If you're riding a hybrid or mountain bike, take it to a level, open, grassy field for a few test rides. "The grass helps to protect you in case of beginner spills―which are completely normal," Bausch says. "Plus, this gives you a chance to build your confidence on the bike without being surrounded by distractions, like cars or other riders." Stay on bike paths or bike lanes until you're ready to ride on the open road.
Bring along a fellow rider, and ride side-by-side, getting your handlebars as close to the other rider's handlebars as possible. "This technique will build your confidence," Bausch says. You don't want to be spooked when a fellow rider passes you.
Take turns following closely behind your fellow rider, trying to get within a foot or so of his or her rear wheel. Then switch positions so you lead. "Cyclists often ride in packs, especially during long rides, so it's a good idea to become comfortable with someone right in front of you or right behind you," Bausch says.
While the number of gears on a bike can vary, they all do one basic task: control speed by determining how much or how little resistance is placed on the pedals. While riding on level ground, practice shifting between gears.
• Gears are controlled by clicking small levers typically located on the left and right side of the bike's handlebars. When you click a lever, the bike chain is shifted over a set of gear rings or cogs located on the back wheel and the pedal crank of the bike. Shifting moves the chain from one cog to another to make resistance easier or harder.
• "Downshifting means you are using a lower gear to make pedaling easier, like when approaching and climbing a hill," Bausch says.
• "Upshifting means you are using a higher gear to give you more traction, like when you are on flat, easy terrain, going downhill, or rounding a curve," Bausch says.
• Shift into a lower gear as you approach a hill, not when you are already climbing. The lower resistance will allow you to pedal faster, build up the speed needed to ascend the hill, and prevent you from becoming overly fatigued during the climb.
• "If you start to feel sluggish during the climb, try lifting out of the seat and standing for 5 to 10 pedal strokes," Bausch says. "It will allow you to put more body weight into pedaling, helping propel you up the hill. However, use this technique sparingly, as standing requires more energy."
• Upshift gears at the top of the hill to apply more tension to the pedals so you can continue to pedal lightly as you descend. "This helps prevent soreness by removing any lactic acid, which may have developed in your muscles while climbing the hill," Miller says.
• "Lightly tap the brakes as you descend, rather than applying continued pressure, although you can do so if necessary," Bausch says.
Bike two to three days per week, allowing at least one day of rest between each ride. One of these workouts should incorporate hill climbing. "On rainy days, take an indoor Spinning class offered at most gyms, or use a stationary trainer at home to get in a longer ride," Miller says.
Workout 1 and 2: Bike 20 to 30 minutes. Maintain an easy pedal cadence; push yourself a little harder during the second ride.
Workout 1: Bike 30 minutes. Workout 2: Bike 30 minutes. Incorporate small hill climbing into one quarter of the workout.
Workout 1: Bike 40 to 45 minutes at a comfortable speed. Workout 2: Bike 40 minutes. Incorporate hills into a third of the workout.