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. Besides being 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! Not only will it help keep you fit and active, it'll make you healthier, happier and possibly richer too (if you use your bike instead of your car more 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 to get you safely up and rolling. These courses also offer guidance on setting up your bike, riding safely on roads, and even route finding.

In the UK, British Cycling Breeze is a network run by volunteers, and is aimed at encouraging women to get cycling, and has plenty of local rides at all levels, including many away from traffic. There are also rides organised by British Cycling and social rides that are free to join in.

People often take up cycling again when their kids start to ride, and our guide to cycling with kids has lots of info to make sure this is enjoyable and stress-free for everyone.

If you have never ridden a bike, we've got some great tips on how to learn that should get you riding in around 30 minutes — though you may want to spend a bit of time practising.

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

The type of bike you choose depends 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.

The main types of bicycle are listed below, but there are variations available for specific purposes, such as touring bikes, electric bikes and fat bikes.

  • Mountain bikes: designed for off-road riding and trail centres, these often feature suspension at the front (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. 

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 you want, the next thing is to get the right size. If you buy a bike that's too big or too small, you'll find the ride uncomfortable or you could end up not riding at all. 

To help, we've put together an article on road-bike sizing. Female riders can check out our advice on women's bike sizes, too, although it's always worth considering 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 go for a test ride if you can, as that will help determine which size feels right. 

  • Second-hand bikes are worth considering, though beware the pitfalls (especially if you're buying a bike on eBay). We have 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 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.

Got a bike? You might choose to get some bike kit to go with it
Got a bike? You might choose to get some bike kit to go with it

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 a female rider and have opted for a unisex bike, we've collected the most common tweaks you might need to ensure your bike is comfortable, including adjusting the reach to the brakes.

For all riders, if you're planning on riding frequently, long distances, or have chosen to purchase a road bike, then a professional bike fit is a good idea. An expert will take specific measurements, watch your riding style, and make any adjustments on the bike to ensure you get a perfect fit. Many bike shops offer this service. 

Riding

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

For 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 more efficient — but many cyclists will take a sideways tumble or two before nailing the technique, so practise against a wall or in a soft, grassy area first. 

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, and 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 what we have to say on the best road helmets and lids for mountain biking.

The other key pieces of kit you may want include gloves, padded cycling shorts, a cycling jersey, glasses and shoes. We also recommend 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.

If you plan on wearing padded bike shorts, you may be wondering whether you should wear underwear underneath them or not. The short answer is no, as our article on bike shorts and underwear explains.

You'll find plenty of reviews of kit (such as gloves, glasses, multi-tools, pumps, gadgets and much more) 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.

You could also cast an eye over our beginner's guide to cycling accessories to make sure you have everything you need.

Bike 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 and our bike maintenance article hub 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! BikeRadar will be your ultimate resource for all things bike from now on. And, if you're like us, 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 in our community forum — if you find yourself having any cycling dilemmas, just ask and someone will soon come to your rescue!

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

Russell Eich

Tech Writer, US
Russell fell head over heels in love with bikes in the '90s, and has been involved in the bike industry ever since. Between wrenching in bike shops, guiding professionally, and writing about bikes, Russell has honed an appreciation for what works, gained knowledge of what doesn't, and can barely contain his enthusiasm for what comes next. His two-wheeled passion continues in the Rocky Mountains high above Boulder, Colorado.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: High altitudes, forgotten singletracks, bike parks, roads without cars
  • Current Bikes: Custom Meriwether steel hardtail, Specialized S-Works Enduro 29, Kona Jake the Snake, Trek 69er, and a bunch more
  • Dream Bike: Yeti SB5c, Intense Tracer 275C, Black Cat custom road
  • Beer of Choice: Gin + Tonic
  • Location: Rollinsville, CO, USA

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