These cycling tips, covering kit, clothing, nutrition, technique and more are aimed at beginners, the new riders who’ve just started out on their great two-wheeled adventure. Think of us as your riding buddy who wants to help you get the most out of you and your bike!
Below we’ve tried to cover the common pitfalls of getting into riding, but not forgotten that the best thing about cycling is that it’s fun.
Whether you’re a road cyclist, mountain biker or city commuter, there’s bound to be something here for you (spoiler alert: the most important one is at the bottom).
In the words of the great Eddy Merckx — the legendary Belgian ex-pro cyclist who won 11 Grand Tours, including five Tour de France: “Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride.”
Best cycling clothing for beginners
Right, let’s start with what to wear. There’s a huge range of cycling clothing out there, in a dazzling variety of colours and fabrics, from the easily affordable to the insanely expensive. Let’s measure you up…
1. Some decent padded cycling shorts — better still padded bib shorts — stop your backside hurting so much. Massively padded saddles won’t help you on longer rides: trust us on this. The only way to be comfortable in the saddle is to wear padded shorts, fit a decent saddle and ride until you get used to it.
2. Wear a cycling helmet. We know legislating helmets is massively contentious, but a quality lid might save your life, and it’s not hard nowadays to find one that’s comfy, light and affordable. Check out our expert reviews of the best road and mountain bike helmets currently on the market. (And no, you don’t have to buy the most expensive model because they all conform to current safety standards)
3. Roadies: clipless pedals (confusingly, this means the ones you clip into using cleats, rather than toe-clips) are without a doubt the way forward. The binding can be made loose enough to come away easily, you’ll quickly learn how to unclip and they’ll make a massive difference to your pedalling efficiency.
4. Mountain bikers: get protection. Particularly when you’re starting out or learning new skills. You’ll be very grateful for a decent pair of gloves and knee pads, at minimum. If you’re learning big jumps or hardcore downhill trails, consider elbow pads and back protectors too.
5. Get some cycling sunglasses. They don’t need to cost the earth or make you look stupid, but they will keep your eyes protected from bugs, stones, sun and rain. Some versions feature interchangeable lenses, so, if you can, get one lens for bright conditions and one for dull, wet days.
Bike maintenance made easy
Now that you’re wearing something comfortable, let’s move on to keeping your bike happy. You don’t need a shed full of tools to achieve this, but it helps to have a friendly bike shop nearby in case you need advice.
6. Clean and oil your chain regularly, particularly if riding in bad weather. You’ll eliminate the dreaded ‘creak’ that cyclists hate, and more expensive parts such as chainrings won’t wear out as quickly.
7. Check your tyre pressure: recommended levels will be indicated on the sidewall of your tyres, but the right pressure for you personally is subject to a number of factors. A floor pump (also called a track pump) is a good investment because it requires less effort to get to the recommended pressure, and will feature a handy pressure gauge.
8. Fit mudguards/fenders in wet conditions. Your back will thank you, your washing machine will thank you, anyone riding behind you will be thank you too. Some (including some BikeRadar staffers) will point out they can ruin the clean lines of a fancy road bike but, in the mire of winter, do you really care?
9. Clean your bike regularly: hot soapy water and a sponge will do the job for most parts unless the grime is caked on, in which case there are some great cleaning sprays available. Use specialist degreaser for the drivetrain (cassette, chain, crankset and so on). Then spray your gleaming bike all over with a silicone aerosol — avoid braking surfaces — this will stop mud sticking on your next ride.
10. Learn how to fix a puncture, and always carry a repair kit (including tyre levers, patches or new inner tube, and pump). When you’re miles from home and suddenly hear that hissing sound, you’ll be glad you learned how to fix it yourself.
What to eat and drink when cycling
Right, that’s clothing and kit sorted, let’s consider your fuel source. You could spend a fortune on specially formulated sports nutrition, but the truth is you don’t have to. Have a rummage around your cupboards at home and see what’s portable.
11. Stay hydrated. Whether you prefer a water bottle or a hydration backpack, make sure you pack some fluid whenever you’re heading out. You can nearly always find somewhere to refill along the way, and most coffee shops are happy to oblige for free.
12. Avoid the dreaded ‘bonk‘, where your body runs out of fuel and you grind to a painful halt. The body can carry around 90mins worth of glycogen for high-tempo efforts before it needs replenishing, or else will switch to burning fat. The problem with burning fat is that you can’t work at anywhere near the same intensity level. So keep consuming around 100 to 250 calories every 30mins, whether that’s energy gels, cereal bars or a banana. We like carrot cake, by the way.
13. Cramping is a common complaint when you start riding harder or longer than your body’s used to. One piece of advice often offered is to ensure you replace the electrolytes lost through sweating, either by drinking specially formulated sports drinks or by making your own (it’s basically fruit juice, water, and a little sugar and salt). No one knows for certain why cramps occur, but this seems to help.
14. A recovery drink after a long, hard ride will help the body repair itself, in conjunction with some rest. Key to this is protein, so aim to consume around 15 to 20g within 30mins of finishing if possible. There are plenty of pre-mixed recovery drinks on the market, or you can have fun by making some. Our current go-to is milk, one banana, a tablespoon of peanut butter and some honey, all whizzed up in a blender. Yum.
15. The mid-ride coffee stop is a cherished tradition and there’s sound scientific reasoning behind it: caffeine has been found to measurably improve your endurance on the bike. Do say: “Espresso doppio, per favore.”
Cycling safety for new cyclists
This is an important one – we want to keep you safe. The good news is that with the right mix of confidence and caution, city streets and rural roads are yours for the taking. Build up some experience and you’ll learn to read situations quickly and accurately.
16. If you’re going out for a long ride on your own, tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back. Some phone apps (e.g. WhatsApp) make it easy to share your location with someone else, and this is an easy way to reassure them that you’re safe.
17. Learn some basic traffic-riding skills for the city. You’ll feel a lot more confident for it. Be assertive, stay out of the gutter and remember that you’ve got as much right to be on the road as anyone else. Learn the difference between “primary” (middle of the left-hand lane) and “secondary” (about 1-metre to the left of the moving trafﬁc lane) position, and use them appropriately – see point 3 in our how to ride safely in traffic article.
18. The front brake is much more effective than the rear at stopping you, so try to achieve a 60/40 or 70/30 power distribution between front and rear. But be very, very careful not to lock up. Modern brakes are pretty powerful and you don’t want to go over the handlebars.
19. When cornering, ensure your outside pedal is at the lowest position, with pressure being placed on it. This will give you more grip, particularly in the wet, and make sliding out less likely.
20. On the road, learn how to ride in a group. A friendly pack of riders is much more efficient (read uses less energy) by taking turns at the front, but this requires riding close to each other. And you don’t want to cause any accidents. So keep a level head, don’t make any sudden movements or brake unexpectedly, and avoid “half-wheeling” (riding slightly ahead of the person next to you). Watch out for hand signals and warn following riders of any obstacles they might not see until it’s too late. They’ll do the same for you.
We come to our final section, cycling technique. There’s plenty of debate out there on the ‘right’ technique for all forms of riding, but there are also a few absolutes:
21. Get your riding position sorted. You’ll be more comfortable, more powerful and all-round happier if your bike is the right size, your saddle is at the right height and your handlebars are set up correctly. We highly recommend that cyclists of all levels get a professional bike fit, and a decent bike shop can help you here.
22. Avoid ‘cross chaining’ the gears. In other words, if you’re in the largest chain ring, don’t run it with the largest cassette cog (ditto, smallest chain ring, smallest cog). This places extra loads on the chain and stresses the whole system. Your bike really doesn’t like it and it’s not efficient.
23. Try to maintain a high, regular pedalling cadence, around 70 to 90 pedal revolutions per minute if you can. If you’re grinding too hard a gear, your cadence will drop and power output will tail off. Try to anticipate big hills by shifting into a low (easy) gear just before you need it.
24. Find some riding buddies. That could mean joining a cycling club or persuading your mates to dust off their old bikes. But you’ll feel more motivated to get out and ride if you’ve got a pal to share it with.
25. Smile! Riding bikes is fun. Acknowledge other riders, enjoy yourself, then eat cake, and don’t worry too much about having the ‘right’ gear or the ‘best’ bike. The best bike out there is the one that you enjoy riding.
That’s it, our list of 25 cycling tips for beginners. Don’t agree with them? Think we missed some out? We’d love you to tell us in the comments!