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Training Wheels: A Beginner’s Guide to Urban Biking

Navigating city bike lanes with a prodigal daughter of the two-wheeled pastime
Encinitas Bikers.jpg

Encinitas Bikers.jpg

It all started in Berlin. Five hours into a trip with a guy who could have been my ticket to EU citizenship, I fell. Hard. But not for him. I landed on the extremely sturdy sidewalks I chose to careen down on my fahrrad, which is German for “mechanical harbinger of seven stitches.” Or, bicycle.

I’m not afraid of bikes because of the accident, but I’m not the carefree girl I used to be when it comes to riding (nor is my right knee). So, when I scored a deal on a Masi road bike, straight from the Haro Bikes headquarters in Vista, I had some apprehension about getting back in the saddle. That trepidation—and healing from my stitches—has lasted five years.

Now, I feel ready to reclaim the road. My journey back to the bike lane starts now, and I’m here to learn and ride alongside you as a beginner urban biker. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way on how to approach your steel steed with confidence. Roll up that right pant leg and hop on…

Take Care of Your Bike

Bike maintenance is essential to enjoying life on two wheels—whether you purchased a $2,000 bike or copped a used one for $200 off Craigslist.

First thing’s first. You’ll want to take it to a local bike shop to get it tuned and cleaned. A visit to Stay True Cycle Works in City Heights is like taking your bike to a spa (seriously, it gets a gentle steel wool scrub and a plushy polishing massage). Owner and bike mechanic, John Cooper, will have your ride back in fighting shape within 20 minutes.

And if you’re pulling out their bike for the first time in a while, you can make sure it’s road-ready with Cooper’s “ABC Quick Check:”

  • A – Air
    “If you can pinch your tire, pump it up, even if it does feel kind of firm,” says Cooper. When in doubt, pump.
  • B – Brakes
    “Squeeze your brakes. I like to call it a ‘rule of thumb’. Put your thumb [in between the handle and the handbrake] and squeeze—not hard, but until it stops. Then, if [the handle] is touching your thumb, chances are you might need a brake adjustment. Something might be obstructing it,” he says. Alternatively, it may be time to “bleed your brakes,” a process that drains out air trapped in your brake system.
  • C – Chain
    “Check your chain,” says Cooper. Not shifting smoothly? Then stop by a bike shop.
  • Quick – Quick fastener
    “Check your quick releases to see if you can pull them off with your fingers,” Cooper shares. If that’s the case, you’re in need of a tightening.

Rules of the Road

San Diego is not quite a cyclist-friendly city (though plans are in the works to add more protected bike lanes), so it is imperative to adhere to safety protocols. A local cycling org, the San Diego Bicycle Coalition, offers some guidelines for riders:

  • Use The Bicycle Lane
    On a roadway with a bike lane, bicyclists traveling slower than traffic must use the bike lane except when making a left turn, passing, avoiding hazardous conditions, or approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
  • Ride With Traffic
    Bicyclists must travel on the right side of the roadway in the direction of traffic, except when passing, making a legal left turn, riding on a one-way street, riding on a road that is too narrow, or when the right side of the road is closed due to road construction.
  • Be Seen Day & Night
    Being conspicuous is an essential part of traffic safety! At night cars and bicycles are required to have a working front and rear light. Bikes are required to have many other reflectors as well. Even during the daytime lights, reflectors and hi-visibility accessories can be a key part of safety and visibility.

Cooper adds, “Try to make eye contact with the drivers. Scan the road.” Keeping an eye out for cars—and making sure they’ve got eyes on you, too—goes a long way in preventing collisions.

You knew it was coming, but here’s the big one: wear a helmet. Don’t be afraid to feel dorky. That beautiful brain of yours is worth protecting. Though it’s not mandated by San Diego City or California law for adults to wear helmets, it is required for anyone under 18.



Beginning Bike Rides

My vote? Start close to home. Depending on your neighborhood’s proximity to major thoroughfares, beginning with short jaunts down side streets is best. Once you’ve gained some confidence, try these starter routes.

Mission Bay Bike Path

This 12-mile loop offers great views, flat surfaces, and even picnic opportunities for a pit stop. The 8-mph speed limit ensures a safe and leisurely cruise for all.

Barrio Logan Art Path

San Diego Bike Coalition suggests a colorful ride through the streets of Barrio Logan. The route includes nine stops for urban art patronage, starting at Chicano Park.

Balboa Park

The 1,200-acre park provides ample promenades—pedal down a few, then head over the bridge and back for a simple, outdoor roll.

Your New Cycling Community

Already an excellent resource for safety and bike advocacy, the San Diego Bicycle Coalition is also a local beacon of the biking community. The organization offers classes—including collaborations on bike mechanics with Stay True Cycle Works, Family Bike Education onsite at schools, and virtual Smart Cycling courses—and a thorough schedule of riding activities for all skill levels. (The Community Bike Rides stand out as a family-friendly highlight.) May 1–31 marks Bike Month in San Diego, so you can look forward to several events honoring all things cycling.

Be sure to also check out local cycling groups which can be an easy way to make new friends with the same interests. is another great resource for cycling events. Don’t be dissuaded by its spartan Web 1.0 interface—this website launched earlier this year and maintains an up-to-date bulletin board of riding opps of all kinds, including Velodrome racing for the more seasoned rider or eager spectator (think NASCAR or Formula 1, but for bikes).

Happy riding!

By Danielle Allaire

Danielle is a freelance culture journalist focusing on music, food, wine, hospitality, and arts, and founder-playwright of Yeah No Yeah Theatre company, based in San Diego. Her work has been featured in FLAUNT, Filter Magazine, and San Diego Magazine. Born and raised in Maui, she still loves a good Mai Tai.

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