The step-by-step beginner's guide on how to get started in road cycling. In association with Decathlon
Getting started in any sport can be hard, but cycling can be particularly tricky. It’s not just a case of buying a pair of running shoes or some football boots, and it’s easy to become baffled by the amount of stuff and the complexity of some of the equipment that you think you might have to buy.
The good news is that we’ve teamed up with Decathlon to guide you through those first few weeks on your road cycling journey, all the way from those first few internet searches as you try and work out what bike to buy, to becoming part of the road cycling community by joining a club.
Get a bike
The obvious first step for getting started in road cycling is to get a bike. But of course it’s not quite as simple as that, and there are a dizzying array of different bikes that can be very confusing if you don’t know what to look for.
The best choice of bike for most road riding will be one with dropped handlebars which will help you to get into a lower, more aerodynamic position so you can ride faster. However that’s not the only option, and if you’re just using your bike for commuting and riding around town then a hybrid bike with flat bars might be more suitable.
Once you’ve decided what type of bike you want to buy it’s time to work out which model to go for, which of course depends a lot on your budget. We’d strongly advise setting your budget in stone or underestimating what you can afford, as you’ll inevitably find yourself spending a little more than you initially intended.
For those watching the pennies, it is possible to pick up your first road bike for less than £300. Bikes at this price, such as the B’Twin Triban 500, will come with an aluminium frame and a basic eight-speed groupset – but they’re perfect for getting started on a budget.
Spend a bit more and the first thing that improves is the groupset, meaning more gears to choose from and easier, smoother, more precise shifting. For example the £650 B’Twin Triban 540 comes with an 11-speed Shimano 105 groupset and a carbon fork that will improve the comfort of the front of the bike, while for around a grand you will get a higher quality aluminium frame (such as that on the B’Twin Ultra 720 AF) that should bring a bit more zip to your rides.
If you’ve got over £1,000 to spend, then you can buy a bike with a carbon-fibre frame. This is will make the bike lighter to make climbing easier, and also stiffer, so less of the effort you put into the pedals will be dissipated through the frame.
As little as £1,600 is enough to get you the B’Twin Ultra 700 CF road bike with an excellent carbon frame and Shimano 105 groupset, while if you’re looking to really go for it with your first road bike, then the B’Twin Ultra 740 CF comes with the electronic Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset and aerodynamic deep section wheels.
Kit yourself out
Now that you’ve got your bike, it’s important to make sure that you look the part. And if you want to be taken seriously by other riders, that means lycra.
The most important thing is to get a good pair of cycling shorts that will contain a pad (or “chamois”) to help you stay comfortable even during long rides. The shorts must fit properly, which for women will mean buying a pair of female-specific bib shorts that have a special pad to provide a bit more protection.
In general the more you spend on a pair of shorts, the higher the quality of pad that you will get. That should mean better comfort on the bike, although the pads of different brands will suit some riders more than others. But however much you’re spending, make sure you get shorts with straps (bib shorts) which will help to keep the shorts in place when riding.
The next part of your outfit is the jersey. There isn’t anywhere near as much to think about as with bib shorts. The most important thing is fit, as you don’t want a jersey that flaps around in the wind, but it might also be worth spending a little bit more on a jersey with a full length zip (such as the B’Twin 700 cycling jersey) for really hot days. It’s also worth investing in a cycling jacket to help you keep riding through winter.
Your final piece of essential clothing (apart from shoes, which we’ll get on to in the next section) is a helmet. Again you don’t need to spend the earth (indeed you can pick up a perfectly safe helmet for as little as £6.50), but more expensive helmets will generally be lighter, more comfortable, and offer better ventilation so you don’t get too warm on hot days.
Learn how to clip in
Once you’ve got your bike, it’s time to go for that first spin around the block.
Now, it might sound bizarre, but your bike probably won’t be sold with pedals, and even if it is sold with pedals, these will usually flat pedals or toe clips, which we’d suggest throwing away immediately and taking the plunge with a pair of clipless pedals.
These are pedals that you clip your shoes in to (the clipless in the name refers to the lack of toe clips), which makes your pedalling hugely more efficient as it allows you to pull up on the pedal as well as pushing down on it.
Having your feet attached to the pedals might sound scary, but it’s actually not that bad once you get used to it. There are various different systems, but all basically work by you pushing your foot forward and downwards to clip in, and then rotating it outwards to unclip. You might get a few bumps and bruises while you’re learning, but once you get used to them it will become second nature.
The different clipless pedal systems will come with different cleats, so it’s important to get a pair of shoes that will accommodate the type of pedals you want to use. To do this, just look at the bottom of the shoes and see if they have two or three bolts to attach cleats.
If you’re riding off-road or particularly want a pair of shoes that are easy to walk in, then you should go for a pedal system with a two-bolt cleat such as the Shimano SPD pedals. These should also be nice and easy to get your feet in and out of.
However if you’re doing normal road riding then a system that uses a three-bolt cleat, such as these Look Keo Classics, are the best option. With these pedals your shoes will move around less meaning better pedalling efficiency, while the wider base will give you more surface area to push down on.
Set your bike up properly
The best way to set your bike up properly is to have a bike fit, but they can often be quite expensive, so if you’re on a budget then you should be able to set your bike up in a position that will make your pedalling efficient and hopefully your body injury free.
The most important thing is to set your saddle height properly. As a rule of thumb the distance from the top of the saddle to the bottom bracket should be 10cm less than your inside leg, and from there you can move it up and down by a few millimetres over the course of your first few rides until you find the perfect fit.
Getting your handlebars in the right position is also really important, as having an overly low and stretched out position can cause back pain over the course of long rides. Our advice would be to start with a fairly upright position, and from there you can transition into a lower and more aggressive position as and when you’re comfortable.
Get the right tools
You don’t need to be a mechanical genius to get into road cycling, but if you don’t want to be calling for a taxi or facing a long walk home when something goes wrong, it’s worth at least learning how to fix a puncture and perform other pieces of basic maintenance.
This means investing in some basic tools. To get the tyre off the rim you’ll need a set of tyre levers, and from there you’ll need either a puncture repair kit to patch the hole in the inner tube, or a new inner tube entirely.
The only other thing you need to take with you on all rides is a multi tool such as the B’Twin 500. With a multi tool you’ll always have a screwdriver and various-sized Allen keys to help you solve problems like a slipping seatpost or a rattling bottle cage when out on the road.
That’s quite a few things to be carrying around on every ride, so it’s worth buying a saddle bag which will let you stash your tools underneath your saddle and forget about them until they’re needed.
Find some routes
Now that you’re ready to ride you need to work out where you’re going. If you’re riding on unfamiliar roads and don’t want to get lost then the cheapest solution is to buy a waterproof smartphone mount that lets you attach your smartphone to your handlebars. The other (more expensive option) is to buy a dedicated cycling computer onto which you can download pre-planned routes.
As well as helping you to find your way around your local lanes, riding with a GPS cycle computer or a smartphone lets you upload your rides to Strava when you get home. For those not in the know, Strava is an “activity sharing website” that lets you share your rides, give “kudos” to your mates, and compete to set the fastest times up climbs.
It might sound silly at first, but trust us, it’s a lot of fun.
Join a club
The best way to meet fellow riders, to become part of the wider cycling community, and to find the best roads to ride is to join a cycling club.
There are nearly 1,700 cycling clubs across the country (you can find your nearest using British Cycling’s Club Finder) many of which have been set up in the last few years as cycling has grown in popularity.
The vast majority will run rides (or “club runs”) aimed specifically at new riders and will have a no-drop policy, meaning that the group will always ride at the pace of the slowest rider, and will never leave anyone lost in the middle of nowhere. And best of all you will be welcome to come along and ride for free for a few weeks before you’re required to pay any membership fee.