics and teaches mountain biking to a local high school; and Maier is the CEO of a gym that helps people train like professional athletes, as well as an avid cyclist. We picked their brains on tips for newbie cyclists to create our beginner’s guide for bikers.

Advice for Getting Started

District Fray: What is the first step you would recommend for a beginning cyclist?
Sydney Sotelo: The very first thing to ask yourself [is], “Do you know how to ride a bike? Have you ever tried to learn to ride a bike?” [And] if not, “Where can you learn how?”

What type of bike or gear would you recommend for a new cyclist?
Devin Maier: I typically ride my Cannondale CAAD12, but honestly, I recommend whatever fits your budget and cycling goals. My favorite bike in my stable is a tandem Graziella Carnielli from 1970. It makes everyone smile when we take it for a spin around the neighborhood. As for gear, I’d suggest investing in proper bike shoes and shorts if you plan to bike more than a couple of miles at a time. Our tandem is for leisure, thankfully.

What are your go-to safety tips?
Tori Riemersma: Don’t ride with both headphones in. I always keep my left ear open because that’s the side that’s facing the street so I can hear what’s going on. A helmet is always good. A lot of the crashes and accidents that happen are on very short rides, but they can happen at any time even if you’re not going really fast or really hard.

How often should beginners practice cycling?
Sotelo: It depends on the person. Everyone learns new skills differently, and some people may pick it up a lot faster than others. Anything you’re learning to do for the first time, make sure you are excited about practicing, you do it as often as you need to and feel comfortable doing it to progress.

What do you need to know before riding in a group?
Riemersma: When you’re riding in a group, [avoid] half wheeling, [which is] when you are riding and your front wheel is overlapping with their back wheel. You want to make sure they have a clear side-to-side so there’s no overlap between front and rear wheels, because if someone needs to turn all of a sudden, they’ll hit your front wheel and that’s two people down.

What excites you about cycling and keeps you doing it?
Riemersma: I like the adventure and independence. It’s what got me into it in the first place — getting on my bike and riding 30 miles and realizing, ‘Wow, I can go that far. I can do it by myself.’ There are so many things out there I can go and explore, like a new coffee shop or going to get tacos. I’m also a highly food motivated individual, and there’s so much freedom and independence, and even empowerment, with being able to have your own transportation and recreation.

Maier: I love getting out of the house — the breeze in your hair and having adventures via a bicycle. It’s honestly the best mode of transportation in cities and if you cycle [far] enough, it can even take you to the beach.

Sotelo: The thing that excites me the most about biking is being able to really go anywhere, and I can depend entirely on myself in order to get to where I want to go. I’m not caught up by traffic or sitting and waiting for a bus or a train. When I want to go somewhere, I can hop on my bike and get there.

Any last advice for a new cyclist?
Riemersma: For beginners, the [most] important thing is just getting out and riding. Whatever motivates people, whether that be the social aspect, food or exploring, get out and do it.

Ghost Bikes: A project for memorializing and bringing awareness to bikers killed while riding in the street.

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