Cycling tips: essential pieces of riding advice for beginners

A guide to the basics of kit, clothing, technique and more…

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These cycling tips are aimed at the beginners, those of you who’ve just started out on their great two-wheeled adventure. Our friends at BikeRadar have brought this advice together to act as your helpful riding buddy who wants to save you some time and trouble on your journey into making cycling a part of your everyday life.

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. So there are cycling tips here covering kit, clothing, nutrition, technique and more. 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: “Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride.”

Cycle clothing

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Right, let’s start with what to wear. There’s a huge range of cycle 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 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. 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.

3. 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.

4. Get some sports glasses. 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 – if you can, get one lens for bright conditions and one for dull, wet days.

Bike maintenance

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Now 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, though it helps to have a friendly bike shop nearby in case you need help.

5. 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 like chainrings won’t wear out as quickly.

6. Check your tyre pressure: recommended levels will be indicated on the sidewall. A floor pump (also called a track pump) is a good investment, as it requires less effort to get to the recommended pressure, and they’ll feature a handy pressure gauge.

7. Fit mudguards in wet conditions. Your back will thank you, your washing machine will thank you, everyone riding behind you will be grateful. 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?

8. 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 – as this will stop mud sticking on your next ride.

9. 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.

Food and drink

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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.

10. 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.

11. 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 100-250 calories every 30mins, whether that’s energy gels, cereal bars or a banana. We like carrot cake, by the way.

12. 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.

13. 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 15-20g within 30mins of finishing if possible. There are plenty of premixed 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.

14. 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

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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 are yours for the taking. Build up some experience, and you’ll learn to read situations quickly and accurately.

15. If you’re going out for a long ride on your own, tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back. You are loved.

16. 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” and “secondary” position, and use them appropriately.

17. 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 it up. Modern brakes are pretty powerful, and you don’t want to go over the handlebars.

18. 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.

19. 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.

Riding technique

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We come to our final section, technique. There’s plenty of debate out there on the ‘right’ technique for all forms of riding, but there are also a few absolutes:

  1. 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. A decent bike shop can help you here.
  2. 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 stretches the chain and stresses the system. Your bike really doesn’t like it.
  3. Try to maintain a high, regular cadence, around 70-90 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.
  4. Find some riding buddies. That could mean joining a cycling club, persuading your mates to dust off their old bikes, or shadowing random strangers (actually, not the last one). But you’ll feel more motivated to get out and ride if you’ve got a pal to share it with.
  5. 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.

This article was originally published at BikeRadar