I can ride a bike somehow, but I'd like to learn to do it better (maneuvering, etc.) before starting to use it as a way to move about the city. Any suggestions how I should go about doing that, what I should consider? All I could find on the web was how to learn to ride for beginners.
The simple, short answer is practice. Simply riding around at moderate to slow speeds, practicing starting off, braking, stopping and negotiating tight turns will help build balance, confidence and control of the bike. Do this in a quiet spot away from people and cars if you can. If you are worried about falling do it on grass.
The most useful foundational bike handling skill is to learn how to stand up on the pedals, or at least take your weight off the saddle and onto the pedals through your legs. Being able to do this enables you to absorb bumps through your legs but also shift your weight around for better braking and low speed maneuvering. Being able to pedal while standing up also allows you to apply more power to get over short climbs or accelerate quickly.
Learning how to brake hard and stop quickly is obviously a very important safety skill. It involves using both the front and rear brakes in the right proportion and shifting your weight backwards.
The other thing I'd recommend it learning how to use your bike's gears properly and be able to shift into appropriate low gears for hills, short steep climbs and stopping and starting.
Global Cycling Network has several bike handling skills videos. They are oriented towards fast road riding but the principles all apply. Here is their latest one:
In the UK there is a national training scheme targeting child cyclists, often organized through schools. It claims to have trained about 2.5 million children to date. It has been running under different names for a long time - I took part in it back in the 1950s! Go to https://bikeability.org.uk/. "Level 1" is mainly about controlling the bike. Levels 2 and 3 are about riding safely in traffic.
From their website FAQ page, there may be opportunities for adults to take part:
Can adults take part in Bikeability?
Yes, adults can take part in Bikeability. The skills taught as part of Bikeability will last a lifetime, and it is never too late to learn.
Your local authority might have an adult cycle training offer. They might call it Bikeability, or refer to the National Standard for cycle training, the standard upon which Bikeability is based. It is recommended that you check with your local authority about their adult cycle training offer – information is usually available from their website, under ‘cycling’ or ‘cycle training’. There may be a charge for training.
The training you receive can be built around your specific training needs – so, if there’s a particular route you would like to practise or a skill you’d like to work on, please make your instructor aware.
I agree with the advice to practice.
There's a book, Effective Cycling by John Forester, which covers everything--the physiology of cycling, bike maintenance, interacting with traffic, etc. Some of the advice on bike maintenance is outdated at this point, and I think some of what he wrote about physiology has been superseded by improved scientific understanding, but in terms of day-to-day riding, his advice is specific and solid. There is a series of courses based on the book as well, although I don't know if they are offered where you live.
Here's some of my own advice:
- Get your bike set up properly. Most people ride with the seat too low, and without enough weight on their hands. Your seat should be high enough that your knee is almost fully extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke, and you should be carrying some of your body weight on your hands. And if there are any serious mechanical problems with your bike, fix them.
- Learn how to ride in a straight line by instinct. This sounds trivial, but most naive bike riders can't do it. You should be able to hold a line that's no more than 15 cm wide.
- Learn what the real risks of riding in traffic are, and prepare for them. A lot of naive riders will try to mitigate their perceived risks, and will do it in ways that actually increase their real risks.
- Assuming your bike has multiple gears, ride in a lower gear than feels natural. You'll adjust. Most naive riders have a cadence (pedal speed) of 60 rpm or lower; you should aim for about 80 rpm. This is better for your knees, and it helps you accelerate quickly when you need to.
- Most importantly, learn to ride in a heightened state of awareness. Anticipate what's going to happen. If you need to swerve around a patch of broken glass, is there a car coming up behind you that will need to swerve too? Is there an oncoming car that will prevent it from doing so? Is someone going to get out of that parked car up ahead? What gear do you want to be in to accelerate away from the stop you're approaching?
I'm not certain what you are asking?
Once you know how to ride your bike, it is just a question of getting more experienced.
Ride and ride more, go around your neighborhood, learn how cars and pedestrians and other cyclists behave and react.
Go to parking space when there are no cars and ride there practicing how to maneuver safely at different speed (mostly low speed).
As others have mentioned, practicing in a safe environment without traffic will help you improve your skills.
I think learning the following skills is essential for riding around a city.
- Pedalling standing up for quick acceleration.
- Signalling left and right with your arm and only one hand on the handlebars.
- Observing behind you by looking over your shoulder. Mirrors can help, but the shoulder-check is considered a life-saver.
- Knowledge of the rules and rights of way for traffic in your country.
- The ability to do all the above without excessive wobbling or swerving.
For "moving about the city", nothing is as important as safety.
Study something like, Ontario’s Guide to Safe Cycling -- especially the later pages, which explain how to interact with traffic. Note page 20 (and page 36), for example, which shows how to avoid getting trapped between the curb and vehicle turning right (or in the UK, turning left).
It doesn't tell you everything though, e.g. in the situation on page 21 I'd also want to make eye contact with the driver who is waiting to exit the driveway or the side-road, and (even though I have right of way) not cross in front of them until I had made eye contact.
As a semi-advanced skill, get the kind of cycling shoes which clip to the pedals (and corresponding pedals) -- called "SPD", also confusingly-named "clipless". I have two-sided pedals, one side with a
clip receiver for bike shoes, and the other side flat for street shoes.
When learning to use these shoes, you'll fall off: the bike store told me that everyone does -- and I certainly did, when travelling at a speed of zero i.e. when coming to a complete stop at an intersection or destination and forgetting to unclip in time -- so learn to do it on sideroads where you're not in traffic ... and (they said) do it while you're wearing a winter coat (and a helmet of course, and cycling gloves): I found that gives extra padding on arms and hips, which makes a zero-speed fall painless.
Anyway, having feet clipped to the bike eventually helped me feel more 'at one' with or tied to, linked to the bike -- I no longer have to think about keeping my feet on the pedals, and can concentrate on eyes and hands (and ears) instead. It's also more comfortable eventually, e.g. easier to stand on the pedals (like you'd "rise to a trot" on a horse, using stirrups) when going over bumps, or to shift your bum to behind the seat when performing a hard stop or downhill braking (or an emergency brake).
Having equipment might help confidence:
- Effective brakes, front and back. Preferably, very effective brakes (I have and like hydraulic disk brakes, which remain effective even when wet or snowy, downhill in traffic). If yours is an older bike, ask whether you need new brake pads (they, and chains, are consumables).
- Lights (front and back) and reflectors (to the side), especially in winter when the days are short
- Helmet, glasses (with corrective lenses if that's you, otherwise just to keep the wind/dust/insects out of your eyes and to keep you from ever having to squint), gloves (if you fall then you're likely to put your hand on the ground to break your fall, and they absorb some of the vibration of the handle bars)
- I like to have robust tires too, so that the bike isn't fragile (the tires were the least reliable part of my bike until I upgraded them to "Marathon Plus")
- A bell (no good for cars but useful for alerting bikes and pedestrians on a cycle path)
Also, communicate with the traffic around you: use hand signals, and do shoulder-checks.
The League of American Bicyclists certifies instructors for cycling. While it sounds like overkill, cycling instructors can be invaluable for teaching important cycling skills such as sudden braking, riding in groups, where on the road to ride (as far to the right as possible isn't always the best or safest way) and very importantly, the rights and responsibilities of a cyclist on the road.
Check out this link for more on this -- League of American Bicyclists: Find & Take a Class
The most important thing is control. It is like they said in a movie that the Sword should become an extension to your body only then you will master it. That is the case with Bikes, too.
One additional suggestions other than the obvious 'experience'.
Do not turn your bike using only the handle. Tilt your bike sideways to the side you want to turn. Reason - Physics --> Centripetal Force --> Better Control.
PS - I was able to ride my bike for almost a km with numerous turns and completely hands free, (I highly recommend against it, though). Reason: you can turn the bike just by your own weight as explained above. High Schooler me didn't know the science behind this, then.
A lot of bike confidence comes from learning your particular bike. Here's some maneuvers I like to practice when there's no traffic or other bikers/pedestrians around:
- Find an empty parking lot or an alley without traffic and practice taking one hand off the handlebars while still pedaling. You'll learn how to manage your weight, and you'll be more comfortable taking a hand off in real riding conditions to signal your turn or get water.
The trackstand. Come to a slow halt while riding and try to balance the bike up while keeping both feet on the pedals, braking as needed. You'll learn a lot about how your bike responds to small amounts of braking and small weight shifts. You can use this in real life at stoplights to let you get off the line quicker and be able to get out the way more easily.
I like to practice riding with no hands on the handlebars sometimes - it's a great way to stretch out your back after being hunched over and having to steer with your leg weight shifts alone teaches you more about how to handle the bike.
- On wide roads with no traffic, I like to get up to speed and then practice steering left and right, as if there were imaginary obstacles, to practice making tight turns at speed, so I know how to make them in real life when a car door appears.
- Finally, I like to try locking up my rear tire and managing a skid for a second or two, in case it would happen in real life. I wouldn't recommend trying this unless you really want to, but I feel better knowing I can handle one if it should happen.
- If you haven't tried using toe clips or foot straps yet, those are a good easy upgrade to have more control over the bike and gain more confidence.
Also keep in mind that most things on a bike can be adjusted and customized for you. If you feel like your brakes are too mushy or too firm, that's easily adjustable. Same with tire pressure and saddle position, and front shock softness on mountain bikes. Once you have your bike exactly how you like it you'll feel a lot better and enjoy riding more.
One thing that I found made a massive difference was getting a bike that fitted properly. I learnt to wobble around on a bike costing ~£/$/€60 new but only got confident when I spent 10× that on a bike that was (i) big enough – I'm tall, and (ii) actually designed instead of thrown together. I'm not suggesting you do that though, it's much better to get something second hand but they used to be rare in my size. One issue is the bike, the other is wanting to ride it.
BTW I now have a very similar piece of junk to that £60 bike as a 4th-rate runabout, and I can throw it around with ease, now that I've developed the skills on better bikes.
I think with just riding your bike you will get enough bike handling skills for casual city riding. If you really want to practice, i would suggest you four exercises:
- braking with front brake only
- locking up your back wheel
- jumping over small things
- riding with no hands
However I have never fell because of poor technique but because I underestimated how slippery the road was. So watch out for tight turns
- after light rain
- in the winter
- when the road is covered with wet leaves
- on (wet) tram tracks.