There are many irrefutable, awesome things about cycling. For starters, it’s low impact for your joints, making it the ideal activity regardless of age or fitness level. It also provides an excellent cardiovascular workout, and it can even improve your mental health. As summer’s steamy temperatures make running feel really tough to stick with, now is as good a time as any to trade in your strides for pedal strokes. Especially since cycling can help improve your stamina, endurance and overall performance on the run when you add it to your regular routine.
You probably remember how many questions you had as a beginner runner the first time you laced up your sneakers and hit the pavement. Understandably there’s a lot of unknowns when it comes to taking on a new sport. The good news is the barrier of entry to cycling is relatively low, and we’ve tapped top cycling experts for their strategies for first-timers to the bike.
THERE ARE A LOT OF BIKE OPTIONS
Shopping for your first bicycle can be exciting, but also a tad bit intimidating. When it comes to choosing the right model, there are a lot of different types of bikes, based on how you may decide to use your two wheels. These include road, mountain, cruiser, e-bike, commuter, and fat-tire bikes — among others.
READ MORE > FINDING THE RIGHT BIKE FOR YOU
Assuming you’ll be using it for fitness and mostly on roads, a road option works best for most entry-level cyclists. You’ll also want to get a bike fit to make sure everything is customized to your body. You may need a special bike seat in addition to figuring out your pedal options: clipless or flat. Clipless pedals allow riders to actually clip in with cycling-specific shoes. The biggest perk to this is the ability to pull up on the pedal using your hamstrings mid-rotation for more efficient power. With the alternative, you can wear your regular sneakers.
“Once you’re connected to the bike you will have a smoother pedal stroke,” says John Cordoba, Specialized’s product manager for road and gravel. “Plus it can help avoid knee injury since the foot will always be in the right location in correlation to your knee.”
When making your big purchase, focus on an option that makes you feel good, says David Devine, senior director of product for Cannondale. “Practicality is great, but make sure you don’t ignore your emotions,” he says. “A bike you love is going to be a bike that triggers that emotion to get out and ride. A special color, a nice shape or design, the ability to add on your favorite accessories — consider all these things when buying a bike to make sure you love the bike, and can’t wait to get out and ride it.”
Of note: Bikes range dramatically in price. Inexpensive bikes may cost you about $300, but most options will be more than $1,000 — which means this could be something you certainly save your pennies for. According to Meredith Miller, a 20-year veteran cyclist and manager for cycling brand Rapha’s events in North America, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.
“You pay for what you get,” she says. “Of course, not everyone has the money to go all in for their first bike, which is totally fine. The good news is that there’s always ways to upgrade your first bike. Start with something you love, and when you’re ready to upgrade, your local shop will be able to help you out.”
THE RIGHT GEAR IS A GAME-CHANGER
Just as with any sport, there are tons of different options for your go-to cycling kit. However, every successful kit has a few must-haves:
Yes, these may feel like you’re wearing an adult diaper, but you will be grateful for the added comfort when you’re in the saddle for more than 10 minutes. A chamois, or padding, gives you that extra plush feeling on the ride. One best-practice tip: Do not throw your cycling shorts in the dryer.
A cycling jersey
The great thing about cycling jerseys is they have rear pockets where cyclists stash things, like energy bars, bananas, credit cards and your cell phone when you’re on the move. Plus, the added coverage helps protect you from the sun’s rays if you’ll be out for a while.
The right socks
“I wouldn’t consider going for a hike or run without putting good socks on, so the same goes for your bike,” says Miller. “Good socks provide your feet great support, and also help wick the sweat when things heat up and your feet sweat. Plus, when your foot’s in your shoe, the right sock will help make it comfortable.” Cyclists are known for opting for flashy socks — and the length matters. Most cyclists opt for socks that come up a few inches on their calves, which is helpful if it’s hot and you’re sweating a lot, as opposed to ankle socks that won’t absorb the sweat (though arguably lead to better tan lines).
A safe helmet
Arguably the most important component of your cycling outfit is your helmet. This should be the first thing you purchase alongside your wheels. “Make sure you replace your helmet every 4–5 years,” suggests Cordoba. “Don’t drop your helmet, and if you crash and your helmet saves you, replace your helmet immediately. They are not designed to take multiple hits.”
MAKE SAFETY A PRIORITY
Aside from wearing a helmet whenever you’re on the move, there are a few other things you can do to stay safe on the go. First and foremost, it’s important to know the rules of the road as well as common hand signals when you’re out on the road. Second, Cordoba suggests starting off your cycling without any sort of cycling computer or phone on your handle bars, so you’re completely focused on the task at hand. “Look as far ahead as possible, he suggests. “If you’re looking just in-front of your front tire, when an obstacle comes, it will be too late to react. The further ahead you can look, the easier it will be for you to react.”
Some helpful items to have at home so you can stay as safe as possible include a floor pump for your tires as well as chain lube. Upon purchasing your bike, make sure to ask your bike shop how much air pressure you should have in your tires. “You want to check your tire pressure every ride, and depending on how often you ride, you want to have a clean and lubed chain. This will have your bike shifting better, and it will extend the life of your gears. Ask your bike shop how much air pressure you should have in your tires.”
On the road, it’s important to have an on-the-go repair kit, including a replacement tube (if you have tube tires), small pump or CO2 air, a multi-tool, and carrying bag. “Unfortunately AAA-style service for bikes is not as accessible as we would like,” says Cordoba. “You will get a flat tire at some point. Make sure you learn how to fix your own flats.”
Carry this kit inside a small bag, recommends Devine. “A place to store them on your bike will keep your pockets empty without having to leave essentials at home.”
READ MORE > 35 SIGNS YOU’RE A CYCLIST
Like everything else, the more your practice, the better you get. The more often you ride your bike, the more your position on the bike feels natural, you become more comfortable riding at higher speeds, turning and taking one hand of the handle bars to reach down for the water bottle.
Cordoba recommends starting with two times per week and upgrading up to three. “A good goal for a fitness-minded cyclist would be to ride 5–10 hours each week.”
“Not every ride needs to be a huge and challenging ride,” adds Devine. “If you have 5 minutes, take the bike around the neighborhood. It will keep the bike on the front of your mind, and make it easier to get going when you have more time.”
If you want to really kick up the fitness aspect of your cycling, Miller says you don’t need to spend hours on the bike to get in a stellar cardio session. Here, she offers a sample cycling workout for fitness:
SAMPLE BIKE WORKOUT
- Sprint 20–30 seconds (as hard as you can pedal), recover for 40 seconds
- Repeat 6–10 times
- Rest for 5–10 minutes with light recovery, and repeat
FIND YOUR TRIBE
Of course, COVID makes this more difficult. But, no matter where you are, there is guaranteed to be a cycling community in your area ready to welcome you with open arms. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to other friends or people — a club or a bike shop can help — that has a group or group rides that go out,” says Miller. “The cycling community is a very friendly place to be, finding people that enjoy the same things as you. Plus, these riders can introduce you to new routes and other people.”