Inspired by Olympic cycling? Everything you need to get into road cycling, time trialling, triathlon or track cycling

You don't have to have earned a tattoo of the five rings to enjoy cycling, here's what you'll need to get started

get into cycling
(Image credit: Future)

The Olympic Games represent a career milestone for athletes who compete, but for the rest of the world, they're about being inspired; inspired to take up something new, inspired to get fit, or to push on with the goal of one day competing with the very best. 

If the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have inspired you to get involved with life on two wheels, then firstly, welcome! 

From the outside, cycling may seem intimidating, expensive, or even dangerous - but it doesn't have to be any of the above.

Here's a look at the kit you will likely need if you've decided to start cycling. We've included recommendations for specific items, click on the hyperlinked titles for full reviews of each - and for more information, check out our dedicated buying guies. 

Get into road cycling

If it was the women's and men's Olympic road races that had you transfixed, then you'll be pleased to hear that there's a vast number of ways you can emulate the heroic efforts you witnessed.

Road racing is a team sport, but you can compete solo. Most riders get into the sport via testing the water with closed circuit races. Both road raced and closed circuit races are competitive events characterised by bunch riding at high speeds.

If you're more interested in covering long distances and taking in the scenery, as opposed to staring at the rear hub of the rider ahead, then sportives might be more up your street. These are organised rides, and you will be given a 'time', but you're usually only racing yourself, and only if you want to.

Regardless if you're up for racing or sportiving, you will need: a bike, pedals, a helmet, cycling shoes, men's or women's cycling shorts, and a men's/women's jersey

triban 520

(Image credit: Decathlon)

Triban RC520 disc road bike

High spec for the price

Specifications
Frame: Aluminium
Gears: Shimano 105
Brakes: Cable discs with hydraulic pistons
Reasons to buy
+Superb Value - you get a lot for your money here+Great quality frame - lifetime warranty+Versatile - ideal for commuting, touring, first triathlon, first road bike+Good range of gears+Female and Male specific options+Fun to ride
Reasons to avoid
-Brakes could be better-Wheels a little heavy

Triban, a brand exclusive to Decathlon, offers incredible value for money when it comes to the specification list. This aluminium frame wears a Shimano 105 groupset, offering 11 cogs at the rear alongside a two chainring set up. The brakes won't be as powerful as full hydraulic brakes, but the hydraulic pistons make for faster stopping than standard cable-actuated brakes. The RC520 comes in a women's or men's build, with contact points to suit.

look keo

(Image credit: Paul Norman for Future)

Look Keo Classic 3 Plus pedals

Classic clipped in pedals

Specifications
Weight: 278g
Reasons to buy
+Steel plates in top surface to reduce wear+Work as well as Look’s pricier Keo pedals+Same looks too
Reasons to avoid
-Composite body rather than carbon-A bit heavier than carbon options

Spend over a certain threshold, and most bikes come without pedals. Why? Because the majority of riders will want to fit clipless pedals.

Clipless pedals hold on to a cleat, attached to your shoe. The whole thing sounds scary, but it's not once you've had a little practice. Look Keo pedals and cleats are widely stocked, and the Classic 3 received a 5/5 rating from us. 

Abus Macator

(Image credit: Rupert Radley)

Abus Macator helmet

Breathable and comfortable

Specifications
Weight: 240g
Vents: Five in, eight out
Sizes: Small, Medium and Large
Reasons to buy
+Good fit+Two adjustable straps
Reasons to avoid
-Bulky shape-Vertical retention system very sticky

You don't legally have to wear a helmet to cycle in the UK, but organisers of cycle races and sportives will almost always enforce that you do. When we reviewed the Abus Macator we found it a little bit more bulky than some of the more expensive options, but it was breathable and offered a good fit.

specialized torch

(Image credit: Future)

Specialized Torch 1.0 cycling shoes

Shoes to take you from beginner to racer

Specifications
Sole: Nylon
Closure: Boa L6
Weight: 242g (size 40)
Sizes: 36-46
Reasons to buy
+Sole is stiff enough+Sleek aesthetic+Boa dial closure
Reasons to avoid
-Heel support lacking

When we reviewed cycling shoes at the £100 mark, the win actually went to the dhb Dorica shoes. However, that was mostly due to their carbon sole, and some beginners may find carbon just a little bit too stiff. The Torch 1.0 shoe offers a compromise, with a nylon sole which will still provide a good platform to pedal from but with a little more flex and therefore comfort. 

dhb classic shorts

(Image credit: Future)

dhb Classic bib shorts

A must have for long days in the saddle

Specifications
Chamois: Elastic Interface
Reasons to buy
+Comfortable on long rides+Understated design+Excellent value
Reasons to avoid
-Seams don't look perfect

Opt for a good men's or women's saddle, and riding a bike does not have to be a pain in the bum. However, most riders will wear padded cycling shorts to provide a buffer. 

Cycling shorts can come in waist form, or with a bib upper. The latter version provides greater comfort as the shorts stay in place more effectively. The dhb Classic men's bib shorts and dhb MODA Classic women's shorts both feature an Elastic Interface chamois (or pad), which will offer plenty of squish between you and your perch. 

dhb short sleeve jersey

(Image credit: dhb)

dhb short sleeve jersey

Not essential, but nice to have

Specifications
Zipp: Full length
Pockets : Two

A cycling jersey is not a 'must have', you can cycle in any top that effectively wicks sweat and keeps you comfortable. However, dedicated cycling gear will come with pockets, for stowing a pump and spare inner tube, reflective detailing, and a full length zip which can be handy on hot days. Exclusive brand at Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles, dhb, offers value options in men's and women's fit. 

Topeak Microrocket AL

(Image credit: Topeak)

Topeak Microrocket AL

Make sure you're well equipped!

Specifications
Length: 160mm
Weight : 65g
Reasons to buy
+Very compact+Light+Comfortable to use
Reasons to avoid
-Low volume means lots of pumping

Most beginner cyclists don't want to think about punctures. However, they happen. The good news is that with a bit of practice, they're easy to fix. Make sure you have a pump, an inner tube, and two tyre levers for every ride. 

Get into time trialling (or triathlon)

The time trial is a race for riders who want to compete against the clock. Competitors are set off at intervals, of usually one minute, racing the same course. Drafing - gaining an aerodynamic benefit from sitting behind another rider - is not allowed, so, time triallists will do anything possible to (safely) reduce the drag attached to their body and their bike.

If you're interested in triathlon races, then these kit picks still apply, unless you get serious and start looking at drafting races or checking out triathlon shoes to speed up your transitions. 

prime clip on bars

(Image credit: Prime)

Prime J-bend Clip-On Aerobars

Maximum benefit, minimum spend

Specifications
Weight : 410g pair
Clamp size : 31.8mm
Material: Aluminium

Top time trial riders will opt for a dedicated time trial bike. However, if you already have one, we recommend you start out with a set of clip on bars (our testing showed them to be highly effective).

Whilst we've not tested these Prime bars at Cycling Weekly HQ, they're a relitively inexpensive choice, utilising aluminium which should make them durable (good if you're adjusting the position a lot). 

ISM PN 1.1 Saddle

(Image credit: Future)

ISM PN 3.0 saddle

Get comfy when getting low

Reasons to buy
+Proven to increase bloodflow and decrease genital numbness+Very comfortable in an aggressive position
Reasons to avoid
-Heavier than traditional saddles-Aesthetics 

If you're unsure why time trial saddles exist, then we suggest you do one event on the extension bars riding your standard saddle. If you have no issues, continue as you are. If you're in the majority of riders who find the position creates soft tissue discomfort, then the ISM split nose design will probably sort you out.

best cycling helmets

(Image credit: Future)

Met Codatronca time trial helmet

Secure feeling and a short tail

Specifications
Weight: 335-410g
Vents: Six
Reasons to buy
+Comfortable+Adjustable+Versatile
Reasons to avoid
-Visor shape

In a bike and rider unit, the rider makes up around 80 per cent of drag, and a lot of that comes from the head and shoulders. Time trial helmets, therefore, can make a big difference. 

Choosing a time trial helmet is really quite personal, as it depends upon your head shape, and the position you hold on the bike - but the MET Codatronca reviewed well. This stubby tail helmet is ideal for riders who find it hard to hold a long tail in place.

Next up after the helmet is a skinsuit but these are quite personal, and you may be restricted by your club colours, so we've not recommended a speicific option - check out our buying guide for some testing numbers. 

velotoze

(Image credit: mike prior)

VeloToze Tall overshoes

Slick up your feet

Reasons to buy
+Waterproof+Windproof+Aero
Reasons to avoid
-Hard to get on -Not very durable

Velotoze are a real go-to amongst time trialists seeking watt savings, as well as road racers who want to keep their feet dry.

Getting them on is a bit of an art, but wind tunnel tests suggest that covering your feet can provided the greatest pound per watt saving.

Get into track cycling

So, you want to try track cycling? Excellent choice! Hopefully, you live near one of the many UK velodromes.

Most velodromes will require you to complete a track accreditation of some sort before you begin joining group sessions. This is much like a driving test, and just ensures that you're confident starting, stopping, and riding in a bunch. It's nothing scary, and there's usually a course of beginner sessions to help prepare you.

If you're starting out, there will likely be hire bikes available, so we've not suggested any bikes here. If you decide to race, you'll usually need your own bike, but you can very often find a good deal through second hand sales

Specialized Power Expert Saddle

(Image credit: Future)

Specialized Power saddle

Stay comfy on a hire bike

Specifications
Sizes: 143mm, 155mm or 168mm
Rails: Ti or Carbon
Reasons to buy
+Suits a low riding position+Looks nice+Light+Comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Not a lot of padding

Saddles are highly personal, what suits one rider might be a torture device for another, however, we're recommending the Power because it does tend to be agreeable to most. 

Track bikes usually put the rider in an agressive, low position, and most of the riding time is spent in the drops and static in the saddle. As a result, if you're going to encounter saddle pain, it will likely be in this discipline (or, time trialling). If you're riding hire bikes, we recommend taking your own saddle, and the Power - which is designed to limit soft tissue discmfort - is a good choice. 

Altura Pro Gel mitts

Specifications
Sizes: XSmall-2XLarge
Reasons to buy
+Well padded+Low profile on the wrist
Reasons to avoid
-Some early signs of wear

Most velodromes won't let you ride without mitts, so, regardless of preferences, you'll need a pair.

chainrings

(Image credit: Token)

Token Chainrings

Quick upgrade in speed

Specifications
Material: Aluminium
BCD (Bolt Circle Diameter).: 144
Reasons to buy
+Inexpensive
Reasons to avoid
-Not really race spec

Welcome to your new obsession - gear inches! Check out our track bike buying guide here for a complete table of chainring/cog sizes. 

Once you've bought, or loaned, your own bike, you'll be able to change the chainring and cog sizes to suit your leg speed. A larger gear inch will be harder to turn, but will propell you further. Finding the right gear to ride in depends upon your physioloigy, and the event in question. Most riders opt for smaller gears outside of competition, brining in the big guns for racing and race specific training.

Michelle Arthurs-Brennan
Michelle Arthurs-Brennan

Cycling Weekly's Tech Editor Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper before spending a few years at Evans Cycles, then combining the two with a career in cycling journalism.


When not typing or testing, Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.


Favourite bikes include a custom carbon Werking road bike as well as the Specialized Tarmac SL6. 


Height: 166cm

Weight: 56kg