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My first -- and last -- bicycle was a pink Barbie cruiser with a basket on the handlebars. My dad and a family friend taught me the basics near our house in suburban Massachusetts. More than 20 years later, I can still remember the day I gave up biking.
I was zipping without training wheels down the hill we lived on when I skidded out of control into my driveway and crashed onto the front lawn. I hadn't gotten on a bicycle since -- not during summers on Cape Cod, where my family pedaled everywhere, and not on a recent trip to Key West, Florida, where I chickened out of renting bikes with my girlfriends. "How can you be so obsessed with Spinning and so scared of bikes?" they teased me. It was time to get over my fear.The Game Plan
I confessed my goal to FITNESS and promised myself I wouldn't wimp out. The next thing I knew, I had agreed to spend a month mounting my own Lance Armstrong-like comeback.My New To-Do List
Aim for the Middle My first stop was the gym. Owner David prescribed Pilates to build the core strength I needed to stay in control as I steered. While doing the Hundred (a V-sit with bent knees in which you pump your arms by your sides), I learned that I overcompensate for my weak abs by arching my back and tensing my shoulders. As I firmed my abs, I practiced relaxing my shoulders so I wouldn't hunch over the handlebars.
Resize Your Ride I thought it was just me; I'm only five feet tall, and even on tiptoes I couldn't reach the ground on any rental bike in Key West without tilting to one side. Cycling guru Chris coached me on getting the right fit: I needed a road bike with a frame that suited my stature -- small enough that I could clear the top horizontal tube as I straddled it with both feet flat on the ground. The Giant Dash 3 bike seemed scaredy-cat-friendly at the bike shop, but the small frame in stock was too tall to pass the test. The shop's pro ordered the extra-small version for me, and it was a perfect match.
Walk and Roll At my first cycling lesson, in Central Park near my apartment in New York City, my ace instructor, Liz, lowered the seat and removed the pedals from my bike so that I could sit on it with my feet on the ground without any obstructions. She then told me to release the hand brakes and push off with my feet. I coasted for a few yards. Next, Liz put the pedals back on, and I coasted with one foot on a pedal. I finally used both feet to start pedaling. And like that, in just one hour I was riding a bike.
I'm hooked. I've since taken solo rides in the park and on a 13-mile bike path that's mostly flat and very scenic, making it a breeze to cycle. I can't wait to bring my new wheels to Cape Cod this summer!
David Barton, owner of DavidBartonGym in New York City "Stretch tight hamstrings after a ride by standing with one leg directly in front of the other and bending at the waist to let your upper body hang toward the ground. Hold for a few seconds, then switch your legs' positions and repeat."
Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong's coach and owner of Carmichael Training Systems in Colorado Springs "On a cruiser bike, keep your head and shoulders high and hinge at the hips instead of rounding your spine to bend forward."
Liz Reap Carlson, Giant for Women ambassador and sprint cyclist in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania "For smooth stops, squeeze the hand brakes gently until the pads just touch the rims. Release. Repeat squeeze-release until the bike comes to a stop."
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, April 2010.