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I am interested in biking [and always has been] and I want to start biking lot more for fun. It's been long time since I biked when I was in high school and I lost touch. At this point of time, my fitness is terrible and please don't ask about my stamina. I want to fix that by biking to my office which is close to 8 miles from my home. That's a long distance for me to start covering from the day one so I am planning to take it in phases. First, I want to start biking to nearest public transit [a mile] and keep increasing from there. I need some guidance so that I don't cause more trouble than good to myself.

  1. What is a reasonably priced bike that I can buy [first/second hand] that can make it easy for me to bike? I want to be able to bike on that in trails or parks as well so I am thinking of a mountain bike.
  2. How much distance should I start biking on day one and how fast should I increase that distance so that I can bike to my office without using any public transit?
  3. What sort of care should be taken to ride in cold weather [-1 C] and during night time?
  4. What other suggestions would you like to give a new biker?

Thanks for taking time to read and respond!

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2 to 3 miles would be a good first-day distance, no hurry (in a park would be ideal), and also you should stop from time to time and correct position of saddle and handlebars, if needed. –  heltonbiker Jan 18 '12 at 15:43
    
With respect to working up to distance: how far (or for how long) can you comfortably walk? You can almost certainly bike a few times as fast as you can walk, for about the same amount of effort, so 8 miles might not be as scary as it sounds. –  Jefromi Jan 18 '12 at 17:33
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Welcome to Bicycles! You seem to be asking multiple questions at once. It's better to ask one question at a time. One question per question is what this Q&A format site is designed for. If you have several related questions, ask each as a separate specific question and consider providing a link to the other ones. See the faq. –  freiheit Jan 18 '12 at 17:45
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7 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Others have answered other parts of your question satisfactorily, but I can't recommend Craigslist highly enough for purchasing your first bike.

You can find cheap used bikes anywhere from $50–$200. It doesn't have to be perfect — it just has to be in a reasonable state of repair. Don't spend $1,000 on a bike before you 1) know you're going to stick with cycling, and 2) know what you want out of a bike. Getting a cheap one off Craigslist lets you figure out both at a very low cost.

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The only trick is recognizing a decent bike when you see one -- there probably is a thread around here on that topic, otherwise someone should start one, especially targeted toward separating plain junk from serviceable inexpensive bikes. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 18 '12 at 12:50
    
The other thing about CraigsList and their ilk is to try to get a view of the provenance: if it looks to good to be true, it's probably stolen. –  Unsliced Jan 18 '12 at 14:13
    
Thanks for the response! Can you please recommend few bikes which can come with-in 100-200$ range? –  coderbean Jan 18 '12 at 18:37
    
At that price range, there's going to be a virtually limitless number of older bikes to choose from. Find one that fits you and seems to be in good repair (working brakes, no rust, shifts cleanly). –  Stephen Touset Jan 18 '12 at 19:10
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  • Price...whatever you feel is appropriate for you. In Canada a good entry level bike for someone getting back into it would be anywhere from $600-$1000 new. Go to your local bike shop and start asking questions. Hybrids are nice as they are lighter than mtb and have narrower tires for less rolling resistance but are easier on your back than a road bike. Most trails these days can handle thinner tires than a hybrid so don't be scared about that.

  • Distance is what works for you. Everyones different. Rule of thumb is don't increase work load more than 10% per week. Start taking your pulse every morning and when you see that your resting pulse rate is jumping up, that's an indicator you're pushing yourself a little too hard. Ease up for a day or two.

  • Cold weather riding is about keeping your self warm, especially the joints. Not much around your knees to keep them insulated so find something that will keep them safe from the wind. Your local bike shop can steer you in the right direction for cold weather gear. Lights are a BIG thing! Try and get the brightest you can afford. They have ones that will recharge via your USB port on your PC at work. Also try and find a rear red light that hangs from your helmet. It'll be higher and easier to see for cars.

  • Other suggestions...just have fun with it. A goal of riding to/from work is great but try and remember why you loved to do it when you were a kid. Go out for a ride after dinner just around the block. Check out some of those side streets you've been driving past for the last few years but never been down. Don't have a destination in mind just an idea of letting it take you where the road takes you.

Hope it works out for you.

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Price is totally up to you - there's a bike out there for every budget. As with all things there are items that are worth spending money on. The great thing about a bike is that the components are, to a greater or lesser extent, interchangeable, so what you start with isn't necessarily what you need to keep for ever.

One tip, though, is not to go too cheap. You are more likely to not enjoy the experience and you're more likely to stop - and if you've invested a decent amount of money you have the mental stick to keep poking you about making sure you haven't wasted it!

In terms of building up mileage what you've suggested is not a bad plan, although I would recommend perhaps trying the route out at a weekend first, that way you're under no time pressure and the roads are likely to be much quieter. You can head out and investigate the ways around - streets always look different from a bike: you can see more detail, perhaps understand some of the layouts and lane selection, perhaps where to get off and use road crossings, maybe smaller alternate side-streets that you've never previously noticed or needed.

The single best piece of advice is to go into a local bike shop, ideally an independent, and talk to them about your options - they'll be able to talk about your bike and its upgrade path. They will also have good advice on routes, maybe even highlight local clubs or bike buddies who might go out riding with you to help advise and teach you the local ropes. There might well be local training courses and similar that the shop may know about.

Other questions that might help once you start out:

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For 1-8 miles (and presumably reasonably flat terrain) you don't need anything special -- basically 2 wheels with tires on them and pedals to move them.

I'd suggest that you first check with friends for something you can have/borrow for free, or, failing that, get a used bike, preferably from a bike shop. An inexpensive multi-speed "mountain bike" style bike (26" tires, relatively flat handlebar, upright riding position -- vs the road-style bike with larger, narrower tires, "drop" handlebars, and bent-over riding position) is a good style to start with, but stay away from "fancy" bikes with rear suspension, et al -- just more weight and complexity you don't need.

If you do find a borrowed bike (or perhaps a yard sale bike), take it to a bike shop to get it "tuned up", since likely the derailers and brakes will be in need of adjustment. And buy yourself a tire pump (of the of the old-fashioned "floor" variety) and pressure gauge (if not built into the pump) so you can keep the tires at their proper pressure.

Re cold weather, it's probably not a good idea to start out biking below about 10C, though once you get used to it (and collect the right bits of clothing) -20C is reasonable without extreme measures. Your most critical need is good gloves (maybe two layers), as you can't exactly put your hands in your pockets when they get cold. You also need, of course, long pants and some sort of wind-resistant shell, but it's surprisingly critical to KEEP COOL, so the "shell" must "breathe" to a degree, and insulation should be on the light side, given the weather. There are of course specialty bike clothes, but start with what's already in your closet.

Also, get some Velcro leg straps at the bike shop, to keep your pant leg from getting caught in the chain.

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Zippers are also great for shells, so it is possible to use zipper opening as a thermostat/"windostat". –  heltonbiker Jan 18 '12 at 15:45
    
I think biking at -20C does take some extreme measures to avoid exposed skin - with the windchill at 25km/hour (-5F & 15mph), any exposed skin would be at risk of frostbite within 30 minutes –  Johnny Jul 24 '13 at 16:51
    
@Johnny - I live in Minnesota. -20C is -4F. Cold but far from life-threatening. You do need gloves, but the face can remain exposed (while cycling at moderate speed) so long as the ears are covered. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 24 '13 at 20:54
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Fitness - Schedule rides with breaks in between. Normally you would try to schedule a hard (long) ride once a week and a couple of easier rides - 3 rides a week maximum to begin with. The worst thing you can do is too much. To little will take you a bit longer to get fit, too much will set you back with fatigue, soreness and demoralize you - if it does not injure you.

If you are very unfit, start with no more than 2 rides in any one week, at least 2 days apart. (Say Monday and Thursday). Start by going slowly, and build distance before speed.

Your first target is getting to ride 8 Miles. Build this up slowly, and take your time to establish a starting point or "baseline" - start with an easy target. I suggest 1 mile (on flat ground) at a slow pace. If you feel really comfortable, do the loop again. Two days later, do the same ride and see how it feels. If its easy, add distance, if is hard (but not too hard), that is good. If too hard, drop it a bit. You will probably get a bit stiff and sore - remember the "no pain no gain" mantra from the gym - forget it. A bit of discomfort is expected, pain is bad. Once you have a baseline, build it by not more than 10% a week - 5% is probably a better target till you get used to it.

If it is possible to leave you bike at work, build distance with the aim to ride to work on one day and ride home the next, slowly dropping rest days. Once you are doing this comfortably, ride to and from work one day and rest the next. Do this for a few weeks then increase the number of days you ride to work.

When you are ready - start working on speed - ask another question here specifically around speed when you can comfortably do 3 *8 miles a week.

Key thing is listen to your body. If you are getting more fatigued each ride, ride less. You do not get fit exercising, you get fit recovering from exercise. Your body needs rest days, you may need to rest for a week. Take it....... Elite athletes have off seasons for good reason, and many training programs have a monthly cycle with 1 week being very easy workouts only.

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  1. You can get a used hybrid bike or a mountain bike with slicks( thinner than mtb tires = easier commute) for around 100 dollars or may be less. You can ride hybrid or mountain bike with slicks on simple trails.

  2. Your idea is good about gradually increasing distance. Start with 1-2 miles a day each way, stick to same distance for a week. If you are comfortable, add a mile next week and so on.

  3. Wear layers of clothing as cycling raises the body temperature, you can peel off as needed. Get a bright reflective vest and bright lights on front and rear of bicycle, be seen be safe. Cheap plastic fenders do a great job if where you live rains often. Please get warm gloves. Skiing gloves are great. If you have thin ones, layer up the gloves. It works fairly effectively.

  4. Helmet, lights and reflective clothing are must haves during all times on a bike. Get some spare inner tubes, tire levers, pump and learn how to change a tube in case you get a flat. Some cash for bus fare.

    To make the commute less dreadful, plan your route along a bus route(if feasible and safe). In case you get tired or have some problem with your bike. You can take the bus and it is good to know that you won't be stranded.

    Do a trial commute on a weekend and see how much time you need to allocate to arrive at your work.

Don't worry about your current fitness. Take it easy and work gradually. Within a few months of bicycling you will notice changes in fitness/general health.

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All of the above are great answers. Here is my 2 cents.

  1. Get a rear rack. This is a must so you don't have to lug a backpack around, let the bike carry the weight. While a backpack is good for a book or 2, they are not comfortable filled with clothes in them, then you start sweating. When I started I bought Topeak MTX rack and bungee corded a gym bag to it, later I got one of the matching bags. My wife started 2 months ago with a backpack, so I got her the same setup. First ride with it was day and night to her.

  2. GPS logger/tracker. Tap into "must beat my high score" nature we all have. I personally use Endomondo on my android phone to log my bike rides. Before that I got a cheap cycle computer to display speed and odometer. Then you have a way to track your progress with some numbers, share (brag) about it to your friends and family. Also useful for routine maintenance checks.

  3. Air compressor (if you have a house/garage). Floor pumps are great, help you get in shape to squeeze the last pound into the tire. However you will need it for other things and it is quicker.

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