As a beginner cyclist, there’s a lot to learn. While you won’t be able to soak it all up all at once, there are a few things you should be aware of before heading out on the road. From safety to shifting, these eight tips for new cyclists are essential.
1. BE SAFE
Before you begin to worry about getting faster, you’ll need to learn how to be safe if you’re going to begin riding on the road. Cyclists of all levels should abide by these basic safety tips:
- Wear a helmet at all times, even on short or slow rides.
- Use hand signals to alert others of your intentions.
- Follow the same traffic laws as motor vehicles.
- Know basic roadside repairs, such as changing a flat tire.
2. DRAFT AS CLOSE AS YOU’RE COMFORTABLE
In cycling, riding in the draft of others can help you conserve energy and ride farther than you would alone. Riding behind another cyclist can help you to conserve up to 40% of your energy compared with riding at the same speed when your body is exposed to the wind.
While it can be nerve-racking for a beginner cyclist to ride in close proximity to another cyclist, you can still enjoy some of the benefits of drafting if you’re within 2–3 feet. Start by maintaining this distance, and gradually move in closer to the back wheel as you become a more confident bike handler. If possible, ride with a more experienced cyclist who can help you with basic drafting principles until you become more comfortable riding in a group.
3. TAKE REST DAYS
One big mistake beginners make is doing too much too soon, as this may lead to injury. As a general rule, you should never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% each week.
Also keep in mind that any long or high-intensity rides or workouts should be followed with a day or two of easy cycling or rest. This will allow your body to recover properly and prevent common overuse injuries.
4. GO EASY ON DESCENTS
The more comfortable you are on the bike, the less nerve-racking long, fast descents will be. But until you become more confident with your bike handling, maintaining a safe speed should be the top priority.
Remember that the front brake has more braking power than the back. When going downhill, apply light and equal pressure to both brake levers to slow down. This will make it easier to maintain control of the bike. Grabbing the brake, on the other hand, could make you swerve or cause your rear wheel to fish tail, leading to an accident.
5. GET A PROFESSIONAL BIKE FIT
As a new cyclist, there can be a lot of gear to buy. While the right shorts and shoes can make a big difference in your comfort and performance on the bike, putting your money toward a bike fit is the best investment you can make. By dialing in your position, you’ll be able to ride faster, longer and be less likely to end up with an injury.
Most local bike shops offer this service, and costs can vary depending on what is included in the fit. At a minimum, saddle height, saddle fore/aft position, handlebar reach and cleat adjustment should be included. Expect to spend between $150–$350 for a professional bike fit and for the appointment to last 2–3 hours.
6. INVEST IN THE RIGHT SADDLE
Saddle comfort is very individualized. Everyone is different, and what you find comfortable probably won’t be comfortable for someone else. Look for a bike shop that has a demo saddle program. This will allow you to try several different options to see which is the most comfortable for your individual anatomy before you are forced to shell out your hard-earned cash.
7. USE CLIPLESS PEDALS
If you’re going to start riding your bike for fitness, clipless pedals are a must. By fixing your foot to the pedal with a specialized shoe and cleat, you’ll be able to pedal more efficiently and involve more muscle groups than flat pedals will allow. Over long distances or during high-intensity efforts, this can make a big difference in your performance and comfort on the bike.
For a few tips on setup and technique before you head out for your first ride on the road, use this beginners guide to using clipless pedals.
8. FINE TUNE YOUR SHIFTING
Learning to shift at the right time can help you keep your momentum and improve your average speed. Here are a few basic shifting tips:
- Always shift before the terrain changes.
- On climbs, ease up on the pedals when you shift to avoid making your chain fall off.
- Avoid cross-chaining, which means riding with the big ring up front and the largest cog on the back or on the small ring in the front and the smallest cog on the back.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RIDE