Guide to Cycling:
Our Top Tips
The world of cycling can feel a bit intimidating sometimes – especially for beginners. If all you’ve seen of cycling is the Tour de France, you might be a bit nervous about committing yourself to a life of lycra. But riding a bike doesn’t have to be that extreme – it can be as simple as coffee trips, lazy summer rides and picnics in the park. And once you’ve taken that first ride, you’ll be absolutely hooked.
To help you get started, we’ve condensed our years of biking knowledge into this handy beginner’s guide, filled with our tried-and-tested cycling tips. Whether you’re brand new to bikes or it’s just been a while since your last ride, here’s everything you need to know to hit the cycle lane with confidence. You’ll be pedalling like a pro in no time.
The Benefits of Cycling
First off, let’s talk about why biking is so amazing. From cardiovascular fitness to mental health and wellbeing, cycling exercise has been shown to have a whole host of positive effects on your mind and body. Plus, it’s really, really fun.
Here are some of the key cycling benefits to keep in mind while you’re on the saddle:
Riding your bike regularly is an easy way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, which can help protect you from serious health conditions like obesity, heart disease, cancer, arthritis and diabetes. And because it’s low impact, it’s a good way to build up your fitness levels.
Cycling is also a great way to improve your strength. Although it might feel like your legs do all the work, riding a bike works your core muscles, including your abs and your back, which helps support your spine and improve your stability.
If you’re at the start of your weight loss journey and are looking to gradually introduce more exercise, bike rides are a great place to start. Cycling for weight loss, especially at a high intensity, helps to build muscle and burn body fat. It also raises your metabolic rate, which allows your body to burn more calories – even while you’re resting. You can build up the length and intensity of your rides at a pace that suits you – and unlike the gym, you can enjoy some lovely scenery along the way.
Biking isn ’t just good for your body – it’s also great for your mind. Exercise in general has been repeatedly shown to improve mental health – and with biking, you’ve got the added bonus of fresh air and nature, which can also help to ease feelings of stress or anxiety.
Swapping your car journey for a bike ride is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Not only do bikes emit no greenhouse gases, but cycling also helps reduce noise pollution and congestion in cities. They even have a long-term positive impact on green spaces – by reducing the need for new parking and roads, cycling helps prevent development on natural areas.
Skipping the Traffic
If you live in a city, or just have a traffic-heavy commute, cycling is an absolute game-changer. Instead of sitting in gridlock or standing up on a crowded bus, you can design your own route to work – one that avoids all the roadworks. Find the fastest route by zipping through shortcuts, or take your time with a slow, scenic route by the river.
Before Your Bike Ride
Check Your Tyres
One of the most important things to do before any ride is to check your bike’s tyre pressure. Luckily, this is fairly straightforward. The right pressure range for your bike model is listed on the sidewall of your tyres, so make sure to note that down. You can check your tyres using a pressure gauge – if they need a little bit more air, simply pump them up. Most floor pumps have a built-in pressure gauge, so you don’t even need to buy two tools.
Bonus tip: In wet or icy weather, don’t pump your tyres up too hard. Slightly softer tyres have a better grip on the road, so they’ll help keep you from sliding about – but don’t forget to keep them within the manufacturer’s recommended pressure range.
Adjust Your Saddle
Another thing to do before your bike ride – especially if you’ve got a brand new bike – is to make sure your saddle is the right height. You’ll need to be sitting on your bike to do this, so hold onto a chair or lean your bike against a wall to stop you from toppling over. Once you’re situated, place your heel on the pedal and pedal backwards to reach the six o’clock position. Your knee should be completely straight. If your knee is still bent, you’ll need to increase the height of your saddle. If you lose contact with the pedal, lower your saddle a little bit.
After you’ve adjusted your saddle, double-check your riding position. When you’re riding, you should have a slight bend in your elbows – if your handlebars obscure the front wheel hub when you look down (that’s the bit in the middle of your wheel), then you’re on the right track.
Dress the Part
Here’s the good news – you don’t have to buy a new wardrobe to start cycling. All you really need is a helmet. In fact, that’s the most important part of your outfit. No matter how good you get on your wheels, never, ever ride without your helmet.
As long as your clothes are comfy and aren’t going to get tangled in your bike, you can wear whatever you like to go cycling. But if you’re looking to tackle some longer journeys, or if you think you might get caught in the rain, the right clothes will make your ride feel a lot more comfortable.
For those typical British rainy days, invest in some quality waterproof clothing, like this unisex cycling suit. If you’re looking to keep cycling through winter, you might want to get some cycling gloves and long-sleeve sports tops too.
Pack the Essentials
The final thing you need to think about is packing your bag. Even if you’re only nipping out for a couple of hours, it’s a good idea to bring along some bike essentials, just in case. Things like a puncture repair kit, a multi-tool, a mini pump and a replacement inner tube are great for helping you fix any issues along the way, and a bike lock will keep your wheels safe if you need to make an unexpected stop. For longer rides, make sure you’ve got plenty of water and snacks to keep you going. Having some emergency cash or your bank card on hand is never a bad idea either.
Cycling Tips For Beginners
They say you never forget how to ride a bike – but if you’ve not ridden one in years, it can still feel pretty daunting. For your first bike ride, don’t be afraid to start small. Try cycling around the block while you familiarise yourself with your bike. Once you’re ready for a slightly longer ride, stick to parks or traffic-free routes. Make each ride slightly longer and more challenging than the last.
Choose Your Route
If you’re new to cycling, planning your route ahead of time can help you feel more confident about your ride. There are tons of online mapping tools to help you find the perfect route. It’s also a good way to find cycle paths if you’re not quite ready to handle traffic.
Another way to find cycling routes is to join a more seasoned bike rider on one of their rides. If you don’t know any cyclists nearby, try joining a cycling club.
Learn How To Use Your Gears
Bike gears can be a bit confusing for new riders, but it’s nothing a little practice can’t fix. Remember, the gears are there to make your ride as easy and comfortable as possible. If you find you’re pedalling too fast and aren’t feeling enough resistance, shift into a harder gear – you’ll find it easier to build up speed. And if pedalling becomes too difficult, shift to an easier gear. Simple!
Bonus tip: The higher the gear, the harder it is to pedal. So, when you need to change gears, just remember: high = hard, low = easy.
Practice Some Basics
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with your bike, it’s worth learning some basic techniques to help keep your ride as smooth as possible. One of the most important tricks in any cyclist’s arsenal is tackling those lung-busting hills. To save you having to hop off and push your bike, keep pedalling as hard as you can as you approach the hill – that way, you’ll build enough momentum to get you at least part of the way up.
When it comes to taking corners, make sure to slow down as you approach the bend. As you lean into the bend, bring your inside pedal to the 12 o’clock position, so it doesn’t scrape along the floor.
Another important thing to think about is stopping, so take some time to practice using your brakes. Your front brake is much more powerful than your rear, so make sure to use it lightly alongside your rear brake.
Stay Safe on the Road
When you’re riding on busy roads, it can be tempting to stick near the curb. But it’s actually safer to stay about one metre from the edge of the road – that way, you’ll be easily visible to other road users, and they’ll be less likely to try and overtake you when it’s not safe to. It also gives you plenty of room to navigate obstacles, such as potholes or litter.
Bike Maintenance Tips
Learn How To Fix a Puncture
If there’s one thing every cyclist needs to know, it’s how to fix a puncture. No matter how good your tyres are, they’re not invincible – one day, you’re bound to end up with a flat. To save you from getting stuck halfway through your ride, practice fixing punctures at home, until it feels easy.
Clean Your Bike
Although it’s tempting to put your feet up after a long, muddy ride, it’s important to give your bike a good clean. Regular cleaning helps to prolong your bike’s lifespan and protect key components (such as your drivetrain) from costly wear and tear. Along with washing any dirt or mud off, you’ll also need to degrease and lubricate your drivetrain every couple of weeks – even if you’re only riding in sunny weather.
Bonus tip: After you’ve washed your bike (or got caught in the rain), make sure to dry your bike thoroughly to prevent it from rusting.
Know Your ABCs
One easy tip for a well-maintained bike is to check your ABCs (air, brakes and chain) before every ride. To check the air in your tyres, you can use a pressure gauge (and a floor pump if they need a little more air). For your brakes, a general rule to follow is that your brakes should be fully applied by the time your lever is pulled halfway to the handlebars. To check your chain, just have a look and make sure it's clean and lubricated. While you’re down there, give your pedals a spin to make sure there are no grinding noises.
Find Your Perfect Bike
If you’re new to cycling, finding a new set of wheels can feel a bit overwhelming. From single-speed bicycles to vintage models, there’s a lot to choose from – but not all of them will suit your riding style. To find your dream bike, you’ll need to think about a few things – including terrain, lifestyle, and what you’ll be using the bike for.
Here’s a quick rundown of the most popular types of bikes:
Like the name suggests, a hybrid bicycle is a mix of a road bike and a mountain bike – which makes it a great all-rounder. Hybrid bikes are perfect for biking newbies, commuters, or anyone who wants the flexibility to tackle different types of terrain. If you’re looking for a great set of wheels, check out our Pioneer Tour – it’s one of the best hybrid bikes for beginners.
Another great option for biking beginners is a classic bike. Complete with vintage features and a retro frame, these bikes are some of the best-looking styles on the market. They’re not quite as rugged as hybrid bikes, but they still do well on light trails. And they look incredible propped up in your hallway.
Mountain bikes, or MTBs, are designed for off-road cycling. They’re usually equipped with thick tyres, full suspension forks and a rugged frame to make your ride feel smoother, which makes them perfect for trails. But they’re also slower on tarmac than hybrid bikes, so they’re not great for everyday cycling.
If you’re on the hunt for a good trail chewer, have a look at the Talus – it can handle just about anything.
Incredibly light and agile, road bikes are custom-built for – well, roads. Aside from specially designed racing bikes, they’re the fastest model you can buy – but they don’t do trails. At all. So if you’re looking for something with a bit of variety, you’re better off with a hybrid or a vintage bike.
If you’ve not quite got the stamina for a long bike ride, or you’re looking to cover a lot of ground, an electric bike could be perfect for you. Designed with a silent motor, e-bikes give you power-assisted pedalling, which makes your ride unbelievably easy. And if you fancy more of a workout, you can switch the feature off and ride it like a regular bike.
Folding bikes are pretty self-explanatory – it’s a bike that folds up. Because of their nifty size, they’re super popular with people living in flats – but they’re also great for things like caravanning and weekend trips. Simply fold it up, stash it in your boot, and take it with you wherever you go. (If you’re looking for a great folding bike, we recommend the Stowaway.)
Get advice from the experts
If you have any more questions about cycling, or you’d just like some help adjusting your bike, pop into your local bike store – they’ll be more than happy to help. You can find your nearest shop using our handy store locator.