Cycling for beginners? Start here!

From buying to riding to maintenance and more — everything you need to know

Here at BikeRadar we love riding bikes and we want you to, too. Cycling is such a simple and rewarding experience, and a tremendously useful activity. Besides being amazingly fun, if you want an activity that helps you get fit, makes commuting cheaper and easier or simply lets you get out and enjoy the great outdoors, cycling delivers. 

If you haven't ridden a bike recently — perhaps even since you were a child — get out there and give it a go. It's one of life's great pleasures: the breeze running through your hair, the speed as you sail along with everything under your control. Not only will it help to keep you active and fit, it'll make you healthier, happier and possibly richer too if you use your bike instead of your car frequently.

Take a look at our full list of 30 reasons to take up cycling here.

We've put together a list of all the things you need to consider as you prepare to saddle up, from buying a bike to riding it, to maintenance and adding useful accessories.

Getting back on the bike

Not ridden in a while? Before heading out on the open road, take a little time to get familiar with cycling again. Choose a quiet road or park, away from traffic, to minimise risk and distractions. There are also many introductory courses and rides you can join that will get you safely up and running, usually offering guidance on bike set up, riding safely on roads, signalling, and even route finding. 

If you have never ridden a bike, you can learn how to ride here. 

Whether you're looking to ride to work, take up road cycling or head off on a mountain biking adventure, you'll never regret getting into cycling
Whether you're looking to ride to work, take up road cycling or head off on a mountain biking adventure, you'll never regret getting into cycling

Buying a bike

Looking to buy a bicycle? Which kind of bike is best for you? Read our helpful guide on deciding which bike to go for. It might also be helpful to know your way around your potential ride via this handy road bike guide

Which type of bike you choose will depend on what kind of riding you plan to do and where you'll be riding. Choose a bike that best suits your needs, and if in doubt, your local bike shop will be able to advise you so it's worth having a chat with them. The main types of bicycle are listed below, but there are many variations available designed for specific purposes such as touring bikes, electric bikes and fat bikes.

  • Mountain bikes: designed for off-road riding and trail centres, these usually, though not always, feature suspension at the front (so-called hardtail mountain bikes) or at both ends (full-suspension mountain bikes). 
  • Road bikes: designed for fast, efficient riding on roads, comfort over long distances, or for racing, and feature handlebars that curl downwards.
  • Hybrid or commuter bikes: these sit on a spectrum between road and mountain bikes, and will usually have flat handlebars. Some have suspension for the front wheel, while some are designed more like road bikes. These are a popular choice with people looking for a bike to get to work, particularly in cities. 

It's never been easier to buy a bike, with plenty of online retailers and bike companies offering direct sales in addition to local bike shops. We recommend buying a bike from a specific cycle retailer as they'll be able to give you advice based on your needs. 

Our buying a road bike advice is here, while our walkthrough on how to buy a mountain bike is here.

We've got tons of advice from experienced riders on what to go for
We've got tons of advice from experienced riders on what to go for

Once you've decided what type of bike to go for, the next crucial element to get right is the size. If you buy a bike too big or too small, you'll find the ride at best uncomfortable, and at worst you could end up not riding at all. 

To help you we've put together an article on road bike sizing here. Female riders, you'll want to check out our specific advice on women's bike sizes, though you should also try unisex bikes. Read about how to get a perfect mountain bike fit here.

Most manufacturers will provide a guide on which bike size you should go for based on your height, but it's still a good idea to get a test ride if you can, as that will help you determine which size feels right. 

  • Buying a second-hand bike can be worth considering, though be wary of the pitfalls – which may be doubly relevant if you're buying a bike on eBay. We've got advice on the type of things you'll need to look out for including how to avoid buying a stolen bike, and what damage is just cosmetic and what could signal bigger problems with the bike. However, with a little savvy thinking you can bag a real bargain.
  • Do you buy online or from a local bike shop? Read this and you'll know which. There are benefits to both. Online retailers can often be a source of excellent bargains. Local bikes shops can often provide ongoing support and advice.
  • Based in the UK? Don't forget that you can save up to 42 percent in the UK by buying as part of the Cycle to Work scheme. This scheme gives you a lump sum of money which can be used to purchase a bike plus safety equipment, including helmets, lights, locks and cycle clothing, with the cost reclaimed through monthly deductions from your salary. 

Adjusting your bike to fit

Once you've got your bike, there are some further adjustments you can make to get the best out of your bike and increase comfort and efficiency. 

The two most common are also, handily, the easiest to adjust — the handlebar height and saddle height

Got a mountain bike? There are few additional pieces of advice we have to help you get your mountain bike ready to roll.

If you're planning on riding frequently, long distances, or have chosen to purchase a road bike, then a professional bike fit is worth its weight in gold (or whatever currency you happen to be handing over). An expert will take specific measurements, watch your riding style, and will make adjustments on the bike to ensure you get a perfect fit. Many bike shops offer this service. 

Riding

Now that your bike's all sorted you'll want to get out riding. Here's where the fun begins! 

For the road cyclists, there are two important techniques to master. First, you need to get the hang of a good road bike position and second, you may want to learn how to use clipless pedals. Once you've mastered clipping and unclipping your shoes from the pedals, this system helps make road cycling very efficient — but many cyclists will take a sideways tumble or two before nailing the technique so practicing against a wall or in a soft, grassy area is a smart move. 

If you're planning on commuting to work or road cycling, you may need some tips for cycling in traffic too. 

Finally, if you're stuck for where to cycle, sites such as Strava and Garmin have many routes logged by users that are a great starting point. On the mountain biking side of things, a quick search online will help you find local trail centres, which offer selections of routes graded according to difficulty. And of course your local bike shop is a fantastic place to find out where to ride, they might even host group rides.

Read our guides and you'll soon be out there riding with confidence
Read our guides and you'll soon be out there riding with confidence

Cycling accessories and cycling clothing

You may, sensibly, decide that you want to protect your head. Check out our articles on the best road helmets and lids for mountain biking.

The other key pieces of kit you may want to invest in include gloves, padded cycling shorts, a cycling jersey, glasses and shoes. We also recommend always riding with some basic repair equipment in case you get a puncture, including tyre levers, a pump and a spare inner tube or repair patches. 

You'll find plenty of reviews of useful kit (such as gloves, glasses, multi-tools, pumps, gadgets and much more stuff) in our reviews section, as well as buyers guides and best-of articles. Don't forget to keep checking back to see what's new and recommended.

Maintenance

A little bit of maintenance will keep your bike running smoothly and help avoid costly repairs — and you can find out everything you need to know via our YouTube series of maintenance videos here, covering everything from repairing a puncture to how to look after carbon, go tubeless, how to fit pedal cleats and much more.

Further advice

Got everything covered? Excellent! You'll find BikeRadar to be your ultimate resource for all things bike from now on. and if you're like any of us then not only will you become one of the cycling converted but you'll be keen to tell others, too. 

You'll find plenty of other riders just like yourself in our community forum — and if you find yourself having a problem, it can be worth asking in there.

We'll guide you through the best buys no matter what your budget and how to use your new kits
We'll guide you through the best buys no matter what your budget and how to use your new kits

Gregor is BikeRadar's Beginners and Family section editor after leading a cycling heavy youth and regularly clocking up more than 34 miles on the ride to work each day. He's interested in the lighter side of cycling, such as commuting, children's bikes and the occasional short sportive. He also helps to keep BikeRadar's forum in check, and can often be found joining in conversation threads on how to step chafing and the like.

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