10 Essential Tips for New Cyclists Starting Road Bike Riding


You’ve perhaps seen the Tour de France on TV, you’ve gotten the old Raleigh out of the shed – or perhaps 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 as cycling is among the best ways to exercise, stay healthy, and have fun.

Yet, its also true: cycling on the road can bring with it a number of challenges and ways in which a great ride can come undone.
Rather than encounter these mishaps while you are in the seat, here are 10 tips to ensure you stay safe, ride well, and get the most out of your cycling.

Start Small

It is marvelous if you’ve watched Chris Froome and his friends (and rivals) speed through French towns and summit alps and aspired to commence your own speedy ventures and grand climbs. Yet, when first on the bike start small. Indeed, dependent upon your fitness and other exercise you do regularly, in many ways cycling shall surprise you – for while you may not be using as many muscles in your body as if you run or swim – the strain put on your legs and the cardiac fitness required (among other things) will soon leave you feeling tested.


So, when beginning, start small with a 5km or 10km ride of 20 to 30 minutes – and should you have any concerns about your health of fitness – be sure to have a chat to your doctor before you kick off your own tour. Lest this be a wasted visited, many doctors are known to own $5000 road bikes – so you may make a new friend:)


Clipless Pedals


Speaking of road bikes, if they do not come standard then 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 give with more efficiency and speed – but they can also pose dangers for new cyclists.

Further, rather than the feeling of being strapped into a rocket as you enter an intersection – for you’ll still have use of your brakes – clipless pedals are more likely to see you fail to stop and fall over now and then.


Ultimately, for a new cyclist CP’s 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! – but if you are just keen on a quick ride in busy suburbia (which means you’ll be contending with cars rather than a free flowing roads ahead of you) there’s no shame opting for other pedals, And, if you remember just one thing when new to clipless? When you fall don’t stick out your arm straight to stop your fall, instead ‘reach’ with your arm span for the ground. This means a softer landing and decreases change of spains to your wrist and arm.


Regularly Check Equipment While Riding


Whether you use CP’s or otherwise it is 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 is not a bad idea to stop mid ride on your bike and check all is in good condition. This doesn’t mean you need slam on the brakes at the halfway point of your ride and stop if you are just going for a quick 15 minute burn around the neighbourhood, but instead do so for longer rides when you stop for a drink, or come to a quiet street just hop out of the pedals for a minute and do a quick checkover of your components like you did at the start of the ride. While interrupting your flow is no fun, so too is your chain suddenly coming off at a traffic light surely no joy either. So, have a check on a long mid ride.


Know Your Gears and How They Work

Bicycle Gears

Knowing how your gears work and how to use them efficiently is essential to riding well. Image: supplied.

As you are doing your pre-ride check be sure you know well your gears and how they work. This is especially important as it relates to efficiency, but also ensures you maximise the 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.


So, 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, be sure to know your gears, how they work, and keep a pace of 80-100RPM.


Not Every Car Is Going to Hurt You


One of the fears new cyclists face in particular is the feeling you are going to be the exception to the rule. Even in cycle friendly cities there are still motorists that either don’t take kindly to 2 wheeled road users – or perhaps had a bad experience riding themselves once and swore to thereafter reap havoc on other cyclists (..maybe) – either way though: know if you are in your bike lane and following road laws you should be safe.


Accordingly, it must be recalled just the same as you don’t want to get hit so too is no motorist to 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. So, if you are using bright head and rear lights, have good visible gear on, and are following the rules: don’t be too nervous about other motorists, lest it distract you from your own ride.


…But You Do Need Look After Your Safety


Notwithstanding the above, it does remain a reality that in simple terms a car is stronger than a bike. In turn, anyone in a car shall be far safer in a accident with a cyclist that 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 as a cyclist need you look to observe and anticipate other motorists actions.


Most commonly among these is ‘dooring’ – so when cycling along a parked car see if you can look inside the rear view to view anyone in it – if so be very careful if moving by within reach of the door’s span. If in doubt slow down as you ride by to ensure you’d have time to break if they do swing open a barrier into your path.


Road Rules Apply (Unless Exempt by Law)

Just as someone who doors a cyclist can be penalised under law in many parts of the world so too need it be clear before you set out on your ride (unless otherwise specifically detail in your local state of territory laws): the road rules apply to a cyclist just as they would any other road user. This need be stressed for you shall likely see see a couple of cyclists out and about on your rides flouting the law and intent on giving all others a bad name. So, even though you’d be correct if you mentioned to police helmet-free riding is allowed in many parts of Europe, if they see you in the USA without a bucket on your head you shall be in for a fine even if you’re just on a quick 10 minute ride before work.


‘But officer, in Europe they don’t wear helmets AND ride on cobblestones’ won’t cut it as an excuse to avoid a fine. Image: supplied.

Undoubtedly, such rules can be especially frustrating at times – if a cyclist comes to a red light at 6am in the morning with no one round they may be left wondering as they wait ‘would the chicken have crossed the road if a red light was there?’- but it remains nonetheless if you do roll through a red light the law will not make a distinction between what type of vehicle you’re using, only that you broke the law.


You Will Get Hurt


You don’t need to take out maximum health insurance and start to donate to your local hospital for a permanent wing named in your honor – but if you are a cyclist you are going to get hurt now and then.
Most of the time this will just be small cuts and bruises that leave you with a good story to tell the office.


At the same time though, knowing this ahead of time can actually minimise injuries. Just the same as you need learn how to fall if you are in clipless pedals it’s also necessary to know to treat wounds and minor injuries so you can heal faster and get back on your bike quicker. A  good golden rule here is just basic med: if you get a cut use antiseptic and bandages, and if you get a sprain just ice it in the 24 hours thereafter. If the injury appears anything more severe, be sure to seek out medical attention.


But If Truly Unsafe Hop Off


Just the same as nicks and bruises are a reality of a cyclist’s life you’ll now and then come across a stretch of road – that though it’s only a cement truck moving into a construction site – will ruin your rides momentum like coming across Mad Max and the Thunderdome would do a pleasant Sunday drive to the pretty picnic spot.


There is the temptation at first to carry on through here. ‘It’s just a couple of bumps and some gravel’. And, if you’ve a mountain bike dedicated to this purpose – by all means go ahead and bunny hop that! – but if you are on a road bike (and especially in clipless pedals) you are really only setup for smooth and straight road, not doubling for Arnie in the LA Canals. So, if you come across a stretch of road that feels iffy? – be safe and hop off.


Notwithstanding the Trials: You Will Love Cycling

Bike trail Austria

Ultimately it’s true when they say cycling can be dangerous. Once you start riding you’ll never want to stop:) Image: supplied.

For all the challenges about cycling and important tips to follow to get your on the road – just like a formula 1 driver need do a ton of testing and training before getting out on the flying lap – when you have a clear stretch of road, you’re in a good gear, and your RPM is solid; cruising along in one of the great feelings in life.


In turn, though it is important to be cautious and conservative when starting out as a cyclist – there are many ruined bikes and a couple of people in hospitals bed right now who thought they knew it all at the start – over time you will find you develop a ‘cyclists intuition’ as you get familiar with your regular routes, traffic conditions at that time of day, and your own capabilities,


So, plan ahead, and work that plan: be then once all is in place get out and have fun. 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, ghostwriter, and web developer from Melbourne, Australia. Contact Ed via enquiries@edkennedy.co on LinkedIn or Twitter@EdKennedy01

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