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Gear Prudence: After riding a hand-me-down, I’m about to buy my first brand-new bike. I’m going to go to a bike shop, see what they’ve got, ask a bunch of questions, and then do a test ride. But what exactly should I test? Any new bike is going to be better than the old one I have, so how can I tell if it’s the right one for me? —Test Riding, Yet I’m Trepidatious
Dear TRYIT: The most crucial thing to determine when test riding a new bike is how good you look on it. Take your test ride somewhere you can see your reflection, like past downtown storefronts, by a serene lake, or through the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. Ideally, at some point during the ride, someone you pass will lower their sunglasses like in an ’80s movie and then you’ll know for sure.
Vanity aside, you should test how the bike actually feels. For fit, think about your limbs: Do your legs and arms feel overstretched or bunched up? Assess the bike’s weight by gauging how much effort it takes to get moving. On the ride, think about how much road vibration you feel. Do your teeth chatter at each bump? The bike’s geometry will make it react with greater or lesser sensitivity to the way your body moves. Does changing direction feel twitchy or sluggish? Don’t forget to test the gearing and the shifting system, too.
Test ride multiple bikes to see how they compare and don’t hesitate to test the same bike a few times. Inquire about whether the shop will let you borrow a bike for a longer time period before you buy. Take your time. —Gear Prudence
Gear Prudence: About six months ago, I moved from D.C. to the suburbs. As far as biking is concerned, I feel like I moved 30 years back in time. That I commute by bike to work raises eyebrows, and when I suggest that we should install more bike lanes, I get laughs. Everyone has a bike, but no one uses it. Is convincing my suburban neighbors that they should ride more a lost cause? —Some Unwelcoming Byways Undermine Robust Biking
Dear SUBURB: Not at all! While cycling can be an easier lift in urban environments where distances between places are shorter and streets weren’t specifically designed around the car, there’s plenty of room for both biking and bike advocacy in the suburbs. It might just look a little different from what you’re used to. Focus on shorter trips within the community—to schools, parks, Metro stations, etc.—rather than on long commutes into the city. Trails can be vital connectors in car-oriented places, so push hard for those and cherish any you have. Mostly, just don’t give up. Change takes time, and just because your suburb isn’t a bike paradise now, it’s not condemned to stay that way forever. Even Amsterdam didn’t always look like Amsterdam now. —GP