Beginner’s guide to road cycling

I started up road cycling as a new hobby five months ago. Luckily for me, my cyclist friend (the one who introduced me to the sport) has been on hand for advice from the start, and so I’ve learned a great deal from him. Below is a list of questions beginner cyclists just starting out on their cycling journey tend to have.

Can a beginner ride a road bike?

With their narrow tires, narrow saddles, dropped handlebars, unusual gear shifters and clipless pedals, road bikes can seem intimidating at first. However, if you can ride a town bike or a mountain bike, you can ride a road bike. Although, it is best to do your first few rides with a friend who can teach you a few of the basics. Familiarise yourself with your bike and your route, take your time, and try to enjoy it!

What is needed to start cycling?

Once you’ve purchased your bike, your next priority purchase is a helmet. Next, if you’ve opted for clipless pedals, you will need to buy some cycling shoes and cleats. Beyond this, bib shorts are important because they contain a pad (aka a chamois) that provides comfort on the saddle. Don’t forget a saddlebag in which to put a couple of spare inner tubes and a bike tool in case you get a puncture! Of course, you’ll need a pump you can mount on your bike for that eventuality also. Chain Reaction Cycle and Wiggle are great e-commerce sites where you can order all of this stuff.

There are many other items of cycling gear that you can purchase but the above list of essentials is enough to get you started. Lycra is not strictly necessary but it will help you be more aerodynamic.

How often should you cycle as a beginner?

Beginner cyclists should aim to cycle little and often to build up fitness and get conditioned to cycling. When you first start cycling, you may experience pain in your bottom, lower back, shoulder and hands. As you ride more, this pain will diminish as your body gradually becomes habituated to the position it needs to adopt for cycling.

What do I need to know before cycling on the road?

First, it can be good to refamiliarise yourself with the highway code to note the rules of the road from the perspective of a cyclist. If you’ve little experience of cycling on roads then you should plan your first few rides to avoid busy roads since traffic would otherwise cause you some additional challenges. Plan your route and try to avoid steep hills unless you already have a good level of fitness.

Should you shift gears whilst peddling?

It can be ok to shift gears when peddling without too much power. However, aggressive peddling such as what is needed to get up a steep hill will exert a lot of torque on the chain which will result in clunky gear shifting. It is better to change gear whilst momentarily coasting. This way, as soon as you begin peddling again, the gear change will transition smoothly.

Do road bikes need a bell?

In the UK, it’s not a legal requirement for bikes to be fitted with bells. Road bikes tend to not have bells because they can add weight to the bike and make it less aerodynamic. Shouting to alert a pedestrian wandering in the road of your presence works just as well.

Can you ride upright on a bike?

Whilst pro cyclists are often seen riding with their back at a flat angle (to improve aerodynamics and thus their speed), it is perfectly fine to adopt an upright riding position on a bike since this is more natural and comfortable for most people. Indeed, cycling for long periods with your back at an angle it’s not accustomed to being in can cause back pain.

What’s a good cycling speed for a beginner?

Depending on the types of roads you are cycling on, a good speed for new beginner cyclists (assuming you have a basic level of fitness) is an average pace of around 25 to 30 kph.

Where do you hold your hands on a road bike?

Cyclists should position their hands on the handlebars with the palms of each hand placed on either side of the top bar (above the brake levers / gear shifters). Cyclists’ fingers can then hover over the brakes (front brake on the right, rear brake on the left), ready to react in the event that the rider needs to abruptly slow down or stop.

How do you brake on a road bike?

The brakes on a road bike protrude from the front of the handlebars on either side. Squeezing either brake or both at the same time will slow the rider down, squeezing hard will bring the rider to a complete stop.

How do I start cycling long distances?

New cyclists shouldn’t focus on cycling long distances to start with. Rides no longer than 10 to 15km are optimal for beginners. Instead, new cyclists should focus on gradually increasing their total number of hours in the saddle. As well as enabling them to achieve a certain level of fitness, this will allow them to get “bike conditioned”. This means cycling will become a lot less uncomfortable in 2-3 weeks.

Once feeling more at ease on the bike, a first long-distance goal (say your first 50km ride) can be set. Long-distance rides will require at least one bottle of water and some form of fuel (e.g. a couple of energy gels).

Is 70 too old to start cycling?

Whilst there’s certainly no age limit when it comes to getting into cycling, since our bones get weaker with age, falling from a bike is more likely to result in broken bones amongst those of a certain age. An indoor static bike or turbo trainer might be safer for older cyclists.

Is road cycling good for weight loss?

Since road cycling burns a lot of calories, it can be a great exercise for weight loss. The longer you ride, and the more power you exert, the more calories you will burn. For context, I usually burn around 700 calories during a 40 minute bike ride.

Whilst dieting is also important for weight loss, even those looking to shed a few pounds are advised to eat during long rides. Otherwise, it’s possible you might “hit the wall” (aka “bonk”): the sudden overwhelming feeling of running out of energy.