There’s a reason we never forget how to ride a bike.
No matter how many years pass or what other clutter our memories gather, our brains still recall how glorious it was to sail down the streets and sidewalks of our neighborhood with the breeze in our faces, dodging squirrels and jumping curbs all the way to the corner store where we’d buy Slurpees and gum.
We were free to roam as far as our legs would take us and would scream with glee on all the downhills. It was awesome.
Maybe our brains cling to the skill optimistically, holding out hope we might ride a bike like that again one day.
Judging by the current shortage of bicycles at shops around the country – and the speed with which used bikes sell on platforms like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace – we are embracing that hope.
“It’s a really liberating way to get around,” said Will Elting, event director at the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, a Portland-based organization dedicated to making Maine a more inviting and safe place to ride and walk. “We’re really excited to see renewed interest in cycling and see more bikes on the road every day, and we hope that this is the start of a trend that lasts indefinitely.”
Longtime bike riders, be they hard-spriting cyclists, mountain bikers, commuters, or leisurely cruisers, are already well-acquainted with the delights of riding in Maine. But if you’re a rider who hasn’t been on a bike since junior high, heading out on the trails and roads of Maine for the first time might feel daunting.
There are, however, a host of resources to help you get back in the saddle again safely and confidently.
Get a bike
Acquiring your own set of wheels is easier said than done this season.
For new rides, check in with local bike shops like Gorham Bike & Ski, CycleMania, and Allspeed. For used-but-still-excellent (a.k.a. “experienced”) bikes, head to Portland Gear Hub on Washington Avenue. They’re fixing up bikes for sale and selling them so fast they aren’t able to keep up online, so make a plan to visit in person. Port City Bikes on Parris Street also sells used and new bikes.
Facebook Marketplace is also a solid place to score all kinds of things – bikes included – but you’ll need to move quickly when you see something you like. Outdoor gear doesn’t wait around any more.
The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is also bringing back its annual Bike Swap this year, although it’ll look a little different this time around (likely smaller swaps in multiple locations). More information to be shared soon on bikemaine.org. For tips on buying and selling used bikes during a pandemic, check out the Bicycle Coalition’s webinar at 7 p.m. April 21 (register for free online) or watch afterward on their YouTube channel.
Wear a helmet if you’re riding on roads. Just do it. Bright colors will make you more visible during the day (like those popular insanely yellow jackets cyclists often wear). Wearing apparel with reflective elements and making sure your bike has reflectors and lights will make you more visible at night.
Riding safely matters, too. Get acquainted with the rules of the road, like biking in the same direction as traffic, stopping at red lights and stop signs, and signaling your turns so other riders and motorists know where you’re up to. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine has a ton of helpful information on their website about how to be a safe bike rider, sharing the road, how to choose the right helmet, and more.
Take care of your ride
“It’s always important to know the basics about your bike before you take off,” Elting said.
Do you know how to change a tire? Do you have an extra tube, just in case? Is your bike properly fitted to you? When’s the last time that bike chain was lubed?
Basic bike maintenance will keep your bike working like a dream and boost your riding confidence, knowing you can swap out a punctured tube or fix a slipped chain when needed.
Check out the Bicycle Coalition of Main’s “fix-it Friday” video series on their website and YouTube channel to watch videos demonstrating how to fix a flat, proper helmet fit, and cleaning and lubing your chain, among other tips.
Know where you’re going
“Preparation pays off,” Elting said. “Do your research. Be a conscientious road user.”
As with any road trip, it helps to know where you’re going, especially when riding on unfamiliar roads. Apps like Ride with GPS are handy tools where you can find routes in your area or a place you’re visiting. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine has more than 150 Maine routes on the app.
“It’s a great collection of routes that have been fully vetted by people who have ridden them before,” Elting said. You can download routes to your phone, get turn-by-turn voice directions, or download and print cue sheets. And it’s free.
Ride with friends
There certainly is strength in numbers, particularly when you’re new to riding on busy urban streets or less-busy-but-still-scary-at-first rural roads.
Ride with experienced friends. If none of your friends ride bikes, find a group to ride with. In Portland, check out the Casco Bay Cycling Club and First Friday Slow Rides on Facebook to stay apprised of upcoming rides. Local bike shops might also restart their weekly rides this year.
For more entry-level riding, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine is planning some small, socially distanced workshops that will focus on urban bike commuting. More details on that to be announced soon.
Make it an event
The bike event schedule has been lighter than usual since last March, for good reason. But boy is it lovely to ride alongside 50 or 200 or 1,000 other cyclists, stopping now and then for roadside snacks and camaraderie.
This year the Trek Across Maine and Cycle the Seacoast are virtual and the Dempsey Challenge is TBD. For in-person rides, the Maine Women’s Ride is back on June 5 in a new smaller-group format. More than 20 bike shops, cycling clubs, and other local organizations are hosting rides around the state, from Kittery to Madawaska, and registration is pay-what-you-can (suggested donation is $35). The Women’s Ride is also open to mountain biking and off-road riding this year.
Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.