If you’ve just started out on your great two-wheeled adventure, these beginner’s cycling tips will help you get the most out of your riding. Think of BikeRadar as your riding buddy, who wants to help you enjoy your bike as much as possible.
Below, we’ve covered kit, clothing, nutrition and technique, as well as the common pitfalls of getting into riding, but we haven’t forgotten that the best thing about cycling is it’s fun.
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 – the legendary Belgian ex-pro cyclist who won 11 Grand Tours, including five Tour de France victories: “Ride as much or as little, as long or as short, as you feel. But ride.”
If you’re looking for specific tips, you can skip to the relevant sections of this article by clicking the links below:
Best cycling clothing for beginners
Right, let’s start with what to wear. There’s a huge range of cycling clothing out there, in a dazzling variety of colours and fabrics, from the easily affordable to the ridiculously expensive. Let’s measure you up…
1. Padded cycling shorts
The best cycling shorts stop your backside from hurting so much.
If you’re asking yourself: should I wear underwear under padded cycling shorts? the answer’s no. Massively padded perches 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, choose the best bike saddle, set the saddle height on your bike right and ride until you get used to your saddle.
2. Wear a cycling helmet
We know legislating helmets is massively contentious, but the best road bike helmets and best mountain bike helmets might save your life.
It’s not hard nowadays to find one that’s comfy, light and affordable. And no, you don’t have to buy the most expensive model, because they all conform to current safety standards.
3. Try clipless pedals
Deciding between flat or clipless pedals can be tricky.
Clipless pedals are confusingly the ones you clip into using cleats, and they are without a doubt the best road bike pedals.
The binding can be made loose enough to come away easily, you’ll quickly learn how to use clipless pedals and they’ll make a massive difference to your pedalling efficiency.
4. Mountain bikers, wear protection
Mountain bikers, particularly when starting out or learning new skills, will be very grateful for a decent pair of gloves and knee pads, as a minimum.
What to wear mountain biking depends on how technical your riding is. If you’re learning big jumps or hardcore downhill trails, consider armour and pads for your elbows, and even back protectors too.
5. Get some cycling sunglasses
The best cycling sunglasses 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, so, if you can, get one lens for bright conditions and one for dull, wet days.
Bike maintenance made easy
Now that you’re wearing something comfortable, let’s move on to keeping your bike in good shape. You don’t need a shed full of tools to achieve this, but it helps to have a friendly bike shop nearby in case you need advice.
6. Use chain lube
Keep your chain clean and lubricated, particularly if riding in bad weather. As our guide on how to clean a bike chain explains, you’ll eliminate the dreaded ‘creak’ that cyclists hate, and more expensive parts such as chainrings won’t wear out as quickly.
7. Check your tyre pressure
Recommended tyre pressures will be indicated on the sidewall of your tyres, but the ideal road bike tyre pressure is subject to a number of factors.
The best bike pumps are a good investment because they require less effort to get to the recommended pressure, and will feature a handy pressure gauge.
8. Fit mudguards/fenders for wet conditions
Fitting mudguards is an integral part of how to get your road bike winter ready.
Your back will thank you, your washing machine will thank you, anyone riding behind you will be thank you too. Some (including a few 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?
9. Keep your bike clean
Although few of us are as fastidious as we should be, you can clean your bike in seven simple steps.
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 – this will stop mud sticking on your next ride.
10. Master puncture repair
Learn how to fix a puncture, and always carry a repair kit (including tyre levers, patches or a new inner tube, and a pump).
When you’re miles from home and suddenly hear that hissing sound, you’ll be glad you learned how to fix it yourself.
What to eat and drink when cycling
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.
11. Stay hydrated
Whether you prefer a water bottle or a hydration pack, make sure you pack some fluid whenever you’re heading out.
The best bottle cages are a practical way to carry water on your bike. You can nearly always find somewhere to refill along the way, and most coffee shops are happy to oblige for free.
12. Stay fuelled
Avoid bonking on a bike ride, where your body runs out of fuel and you grind to a painful halt.
The body can carry around 90 minutes’ 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.
Given how many calories cycling burns, consume around 100 to 250 calories every 30 minutes, whether that’s energy gels, cereal bars or a banana. We like carrot cake, by the way.
If you make your own energy bars, you’ll save money and can tailor them to your taste and nutrition requirements.
13. Use electrolytes
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 energy drinks (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.
Carbohydrates and protein are what to eat and drink to recover from a hard ride. It’s best to have a carb and protein-rich meal for post-ride recovery. But between meals or when you’re pressed for time, try a delicious smoothie recipe for pre- and post-ride fuelling. These act as a recovery drink, which after a long, hard ride will help the body repair itself, in conjunction with some rest.
Aim to consume something with a 4:1 carbs-to-protein ratio soon after finishing. There are plenty of pre-mixed 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.
15. Give it the beans
The mid-ride coffee stop is a cherished tradition and there’s sound scientific reasoning behind it: coffee and cycling are a performance pairing. Caffeine has been found to measurably improve your endurance on the bike. Do say: “Espresso doppio, per favore”.
Cycling safety for new cyclists
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 and rural roads are yours for the taking. Build up some experience and you’ll learn to read situations quickly and accurately.
If you’re going out for a long ride on your own, tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back. The best bike computers and best cycling apps, such as Strava, allow you to send a tracking link to your loved ones so they know where you are. You can also share your location via WhatsApp.
17. Get street-wise
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.
In order to ride safely in traffic, you need to know the difference between ‘primary’ (middle of the left-hand lane) and ‘secondary’ (about one metre to the left of the moving trafﬁc lane) positions, and use them appropriately. Our cycling to work guide has more commuting tips.
18. Don’t jam the brakes
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 up. Modern brakes are pretty powerful and you don’t want to go over the handlebars.
19. Turning technique
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.
20. Better together
On the road, knowing how to ride in a group opens up social and training opportunities. 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.
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).
Learn how and when to use hand signals on your road bike to warn riders behind you of any obstacles they might not see until it’s too late. They’ll do the same for you.
We come to our final section, cycling technique. There’s plenty of debate out there on the ‘right’ technique for all forms of riding, but there are also a few absolutes:
21. Sit comfortably
Perfect your road bike position and get your bike saddle height right. You’ll be more comfortable, more powerful and all-round happier if your bike is the right size and your handlebars are set up correctly. We highly recommend that cyclists of all levels get a professional bike fit, and a decent bike shop can help you here.
22. No chain strain
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 chainring, smallest cog). This places extra load on the chain and stresses the whole system. Your bike really doesn’t like it and it’s not efficient. Our guide to bike gears has all you need to know.
Try to maintain a high, regular cycling cadence, around 70 to 90 pedal 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.
24. Team up
Find some riding buddies. That could mean joining a cycling club, persuading your mates to dust off their old bikes or showing them how to buy a used or second-hand bike online. Should they need convincing, roll out a handful of the great benefits of cycling. You’ll feel more motivated to get out and ride if you’ve got a pal to share it with.
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.