A quick look online for information on cycling for beginners is bound to leave you stumped; there are hundreds of resources and they give different types of advice on bicycling for beginners. Where do you start?
It would be impossible to answer all the questions a new cyclist may have in one article. There is so much to learn and questions are unique depending on where the cyclist plans to cycle, what they plan to ride, how old they are and much more.
In this article, we have distilled some of the best pieces of advice for beginners. Wherever you are, and whatever type of bike you plan to ride, you will find that these 10 tips come handy.
Different Types of Bicycles
If you haven’t got a bike yet, one of the first questions you may ask is “what type of bike should I buy?”. For that, we refer you to our Ultimate Guide to Types of Bikes. There, we look at the 4 broad categories of bikes and then delve into the most common sub-types.
Bike riding is a very personal experience. One person may feel very comfortable on a certain type of bike while another will struggle. You should choose a bike based on your own needs. Think about what you want it for and where and how often you will ride. Don’t be afraid to try a few types of bikes.
Bicycling for Beginners – 10 tips to get you started
Before we get into the tips we have prepared for you it is worthwhile to talk about confidence. Not all of us learned how to ride a bike as kids. As an adult, it can be quite intimidating, not to mention embarrassing, to learn how to ride a bike.
You shouldn’t be fazed by what others think of your efforts. You may fall a few times, get a few scrapes along the way and you may even get a few sniggers. It is ok; learning to ride a bike doesn’t take very long, and so long as you have the right type of bike you will have it mastered in a few lessons.
If you feel particularly self-conscious you can take your new bike somewhere isolated – like a park – where you can learn without worrying about being ridiculed. Find a patient teacher. They should be expert cyclists themselves.
Now on to our tips on how to start cycling
1. Make sure your bike is the right fit
“I bought a great bike and kit, I tried riding a few times but it was so uncomfortable I thought, this isn’t for me, so I quit.”
You will hear this often from people who want to become cyclists but can’t get the hang of it.
Guess what? The problem isn’t you. It is the bike. You may buy the best bike in the world but if it doesn’t fit you, it will be so uncomfortable that you will soon quit. We have a Bike Size Chart that you can refer to if you want to get a bike that’s just the right size.
Keep in mind that even with a chart your new bike may need adjustments. It could be something as simple as adjusting the saddle or handlebars.
It’s a good idea to find someone who is an expert on bikes to help you get your bike to fit. If you try it on and find that minor adjustments won’t work send it back to the seller and get one that’s right for you.
2. Find a safe place to practice
The most important tip for cycling for beginners is: ALWAYS BE SAFE. The first step to that is to find a place where you will be safe as you learn to ride your bike. If your neighborhood doesn’t have a lot of traffic you can start there.
Alternatively, you can take your bike out somewhere safe, like a bike park or out on country roads where there are no vehicles.
When you learn to ride in a safe space you don’t have to worry about being clipped by cars – you can put all your energy and mental focus on the task at hand.
That you should have a helmet on at all times is a no-brainer. Buy a high-quality helmet, one that will keep you safe in case you fall. You should also buy knee and elbow pads. When you become more experienced you can decide whether you need them (the pads, not the helmet).
A word here about bike safety equipment like helmets, elbow and knee pads. You shouldn’t buy them cheap. Think about it as investing in your health and wellbeing.
There are sites that sell these items for just a few dollars with assurances that they are just as good as the more expensive models. This isn’t true. More expensive helmets and pads use better technology and are better designed to keep you safe.
3. Go easy on yourself
You tried your bike for the first time and it went so well you can’t wait to get back on it tomorrow. Bicycling for beginners is exciting but you should pace yourself. Cycling is arduous exercise and until your leg, thigh and arm muscles are toned and primed you shouldn’t push yourself too hard.
If you ride every day your muscles will become too sore for you to enjoy the lessons. This is particularly important for those who are cycling for weight loss. Take breaks between rides to give your muscles time to recover.
You may want to start by joining a spin class – cycling a stationary bike is easier than one that’s in motion. Once your muscles can handle the pressure, you can take out your new bike and head to a safe space outdoors where you can learn how to ride a bike.
4. Understand your brakes and how to stop
Braking in a car is easy – push the pedal down with your foot and your car slows down. It sort of works the same for a bike except you use your hands and not your feet.
It is a good idea to practice with your bike before you can hit the road. Understand exactly how the brakes work and how much room you get before you come to a complete stop.
You should learn how to apply pressure on both sides of the bike and how to control it so that it can do what you want.
The front brake on your bike is more effective so grabbing it suddenly will send you careening over the top. Learn how to pull it gently so that you can come to a gradual stop.
Before you turn a corner you should slow down to avoid crashing, so allow yourself enough time to get to the right speed before you make turns.
5. Understand your gears
You also need to know your gears if you want to learn how to start cycling. Gears help you manage different terrains. When you are climbing, for example, you want to shift to a lower gear as it gives you more speed and you use less effort. When you are cycling on a flat surface a medium gear will do better.
All this may sound like Greek to you if you aren’t of a technical bend but don’t worry. Put it all out of your mind as you learn how to cycle. Practice on a flat terrain and soon you will find that gear shift comes to you rather naturally – your body and mind coordinate and intuitively tell you what to do.
6. Keep your eyes on the road
This is an important tip for bicycling for beginners. You may find yourself completely focused on the road below and just ahead. The real obstacles, the ones you should look out for, are a little bit further ahead.
It is like driving a car; when you are learning how to drive you want to look at the road right in front of you. If you do, you may miss a pedestrian or car that’s down the street. A bike works the same way; you need to know what’s happening around you.
Keep your eyes on the road at all times so that you can have ample time to make decisions. If there is a bend or a pothole coming up, for example, you will have enough time to brake and turn so that you don’t turn too sharply and fall.
You should be especially careful if you choose a bike with skinny tires as they have a lower center of gravity and tend to tip over when they suddenly encounter obstacles.
7. No headphones please!!
So you love your daily-dose podcast, or you want to listen to music as you ride. If you have to, use a clip-on radio that you can attach to your waist.
Wearing headphones while cycling is never a good idea for a couple of reasons.
The first is that you cannot hear motorists coming up behind you. You may assume that they will see you because you have reflectors and your bike is visible, but you know what they say – never assume anything, except that the motorist may be distracted and may not see you.
The second reason why headphones are a no-no for beginners is that whatever you are listening to may distract you and in a split second things can change. Headphones have a way of taking your attention away from what is happening around you.
When you are learning how to start cycling it is best to stay focused on the task at hand, so give the headphones a break.
8. Avoid steep gradients
You have a great bicycle for beginners and have a great teacher, but if you start out on steep gradients you will soon give up. Avoid very steep climbs or sharp descents in early stages of learning how to ride a bike.
A steep climb will over-tax you and you will have to push your bike up the hill to make it to the top. A sharp descent will have you going too fast and scrambling to make sure you don’t fall – not the best way for a beginner cyclist.
You will be able to conquer these gradients with time. At the early stages, you want to learn how to ride on a flat surface and understand your bike (the gears, the brakes and how to pedal).
9. Don’t ride hungry/thirsty
Riding your bike is like any other exercise – if you are hungry or thirsty you won’t be able to focus. You should have a snack before you go cycling and make sure that you are properly hydrated. Don’t over-eat – you don’t want to feel too full when you lean forward on your handlebars.
Bring some water along as it can be thirsty work especially in hot weather.
10. Be patient with yourself
So what if you didn’t get it right the first or second time you tried?
It is easy to learn to ride a bike as a kid, but when you’re older it may take longer. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t get discouraged.
So long as you have the right type of bike and a good teacher, and you use the tips that we have provided here, you will soon get the hang of it.
If you feel sore give your body a few days to heal and then try again. Make sure that you ride a few times a week – in a few weeks time you will be able to cruise down the lanes in your neighborhood.
Cycling for beginners isn’t easy, but it isn’t hard either. You can learn how to ride a bike in a short time so long as you have the right type of bicycle, and so long as you take the time to do short practice runs.
You may want to join a cycling group for the camaraderie, and because you’ll have lots of people to help you with your lessons. This is okay, so long as they are willing to slow down to accommodate you and don’t push you too hard.
The best thing about learning to ride a bike is that once you have it nailed down you will never forget; it becomes a part of you.