Just bought your first road bike? Maybe you’ve had one for years, with no idea how to get started? Here are 10 things every beginner road cyclist should know.
1. Bring water and food
Almost all road bikes will either have a bottle cage fitted, or certainly the mounts to fit one. And they’re there for a reason – you’re going to need water! Dehydration is your worst enemy, so drinking little and often, totalling to about one full bottle per hour, will ensure you can keep pedalling for longer.
As you increase your distance, that’s when eating will really count. Just like a car needs petrol, your body needs carbohydrates to operate. You’ll notice your energy levels quickly deplete if you’re not proactively snacking on the bike. Consider taking flapjacks, energy bars, rice-cakes, or even sweets, to give a mix of different carbohydrates.
2. Get the right equipment
If there’s one thing you absolutely need to use it’s a helmet. No matter the distance or speed, get into the habit of wearing one. Most are so lightweight and comfortable, you’ll barely notice it.
Beyond that, there’s nothing you have to wear, but a good pair of cycling shorts will vastly improve your comfort. The chamois (the padded bit!) will prevent any chafing or discomfort, and the lycra will even make you slightly faster too. By the way, there’s no need for underwear.
3. Check your bike before every ride
To avoid roadside mechanical issues, make sure your bike is checked out before you go out. Pump up your tyres to the recommended pressure (this should be written on the sidewall of the tyre), check nothing is loose, and most importantly that your brakes are fully working.
Check out the M-check from Sustrans to learn more.
4. Bring a spare inner tube and multi tool
I hate to break it to you, but one day you’ll suffer the pain of a puncture on the road. If you’ve got similar luck to me, it’s going to happen at the farthest possible point from home. But don’t fear, if you have a spare inner tube, you can quickly replace the tube without faffing with puncture repair kits.
Take the punctured home, repair it there, and stick it in your saddle bag or back pocket for the next ride.
A multi-tool will mean you can tighten a wobbly seat post or headset, and fix most simple mechanical problems on your cycle, too.
5. Plan your route
For the first few rides, it’s a good idea to keep your route local and well-known to you. Keeping your proximity to home means you can turn back if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, or you suffer any mechanical problems.
Once you’ve started to build confidence, you can plot new routes. One of the joys of cycling is finding new roads and lanes, so don’t be afraid to start experimenting. You can consider taking your bike on the train and cycling home, giving you a satisfying point-to-point ride.
6. Bring your phone with you
If you do get stuck somewhere, having your phone in your pocket means you can ring for a lift if necessary. It’s good for mapping your route if you get lost, or finding the nearest shop to buy water or snacks.
Consider bringing a little cash too, as some more remote shops might either have a minimum spend for cards, or will be cash only.
7. Clipping in
Being attached to your bicycle can be a daunting thought at first. But if you want to level-up your cycling, learning how to use clipless pedal systems will make your pedalling more efficient, adding comfort and stability too.
Once you’ve bought the right shoes and pedals, practice in your garden or your local park first. Get comfortable twisting in and out on soft ground and it will soon become second nature on the roads.
8. Take it easy
Keep your pace nice and steady at the start. Adopt a relaxed position on the bike, don’t grip the handlebars overly tightly, and keep your arms slightly bent to help absorb bumps in the road.
This will help keep your heart rate down, meaning you can stay comfortable for longer. Once you get your muscles used to cycling, and your fitness goes up, you’ll recognise how often you can push yourself, and when to take it steady.
Learning how to maximise your bike’s gears will help. As a general rule, to pedal ‘easier’ and for going up hills, stick to the smallest cog at the front, and the biggest cog on your rear cassette.
9. Discover your own style of cycling
Do you like going far? Prefer to keep it short? Maybe you prefer climbing rather than sprinting on the flat? Once you build up your mileage, you’ll find you soon develop a preferred style of riding.
It could be multi-day epics or short lunch hour spins, but to discover what’s right for you keep trying new things and slowly push yourself further and further. It’s immensely satisfying to break new barriers and see how you gradually progress.
10. Enjoy the ride!
With apps like Strava, Komoot, or even Instagram and Facebook, you’re bound to follow people who regularly post 100km plus rides, at a pace that can be hard to comprehend.
Ignore that, and realise that it’s not about the numbers, it’s about how you feel on the bike. Cycling is great for body and mind, and a perfect way to explore new places and meet new people. Enjoy it!