Eight things to avoid if you're new to cycling

Our beginner-friendly tips to help you set off on the right foot.

Clock11:00, Monday 10th July 2023

So you’ve just found our amazing sport of cycling. First of all, welcome to the fold. You’ve got some incredible adventures, challenges and good times ahead of you. But cycling can be a bit of a minefield: there are so many bits of kit and equipment, and so many skills to learn in those first few rides.

To make sure you start with your best foot forward, we’ve put together some things you should probably try to avoid when you start out cycling.

More for beginners:

  • Five basic skills for beginner cyclists
  • How to ride a bike
  • How to buy your first bike
  • Everything you need to know if you're new to road cycling
Riding with a tailwind is easy. Riding back, less so

Don't ride out with a tailwind

When the wind is on your back, you feel like you’re flying. The miles disappear beneath your wheels, and your starting point becomes an ever more distant spec on the horizon. But when your route circles back homewards, you might not like what you find.

For new riders, it’s hard to anticipate quite how much work a headwind can be. It can turn a fantastic ride into a real slog. When you make it home, you’re going to be in such a bad mood that it’s likely you’ll relegate your bike to the dusty back corner of the garden shed where it will remain for the rest of time.

Instead, end your ride on a high by starting out into the headwind and finishing with a tailwind – all you need to do is keep the forecast in mind when you’re planning your route. Because there's no better feeling than finishing up the day with the wind on your back.

The classic clipless crash. We've all done it

Don't forget to practice unclipping from your pedals

Clipless pedals and cycling shoes are fantastic. They give a really solid pedalling platform, and keep your foot positioned in the right place on your pedals. The only problem is that your feet are attached, and you need to twist your foot to release yourself from the bike.

If you’re practised, this is easy. And before you know it, releasing your foot from the pedal will become second nature.

But when you first get your clipless pedals, you’ll probably find yourself instinctively pulling up on the pedal.  Before you head out on the road, practice clipping in and out [link], either while leaning on a wall or fence, or while riding on a soft surface like grass.

It might look uncomfortable, but it'll be better than a big, padded one

Don't buy a big, squishy saddle

If you’re not familiar with road bikes, you might be a little concerned by the appearance of the saddle. Road bike saddles can seem so narrow and hard, that there’s a temptation to swap it for something wide and squishy. But in reality, a small saddle that fits you [link] will be far more comfortable than a big squishy saddle ever could be.

It might take a bit of experimentation to find one that suits your shape, but don’t be tempted by big, squishy, foamy ones. Those heavily padded saddles will start to get uncomfortable if you’re doing more than cruising around town. Trust us, your bum will thank you.

Running out of sugar is a nasty experience

Don't go for a ride without food

There aren’t many sports where you see people eating as they take part, but cycling is one of them. If you don’t eat to replace the calories you've burnt on a ride, it won’t be long until you experience the dreaded bonk. This is when your body runs out of sugar, and things get weird: dizziness, weakness, nausea. It’s not good. To avoid this happening to you, make sure you take plenty of calorific foods on your ride, and eat regularly.

A multitool, a pump and a tube are essential for every ride

Don't leave without spares and tools

A mechanical issue has the potential to stop you in your tracks, but most small problems that crop up on a ride can be resolved with a few simple tools. The most common issue is a puncture, but If you’ve got the essentials – a pump, an inner tube, a couple of tyre levers – you can be back on your bike in a few minutes.

It's also a good idea to take a small multitool. Cycling specific multitools are equipped with all the things you need to fix common roadside dilemmas.

Gradually build up to the mega miles and steep climbs

Don't overestimate your fitness

Cycling is all about setting yourself new challenges, but when you’re getting started, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself. Cyclists at every level are guilty of overestimating their fitness, but when you’re new to the sport, it’s really important to start small and build into longer rides. Finding yourself a long way from home, out of energy, and waiting on an obliging family member for a lift isn’t fun, so it’s better to underestimate than to go out way too hard or long.

Whether it's too high or too low, an incorrect saddle height will spoil your ride

Don't set your saddle height wrong

There are a million and one ‘best’ ways of finding your saddle height out there, so it’s no wonder that new riders find it difficult getting this crucial adjustment right.

In reality, setting your saddle height is actually really simple: while leaning against something, put your heels on the pedals. With your heels planted on the pedals, back-pedal the bike. As you back-pedal, your leg should be straight when the pedal is at the six o'clock position, and you should be able to make a full revolution without rocking your hips on the saddle.

If your leg isn’t straight at the bottom of the stroke, the saddle needs to be raised. And if you can’t turn the pedals without rocking your hips on the saddle, it needs to be lowered.

For new cyclists, it's an easy mistake to make

Don't wear your helmet backwards

This might seem obvious, but it’s a surprisingly common mistake for new cyclists. It makes sense I suppose: pointy end forward and all. But it’s worth double checking that you’re wearing your helmet the right way around. If it’s on backwards, it won’t protect you adequately in a crash. It’ll also look rather silly.

If in doubt, have a look at the adjustment dial on your helmet. That should be at the back of your head.

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