For most people that ask me for advice on cycling, the great obsession is that they want to cycle but have no idea where to start. For various reasons, they are either worried about how to get started themselves or worried they will be made fun of.
If you are a beginner cyclist it is recommended that you start with getting familiar with a specific bike you like and learn how to ride a bike if you never rode one before. Then ride, ride again, then continue riding some more.
Choose A Bike
Choosing a bike to ride for the first time can be intimidating because there are so many to choose from. The bikes range from a road bike, mountain bike, track bike, cruiser, recumbent bike, cyclocross bike, e-bike, trike, single-speed/fixie bike, a bird-of-prey, and the list just goes on. My honest advice is to just pick one. You are going to be the one that has to ride it, so it is best to pick one that you like.
Most people will be quick to tell you what bike to buy but I’ll save that for another post. One way to get started cycling the cheapest is to choose a bike you may already have, lying around in the garage, or rent one from a local bike shop. The other option is to borrow one from a friend or neighbor.
Before you even put too much money down on a bike you want to test things out first to see if you will even like the activity. There is nothing more discouraging than buying a really expensive bicycle that you rode once, only to find out that you don’t even like cycling and have no intentions to improve your riding.
How To Ride A Bike
Here is an easy one to answer: Go to biking school. No really, if there is a bicycle training class at a bicycle shop near you, sign up for it. They can provide a wealth of information and get you started in the right direction. For more details on how to do this on your own or with a chaperone, you will want to continue reading.
Helmet. You will definitely need a helmet. There’s no law that says you have to wear a helmet if you are over the age of 18, but this is all common sense. Let’s not use our heads, literally, in the event of a fall.
Handlebars & Seat. Whatever bike you choose you want to make sure the handlebars are upright and the seat is adjusted very low. The reason for the low seat adjustment is so that your feet can touch the ground giving you more control of the bike.
Knee Position. The knees should be slightly bent at about 25 degrees and not the 90-degree angle you see when adults are hitting their knees against their chest when they ride. If that is the case when you ride, then the bicycle is too small for you, get another bike. Making your feet accessible to the ground will allow you to catch yourself should you fall.
Pedals. Some people are trained with the pedals off, but I highly encourage you to learn to ride a bike with the pedals on. Use flat pedals. Leaving the pedals on will allow you to learn more balancing moves to help you further when first learning to ride.
Finding Your Balance
Find a good place to cycle, like a flat and broad space that’s paved and somewhat free from car traffic. When first starting out you will be a bit wobbly so having a broad area to ride is safer. It’s best to find an area that has a gentle slope as this will aid in a cyclist gaining momentum.
Brakes. Be familiar with the brakes on the bike. Most bikes will have levers on the handles and some bikes (like fixies) can be pedaled backward to brake. Get practice stopping and slowing down using the brakes. Pulling the right brake lever controls the rear brake and pulling the left lever controls the front brake. The rear brake is more important than the front for slowing down, but when you really want to stop, applying both in a similar motion will be best.
Get Moving. Push off with your feet and keep them raised as you start moving. Plant your feet if you feel like your going to fall. Practice leaning in the direction you are going. So when you are turning, lean left as you turn left, and lean right as you turn right. That will position the bike under you and you will get a feel for your balance on the bike.
Learning How To Pedal
When you can comfortably coast along on the bike without touching your feet on the ground then you can start using the pedals.
Your mind is going to start playing tricks on you now and you will have to remember to adjust to using the pedals versus your feel to get the bike moving.
Start by positioning the pedal near your dominant foot upward at about 1 o’clock, placing that foot on the pedal while the other foot is planted on the ground. With the foot on the pedal, push down and allow that foot on the other side to stay raised in case you feel like your going to fall. Practice this on each side until you feel balanced enough to place both feet on the pedals.
When you get going, start pedaling. You’ll want to go slow but not too slow that you start to fall over. Practice riding in different directions by going straight then turning, riding in circles and also learn to ride in a figure-eight once you have built up enough confidence on the bike.
Bikes With Gears
Be familiar with using the gears on the bike for various riding. There are two gears: one for the rear (small cog), and one for the crank (larger cog) where the pedals are attached to.
Gears on a bicycle help determine the resistance you want on the bike. In a low gear, you will be pedaling around very fast and it’s easier to push uphill. In a higher gear, pedaling will move around slowly and it’s best used when going downhill so you are not spinning out of control.
As you bike more there will be many adjustments in finding the right gear that makes a ride comfortable.
Road Cycling Rule-of-Thumb
It’s good to know some rules of the road before going out to cycle. There are many laws and regulations that bicyclist should abide by. For more information on these click here or check with your local bicycling authorities.
While sharing the road with motor vehicles and other cyclists, you’ll want to learn some basic signals so that others around you don’t have to guess your intentions.
Hand pointed out to the left – shows to others that you are making a Left turn.
Hand pointed upwards & elbow at 90-degrees – tells others that you are going Right.
Hand/palm facing downward & back – means you’re going to stop or slowing down.
These signals can also be made with your dominant hand as well. As a beginner, it is best to learn how to do these signals after getting comfortable riding one hand at a time.
Gear You Wear, Gear For Bike
Cycling bibs/clothing. Don’t over think what you should purchase in this area. Unless you are riding a lot and long distances, choosing cycling clothing should be simple. You may find out later that cycling clothing is not for you. If you do choose to buy cycling clothing search out deals from your local bike shop or sports store.
Cycling Shoes. You might benefit from wearing cycling shoes as the sole is firmer for riding than regular shoes. Clipless cycling shoes should only be used once you are comfortable and confident clipping in and out. Some avid cyclists have found mountain bike shoes to suit them fine as they are easier to walk in and avoids the hassle of clipless pedals.
Bike Lights. It’s a good idea to have nice and bright lights while riding any time of the day. Better to be seen versus unseen. Some efficient lights you might consider are the Cycle Torch Shark headlight and Knog Blinder Mini tail light. It would not hurt to have lights attached to the rear of your helmet to make yourself more visible.
Helmet. There are some great looking helmets out there to choose from. Not all helmets are made equal. So trying some helmets on at your local bike shop would be ideal to find a good fitting helmet, one that fits the shape of your head. Don’t just go for looks, go for quality. Some brands that make quality helmets are Giro and Specialized.
Bike Pump. When looking for a pump to purchase, don’t buy too cheap. Also, I don’t recommend handheld pumps as they can be a pain to use, even though there are some great ones available. It’s recommended that you get a good floor pump with a gauge on it. The gauge is helpful to know how much pressure you’re pumping into the tires.
Bike Tools. It’s not uncommon to catch a few flats or more when you start riding. You will want to be prepared in the event you catch a flat and have the proper tools. Learn to repair a tire from bike school or even a friend with cycling experience.
Some Basics To Carry:
Tool Bag For Water Bottle Cage
CO2 Cylinders w/valve
Spare inner tube
Where To Ride
Riding on the road for many new cyclists can be intimidating and uncomfortable with cars and other vehicles on the same path. It’s especially uneasy riding in tight spaces and dangerous roadways. So try to avoid them all together if possible.
One way to find out where to ride is to download the app Strava. This app will allow you to find out where others ride in your area and give you an idea where it might be safe for a cyclist.
I also recommend riding on bicycle trails. Some cities have awesome trails for cyclists, runners and walking. There may be some trails close to you or they might be a little drive away.
Finding out where to ride can be as easy as asking a fellow local cyclist on the road or inquiring about bike paths that your local bike shop recommends. If you are still stuck, there is also a chance you may find paths using google maps feature selecting the bicycle tab.
Some Common Questions Answered
Do I wear underwear under cycling shorts or pants? – Short answer: No. Wearing underwear with cycling shorts or pants can cause chafing – which is a common cause for sores. Cycling shorts were designed to reduce friction between your skin and the seat so your skin stays dry. Unless the clothing you’re wearing is not padded, do not wear underwear along with cycling shorts and pants.
Why is my bike seat so uncomfortable? – There can be various reasons for this. The most common one is that your bone structure could be the cause of it. As you sit on the bike, the sit bones are supporting you as you ride. In the beginning, this will be painful and uncomfortable until you get used to it or as you find a good fitting seat. Once again cycling shorts will help in easing some of this discomfort.