Bike Basics: The most basic of basics

I think I was most anxious about getting on and off the bike. This probably had something to do with my attempting to mount the bike like a horse went I went shopping. I just had this nightmare vision of me trying to get off the bike when I got to the end of the course and completely falling over. I actually googled “starting and stopping on a bike.” Let me save you the trouble- there’s not a lot out there. But hey, that’s why this blog exists- to give you the most basic of basics so that you don’t feel like an idiot!

Here are some basic basics when it comes to biking.

Safety First

You must have a helmet. Let me say it again- You MUST have a helmet. You cannot race in a triathlon without one, and you look like an idiot without one. Sorry, but you do. If you may be riding in low light (think dawn or dusk), you should also have reflectors and a blinking light on the front and back of your bike. As a beginner, avoid riding when it’s wet outside as roads can be very slick.


Alright, let’s walk through this. To mount the bike, stand to one side and tip the bike about 40 degrees towards you. You want to make it low enough to swing your leg (or step, for those with the hips of an eighty year old like yours truly) over. Get that leg over and straddle the bike’s top bar. You’ll be in front of the seat. Now, to get rolling, pick which side you want to push off on. I like to step my right foot on first. So, I set my right pedal to about 2 o’clock (if you were looking at it head on).Then, both hands on the handlebars, I put my right foot on the pedal and stand up, pushing the pedal down and getting the bike moving. Simultaneously I sit on the seat and bring my left foot onto its pedal. It takes some practice, but I’ve found this to be the easiest way to mount the bike and get rolling. Note: You’ll want to get in the habit of leaving your bike in a middle gear whenever you stop. This is because you’ll need some resistance when you mount to get the bike moving, but you don’t want to have it in a tough gear that makes it hard to get rolling quickly. Especially if you’re trying to get across an intersection quickly. Trust me, I speak from experience.


Beach cruisers have pedal brakes. Just push your foot back and you stop. This does not happen on a bike bike. Instead, you should have two hand brakes. One, usually the right, controls the back of the bike. The other, usually the left, controls the front brake. There isn’t a standard, however, so before you get on your bike be sure to squeeze the brake lever while looking at the brake on your tire to be sure. Train yourself to use your back break more than your front. Think of it this way: If you’re heading down a hill too fast and want to stop, but you slam on your front brake instead of your back, what’s going to happen? Yep, you guessed it- your weight is flying forward and you’re headed straight off the front of your bike. Learn to go to your back brake first, then “feather in”- gradually squeeze- your front brake.


Gears allow you to shift how easy it is to pedal in order to adjust to your terrain and conditions. Gears are similar to the brakes- the levers on the left controls the front gears while the ones on the right control the back (think “right=rear). Take a look at your bike. In the front you should have 2 or 3 rings. When the chain is on the big ring, it will be hardest to push, but you will go the farthest with effort. When the chain is on the small ring, it’s easy to push, but you don’t go very far. For the back gears, the opposite is true. The big ring is the easiest while the small ring is the hardest. Shifting is all about feel and leg strength. If you’re just starting out, use the small or middle cog in the front and practice pedaling while shifting your back gears. This will help you get used to the feel of what shifting does to your pedaling resistance. Some other basics to know: When working with a rough headwind or approaching a hill, shift into an easy gear (small in the front, middle in the back). It will make pedaling extraordinarily easier. You’ll also want to avoid “Cross chaining.” This happens when your chain is in extremes and stretches all the way across the gears at a diagonal- Big in the front and big in the back, or small in the front and small in the back. Cross chaining causes unnecessary resistance and is bad for your bike’s hardware.Usually you’ll hear a “click click click” and know you need to shift out. Do so gradually with your back gears. Not sure what gear you’re in? Look down at the cogs to see where the chain sits.


When turning, don’t think about turning the handlebars. Think about leaning and looking where you want to go. The bike follows your eyes. When making a sharp turn, you want your outside foot stretched down. This helps you balance around the turn, and, when you get faster and turn faster, a foot down on the inside turn risks “striking” the ground.


Like the first time I tried to mount a bike, I also tried to dismount like it was a horse. Kind of terrifying, as the bike just tips right over if you don’t have the skill developed. So, I’ve learned that the best way to dismount is to stop first. When you’re coming up to your stop, you have to stand slightly. If you stop while still seated, you’re going to just tip over and then scramble to put your foot down. So when you roll to a stop, you’re going to stand and as you stop put your lowest foot down on the ground to give yourself a kickstand. Then you can reverse your mount, tilting your bike to the side and stepping or swinging your leg over.

Next, high five yourself, because you just completed a successful bike ride.

Have a question about getting rolling on the bike? Send me an email at and ask! If I don’t know the answer, I will find out. I’m happy to look like an idiot so that you don’t have to.

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