Since spring shutdowns, cycling has become extremely popular. For those finding a new passion for pedaling, we asked seasoned riders of road, trail, and gravel for advice on gear, safety, and destinations.
Across the Blue Ridge region, bike shops are selling out of stock. Kids bikes, leisure bikes, mountain bikes, stationary bikes—people staying isolated for safety are ready to ride, keeping inventory low, while the wait time for bike repairs can sometimes be weeks as mechanics try to keep up with demand.
Whether you’re new to biking or rediscovering your love for riding on two wheels, we caught up with cyclists across disciplines and riding styles to get the best advice for beginners looking to take their skills to the next level.
Sharing the Road
The Rider: Shequaya Bailey
Home Base: Pennsylvania
Riding Style: Road Rider and Bike Commuter
When you first start riding, it’s important to understand what you want to get out of biking. “Know who you are,” said cyclist Shequaya Bailey (pictured above). Do you want to ride around your neighborhood alone? Do you prefer cycling with large groups? Do you eventually want to get into the racing scene? These are all things you will come to understand the more you ride and the more you interact with the cycling community.
When Bailey first started cycling, she connected with the Pittsburgh Major Taylor Cycling Club. “Major Taylor helped me learn how to be a better cyclist,” she said. “I didn’t know about the whole gear thing, cadence, and all these terms. Why are people clipping in? What are the benefits to that? And then learning about all different types of saddles and why it’s important to find the right one. There’s so many things that I didn’t anticipate.”
Bailey now serves as the president of the club, but when she started, more experienced cyclists were a resource for information on new routes, bike maintenance, and gear tips. When looking to join a cycling group, Bailey recommends trying out several in your area to get a feel for your preferred riding style. “There’s so many and you won’t like every club,” she said. “They have different riding styles, different cultures. Maybe they ride too early or too late. Find something that fits your life.” A club’s ride descriptions will clue you in on what to expect from the group in terms of how fast and far they go. No-drop group rides are a great place to start as they don’t leave anyone behind, no matter your pace.
Once she started riding more consistently, Bailey connected with other cyclists through the Allegheny Cycling Association, which puts on a local race series in Pittsburgh. “I met other racers and got into that culture, learning a whole new type of bike riding,” Bailey said. “Training can be fun but it’s also work. I think having a group of people who see the fun in it but are also going to push themselves is really important.”
For aspiring road cyclists, it’s also important to learn how to ride comfortably alongside cars. Be aware of where cars are on the road, look out for hazards, and read about proper biking etiquette. Bailey also recommends finding parallel routes or multi-use trails that will get you onto safer routes. “Always expect the worst from drivers,” Bailey said. “I know that sounds awful but it’ll save your life.”
Bailey’s Top Tips
Beginners’ advice: “Don’t get caught up in the brand thing or what’s the latest,” Bailey said of cycling gear. “That stuff doesn’t matter. Just make sure you’re comfortable and happy when you’re riding.”
In the pack: Bailey has a checklist of all the things she needs, including a pump, tubes, multi-tool, tire levers, and patch kit, so she knows she has everything before heading out. For longer rides, she adds pannier bags to the rack on the back of her bike to carry a lock, bungee cords, and more. And she always carries a light for her bike. “This is especially true when you’re commuting or going for a ride after work and you think you’re going to get back in time before it gets dark,” Bailey said. “You just never know if you’re going to be caught out there. It’s always good to have light so that you can be seen.”
Favorite places to ride: When not biking around the city of Pittsburgh, Bailey likes to get out on longer routes like the Great Allegheny Passage, Montour Trail, and Panhandle Trail in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. “[The] Blue Ridge Parkway is definitely the number one destination ride for any cyclist that has been cycling for a bit,” Bailey said. “Definitely not for the novice. It’s very hilly, but beautiful roads. It’s really long so you could be riding the Blue Ridge forever and never get sick of it.”
Hitting the Trails
The Rider: Korey Hopkins
Home Base: Maryland
Riding Style: Mountain bBiking and Enduro Racing
Korey Hopkins started cycling after college for recreation and exercise, and he quickly gravitated to bikes with fat tires and cushy suspension systems. Now, as an avid mountain biker, he spends most of his time in the saddle on singletrack trails laden with rocks, roots, water crossings, and fallen trees. He says new riders should be patient and take time to learn how to clear obstacles, change gears, and take the corners on the rougher terrain. “Definitely work on the fundamentals,” Hopkins said. “Get an understanding of how your brakes work, how the suspension works under you. On easier trails, start trying to tackle small logs and rocks. Keep in mind that it’s all fun. So never lose track of that.”
Although the internet has plenty of resources for aspiring mountain bikers, Hopkins recommends connecting with a local bike shop, something he wishes he’d done before he unknowingly picked the wrong size bike. Experienced shop owners can make sure you have the right frame size, saddle height, and handlebar reach to make your ride more comfortable. “Not having anybody to actually help me with what was going on gave me a lot of issues,” he said.
Hopkins also suggests connecting with local bike clubs, biking advocacy organizations, and Facebook groups. The locals in those groups can help with gear questions and point you towards the best trails in town. “Don’t be afraid to change it up,” Hopkins said. “If you ride the same trails after work, there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s definitely something to be said about riding new trails to get a fresh perspective.”
On the competitive side Hopkins enjoys enduro races, which mix elements of cross-country and downhill mountain biking. “For enduros, you need a mix of the technical skills and fitness,” he said. “You’re using completely different fitness, muscles, and skills.”
But overall the mixed discipline stage events are considered approachable for new racers. “You don’t have to have specialty bikes,” Hopkins said. “(It’s) good for somebody looking to get into the sport without having to make a big investment in tires, bikes, and other gear.”
Hopkins’ Top Tips
Beginners’ advice: “Be ready to explore and try out all the disciplines,” Hopkins said. “It doesn’t matter which way you fall, all of it is good. Find where you fit in as far as discipline and just run with it.”
In the pack: “For me, it was definitely a learning experience,” Hopkins said. “For shorter rides where I’m close to home and know the trails, I’ll try to just carry a multi-tool and tire changing [kit]. Depending on the time of year, a bottle [of water] works for me. But it’s definitely personal preference.” For longer rides, he adds food and a small CamelBak hydration pack to maintain energy on the trail.
Favorite places to ride: For mountain biking, Stokesville Lodge in Virginia and the Frederick Watershed trails in Maryland. On the gravity/downhill side, Windrock Bike Park in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee.
The Rider: Ashley Finch
Home Base: Georgia
Riding Style: Gravel Rider and bike Commuter
Rougher than road but less technical than singletrack, gravel riding is becoming increasingly popular in the Blue Ridge and beyond. For those new to gravel, avid rider Ashley Finch says one of the first things to figure out is how tires handle differently than they do on pavement or trail. “I always recommend for people getting into gravel to set their tires up tubeless if they can,” Finch said. “You have sealant that seals all of the holes from all the little nicks that the gravel is going to put in your tires. If they’re constantly popping, you’re not going to get very far.”
While setting up tubeless tires might take a while to master, it will save you time when you aren’t having to make frequent patch stops on the long remote stretches typical of gravel rides. These lengthy jaunts on steadily bumpy terrain can also take a gradual toll on the body, so Finch says proper nutrition and hydration are key. “Make sure, especially in the Southeast, you carry a ton of water,” she said. “Gravel cycling can be really strenuous, especially if you’re up in the mountains. You’re going up super steep grades. It takes a lot out of you. You have to eat a lot while you’re on the bike. Fine tune how much you need to eat, what foods make you feel good on the bike.”
As you get more comfortable spending longer periods of time in the saddle, consider multi-day bikepacking trips that will allow you to cover more distance. But taking longer trips doesn’t necessarily mean you have to invest in a pricey touring rig with expensive accompanying gear—all becoming more prevalent as gravel riding gains buzz. Finch found cycling groups like WTF Bikexplorers ATL are great about sharing gear with new riders. She also visits secondhand shops and repurposes old equipment.
“For new cyclists, it can be really intimidating and daunting when you start to look into cycling online and everyone has really expensive gear,” she said. “But you don’t need all of that stuff. If you already have some camping gear and you have a way to fix it to your bike, just experiment.”
Finch’s Top Tips
Beginners’ advice: “Understanding your limitations and your bike’s limitations are important,” Finch said. “Make sure your bike is equipped for the terrain that you’re interested in going on.” Finch also uses apps like Ride With GPS and Strava to find new routes that other cyclists recommend.
In the pack: “In the Southeast, I’m always going to have a rain jacket on me,” Finch said. “You never know. Especially in the summer, the rain comes out of nowhere.”
Favorite places to ride: The gravel routes at Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Getaway in the mountains of North Georgia and Chattahoochee National Forest.