How to plan your first road bike ride

Everything you need for an enjoyable introduction to road cycling

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Setting out on your first ever road ride can be a daunting proposition, so here are six things to make your maiden voyage a success.

1. Be realistic

Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc Ultegra endurance road bike
Focus on enjoying yourself on your first few rides – there’s no need to be a hero.
Max Wilman

Just how fit are you? Can you run for the bus without breaking a sweat or does a single flight of stairs leave you panting and out of breath? There’s no need for heroics here, and we’d suggest keeping your first outing short and sweet.

If you’re moderately active already, make your first ride 15 miles long and aim to complete it in an hour to an hour and half.

If you’re less confident about your fitness, try to plan a route with a stop at five miles that gives you the option of adding distance if you’re feeling good, or heading home if you’re not.

2. Wear the right kit

We’ve got a whole guide on what to wear for road cycling and commuting, but the most important item, other than perhaps a helmet, is a proper pair of the best bib shorts.

Bib shorts are best because there’s no waist elastic to cut into your stomach, but any cycling shorts are better than none.

Shorts should be tight fitting because loose material will bunch and chafe, and wearing underwear with bibs is not recommended. You don’t want to be adding extra seams that could abrade your most delicate and valued body parts.

dhb Aeron Ultra Short Sleeve Jersey for road cycling
A good fit is key with cycling kit – you don’t want loose material flapping around or chafing.
Felix Smith / Immediate Media

If you’re not comfortable showing off your curves in tight clothing, there’s nothing to stop you wearing comfy and baggier shorts or leggings over your cycling shorts.

One of the best cycling jerseys is ideal for your upper half, but hardly essential for your first rides. If you don’t have one, a close-fitting T-shirt is fine, or a heavier sweatshirt for cooler weather.

Just remember that you’ll be generating a lot of heat when you’re pedalling, so dress lighter than you would normally. A good rule of thumb is that if you feel slightly cold when you first step out of your front door, you should be comfortable once you get going.

If you haven’t bought all your kit yet then check out our beginner cyclist shopping list video below.

3. Bring the right kit

You shouldn’t need to carry out extensive roadside repairs on your first foray into the big bad world, but you’ll want to carry the basics for puncture repair.

All you need is a spare inner tube in the correct size, a couple of tyre levers, and a small pump.

You should also pack a basic multi-tool in case you need to make simple adjustments, such as saddle height, on the road.

We don’t recommend going on your first ride at night, but if it’s anything other than a nice, bright day, consider whether you should fit front and rear lights to make yourself nice and visible to other road users.

It’s also worth packing a lightweight jacket or gilet if there’s even the slightest chance of rain, and a little cash or a debit card for emergencies. Bring your phone too, even if you’re not using it for navigation, just in case.

4. Plan your route

Collage of Simon Bromley riding wet lanes
Quiet roads make for relaxed riding.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media

As we’ve said, keep it short to begin with, and aim to ride on roads with no big hills and minimal traffic. If that’s not possible where you live, consider driving somewhere more suitable if that’s an option for you.

It may sound odd to suggest this on a cycling website, but you’ll enjoy yourself much more if you can focus initially on riding the bike rather than dodging cars, especially in the first few miles of your cycling life.

If it helps with motivation, aim to hit a cafe halfway round for a quick caffeinated morale-booster.

There are lots of free (or partly free – most have paid upgrade options) online services and apps that will make planning a route easier, including cycling-specific ones such as Strava, Komoot, Ride with GPS and Mapmyride, as well as good old Google Maps.

These allow you to plan exactly how far you want to ride, and show you whether there’ll be any hills along the way. Just be aware of letting software choose your route because not all platforms have a finely calibrated sense of where it’s appropriate to ride a bicycle.

Some won’t differentiate between tiny farm tracks and dual carriageways when they suggest directions, so if you’re in any doubt about a road’s suitability, Google Streetview is your friend. As a general rule, try to avoid A-roads because cars will generally be driving a lot faster on these.

Bike GPS with map on screen
Some bike computers allow you to load up a pre-planned route.
Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media

Most GPS bike computers will have some form of built-in navigation, and the option to download a route to the device. However, even if you don’t have a bike computer, you probably do own a smartphone, so why not make use of its built-in GPS to navigate using your pre-planned route?

You can get handlebar phone mounts for most phones if you feel the need, but you should be able to hear instructions with it in your back pocket, regardless.

5. Prepare your bike

How to assemble a bike, pumping up tyre with track pump
Make sure the basics like pumping up your tyres are sorted before you head out.
Dave Caudrey / Immediate Media

Your bike shop will have sorted out the essentials for you, but there are some basic things you can easily check yourself. It’s also worth learning how to do a basic pre-ride safety check.

Your saddle should be at a height where you can pedal freely, and you should have just a slight bend in your knee when the pedal is at its lowest point. If you can place both feet flat on the ground while seated on the saddle, then it’s too low and you’ll hurt your knees.

Your tyres need to be properly pumped up, and this is best carried out with a track pump (also called a floor pump) with a gauge. The correct pressure varies depending on your weight and the exact size of the tyres.

There are many online calculators and apps that will give you advice on this, but for a typical 80kg rider with 700×25mm tyres, we’d recommend starting with 100psi in your rear tyre and 90psi in your front tyre.

Lighter riders can go lower, heavier riders should go higher. As you gain experience, you may want to experiment with higher or lower pressures to fine-tune your ride. Try adjusting in increments of 5psi at a time.

Before hitting the road proper, take some time to familiarise yourself with your bike, making sure you can comfortably operate the gears and brakes. If your bike is fitted with clipless pedals, practice clipping in and out.

Shimano PD-5700C 105 SPD-SL pedal
If you’re trying clipless pedals for the first time, make sure you’re comfortable with how they work.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media

It’s a good idea to always unclip one foot a few seconds before you come to a halt. That way you’re much less likely to forget and tip over awkwardly at a standstill.

Try shifting through the gears, but avoid the easiest two at the back when you’re in the bigger chainring at the front, and the hardest two at the back when you’re in the little ring. These gear combinations force the chain to work at an extreme angle, which puts unnecessary strain on your drivetrain.

Don’t operate both shifters at once, and get into the habit of easing off on the pedals slightly as you shift. It’ll make everything work a bit more smoothly and reduces the chances of an accidental chain drop.

You should be able to ride comfortably with your hands on the brake hoods for prolonged periods, and from there you need to be able to shift both front and rear gears.

The drops are used when you want to go really, really fast, and for descending. It’s important that you can brake safely from either the hoods or the drops, so try both out and make sure you’re comfortable moving from one to the other. Do this one hand at a time so you’re never completely letting go of the bar.

6. Prepare yourself

Bircher muesli in a bowl
Bircher muesli is a great stress-free breakfast because you can prep it the night before
Olive Magazine

Come the day, eat a carby but not overly heavy breakfast and give yourself a good hour and a half to digest it. Something like porridge is ideal, or toast with lashings of jam, or ‘jelly’ if you’re American.

You likely won’t need to eat much on a ride this long, but it’s best to get in the habit of carrying a bit of food with you — so take a banana or a square of flapjack.

You should also put a bottle of water or energy drink in your bottle cage, and try to take a sip every 20 minutes or so, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

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The rest is up to you, so saddle up, have fun and be safe out there!