Which bike for an adult learner?
March 19, 2016 1:17 PM   Subscribe

I am an early-40s woman who has never learned to ride a bicycle. I want to change that but don't know where to start.

My partner has accepted the challenge of teaching me, but I have no idea what kind of bike would suit me and I'd like to have a better idea of what I want before talking to a salesperson. I'm short (5'2") and fat (about 175lb), not at all athletic, uncoordinated, and have terrible balance. After knee surgery last year my orthopedic surgeon recommended cycling and swimming as my primary exercise activities and though I enjoy swimming, I'd really like to get outside a bit more. I plan to ride on paved bike paths and easy groomed trails in an urban forest. I do not plan to ever ride in traffic. I'd also like something relatively light as I'll have to carry it down and up a flight of stairs each time I use it. Budget is $750 CAD (I'm in the Vancouver area).

So, a hybrid? Cruiser? Chromoly steel or aluminum? Am I looking for a unicorn?
posted by subluxor to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You're over thinking this. A hybrid would be nice for what you're describing but most bikes would be able to handle it. You can learn on most any old bike with a bit of patience. You have a good budget, so you can likely go to a nice shop and talk to the sales person. Your area may have nice second hand shops where you could get something for less.
posted by Kalmya at 1:28 PM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am almost exactly you, but an inch taller. I taught myself how to ride a bike last year! I went to a bike shop to get recommendations and ended up with a great Trek hybrid bicycle. If there's a bike shop in your area, I would recommend that. They were able to tell me for my height and weight what size bike to get. As far as learning, have fun and don't stress. I was riding around my neighborhood (albeit kinda wobbly!) about 1 hour after practicing up and down the long driveway behind my townhouse. I did it on my own. My boyfriend started by holding the back of the bike steady, but I didn't like that, so I told him to let go. it seemed so much easier for me that way.
Bike shopping was fun! Enjoy picking out a bike and getting out in the world with your newfound skill!
posted by fresh-rn at 1:42 PM on March 19, 2016

Have you considered an adult size tricycle? They're super cool, and circumvent the balance issues. It'd happily travel over your stated paths. You can try riding one at a bike shop.

If you really want a /bike/ bike - I would consider a cruiser. The wider the tires the easier time you'll have. At least, that's been my experience.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:43 PM on March 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was part of a team of volunteers who taught a group of women how to ride by this method: put the seat as low as it will go while you are learning so your feet can be flat on the ground (or close to it). Ask the bike shop to put the bike in a middle gear for you. Start by scooting along with your feet off the pedals until you are able to keep your balance and coast. Then, get the bike coasting and practice putting your feet onto the pedals. Repeat until you can do this easily. Pedaaling will come naturally. When you are able to ride, raise the seat to the correct height to protect your knees and for efficiency. (The bike shop will do this for you.) All the women in the group learned to ride in an afternoon. Good luck!
posted by strasbourg at 2:13 PM on March 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

I relearned to ride a bike as an adult. I didn't forget how to balance but I had lost my confidence entirely.

Definitely get a ladies' hybrid as your first bike if you're buying, and put the seat down so your feet reach the ground. You're less likely to feel like you will fall off without the big horizontal cross bar on men's bikes, because you can get your feet to the ground if you get the wobbles. It's easy to put the seat up later with more confidence. I used a hybrid bike regularly for an hour long commute in city traffic to work - they're very versatile if you suddenly want to do a lot more cycling.
posted by Stephanie_Says at 2:34 PM on March 19, 2016

Honestly, I would buy a super-cheap bike on craigslist just to learn until you ride well enough so that you can test out the bike that you want to own permanently. Maybe buy a bike for $120, and sell it for $90 after you have ridden it for a few weeks.

Some to many of the big determinants of what makes a bike comfortable for a certain person will not factor in so much until you start riding more, faster, for longer, and up and down hills. You can try riding to see if and how much you like it, and putter around the neighborhood streets just fine with a cheaper bike.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 2:42 PM on March 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding strasbourg's advice to put the seat low and scoot around, figuring out your balance. Once you are pedaling around, have your partner teach you about gearing and effective braking.

Tricycles, counter to what one might think, are not easy to balance. If the ground is not level, it is difficult to steer a tricycle straight ahead.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:42 PM on March 19, 2016

The people suggesting putting the seat of your bike way down so that you can put your feet on the ground have a good idea, but it leads to uncomfortable, inefficient riding, so if you do that on a regular bike, you will want to get it up to a higher height fairly quickly . The Electra townie might be another option. They have adjusted the geometry of their bikes such that you can both ride comfortably and put your feet flat on the ground.

However, pretty much all hybrid bikes are heavy(30-40 pounds is typical), and can be awkward going up stairs, and that may be pretty annoying. You might also consider getting a folding bike. Dahon makes a number of bike that might fit your needs, they are super adjustable, and fold quickly so getting them up and down the stairs is easy, even though they are also about the same weight (30 lbs) as a hybrid.
posted by rockindata at 3:07 PM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

You've got a lot of good advice on how to learn, etc. above. I'll just add that in the bike world, there is an equivalent to the idea that when you have a need for a contractor, you can't get good, cheap, and fast, but only two out of the three. Similarly, in the bike world, you can get good and cheap, good and light, light and cheap, but not good, light, and cheap.

It might be worth your while to get a good, cheap, relatively heavy bike, along with a heavy chain and lock, and securely lock your bike outside so you don't need to carry it up and down. Good bike locks are expensive, but if you don't have to carry the lock with you, you can spend a lot less for a secure lock and chain (cheap but heavy!).

If you later decide to upgrade to a lighter bike, you can do so knowing better what is most suitable.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:43 PM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

2nding the Electra townie. I met a women on one who'd learnt on one and loved it. She also had bad knees and balance. She loved it - said she felt very safe. It was a bit harder than a normal bike to ride up hills, but it geode great.
posted by kjs4 at 8:32 PM on March 19, 2016

Thirding the townie; I got mine because the upright riding is easy on your wrists and back.
posted by clew at 9:44 PM on March 19, 2016

I agree that an Electra Townie or similar "crank forward" bike could be a good option for you. I've heard good things about the RANS models as well.

Even if you don't end up getting a crank forward, lowering the seat and removing the pedals is a good way to get the hang of balancing a bike.

A slightly more radical option would be a recumbent trike. Pro: Very comfortable, no need to balance, much more stable than an "upright" adult trike. Con: Pricey, especially if you get one of the light, foldable models that would be easier to carry up and down stairs. You aren't likely to find a new one in your price range, but used recumbents in good condition often show up on Craigslist.

If you want to test-ride some recumbent trikes, it looks like Cambie Cycles is your local retailer. They might carry a RANS crank forward as well.
posted by sibilatorix at 11:34 AM on March 20, 2016

Get one with a step through frame. You are probably going to have a few minor mishaps as you learn and this will make them a lot less painful. Also lower the seat as far as it can possibly go until you get the hang of it (not particularly comfortable or good for the knees, so don't go too far like that, but it's better than falling off). You want a hybrid with big fat tyres, a big fat seat and a nice upright position.
posted by intensitymultiply at 9:03 AM on March 21, 2016

No true Scotsman... Erm. I mean: No true bicyclist rides a Townie.
There. I said it. ;-)
The Electra Townie has an unusual geometry that perhaps can give a new bicyclist a feeling of safety.
It comes at a price, however.
The very high handlebar position combined with the extremely shallow seat tube angle places all your weight on the saddle with no means of taking the weight off. This will get painful quickly.
The high handlebars combined with the shallow steerer-tube angle and high trail gives you slow, imprecise steering. It may feel safe, but it isn't.
It will prevent you from reacting quickly to obstacles and likely make you swerve unnecessary.
They are, in other words, quite abominable, but possibly fun for short rides.

Get a real bicycle.
I'd say go for a (used?) cheap mountain bike and have it fitted with tires without knobs. Schwalbe Big Apple, for instance.
Don't listen to all the fuzz about 650b and 29'ers. Go for 26 inch wheels.
Get fenders, if you plan to ride in the rain.
it will feel more dangerous at first, but you will learn fast and have a usable bike far longer.
Best of luck
posted by Thug at 11:36 AM on March 21, 2016

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