Everything you need to know if you're new to road cycling

Here’s how to make those first few rides a success.

Clock11:00, Monday 12th June 2023

Heading out on your first road ride? Great! Cycling is a brilliant way to get fit, have fun and explore your local area. But before you jump on your bike and ride off into the sunset, make sure you get the following few things right. A little bit of preparation is going to make those first few rides a whole lot more enjoyable.

And if you haven’t actually got your first bike, check out our guide on how to choose a road bike.

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Heading out with a plan makes those first few rides a lot easier

Plan a route

Route planning is really important on your first few rides. It’ll make sure you don’t end up riding for hours on end, and it’ll help you to stay on quiet roads and bike paths and avoid busy main roads. To start with, keep your routes short and enjoyable. Ten or 15 miles will be more than enough for your first few rides. And best to avoid too many hills, at least for the first few rides.

There are loads of great apps out there for planning and recording rides, like Komoot or Strava. Recording your ride might seem a bit unnecessary now, but it’s really satisfying to look back at. In a few months' time, you’ll be able to look at all the miles you’ve covered, remind yourself which roads and routes you rode, and see just how much you’ve improved since you started out. Data like this is fantastic for setting goals and motivating you to get out on the bike.

You don't need fancy sports nutrition, but avoid heavy, hard to digest foods

Eat and drink

Make sure you take a bottle of water on your ride. Staying hydrated is super important, even on short rides. And don’t worry about carrying your bottle, as most bikes will have bottle cages on the frame you can fit your bottle into.

Ask any experienced cyclist what the best part of a ride is, and there’s a good chance they’ll say the cafe stop. Coffee and cake is pretty integral to cycling, so we’d recommend planning a stop of your own on your route.

If you can’t plan a cafe stop, have a think about packing some snacks in your back pocket. Eating as you ride is really important when cycling, as you need to replace the calories you’re burning. As you ramp up the miles and increase the length of your rides, this becomes even more important.

Gears make the hills a lot easier

Use your gears

Gears. They look complicated, they make crunching sounds, they seem fragile. Best stay away from them, right? No! Your gears are there to help you, and it’s actually pretty easy to get your head around how they work.

A good rule of thumb is that, if you’re on a flat road or going downhill, you want to be in the big ring on the front, and the smaller cogs at the back. And if you’re going uphill, you want to be using the smaller cog at the front, and the bigger cogs at the back.

Really, the best way to get to grips with your gears is to get on your bike and practice clicking through them while cruising on a flat road. You’ll soon get a feel for what does what.

Puncture repair is an essential skill for any cyclist

Learn basic road-side maintenance

You’re bound to get a flat tyre at some point, so learn how to fix it now – you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere because of a puncture.

Once you’ve learnt how, remember to take a spare inner tube, a small pump and a tyre lever with you on every ride.

Getting the hang of a few basic maintenance jobs will help too. We’ve got tons of maintenance tips on GCN, including some things that we think all beginners should learn.

It's also a good idea to have a little multitool to take on your ride in case something comes loose, or you need to change your saddle height. The best place to carry this is in a small saddlebag, along with your spare tube and tyre levers.

Top Tip

Check your tyre pressure before you ride. You do not want to go out with flat tires - it’ll be hard work, it’ll sap your motivation and energy, and it might even lead to you getting a puncture. Your tyres will have a recommended pressure on the side of the tyre wall, so make sure you check that and get it pumped up.

If your saddle is too low or too high, riding will be tiring and uncomfortable

Set your saddle height right

With so much conflicting information out there, getting your saddle height set can seem complicated. In reality, it’s really simple.

While leaning against something, put both of your feet on the pedals. Spin the cranks backwards until they’re in the 6 o’clock position. At this point in the pedal stroke, your leg should have a little bit of a bend in it. You shouldn’t have your leg fully locked out, and you shouldn’t be bending your knee very much. As you pedal, you should feel like you’re using all the muscles in your legs, without stretching or rocking side to side on the saddle. Adjust your saddle height until you’re in this position comfortably.

A helmet is a must, and lycra is best for longer rides

Don't worry about lycra, but wear a helmet

This is a biggie: we recommend always wearing a helmet when you’re riding. You might not think you need one because you’re not going very far or very fast, but in our experience, some of the worst crashes can happen when riding slowly. A good helmet will be light and comfortable, so it really won’t be much of a hassle to put it on before you head out.

You don’t need any cycling specific clothes to get started cycling, but we would recommend looking into getting yourself a pair of cycling shorts. They are specially designed to make your saddle more comfortable: they use padding to protect you from bumps and road buzz, and they use close-fitting materials to reduce chafing.

Top Tip

If you do decide to try some bib shorts, keep in mind that you don't need to wear any underwear underneath them.

Relax, be sociable, and enjoy

Relax while riding

You’re ready to hit the road and feel the wind through your helmet. But while you’re riding, just remember to keep a relaxed upper body, keep a nice, relaxed grip on the bars, and keep your eyes forward, not on your front wheel.

Staying relaxed, letting the bike move a little underneath you, and looking ahead will help you get around the corners, and it’ll make you more comfortable and confident on the bike.

We were all beginners at some point

Don't be afraid to make mistakes

We were all new to cycling at some point: we’ve all made mistakes; we’ve all felt overwhelmed; and we’ve all (although none of us would like to admit it) had a mechanical and been rescued by a family member at some point. So don’t worry about getting everything right the first time – just get out and enjoy the feeling of the miles rolling beneath your wheels. Stick to the rules of the road, wave to other cyclists, and enjoy it.

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