July 19, 2016 by Ed Kennedy
10 Key Tips for Cycling Beginners
You’ve perhaps seen the Tour de France on TV, you’ve gotten the old Raleigh out of the shed – or maybe gone ahead and gotten a road new bike and resolved to make a go of it – and now you’re faced with setting off on your first ride. This is great! Cycling is among the best ways to exercise, stay healthy, and have fun.
Yet, it’s also true: cycling on the road can bring with it a number of challenges that can turn a good ride into a bad one. Rather than encounter these mishaps while you’re in the seat, here are 10 tips to ensure you stay safe and ride well.
1. Start Small
It’s marvellous if you’ve watched Chris Froome summit mountains and decided to start your own grand rides. But when starting, it’s ideal to start small. Depending on your fitness and any other exercise you do regularly, in many ways cycling may surprise you. While you may not be using as many muscles in your body by cycling as you do when you run or swim, the strain cycling put on your legs and the cardiac fitness required (among other things) will soon leave you feeling tested.
So, when beginning, start with a 5km or 10km ride of 20 to 30 minutes – and should you have any concerns about your health or fitness – be sure to have a chat to your doctor before you kick off your own tour. Lest this sound like a wasted visit, remember many doctors are also known to own $5000 road bikes – so you may make a new friend:)
2. Consider Clipless Pedals
Speaking of road bikes, (if they do not come standard with the bike) one of the accessories a new rider quickly looks to is clipless pedals. Allowing you to buy a pair of cycling shoes that clip into your bike, clipless pedals give you the opportunity to ride with more efficiency and speed. But they can also pose dangers for new cyclists.
Ultimately, for a new cyclist clipless pedals are a lot like driving a manual car. If you really love the idea of them and take the time to learn how to clip in and out go for it! Yet if you’re just keen on a quick ride in busy suburbia (which means you’ll be contending with congestion not seen on free-flowing roads) there’s no shame in using other pedals. Even cycling fanatics can find sometimes using a bike with traditional pedals is just easier if riding in an area with lots of cars or pedestrians.
3. Regularly Check Equipment While Riding
Whether you use clipless pedals or otherwise it’s vital you give your bike a look over before you start out on a ride. Many people may just go ‘OK, tires are pumped and the bell works, let’s go!’ – but do take a few minutes more. Check your seat and handlebars are straight and secure, check your wheels are screwed in, and also that your chain is correctly on. Furthermore, alongside regular servicing to ensure your bike is in good working order it’s not a bad idea to stop mid-ride on your bike to check all is in good condition. This does not mean you need to bring a peloton to a stop at the halfway point, but if you come to a red light a quick once over is a great way to help maintain peace of mind on the journey home.
4. Learn About Your Gears and How They Work
Before doing your pre-ride check be sure you’re familiar with your gears and how they work. This is especially important as it relates to efficiency. But it also ensures you maximise the lifespan of your bike and don’t go ‘straining the gears’, ‘breaking the chain’, and doing all sorts of others errors that sound like 80’s hair metal bands. While you may be able to shift gears like Steve McQueen and still have fun doing so, you’ll nonetheless find your ride far more tiring and exhaustive that you would need to if you’re inefficient in your gear change. So, understand your gears, how they work, and aim to keep a pace of 80-100RPM.
5. Know Not Every Car Is Going to Hurt You
One of the fears new cyclists face in particular is sharing the road with other users. In cities where there are dedicated bike lanes this is less of an issue. But even so, sometimes bike lanes will get congested due to other cyclists, or a car parking in one when it shouldn’t, forcing a cyclist to leave the bike lane for a period. Also, there may be a route that is popular for cycling but does not have a dedicated bike lane, meaning cyclists will have to share the space with cars and other vehicles. It’s easy for new cyclists to be weary in these circumstances.
It must be recalled though that just the same as you don’t want to get hit, so too is no motorist keen on the idea of hitting a cyclist. Not only does this bring concerns over a big lawsuit and hospital bills, but more so: 99.9% of motorists just want to get where they are going peacefully and not hurt anyone! So, if you’re using bright head and rear lights, have good visible gear on, and are following the rules: don’t be too nervous about other motorists. Ride your route and they’ll do theirs.
6. Recognise You Must Be Proactive For Your Safety
Notwithstanding tip 5, it does remain a reality that in simple terms a car is stronger than a bike. In turn, anyone in a car will almost always have less of an injury risk in an accident with a cyclist than vice-versa. So, following the road rules should keep you safe and risk of an accident at a minimum – but just like a good driver in a car need drive defensively – so too it is always good for a cyclist to be proactive and try to anticipate any hazards around them.
A common example of this is ‘dooring’. So when cycling along a parked car see if you can look inside the car (and glance at the rear-view mirror) to see if anyone is in it. If so be very careful if riding by within reach of the door’s span. If in doubt slow down as you ride by to ensure you’d have time to brake if they do open the door, and ring your bell for good measure.
7. Understand Road Rules Commonly Apply to Motorists and Cyclists
Just as someone who doors a cyclist can be penalised under law in many parts of the world so too must it be understood before someone sets out on a ride – unless otherwise specifically detailed in relevant local laws – the road rules apply to a cyclist just as they do any other road user. This needs to be stressed as it’s common to see some cyclists now and then flouting laws like running red lights.
Undoubtedly, such rules can seem frustrating at times. If a cyclist comes to a red light at 6am sitting over an empty intersection they may be left wondering ‘do I really have to obey this red?’. But if a cyclist does roll through a red light and is caught doing so, often it is treated the same as if a driver in a car did it. A useful rule is ‘if I wouldn’t do it in a car I shouldn’t do it on my bike’ serves many cyclists well in such a situation.
8. Plan for a Time When You Get Hurt
Cycling involves injuries. This does not mean a new cyclist will need to start donating to their local hospital so a wing can be named in their honour. But it does mean reckoning with the reality that every cyclist has some war stories. Most of the time this will just be small cuts and bruises that leave the rider with a good story to tell the office. At the same time though, knowing this ahead of time can actually minimise injuries.
Just as a new cyclist should learn how to minimise falls in clipless pedals, it’s also necessary to know to treat minor injuries. At the same time, if an injury appears more serious, it’s always prudent for a cyclist to get it checked out professionally. The sooner a medical professional can assess the wound and make a treatment plan, the more likely they can minimise any damage and look to get a cyclist back on their bike sooner.
9. Get Off the Bike If You Feel Really Unsafe
Just as cuts and bruises are a reality of a cyclist’s life you’ll sometimes come across a stretch of road with a hazard that ruins your ride’s momentum. Initially, there may be a temptation to carry on, ‘oh, it’s just a couple of bumps and some gravel’ you may say. But if you’re on a road bike (and especially in clipless pedals) you’re really only set up for smooth and straight road, not trying to replicate Arnie in Terminator 2 racing through Los Angeles canals. So, if you come across a stretch of road that feels iffy to ride through safely? Be safe, hop off – and avoid getting road rash.
10. Remember that Notwithstanding the Trials: You Will Love Cycling
For all the challenges about cycling and important tips to follow to get you on the road, when you have a clear stretch of road, you’re in a good gear, and your RPM is solid; cruising along is one of the great feelings in life.
In turn, though it’s important to be cautious and conservative when starting out as a cyclist – there are many ruined bikes and a couple of people in hospital beds right now who incorrectly thought they knew it all at the start – over time you will find you develop a ‘cyclist’s intuition’. This will come as you get familiar with your regular routes, traffic conditions at that time of day, and your own capabilities. This institution will increase your confidence and comfort riding.
So, make a plan for a safe start, and then set that plan in motion. And, if you do see Chris Froome out there? Let him know you’re getting so good you’ll see him at the Tour next year. He might just hop off his bike and make a run for it!Ed Kennedy is a journalist and ghostwriter from Melbourne, Australia. Contact Ed via firstname.lastname@example.org on Skype or LinkedIn.