Cycling appears to be pretty simplistic from the outside -- you just pedal and go. However, if you're getting back on the bike for the first time in a few years, it can be intimidating. You might find yourself wondering, "Do I need more equipment?" ” or simply, “Wait what? Do I have to wear spandex too?”
Nonetheless, once you take that first ride, you'll surely be hooked by the sense of freedom, adventure and excitement that comes with riding a bike. Starting is simpler than it appears, and we'll let you in on a little secret: you don't even have to wear tight-fitting clothes if you don't want to.
To start you off, here’s a list of six must-know tips on how to start cycling so you can hit the open road with confidence.
Of course, you can't get started unless you have a good set of wheels. While we love all types of bikes, we're specifically talking about road bikes here. This is the most common and accessible type of cycling for beginners, and the lightweight bikes -- with skinny tyres and efficient riding geometry -- are designed to help you navigate paved bike paths and city streets.
You must first size your bike, just as you would a pair of running shoes. Standing over the top tube, aim for an inch of space between your body and the frame. If this is unfamiliar to you, your local bike shop can assist you.
Next, choose a bike that fits your budget and riding style. Are you going to put in some extra distance on the weekends? Do you want to exercise on your bike? Do you intend to do long-distance rides, such as century rides, or racing in the future? At each price point, road bike frames have specific geometries and components that are tailored to each of these goals.
Consider how you intend to use the bike and how you might want to grow with it. (For example, maybe you can only ride 30km right now, but you want to do a 120km charity ride.) Then, consult with your local bike shop to find the best option.
2. Gear up
Finding the ideal bike is only half the battle, you'll also need some essential equipment. The most important item is a new helmet, which should be worn at all times while riding. Helmets have a limited lifespan, so it's better to be safe than sorry and purchase a new one rather than relying on the old one hanging in the garage. New helmets meet US safety standards, so try them all on and find the one that best fits your head, style, and budget. The more you fall in love with it, the more you'll want to wear it.
Cycling gear (a jersey, padded bib shorts or bike shorts, and socks) is more aerodynamic and comfortable on the bike than other athletic clothing. The material wicks away sweat and aids in body temperature regulation; the form-fitting cut reduces chafing; and the padded seat (chamois) protects sensitive areas from road vibration. Jerseys are available in a race or relaxed fit, and they come in a variety of colours and patterns.
While we recommend beginning your cycling adventure with standard flat pedals and athletic shoes, you may eventually want to transition to road bike shoes and clipless pedals. This shoe-pedal combination keeps your feet in place while pedalling, improving efficiency and bike handling. Unclipping can be difficult at times, so practise in a field until you get the hang of it.
Some tools (tyre levers, a mini pump, spare tubes, and a multi-tool) and a water bottle or two are also essential. A cycling computer, which is useful for tracking mileage and navigating routes, is another option.
3. Build a new habit
Your first few rides may be difficult because your body is adjusting to the stress of a completely new activity. But, as with everything else in life, true progress is made when you stick with it for the long haul. To make riding a habit, the first step is to be realistic. Don't expect to become a morning person just because you bought a new bike, and don't plan to ride 100 miles too soon. Begin small and work your way up.
Lay out your gear, fill your bottles, and pump up your tyres ahead of time, no matter when you decide to ride. Preparing and deciding to get on the bike is sometimes the most difficult part -- doing a little pre ride preparation will keep excuses at bay.
We've already discussed the importance of wearing a helmet while riding, but there's more to staying safe on your bike than just protecting your head -- especially during a global pandemic.
Always carry a basic multi-tool, a form of identification, cash (dollar bills can also be used as a tyre boot), and your phone when riding alone. When riding, always obey local traffic laws, which include coming to a complete stop at all stop signs and red lights (even on group rides) and using appropriate hand signals when changing lanes or turning.
Also, don't assume the car coming up behind you is aware of your presence simply because you're in their lane. The more aware you are of your surroundings, the better you will be able to anticipate any distracted drivers or hazards on the road.
Earbuds or headphones should never be worn while riding outside. If you need music to keep you going on a ride, invest in a small Bluetooth speaker that you can keep in your pocket or water bottle cage.
5. Find your riding style
You'll learn more about your personal riding style and preferences as you spend more time in the saddle. Perhaps you enjoy riding non-competitively with a group, or you prefer going on solo adventures. Maybe you want to race, or maybe you just want to ride your bike to work every day. There are an infinite number of ways to ride and enjoy riding -- it just takes some trial and error to find yours.
You may eventually discover that your body type and talents are naturally suited to a particular type of riding. Climbing may be your cup of tea if you find yourself breezing uphill faster than your friends. Sprinting is likely your forte if you can pull away on a ‘race’ to the town line during the Thursday night group ride.
Being a well-rounded cyclist is always the goal, but focusing on your strengths (or what you enjoy doing the most) is a surefire way to keep cycling enjoyable. Furthermore, it is a part of the sport -- professional cyclists typically specialise in one style, whether sprinting, climbing, or time trialling.
There is something to be said for finding internal motivation to ride on a regular basis, but a little positive peer pressure can go a long way. Cycling is a sport that is both an individual and a group sport. You can certainly ride and achieve goals on your own, but riding with a group can make it physically easier (you can draught off each other for less wind resistance) and more motivating.
Many cities have cycling groups that organise no-drop group rides to teach beginner cyclists group etiquette and to highlight local routes. These organisations are usually associated with bike shops, so ask for a ride calendar or resources to learn more.
Cycling is a surprisingly social and supportive sport, as you'll soon discover. When motivation is low, weekly group rides can hold you accountable and provide the extra push you need to get your leg over the saddle. Many people on these organised rides have years of experience and are more than willing to share it with you -- just watch, learn, and ask questions.
Excited to embark on your cycling journey yet? Talk to our pros and find out more about the cycling gears you will need in addition to your getting your dream bike!