This is the first part of a three part series where I share what my experiences and observations have been in the bike world.
Bike shops are intimidating. They seem more exclusive than regular stores, where you are only welcome with open arms if you speak the secret bike language. Someone less prone to intimidation than me would have no problem walking into a bike shop cold turkey and walk out with what they needed. Not me. I really have to work up courage to walk into a shop! It can only take one rude or condescending sales person to make the trip miserable. In addition, the people who work at bike shops are often very passionate about what they do (because with they kind of money they (don’t) make, they’re the only one’s who will work there). And sometimes that zeal can be seen as condescension, or it can make it hard to relate to a person who is not an expert like them. In general, I think those in bike shops are awesome people, but it doesn’t always seem that way at first glance.
So the key is to find a shop that you can be comfortable in. And that can be difficult. If you’re lucky, the local bike shop (LBS) near you will be able to offer that comfort. I can’t tell you what will make you comfortable- it’s a gut instinct you’ll have once you get inside and talk to someone. If you’re fortunate to live in an area with more than one LBS, hopefully you can find one that speaks to your needs and has a staff that can make you feel comfortable. Don’t be afraid to admit you have no idea what you’re doing! I’m terrible at taking my own advice in this area- I hate admitting a knowledge gap. But admitting when you have no idea what the shop person is talking about is better than buying something you’re not comfortable with! In that vein, don’t feel pressured to buy anything. Many people (me!) like to research purchases before committing, especially if it’s a lot of money. Do that if it makes you feel better! Get prices, brands, their recommendations, then go home and sit on it if you feel like it. Go online and compare prices and look at reviews, but I would recommend buying directly from the LBS if at all possible- unless there is a huge price difference or there is something specific you want that the shop doesn’t carry, spending a few extra dollars at your local LBS is totally worth it. Plus, instant gratification!
Now, for the second type of intimidation: other cyclists! It’s so easy to be intimidated by other cyclists, especially those consider themselves to be serious cyclists. I suffer from severe intimidation from other cyclists. I’m always worried that my gear will not “fit in” or will be looked down upon by others. BUT, that’s mostly because of my personality, more than actual reality. Yes, there are some who will judge you for not having the highest end, most expensive gear. But you probably won’t end up riding with those types much anyway. If riding RAGBRAI taught me one thing, it was that there is no wrong way to be a cyclist- if you’re comfortable and having fun, then it doesn’t matter what you wear or what you ride. I’m a huge fan of group rides and think those are a great way to have this point illustrated. I encounter so many different types of cyclists on those rides.Overall, on those rides, and elsewhere, I’ve found other cyclist to be friendly and accepting. I enthusiastically encourage group ride participation- it’s a great motivator and a great way to meet like minded folks. However, most groups rides tend to be heavily populated with males, and for women, that thought can be scary- for myself, when there are males around, I usually feel as though I’m trying to prove myself. Plus, I’m easily intimidated by cute boys ;) If you are like me, then I would suggest searching out all female group rides. I find I am more at ease going into an all female group rides, as I know there won’t be any cute boys. Even besides that, many women’s groups offer introductions to group rides, introductions to bike maintenance, etc. So, if you’re new to cycling, women’s groups can offer a lot of resources. Meetup.com and your local bike shops are great places to start to find group rides. In addition, there is probably a local cycling scene forum online where you could ask for recommendations and find suggestions.
I think the intimidation factor exists in everyone and it’s up to you to overcome those barriers. Hopefully, I’ve given you a few tools and enough information to help get you started!
I often dispense advice on twitter, so follow me at @bloomingcyclist.