Cycling can feel like one of those hobbies you need to be an expert to take up. You’ve probably seen cyclists with high-tech bikes and lycra zoom by on the roads around your city.
But it’s actually the opposite. Cycling is an accessible hobby that almost anyone can enjoy. It’s a great way to build fitness, and you can take it as slow as you need to.
If you’re thinking about taking up cycling, but you’re not sure where to start, this essential guide will answer all your burning questions and show you how to get started today.
The Different Types of Cycling
Before you buy a bike or start looking for gear, you’ll need to decide which type of cycling suits you best. There are some pretty important differences between the different types of bikes, so make sure you know what kind of cycling you’ll be doing before moving forward.
Track cycling happens in purpose-built velodromes and on artificial paths designed for track bikes. If you plan on heading to your local leisure facility to try out cycling, you’ll need a bike suited for indoor tracks.
Mountain biking involves cycling on hiking trails, up hills, and through rough terrain. An all-terrain bike or mountain bike is needed for this form of cycling since the wheels need to be thicker with better grip to better traverse the rocky ground.
This form of cycling involves riding a bike along roads and bike paths. Since the ground is much smoother and more even, you’ll need a road bike to aid with speed and maneuvering.
What are the Benefits of Cycling?
If you’ve never tried cycling before, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s a fantastic form of exercise that comes with many benefits.
Help lose weight
Regular cycling can be a great way to lose weight if that’s what you’re aiming for. High-intensity cycling works best for weight loss, but even more steady biking can build muscle, increase metabolism, and improve your cardiovascular health.
You’ll notice a drastic difference in the overall function and strength of your lower body when you take up regular cycling. It’s a great way to strengthen your leg muscles without putting too much strain on your joints.
Easy for beginners
Some sports take a lot of skill and time to master, but cycling is easy for beginners. Even if you’ve never ridden a bike before, you’ll pick it up fast.
If you’re new to your fitness journey, it’s also an easy way into it. Cycling is fun and doesn’t have to be strenuous, so it’s easy to build a habit of doing it regularly.
Another great health benefit of cycling is lowered cholesterol. This, in turn, boost your cardiovascular health, which lowers your chance of a stroke or heart attack.
Better mental health
Getting outdoors and riding a bike can help ease feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, too. Cycling is great for developing concentration and awareness of the present moment, which can help reduce the negative thoughts associated with depression and stress. Even just a quick 15-minute ride around the block can help boost your mood.
How to Choose the Right Bike for Cycling
The bike you choose will either improve your cycling performance or massively hinder it, so it’s important to choose the right one. Here is a quick guide on choosing the right bike for you.
What’s your budget?
Bikes can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to well over $10,000, so it’s good to know your budget before you start your research.
If you’re just starting out and you’re unsure if cycling is for you, set a low budget and look for a second-hand bike on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace. You can also save up and invest in something better if you fall in love with the hobby.
What type of cycling will you do?
We’ve already talked about the different types of cycling; now it’s time to figure out where you’ll be using your bike.
- Leisure riding: if you’re planning short trips around your town or on local bike paths, a hybrid bike is ideal. These combine the lightweight efficiency of a road bike with the stability and durability of a mountain bike.
- Commuting: if you’ll be using your bike to get to and from work, a road bike is best (unless you want the added help of an electric bike). These are comfortable and easiest to ride on roads. Bonus: invest in a mudguard mount to avoid getting sprayed with dirt on your way to work!
- Mountain biking: if you have a lot of hiking trails and mountain routes in your area, you’ll need a mountain bike. These have thicker wheels that can traverse rougher ground.
What’s your fitness level?
This is often overlooked, but your fitness level will also influence the type of bike you should buy.
If you have some joint issues or problems with mobility, you’ll find it difficult to ride a mountain bike. Likewise, if you have some back trouble, a road bike with a bent-over riding position is likely to be uncomfortable.
If you do have any health issues you’re concerned about, a hybrid bike is usually best. These have an upright position and are much easier to ride than mountain bikes. They’re lightweight but can handle dirt paths with relative ease.
Buying a Bike for Cycling
Once you’ve figured out the kind of bike you need, there are a few key features you need to look for.
Flat bars vs. drop bars
One of the most noticeable differences between bikes is flat and drop bars. Flat handlebars go straight across, whereas drop bars curl under.
Which you go for will depend on the type of cycling you do and how comfortable you are in different positions on the bike. Drop bars are meant to make it easier to lean over and get a more aerodynamic position for faster cycling, which is why you’ll see them during road races.
However, flat bars are better for sitting upright. The downside is you tend to get sore wrists from sitting up and holding onto flat bars for long rides.
If you’re planning on cycling along trails, dirt paths, or up and down hills, flat bars are definitely a better option. But if you’re into road biking and are looking for speed, drop bars may be better.
There are four different types of bike brakes:
Disc brakes and rim brakes are the most popular and most commonly used, but each type of brake have different benefits and features and suit different types of cycling best.
Overall, disc brakes are the most powerful and are the most well-regarded because of their increased responsiveness and all-weather performance. If you’re off-roading, you’ll definitely want disc brakes.
However, they’re also great for road biking, and you’ll see them on many hybrid bikes, too.
Tires and tubes
Most bike tires have inner tubes that fill with air. They come in various sizes and materials, depending on the type of bike they sit under.
Of course, many bikes are tubeless, especially many new mountain bike models. But we’re increasingly seeing tubeless tires on road bikes as well.
You don’t really need to worry much about tires if you’re buying a new bike since it’ll be fitted with the right type of tires for the job. However, if you’re buying a second-hand bike, it’s always worth checking what type of tires it has and making sure they suit the type of riding you’ll be doing.
Here are the types of bike tires you’ll come across:
- Clincher tires – the most common and popular type
- Tubeless tires – catching up in popularity
- Tubular tires
- Mountain bike tires
- Gravel tires
- Road bike tires
Getting the right bike saddle is crucial when you’re new to cycling. Get it wrong, and you’ll find it hard to sit down for days after your first ride.
Men and women require different features when it comes to bike saddles. Unfortunately, women’s needs are much more diverse, and the industry has fewer solutions for them – it’s easy to see why female riders suffer.
The right bike saddle for you will depend on the following:
- The type of riding you do
- The position you sit in
- Your flexibility and core strength
- Your sit bone width and soft tissue distribution
This all sounds very technical, but it’s really about finding a saddle you find comfortable. If you find yourself in pain after your first ride, try out a different saddle style, or invest in a saddle pad and some padded shorts to help the next time you go out.
The final piece of the bike puzzle is the pedals. In general, you’ve got two choices: clipless and flat bicycle pedals.
Clipless pedals attach to the sole of clipless cycling shoes, giving you more control and efficiency on the bike. You’ll also need to invest in cycling shoes that have cleats to clip in.
As a beginner, you’ll need to go on a few very short rides to get used to clipless pedals. You’ll inevitably try to put your foot down to stop without unclipping and fall a couple of times, but it’s easy enough to get used to.
Flat pedals don’t attach to your shoes, so you can quickly and easily take your foot off the pedal. The downside is you actually have less control, and the act of pushing the pedal around is harder.
If you plan on recreational cycling on trails and walking paths, go for flat pedals. However, if you plan on road cycling and want to ride for miles at a time without stopping, clipless pedals will make it much easier.
How to Take Care of Your Bike
Just like a car, a bike needs regular maintenance to keep it working efficiently. As a beginner cyclist, there are a few things you can do to take care of your bike.
Clean and lubricate the chain
If you hear a high-pitched squeaking sound when you pull the brake, your chain needs lubricating and cleaning. Once the lubrication wears off and dirt and grime build up in the chain, the life expectancy of your bike starts to plummet, and it’s not cheap to replace parts.
Once a month, clean the chain, sprockets, and chain eels to get all the dirt and grime off. Next, apply a few drops of bike oil as you slowly turn the pedals (flipping your bike upside down will help with this). While you’re at it, give the frame and wheels a good clean to make your bike look like new.
Inflate your tires
If the pressure is too low in your tires, you’ll have to work a lot harder to maintain your speed. You’ll also get flats far more easily by dropping off a curb or hitting a pothole.
A quality foot pump and pressure gauge aren’t expensive, and having them at home means you can check the pressure before each ride. Top the air up as needed, and you’ll notice the difference.
Keep the nuts and bolts tight
The screws, nuts, and bolts can start coming loose after regular use, so check these regularly and tighten them if needed. If you lose a screw mid-ride, you’ll end up with a loose mudguard or rattling noise all the way home, which is annoying, to say the least.
When you buy a new bike, you’ll probably get a bag of spare nuts and bolts and a guide for the maximum torque that should be applied to them.
You can buy tools that only apply the maximum amount, but a regular spanner can also do the trick – just be careful not to overtighten bolts.
Check the brakes and brake pads
If you ride fast, you need decent brakes, especially if you’re sharing the road with cars and motor vehicles. If you can pull the brake lever back to the handlebar and you only slow down a little, your bakes need an adjustment.
If your brakes have a barrel in the lever or brake arm end, this can be adjusted to improve the speed of your brakes. Tightening the screws on the brake pad will also move it closer to the rim, making you stop faster.
If your brake pads are dirty or worn, you’ll need to clean or even replace them to keep them working optimally.
Learn how to fix a flat tube
It’s easy to prepare, patch, and remount a tube when you know how, and there are thousands of YouTube videos with step-by-step instructions for every type of bike.
If you get a flat, it’s great to know how to fix it yourself, especially if you’re miles from home.
But if you start getting flats a lot, it’s time to check the tire and inside of the rim for sharp objects or a protruding spoke – something isn’t right.
Essential Cycling Gear You Should Have
You don’t need to spend a fortune on equipment when you’re a beginner at cycling, but there are some essentials you’ll need for safety and comfort.
- Gloves – to stop your hands from blistering.
- Shoes – decent trainers or boots with cleats if you’re going for clipless pedals
- Helmet – you should never ride a bike without an approved helmet
- Shorts – riding shorts stop chafing and make riding much more comfortable
As well as gear, some accessories come in incredibly useful on a bike ride:
- Water bottle – to prevent dehydration
- Multitool – to help with quick bike repairs mid-ride
- Mini pump – to pump up your tire if you get a flat
- Tire tools – again, to help with repairs and flats
- Spare tube – in case you get some real damage that can’t be patched
Cycling Tips for Beginners
If you’re nervous about your first ride as a new cyclist, here are some quick tips for beginners.
Get your saddle height and riding position right
Your saddle height is fully adjustable and should be tailored to your height and riding position. If it’s too high, you’ll strain to push the pedal and get a leg injury; too low, you won’t get a full range of leg motion and end up hurting your knees.
Set your saddle so there is a very slight bend in your knee when your foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
To set the bike position, look at your posture. The handlebar should slightly obscure the wheel hub from view if you’re posture is correct.
If you want a pro to help, find a local bike store – most will help you adjust your bike, so it fits you perfectly.
Dress for the conditions
There’s nothing wrong with going cycling in the rain, but you’ll find it miserable if you’re wearing the wrong gear. Likewise, you need to dress for warm conditions if it’s sunny.
Go for lightweight, breathable fabrics in the warm months to help reduce sweat. In the winter, you’ll still want breathable fabrics, just extra layers to avoid getting wet and cold.
Take a lock and lights
Even if you only plan on going for a short ride, always take a lock and lights with you. If you get delayed, and you’re out when it’s dark, lights will keep you safe. And if you have to stop for any reason, you’ll be able to lock your bike up safely outside.
Have a pack with supplies
We’ve already gone over the basic accessories you should have when you go on a bike ride, but having a pack with essentials will help boost your confidence on the road.
As well as the essentials, take some extra cash or a bank card, too. Whether you get hungry and need a snack or need to call an emergency cab, you’ll be glad you have it on you.
Cycling Etiquette Out on the Road
First of all, always follow the rules of the road. If you’re sharing a road with motor vehicles, you must obey road signs, traffic lights, etc. There might also be local rules for cyclists in your area, so check these to be safe.
There are no real strict rules for cycling etiquette when you’re out on the road, but there are some guidelines that seasoned cyclists like to follow.
- Signal your intentions – you don’t have indicators, but throw an arm up to show you’re planning to turn so others on the road know where you’re going.
- Wave or nod to fellow cyclists – if you pass another cyclist out on the road, acknowledge them to be polite.
- Be aware of your surroundings – keep your head on a swivel and know what’s happening around you. Unfortunately, not everyone takes care around cyclists, so you need to look out for yourself.
- Avoid earphones – they are a massive distraction, and you need all your senses on the road.
- Avoid being a tag-along – just because you catch up with another cyclist doesn’t mean they want you to join their ride. Be respectful of others’ space.
- If someone catches up to you, let them pass – they’re probably going much faster.
And there you have it! Your complete beginner’s guide to taking up cycling. It can feel daunting to take on a new physical hobby, but cycling is one of those great sports that are accessible to almost everyone, no matter your experience or fitness level.
Most cities have some great cycling routes, not to mention friendly cycling groups, so get out and start exploring.