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I'm an out of shape 60 year old and have just purchased a bike for the first time in almost 30 years. It's a Giant Seek 3 hybrid and my intention is to commute to work on it at least 3 times per week. It's about 7 miles one way and the route is flat, paved streets, some of which have bike lanes. I live on a hill so the start won't be a problem. But, coming home will be about a 3/4 mile pull uphill with only one flat stretch of ~150 yards.

Can anyone offer me any help/tips on what I might need to get started safely? Should I work up to the commute or "just do it"?

Thanks for your time.

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    Well, I'd do the run once, just for "pleasure", maybe on a Sunday or something, to see how you handle it. As I'm sure you're aware the things that might stretch you at first are (i) the distance, (ii) the final climb, so if you're having trouble with either of these, then you'll need to work up to it. On the other hand, if you're asking about kit etc. you should search other questions on here as I'm fairly sure this is a dup. – PeteH Dec 14 '14 at 18:21
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    ~15 miles is a lot ot start with for someone who claims to be out of shape. Do you live somewhere where there is bike compatible public transit? – Batman Dec 14 '14 at 19:15
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    Remember, if need be you can walk the last 3/4 mile -- there is no shame in doing so. And definitely don't try to do it every day for starters -- maybe twice a week for a month or two, then increase frequency as you feel up to it. – Daniel R Hicks Dec 14 '14 at 22:48
  • Where are you / what is your route? Handling motorized vehicle traffic is an important part of commuting, and that depends on how crowded the roads are etc. Also, weather and clothing matter (it's now winter in some parts of the world, and summer elsewhere). – ChrisW Dec 15 '14 at 0:36
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Start with safety. Wear a good helmet and get some good lights. Leave a spare charger at work.

Practice the commute on a Saturday. Ride in get lunch and ride back. If you are mobile on Sunday then you are good on Monday.

If you can leave a car at work and lock your bike safely then you can split some days.
Monday you drive in with the bike and ride the bike home.
Tuesday you ride in and drive home.
Wednesday you drive in and ride home.
Thursday you ride in and drive home.
If you drive in Friday problem you don't have the car for the weekend.
So haul your bike home on Thursday.
On Friday you ride or bike both ways.
This lets you build up. In a few months you should be riding both ways. If you are totally out of shape then it take a couple months.

At 7 miles each way you are kind of in a dead zone. I am in my 50s but I ride a lot and for me 7 miles is 30 minute sprint and I recover in 10 minutes. It is perfect as it does not take a lot of time but is a legitimate workout. Out of shape it is an hour each way and you might not recover by the time you ride home. Even for a strong rider more than 15 miles each way starts to become a time management issue. But I would rather be on a bike an hour than in car an hour.

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    +1: Splitting days - Public transport might be an option as well. – mattnz Dec 14 '14 at 21:08
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    @mattnz Thanks I got that from an article about a person that commuted 30 miles each way and just could not handle it both ways every day. She had public transportation as an option. And if she had to work late the company would even pay for a cab. – paparazzo Dec 14 '14 at 21:18
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Since you say you are out of shape, I recommend not attempting to ride there and back on the same day until you have built up to it. You have a lot of muscles and organs that need to develop to handle this new activity, so build up slowly. If you rush it you could injure yourself, and despite what some people say, at our age injuries heal more slowly. So build up slowly.

The first thing you'll notice the day after your first ride is a sore bottom. There are muscles there that need to adjust - so give them a couple of days rest then ride again. It's important to take a break so that the muscles can recover, but it's equally important to ride again in two or three days so that they get the message to keep developing.

So I recommend a supported first ride to work on a weekend. By supported I mean that someone will bring you and the bike home. Seven miles (~11 km) is a solid first ride for someone who is unfit and unused to riding. If you find you are struggling, stop and call in the ride home.

You will now know if you can ride one way. If you can't yet, recover for a couple of days and ride the same distance again. It will probably seem harder, but keep riding every few days. If possible, drive or take a train part way to work and ride the rest.

When you can ride all the way, ride to work one day and leave the bike there. Ride home two or three days later. When you are comfortable with both rides, step up to three rides per week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Leave the bike at work over the week end. When that's working OK, you have a choice - start riding there and back on the same day, or ride four times a week. If you feel ready, ride there and back on a Friday, so you have the weekend to recover.

Now some theory, of sorts. Generally, we find that increasing the total training load by 10% in one week is manageable. If you step up more than that, you can expect to feel weary. After stepping up the distance you ride per week, wait until you feel on top of it before stepping up again.

And some common sense. Don't expect too much of yourself. Take it steady. It is actually not a race. If you need a break then take it. If it's crap weather (too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy), skip the ride that day. As you get experience you'll cope with a wider variety of conditions, but at the start you don't need to be a hero. But keep at it.

And enjoy. Everyone here does.

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I've been commuting to work every day for the last 6 years. In your case I would go with these tips:

Equipment

  1. Buy a helmet. Despite you can find several discussions about what is the real effectiveness of a helmet, it's never bad to wear one.
  2. Buy lights, a white light for the front and red to put back. I would suggest at least two red lights, one to put in your bike's frame and one to attach to your helmet (or maybe your backpack or jacket).
  3. Buy gloves. This is not a must, but they will improve your comfort and also they will help when you fall. This will be is especially important if the weather is cold, in that case riding without gloves might be pretty unpleasant.
  4. Buy a windbreaker jacket, it will really help when it's cold.
  5. Don't go out with a ton of clothes because you are going to boil in there. It is best to go out with a shirt and a windbreaker jacket, and feel a little cold for 2-3 minutes until you warm up.
  6. If you can, buy a rack or some panniers. This is just optional, but you will really feel more comfortable if you ride carrying your things in a rack than in a backpack on your back. I would suggest you to ride the whole first week with just a backpack and then check if you want a rack or some panniers.

Preparation

  1. Be prepared to fall, at least mentally prepared. There's 2 types of city cyclists, those who have fallen and those who are about to fall. There's no way for you to escape of this, you are doing it at some point, it doesn't mean it has to be a bad fall, but you are going to do it for sure (don't be scared about it, just be cautious).
  2. Do a test ride the weekend before your first commute. Plan ahead your route and then test it, go and ride all the way to your destination to check how long does it take you, how do you feel after the ride and also to check possible troubles on the way (detours, works on the road, etc).
  3. Is PRETTY IMPORTANT to try to use the same route always!! This improves your safety since after a while you will be able to spot the problematic parts of the road, where is common to find people crossing, where there are dogs that might chase you, which traffic lights are short, etc. Don't under estimate this, I think it is one of the most useful tips about city commuting using a bike.
  4. Check tire's pressure. The softer they are, the harder the ride is going to be.
  5. Check your brakes, no need to explain.

On the street

  1. At red lights try to go all the way to the first car and stop a little after the car's nose or if you want just stop in front of it (if that is legal in your case). The point of this is to try to be visible for cars before they start running again, so they know you are there. You will be "safe" as long as you are visible for cars, don't ever forget that.
  2. If you find big cracks on the pavement (wide enough to be like the width of your tire), hoses, big sticks or anything like that, try to pass them going across and never along. Going along will make your tire go over the hose/stick/etc, like riding over them, which is a fall for sure. With cracks is kind of the same idea, if you tire falls into the crack you might fall when you try to get out of the crack by going to the side of it.
  3. If you don't feel confident enough with the traffic at some point just stop. Stop (not in the middle of the road of course), wait a little until you feel confident again and then start riding, don't over stress your nerves since we usually take bad decisions when that happens.
  4. If a dog chase you don't freak out, all you have to do is stop. Dogs usually lose their interest in you when you are stopped (I suppose they like just the chase). Also if you are going through a place you know there might be dogs, then go slow and dogs aren't going to bother in chasing you.

Finally I would say "just go and do it". It doesn't matter if you can't do the whole hill in your first try, just do what you can and walk the rest. Maybe just half of a quarter is ok, then after a week you'll be adapted to your bike and you might be doing half of the hill and next week 3/4, and before you know it the thing is going to be just part of the road.

Hope this helps.

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    Using the same route -- good commuter advice. I suspect drivers who also use the same route and schedule get used to our presence, and quickly learn how to respond to us much better than the average driver. But have to disagree on the red light opinion. Local law here says cyclists should cue up with traffic, not pull to the front. Riders should cue up to red lights in whatever fashion their local laws dictate. – digijim Dec 15 '14 at 21:15
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    Well yes, riders should go the way law says.I pointed that because I've seen in some places people doing that (like the picture in this article). Those are stop zones for bikes which are focused in make riders visible to drivers before everybody starts running again. – Rodrigo Dec 16 '14 at 12:03
  • Er ... That would be brakes. Breaks are what happens in a heavy fall :-) – andy256 Dec 20 '14 at 23:48
  • @andy256 woah, yes! thanks, I didn't notice that. Fixed :) – Rodrigo Dec 22 '14 at 14:59
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    "same route" - I'd say try a range of routes at first before settling in to 1 or 2 regular routes. You may well find that if you coincide with school drop off your regular route becomes difficult or dangerous because of bad parking and another route may have a tendency to ice in frosty weather. So know your options. – Chris H Dec 26 '14 at 9:05
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Along with other great suggestions by @Blam for the actual commuting, you might want to start by doing some "warm up" rides before committing to commuting. You can choose a quite traffic time, nice weather (not too hot, not too cold) and not be under time pressure.

Instead of out and back, work out a loop with bail out points to get you home early if its too far and too uncomfortable. I would aim for a loop distance of around 5km for a start (If its too easy you can do it twice), with a bail out point half way. The real difficulty here is what "out of shape 60" for one person is an impressive super human machine for another. (I know people look at me funny when say I am unfit, and only managed 5 minute/km running speed over a 10km run)

As far as the hill, use a low gear and keep the legs spinning (this is good advise on the flat, slow cadence which is bad for efficiency and knees.). If needed, get off and push the bike up the hill, don't be a hero.

Only other advise is build up slowly - if you are sore from the previous ride, do not do the commute - although a short gentle ride in a low gear will help and is good, the same distance that made you sore will make things worse.

  • Good point about soreness. There will be generalized soreness the first few rides, and you need to give yourself a chance to recover, but not be totally motionless while doing so. And one needs to beware of more severe "focal" pain, especially if taking statins -- a pain that takes 18-24 hours to appear and is localized vs general muscle stiffness may be the beginnings of rhabdomyolysis and result in substantial permanent injury if you try to "work through it". Remember, pain is nature's way of saying "Don't do that!" – Daniel R Hicks Dec 14 '14 at 22:52
  • Yes, good points about what out of shape means and the shorter loop ride. – andy256 Dec 15 '14 at 4:08
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Practice an emergency stop: use the front brake, but stick your bum out the back and lower your body, so as not to go over the handle bars, and the back wheel may fish-tail. Assuming you know how to drive, you know that your "stopping distance" determines how much safety space you need to allow ... so you need to know what your stopping distance is.

Dress for the occasion: including helmet and cycling gloves for safety.

Use your gears: a hill should be no more difficult than the flat, it should just take longer (more slowly in a lower gear). There's an amount of effort (power or energy per second) which you're able to expend sustainably, so use your gears to keep your energy output constant/sustainable/optimal.

Try to keep better than 60 rpm: if your pedalling cadence is less than one per second you're probably in too high a gear.

Avoid 'beginner' mistakes in traffic: for example read something like Car Bike Collisions -- Understanding Types of Collisions and/or take a bicycle safety course.

If you can keep it up for a year, I predict that you could be an in-shape 61-year-old. So do it sustainably: stay safe! It'll get easier (become routine) with practice.

Nice accessories for commuting include lights and a bell; mud-guards (in rain); a pannier (instead of a backback); a bike lock (IMO a U-lock); and puncture-resistant (but never knobbly) tires.

I hope the bike is properly adjusted for you (e.g. the right seat height etc.).

I did my first commute as a trial-run on a Sunday, to check the route etc.

  • Yes, good points about gears, cadence, and traffic. – andy256 Dec 15 '14 at 4:09
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    One thing that should be clarified is that the front brake is not an emergency brake -- in most road cases, it should be the primary brake that you are using. – Batman Dec 16 '14 at 21:24
  • @Batman Yes. I hope you've just clarified that. – ChrisW Dec 16 '14 at 21:37
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Two things:

  1. Make sure your heart is healthy enough for exercise. Go to the doctor first.
  2. From a behavior change perspective, I'm a big believer in just doing it. Unless you have heart or lung problems, working up to a 7 mile bike ride is just going to give you more of an opportunity to quit. Decided to do it. Identify a start date, and then just do it. Every day. No matter what. Get some quality bad weather gear. It is much much harder to get into a habit of doing something once a week or every few days than it is to get into the habit of doing it every single time.
  • Of course, your "two things" conflict. Lots of people don't "just do it" because they were warned to get a Dr's OK first and they never get around to seeing the doctor. Unless you know you have health problems it's likely healthier to "just do it" without the checkup first. You won't feel as guilty when you eventually do see the doc. – Daniel R Hicks Dec 20 '14 at 1:07
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Seek 3 appears to be an excellent choice. A triple up front with lots of low end hill climbing ability. I see that you're in Oregon. Disc brakes here in the Pacific Northwet (I'm in Olympia, WA) are an excellent choice. I've been commuting on a Kona Dew since 2008, and upgrading to the next Kona model up with disc brakes is the one thing I would have changed, if I could.

Fenders are essential. In my view, one can never have too many lights. I have ten on my bike, plus one on my helmet. Get at least one rear red flashing light, and two front white lights--one to be used flashing and one to be used solid. Batteries can die at the most inopportune moments, so two rear red flashing lights is good insurance against being without any rear light. A helmet protects one against lots of injuries, but it certainly won't save you if you need a tractor trailer head on. Riding glasses, particularly in the winter time, are needed. Don't rely upon cheap, inexpensive safety glasses as they will fog up and become useless. A product called Cat Crap--yes, that's really it's name--is one of the best anti-fog eyewear treatments on the market.

If you would please, update your post with the tires on your bike. According to the Giant website, the 2014 Seek 3 comes with Schwalbe Big Apple tires. If so, they appear to be an excellent choice for commuting. Tires that came with my Kona were very soft and puncture prone. After switching to Kevlar tires, I had a much happier commute.

A decent riding jacket in a highly visible color keeps the rain off, helps to make you visible to others, and will provide a good balance of warmth and ventilation in this mild climate. Rain pants are really all one needs in addition on rainy days.

In 2008, my commute was 2 miles over flat ground, and I was 41 at the time. A few weeks into it, I was pretty worn. Had to start riding every other day for a few weeks before I was able to comfortably ride every day.

In 2012, after a new job and a move, my commute fell to 1.4 miles; however, a modest uphill component was added. Kicked my backside for a while.

I also started riding with the local bike club once a week. Rode a 10-12 mile ride on a Sunday, and at 45 I thought I would die. Kept riding with them, and by the end of the ride season I'd ridden a number of longer rides of between 25 and 40 miles--plus one 68 mile ride. In 2013, I rode even more, including two 80 mile rides. In 2014, I rode my first two Centuries (100 mile rides).

Check into the local bike clubs. Going out just once a week, for even a short ride of 10-20 miles, will do wonders in making your 7 mile commute a breeze. I must warn you though, it can simply be feeding an addiction, but I can think of worse things than a cycling addiction.

Since your ride home will be uphill, look into the local bus service. Perhaps you can split your commute between the bus and your bike--particularly if you can ride the bus home, uphill, with your bike on the front rack of the transit bus.

Read up on Sheldon Brown's lock strategy. http://www.sheldonbrown.com/lock-strategy.html

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    In my view, one can never have too many lights. I would disagree. With ten lights you'll always have several that are not working, and you will spend more time keeping the lights working than you do riding the bike. I'd say have a main and backup for both front and rear. The main front should be a good rechargeable unit, the rest can be disposable batteries. The backup rear is one of those flashing LED reflectors running off of a AAA penlight cell. Or get a generator front hub. – Daniel R Hicks Dec 21 '14 at 1:36
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It's a very nice bike. You can't limit yourself, too much fun, just ride the whole distance and you'll see how you feel. Rest as long as needed and do it again. Then again and again. No one can tell you if you can't predict yourself what's too much for you. Try the whole thing first to have a good idea what is it. Seven miles is nothing for a bike with multiple speeds. Everything else like clothes, helmet, spare tubes, etc. will come later. Take with you a good U-lock so you can lock your bike outside while you sit in a pub waiting for the rain to stop :)

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