In light of the current climate, a lot of us out here have been getting into more and more healthy, active, outdoor lifestyle activities where we can. I’ve seen a massive rise in people taking up yoga, jogging, swimming and especially cycling. If you’re just starting out, we’ve got you covered with some road cycling dos and don’ts tips for beginners when it comes to cycling safety.
Benefits of Road Cycling
Fitness and Vitamin D generation
Road cycling, which is essentially exactly what it says, is great in many ways. By road cycling regularly, you will build up muscles and fitness in ways that you can’t by catching public transport, driving, or even walking. Giving you a workout as well as a vital dose of Vitamin D. For example, when you have that steep hill to get up and you stand up on your bike and put your calves into it, you can grow muscles that you just can’t do any other way.
The financial benefits of road cycling to work or school are also apparent as you typically don’t have to pay other than the upkeep of your bicycle, which is relatively cheap anyway. Public transport, or fuel, or even car upkeep in general can cost an arm and a leg when added up, whereas the relative cost of riding your bike regularly is the equivalent of a few dollars a month.
So now that you’re sold on the benefits, let’s get straight into the 13 tips for beginners:
Road Cycling Tips for Beginners
1. Get the bike at the local bike shop
Whilst buying your bike from the web is definitely convenient and can help with buying on a budget. However, buying your bike from the store is much better. You will get to actually try out a number of different styles and sizes, and they will get it professionally fit to your needs. Even if you already own a bike, before you go road cycling on it, I very much recommend you make a visit to your local bike shop and get their input.
You will find that there can be some tips, like the ideal seat height, getting the tire pump/ patch kits, reflectors, wing mirrors, bike chains etc that you may not have either known about or thought about previously. Most store staff will be more than happy to help, and getting your bike road ready is paramount to keeping yourself safe and avoiding injury whilst on the roads.
2. Invest in some key gear from the start
Cycling can be one of the more expensive pastimes, but it doesn’t mean that you have to break the bank to get what you need. There’s a lot of important items and paraphernalia that are totally worth getting. Whether it be to protect your body from chafing or getting blisters, or to protect you from harm during collisions, or from other purposes, you need more than a bare bike and yourself.
Here are my recommendations for what you need from day 1:
- Sturdy and comfortable bike helmet.
- Bike lock/ bike chain (particularly if you plan to leave it in a public place for any time)
- Front and Back Bike Lights
- Bike/ gripper gloves to protect your hands from blistering
- Pants/ Shorts That have reinforced buttock/ groin area (you’ll thank us later)
- Tyre Pump
- Tyre/ Puncture Repair Kit
- A bike bag of some form
- Sports shades (the sun can be a nightmare at certain times of the day).
3. Learn how to repair a puncture
Getting a punctured tire is not a matter of if, but when. Needless to say then, that it is vital you learn how to repair one of these, and always have a repair kit handy, so that you’re not caught out.
There’s nothing worse than being stuck halfway to where you’re going, with no phone signal, and nobody with you, with a punctured bike tire. We’ve all been there, and the lesson to learn is to have a kit handy, and, most importantly of all, know how to repair.
You could always ask a passer by for help, but that’s another risk these days! It’s best to be safe in the knowledge that you can fix it yourself and it means at some point in the future you will be so comfortable that getting a puncture won’t cause you any stress or concern at all.
4. Be careful on steep descents
Cycling downhill is so fun. You don’t need to pedal at all, and gravity helps you go. Sometimes, on gentler hills, it’s a good piece of respite from the high energy pedalling on the rest of your journey. However, gravity is a very powerful force.
You need to be so careful when you’re going downhill, especially the steeper the gradient, because if you’re not, it’s easy for your speed to get away from you, it’s easy to brake too harshly and suddenly and it’s hard to control.
Injuries in this scenario are always far worse, and damage your bike can be devastating. Plus, danger to other road users can be a forgotten side effect of losing control of your speed during a downhill slope.
5. Get a comfy saddle
Whenever you cycle there can be aches and pains in your nether regions. This pain and ache can also transfer to your pelvis, and lower backs. The importance of getting a saddle that conforms to your body, provides enough padding and is wide enough to suit you can never be o overstated. Bike saddles are not very expensive, and this is another part of the bike that can be fixed up with the help of your local bike shop.
This can be doubled for male riders, for obvious reasons. Regardless, this is an investment that everyone will thank me for suggesting one day! I change my saddle on average every two to three years to keep the padding fresh and spongy. A bike saddle, however, shouldn’t have too much cushion – but just the right amount of comfort for you to spend long bike rides on.
6. Don’t ride with headphones in
Wearing headphones too much is not generally good for you anyway – but we are not here to cast aspersions on wearing headphones any other time than when you’re road cycling. Of course, a big part of the highway code is to “stop, look and listen” and many of us forget about the listening part of this equation.
Sometimes, we hear things happening before we see them! This might include hearing emergency vehicles around you, or on paths and trails, other bikes or people might be round sharp corners.
Wearing headphones and listening to your favourite podcast might be what you want to do, and I think that once you have got past the intermediate level of road cycling it can be done, as a beginner you really need to have your wits about you and to understand that your life is quite literally exposed so take as much control back as you can – and that includes being able to hear things.
7. Know Your Road Rules/ Highway Code
I get it – you’ve grown up in the area. You know the rules for driving, you know the rules for being a pedestrian. But now you’re a cyclist, and you need to learn the rules for being one. In many towns and cities there are lanes, pathways, and roads that you have exclusive or shared access to that regular car drivers do not – for example, some bus lanes are shared with taxis and bikes, or some pedestrian pathways are shared with bikes.
There are also no-go roads, like most highways. There are rules about traffic filtering, such as when you can do it, and what side of the lane you can do it. The reason for knowing this is based on safety of course – make sure you’re doing what you are supposed to and it makes it much easier for other road users to predict your actions.
8. When you cycle in the road, cycle in the road
This one can feed into the previous tip too. Road cycling means exactly that – cycling on the road. If you’re over a certain age then you are not legally allowed to ride on the sidewalk anyway, but there’s nothing worse than those cyclists who cycle onto the sidewalk only to get through a red light or tricky intersection.
We’ve all seen them – the ones who go through the red lights or stop signs without stopping – or go into the middle of a lane when there is otherwise plenty of other space to move to the inside of the lane. Be respectful of others, and don’t drag other cyclists down by being this type of cyclist. Nobody likes it, it’s unsafe, and it makes you a jerk.
Right, now that this has been said, the benefit to riding properly and observing the laws, and sticking in the road is increasing your own personal safety, not decreasing it.
9. Change positions regularly / find your cadence for pedaling
Especially pertinent when your ride is a big longer, say 30 minutes or more, is changing up your position on the bike. Sometimes, we can get saddle sores when we are not used to cycling often due to sitting back in the same position for the whole time.
An easy way around this is to shift from sitting back in your sit with a straight upright back position for the coasting parts (such as downhill), leaning further forwards when trying to build up a little bit of speed, and standing up altogether when pushing up those hills.
Pedalling cadence is also very important when it comes to road cycling – everyone tends to differ so find out what suits you depending on the conditions – hilly environment, heavy traffic, slow moving traffic, bad weather etc.
10. Build your core fitness levels
Cycling is 100% a fitness exercise. Some road cyclists are riding their bikes for hours every day – especially couriers or delivery riders. If you don’t have at least a passable level of fitness, you might struggle somewhat here. Make sure you have good cardio – road cycling is really more of a marathon than a sprint.
There’s another type of fitness that doesn’t often get mentioned but is important for road cycling – mental fitness. Sometimes, you might hit a wall physically, especially on tough uphills that you will have to push through.
Other times, you will hit a mental wall after the first time you take a fall off your bike or otherwise have a near miss, and believe me, you will have near misses. But you need to chalk it up to a learning experience, and get back on that horse…ahem… bike. Don’t let it deter you.
11. Learn your route
Guys, it really, really helps if you know your way. And you might know it inside and out blindfolded when driving, or walking, or jumping on the bus. However, when cycling, as previously mentioned, you might have different route options. It’s worth exploring these and getting your route down pat.
Don’t be shy to experiment too – you might now be able to avoid a dangerous intersection or often overcrowded road by cutting through the park which you could never do in your car without attracting the attention of the law!
Another reason to experiment is that you might want to avoid a certain steep hill (especially on the way to work in the mornings – to avoid sweating too much too early!) which you would not think twice about in the comfort of your 2 liters 4 wheel drive car, but might be a bit tougher on your calf muscles!
12. Get some cycle buddies
It’s true what they say – there is safety in numbers. This rings true for road cycling too – sometimes it can be harder for a motorist to come up suddenly from behind on you. It’s also a lot of fun to have a buddy or group to cycle with.
Hobbies are great when you do it yourself, but they can often last longer when you find a group to do it with. They can help you to keep going when you’re tired, or to get on your bike when you felt no motivation that particular day.
Think about it, if you drink alone you have a problem, but if you’re drinking with friends then you’re social! OK, bad example, but you know what I mean. Cycling on Sunday mornings to your favourite brunch and pumpkin latte spot is a great way to keep fit, active and work off that extra bacon rasher.
13. Begin with the end in mind
It seems like somewhat of a cliche, but ask yourself why you are starting out on road cycling. Are you trying to get fit? Then start out with that in your mind. Don’t get an electric bike if you’re trying to get fit!
If you’re trying to save on money, then don’t start out with a $12,000 bike! Basically, if we are to succeed in whatever we do, we need to be conscious of our goals when we start. If you don’t keep reminding yourself of this why as you go, you will inevitably quit or give up at the first sign of trouble. It helps to have your thought process in reverse.
I like to think of it this way: when you want to live in a house that you own, you need money, and to get money you need a job, and to get a job you need qualifications, and to get qualifications you need to study. Start with the end in mind and work back.
Now you’re clued in, get ready to hit the road!
So with all this in mind, enjoy your road cycling, stay safe on the roads, and welcome to the world of cyclists! You can’t go wrong if you follow this baker’s dozen worth of tips. Before I sign off, here’s a quick bonus tip: learn how to ride a bike! You’re welcome.
And if you want to learn more about techniques in road cycling, here are the five road cycling techniques recommended by a pro.