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10 essential tips every new cyclist needs to know

If you're a new rider yourself or know someone who is, here's all the advice we wish we'd received when we first got on our bikes.

If you’re new to cycling – whether it was a New Year resolution for 2020, you picked it up as a new hobby during the COVID lockdown, or you’ve swapped the bus for the saddle on your daily commute - well done to you!

Cycling is not only an excellent form of exercise that has a range of benefits for both your physical and mental health, but it can also take you on some great adventures. However, we do understand that starting out in cycling can be slightly overwhelming.

During the first few weeks, you may find yourself trying to learn the basic rules of the road as well as navigating the unwritten rules – do I need clipless or flat pedals? Does my water bottle need to match my bike?

We say – “forget the rules!” Cycling is meant to be fun and to help you get the most enjoyment out of your new hobby or commute to work, we’ve rounded up the best beginner cycling tips. Let’s get started!

1. Don’t stress about the gear

You don’t need fancy clothes, clipped-in shoes, or a top-of-the-line bike to become a cyclist. The most important thing is that you’re getting outside to exercise - you can worry about kit upgrades when you know cycling is 100% for you and you know you won’t fall off an expensive brand-new bike. Of course, you will need a few essential items of kit to get started, such as a bike and a helmet, but you don’t need to spend a lot of money.

2. Get your seat height right before your ride

Having the wrong seat height could put you at risk of serious injury. Before you set off make sure you set your seat height correctly.

How to fix: Move your saddle up until your knee is slightly bent at the bottom of your pedal stroke, without rocking your pelvis. Measure the distance between the bottom bracket and the top of the seat. This is your seat height.

If you're struggling to get the right height, you can visit your local bike shop or return to the shop where you purchased your bike. Most cycling shops will be happy to set you up for free.

3. Get a bike fit

The height of your seat is not the only thing you need to worry about before setting off on your first ride. To get the fit right, you also need to consider your reach.

Optimal reach means your arms and torso make a 45-degree angle over the bike. If you’re too far away from the handlebars, your back will start to ache from overreaching. On the other hand, if you’re too close, your knees will be too close to your arms.

When you go to buy your bike, make sure you take it for a test ride to see if the size is correct for you. If you can’t find a bike that you feel comfortable on, ask the shop assistant to help find one for you that will suit your height.

4. Plan your route

Now that you’re comfortable on your bike, it’s time to plan your route before you head out. Making sure you’ve got a route planned out is essential so that you can get some idea of how far you are likely to go, how long it will take and what kind of roads you will ride on. This is especially important for beginners who may not feel comfortable riding on busy main roads straight away.

As with so many things nowadays, your phone can help. With a Strava subscription, you can create your route from scratch. You can set your preferences, including whether you would like to ride on mostly paved or dirt roads, select locations, landmarks or addresses to you’d like to visit on your ride and discover new routes that are popular in the Strava community.

If you don’t fancy riding with your phone attached to your bike, you can upgrade to a GPS cycling computer which sits in the middle of your handlebars. Brands such as Garmin and Wahoo connect to Strava which uses machine learning to create routes for you.

5. Ease yourself into it

One of the biggest causes of injury is the result of trying to take on too much mileage before you’re ready. Don't try too much, too fast, or too soon. Go easy on yourself in the first few weeks, build your endurance up slowly and give your body time to get used to your new sport.

If you’re new to exercise altogether, aim to cover around 5 miles on your first ride and then build up your distance so that you don't overdo it. Little and often is the best way to increase strength and confidence.
Remember to always cool down and stretch when you finish your ride. Try and add an extra 10 minutes of gentle cycling on to the end of your ride to allow your heart rate to return to normal.

6. Gears are your friend

Gears are there to make your life easier – so learn how to use them! They can be your best friend whilst climbing an incline, and your greatest source of speed on a long stretch of road.

You can find some great tips on how to use gears online. As you cycle more, start to recognise how changing gears either makes you work harder and go faster or spin easier but move slower. 

7. Learn how to fix a puncture

One minute you're smashing a personal best and the next you’re on the side of the road listening to the sound of air escaping from your tyres, and the fun is over.

While modern puncture-resistant tyres claim to solve all your problems, if you cycle for any length of time you will inevitably get a puncture at some stage so knowing how to fix one is essential.

Understanding how to replace an inner tube will pay dividends when you find yourself at the side of the road. Remember to look for and remove whatever caused the hole in the first place before you put the replacement inner tube in otherwise it will just pop your spare, too.

8. Have a saddlepack

It’s all well and good knowing how to replace an inner tube, but if you don’t remember to carry one while you ride, you’ll soon be calling a friend or family member to ask for a lift back home.

You can purchase a saddlepack from most cycling shops. A multi-tool, some tyre levers, a puncture repair kit/spare inner tube and a mini pump should cover most eventualities and get you back in the sadly in no time. 

9. Keep your bike in good condition

Most bikes are really very simple pieces of technology and you don’t need to be a pro to take care of the basics.

Experts recommend you clean and lube the chain after every ride, however, the thought of a shower after a long ride can often feel like the better option! Make sure you take a visual check of your chain after a ride to decide whether it needs cleaning or not.

Keeping the recommended amount of air in your tyres (look over your tyre to find the psi range) makes your rides a lot easier, too, and prolongs the life of your tyres.

10. Understand whether you are fit to ride

Making exercise a regular part of your life can transform your health. And just seeing the improvements you can make to your health by taking part in regular activity can be hugely motivating.

The best way to understand whether you are fit to exercise is with a simple blood test. Our Baseline Fitness Blood Test is perfect for establishing your baseline levels of 16 biomarkers before you get started and for monitoring your progress along the way. Track changes to your inner health as your fitness levels improve and learn how informed changes to your diet and lifestyle can help improve your overall performance and recovery.

The Baseline Fitness Blood Test gives an excellent insight into any health risks that you may have as well as an understanding of why your progress might not be as you hoped. It includes tests for liver function and cholesterol as well as tests for energy, muscle, inflammation and vitamins.