It doesn’t take long to become fully immersed in cycling and its culture – beginners now could be riding to work on a daily basis, tackling a sportive or pinning on a race number in a year’s time.
It’s understandable that during the first year of cycling, you may find yourself coming across a number of questions and stumbling blocks. Even those who have been riding ten years will occasionally find themselves stumped.
We couldn’t give you a full answer to every question in one guide – without it becoming an impenetrable, biblical in length, somewhat useless source. So instead, we’ve kicked things off with our top tips, linking off to more detailed articles that will help you out.
Top tips for a beginner cyclist
1) Buy your bike from a local shop
The benefits of buying a bike online: you’ll probably save a couple of hundred quid.
The benefits of buying a bike at a local bike shop: they’ll make sure the bike fits you, set you up on it, probably offer you a free six month service, and be there to help you out when you’ve got questions. Expertise and advice now will save you cash in the long run.
Not sure what style of bike you want? In short, an endurance focused road bike will suit most beginners. A cyclocross, adventure road or gravel bike may be up your street if you want to travel off road, and a hybrid bike could be an option should drop handlebars feel intimidating (though we’d encourage you to test ride a road bike first). If you’re getting into bike riding with the goal of racing, look for an aluminium race bike like the Cannondale CAAD12 or Specialized Allez.
We’ve got a host of buying guides to help you out:
- Best bikes under £500, under £1000, under £1500 and under £2000
- Best endurance road bikes
- Best women’s road bikes
- Best commuting bikes
- Best adventure and gravel bikes
- Best cyclocross bikes
- Best electric bikes
- Best hybrid bikes
2) Get comfortable on your bike
Many pro cyclists who have been riding for decades are still tweaking their bike fit – when it comes to performance, for some riders bike fit is a never ending process of adjustment based on individual factors and goals.
However, there are some basic guidelines that can apply to all riders looking to ride in comfort and avoid injury.
Optimum saddle height can be found by placing your heel on the pedal at its furthest away point. Your leg should be straight, so when you clip in, there’s a slight bend. You want a slight bend in your elbows, too – you know the reach is right when the front wheel of the hub disappears from view under the handlebars when you are riding on the tops.
- How to set yourself up on a new bike
- How to set your saddle height
- How to choose the right saddle
- How to get handlebar reach right
3) Learn how to fix a puncture
I remember my first puncture keenly. I was on the road between Hollingbury and Ditchling Beacon and I had on my person a small backpack containing a crumpled bag of trail mix, a hoodie and a bottle of water. Even if I’d had a tube, pump and tyre levers, I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do with them.
There’s no good reason any rider should find themselves stuck in the middle of nowhere with a flat tyre and no means to fix it.
If you don’t know how to fix a puncture, ask someone at a bike shop, a friend, or the internet, to teach you. Then practice at home until it’s easy.
4) Invest in a few key pieces of kit
Cycling can, at first, appear to be a rather expensive hobby. And it can become so, but it doesn’t need to be. You don’t need to splash out on a wardrobe that would suit a cast member of the Power Rangers movie to be comfortable. Items we would advise you invest in are:
- Lock (if you plan to leave the bike anywhere)
- Bike lights
- Gloves (in winter)
- Padded cycling shorts (or tights in winter), a base layer, jersey and quality waterproof jacket
- Shoes and pedals
- Track pump (for use at home), mini pump, puncture repair kit
You’ll no doubt want to buy more kit and bike accessories in time, but those are the essentials.
5) Join a cycling club
From the outside, a cycling club might look like a mass of confident bike handlers, poised to drop you on the first climb or point out your mistakes. That’s only true of clubs that aren’t set up to welcome beginners.
A good cycling club will welcome you with a friendly wheel to follow, and be there to help you out with any technical questions, mechanical difficulties or routing conundrums you have.
Ask someone to run through the club’s group riding etiquette and hand signals on the first ride – show willingness to learn, and they won’t mind if it takes you a little while to become accustomed.
You can find clubs on British Cycling’s handy finder. If a traditional club feels too daunting, check out Sky Rides or Breeze Rides for women. Alternatively, check out the ride groups on Cycling UK’s site – there’s a range of member groups and should be something on offer for riders of all abilities.
6) Go clipless sooner rather than later
Once you get over the first, erm, stumbling block of learning to associate stopping with clipping out, it’s a lot easier. Practice at slow speed on grass, or leant up against a wall inside.
- How to use clipless pedals
- The best clipless pedals reviewed
- Which clipless pedal system is best for you?
7) Don’t put up with saddle discomfort
Saddle discomfort is very common, and as a result there’s a huge selection of saddle styles and designs to choose from – so listen to your body, work out where the problem area is, and look for a retailer with a test ride service to save you wasting cash on failed solutions.
Wearing padded shorts (without underwear!) and chamois cream will also help, but the right saddle is key.
8) The gears are there to help you
Don’t fight them. Shift into a smaller chainring, and larger rear cassette cog, for easier pedalling on the hills. Use a larger chainring and smaller rear cog to pedal more smoothly and go faster on the flat.
Spend some time practising on a flat road – in time, shifting into the correct gear will feel natural.
You’ll know you’re in the wrong gear if you find you’re spinning the cranks incredibly fast, but barely moving; or grinding your way up a hill and finding the resistance so great you’re pedalling becomes slow.
9) Be confident on the road
Ride about a metre from the edge of the road – this gives you room to move around obstacles (pot holes) and it encourages other road users to give you more room when overtaking.
Obey the highway code, and follow the guidelines published by Bikeability – particularly taking the Primary Position (centre of the lane) at junctions, roundabout and other areas where it’s not safe for other road users to pass.
10) Practice some basic technique
You don’t need to go from zero to careering down the side of Alpine mountains at speed. But a few basic skills will help you to feel more confident.
Remember that your front brake is much more effective at stopping you, so get used to feathering it lightly alongside the rear, rather than grabbing a handful of lever.
When cornering, be sure to slow down to an appropriate speed before you hit the bend, this saves you braking on it. Lift up your inside knee and apply weight to the outside to maintain balance.
When approaching a climb, keep pedalling to help carry as much momentum as possible into the ascent and get out of the saddle regularly to stay comfy.
- How to use your brakes
- How to corner a road bike
- How to be a better climber
- How to be a better descender
11) Eat and drink as you ride
If you’ve come from another sport – like running or swimming – the idea of eating as you go may seem a little alien. But cyclists sometimes head out for multiple hour rides.
If you’re riding for more than 90 minutes, take a snack such as a cereal bar, and aim to eat something every hour. Cyclists usually carry water in a bottle mounted on the frame. Extracting the bottle to drink as you pedal takes practice, but it’s worth it.
- Cycling sports drinks: hydration explained
- Nutrition for cyclists
- Calories burned cycling: all you need to know
12) Don’t do too much too soon
Cycling is not weight bearing – which means that amongst a host of other equally important benefits – it doesn’t put a lot of strain on your joints and is a good choice if you want to get fit and lose weight.
However, do too much of anything too quickly and you can wind up feeling fatigued, getting injured, or simply sick of it.
Make sure you get adequate recovery, and look at the big picture – focusing on gradual improvement in pursuit of a happier, fitter, healthier you in the long term.