If you’re thinking about buying your very first bike, or if you’ve been handed one down from a friend or relative, then you likely have many questions — how do beginners start cycling, for example?
How long should you cycle for? How do you stay safe on the roads? And what should you wear when riding on two wheels?
This blog post will answer all of these questions and more — it’s the Styrkr guide to cycling for beginners.
How do beginners start cycling?
Everyone is a beginner when they first start cycling — we know that it can feel a little overwhelming, scary, and exciting at the same time.
But the best way to start is to do exactly that: start.
You’ll have a lot to learn, from how to choose the right gears, how to ride out of the saddle, and how to ride safely in traffic and on the roads. But we promise the hardest part is getting out there for those first few rides.
We know it can be intimidating, but we promise it gets easier! It won’t be long until your wardrobe is replaced with cycling kit, and you’re booking a holiday to the Ardennes for some hill climbing. Okay, maybe not, but you get the point!
So, to help you get started, we’ve put together a few cycling for beginners tips below:☑️ Invest in the right kit
☑️ Set the right saddle height
☑️ Stay safe
☑️ Build up your confidence and fitness
☑️ What to eat and drink when cycling?
Invest in the right kit
You don’t need the most expensive kit to start cycling — but we would recommend investing in the right kit.
For example, a pair of bib shorts will prevent chafing and those dreaded saddle sores. They will also increase overall comfort in the saddle. There are some great brands out there that won’t break the bank — and your backside will certainly thank you for.
We’ll cover the best cycling clothes for beginners a little later in this article. But in terms of kit, you should also invest in a set of quality bike lights. Using lights and reflectors at night is a legal requirement in the UK — it also helps pedestrians and other road users see you. It increases cycling safety, and safety for all road users (including you).
Set the right saddle height
Are you experiencing lower back or knee pain? Pain in these areas are telltale signs that your seat is either too high or too low.
When setting your seat height, you may think it’s too high if your feet struggle to reach the ground. But your entire foot should not touch the ground — only the balls of your feet should.
For the most comfort and reduced risk of injury, we recommend following a tried and trusted method, such as the LeMond formula (0.883 x your inside leg measurement) to determine the right saddle height.
Alongside setting your saddle height, you may wish to play around with saddle tilt and saddle setback — but for now, focus on getting the right saddle height. You can adjust the other settings a little later if needed.
It’s easier said than done — but you should make it your priority to stay safe when cycling, especially as a beginner.
With lots to learn, it can be easy to forget something as simple as ‘putting your feet down’ when you come to a stop. Don’t worry; we’ve all been there.
You should also dress the part — wear bright colours and high visibility clothing in low light conditions and when cycling in the dark. And if you’re riding first thing in the morning or early evening, then you’ll want to add extra lights to your bike. Although, we’d always recommend a rear light at all times.
Build up your confidence and fitness on the bike
Naturally, your first few rides on your bike may be a little unnerving. Maybe you’re particularly anxious about riding in traffic, you don’t know how to corner properly, or you find yourself shifting gears on a climb only to hear a big “clunk” noise.
Over time, you’ll build up your confidence and fitness. There are no shortcuts — but there are plenty of YouTube videos out there full of information designed for beginners, from what gears to use on climbs to how to signal, ride in groups, and gain confidence on those hair-raising descents.
Stick with it and you’ll see some great results.
What to eat and drink when cycling
Aim to drink every 10 to 15 minutes when cycling — strive for big gulps, little and often.
Many beginners (and even more experienced riders) don’t know if and when to eat on the bike. If you’re riding for less than 60 minutes, you likely don’t need to consume any additional calories in the saddle.
Although, if you’re riding longer than 60 minutes, you will want to consume easy-to-digest carbohydrates, such as the Styrkr BAR50 or carbohydrate energy gels. Eat every 20 to 30 minutes to avoid the dreaded bonk.
And for more advice and guidance on how often you should be eating on the bike, you can use the Styrkr Fuel Tool.
Best bikes for beginners
Choosing a bike is like selecting the right running shoe — there is no one-size-fits-all. Things can get complicated, quickly.
For starters, choosing the best bike depends on your budget — you don’t need to buy the most expensive option, but if you’re looking for a trusty steed capable of riding in all weather conditions, then disk brakes are a good option. These typically cost more than rim brakes and require more maintenance, but you benefit from increased stopping power and overall braking performance in all weather conditions.
Then you’ve got the materials used to make the bike — carbon, alloy, aluminium, and even steel. All of which have their own price ranges. Choose whatever makes the most sense for you and your budget. You don’t need the same bike as a pro rider — besides, you’re just learning the basics for now!
Ask yourself the following questions to help you find the best bike for you:
- Where do you want to ride?
- Why do you want to ride?
- How do you want to ride?
Let us explain each question in a little more detail below.
Where do you want to ride?
Do you want to ride on the roads, dirt paths and trails, or maybe even the beach? If you’re commuting or want to ride exclusively in traffic, then a road bike is the choice for you. But if you’re keen to explore some of the best trails in the UK, for example, then a gravel bike is likely the better option.
Why do you want to ride?
Are you riding to get to and from work? Do you want to improve your fitness? Or are you looking for a sense of adventure on two wheels?
Why you want to ride determines what type of bike you’ll need to meet those goals.
How do you want to ride?
And finally, how do you want to ride — do you want to go fast, do you want to ride for fun, or are you only interested in getting from point A to point B, no matter how long it takes?
If you want to ride fast on the roads, a lightweight bike is a good option. But if you want to ride on trails, beaches, and bridleways, then a gravel bike is likely better suited. It entirely depends on what you’re looking for!
Best cycling clothing for beginners
By now, you’ve likely had a glimpse at all of the clothing options — there’s more lycra than riders, and MIPS has become a part of your everyday vocabulary — who knows how that happened, but here we are.
The enormous selection of clothing and gear can seem overwhelming. But you don’t need it all. While we always say ride what you feel most comfortable in — there are some pieces of kit we’d highly recommend investing in:
- A good quality helmet
- Bib shorts
- A cycling jersey
- Base layer
- A gilet
- Waterproof jacket
These pieces of kit will make those hours in the saddle much more comfortable — here’s why you need them. P.S. you don’t need to buy everything in one go; perhaps wait until winter to buy a waterproof jacket, for example.
A good quality helmet
You won’t regret investing in the best helmet you can buy. It’s better to have a helmet packed with the latest spherical head technology than a cheap helmet housing little to no protection, even if you don’t end up falling off your bike. Cycling safety is crucial!
Buy what you can afford, but don’t underestimate the unrivalled safety and confidence that comes with a good helmet by a reputable brand.
A pair of bib shorts provides additional comfort and protection in the saddle. This will help prevent saddle sores, chafing, and other issues. It’ll also protect your backside — something that will particularly hurt after those first few rides if you’re new to cycling!
A cycling jersey
Although not as necessary as a pair of bib shorts, a cycling jersey is close-fitting and designed for riding.
Usually, there will be a few pockets to store a spare inner tube, a pump, your keys, phone, or even a few snacks (FYI: jelly babies are elite). A good jersey is also more breathable than standard clothes, keeping you dry, comfortable, and focused on your ride.
Any cyclist will tell you the value of a good base layer — it will keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
The role of a base layer is to wick sweat away from your body. It also traps a layer of air next to your skin for added warmth. It’s a clever piece of kit that deserves a place in all riders’ wardrobes.
Although not entirely necessary, it’s a great piece of kit to own, especially for road cyclists.
A gilet is worn over your jersey or top — its job is to keep you warm while blocking the wind. It can be worn year-round and is easily stored in your jersey pocket if you get too hot.
If you live in the UK, you might need this one before the winter hits. But a good waterproof jacket will keep you dry and comfortable on the bike.
If possible, invest in a bright-coloured jacket with reflective strips — this will keep you seen and visible on those early mornings and dark evening rides.
Best helmets for beginners
Unless you’re into mountain biking, then chances are you’ll be choosing a regular cycling helmet designed for standard road riding.
There’s a bunch of new technology that has helped make cycling safer over the years, most of which is built into that sleek piece of kit you strap onto your head. For example, there's spherical head protection, MIPS, KinetiCore, and about 6,000 other options.
What’s important here is not spending the least amount of money possible on a helmet. While a helmet can be expensive, it’s your first — and often only — source of protection should you have an accident.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have spherical head protection, MIPS, and an army of experts protecting my head than a sheer force smack to the pavement.
So, buy what you can afford but if at all possible, avoid the cheaper helmets and stick to a trusted brand. Giro, POC, SPECIALIZED, and Lazer are all great choices.
How should a beginner learn to ride a bike?
If you don’t know how to ride a bike, don’t worry! There are many people out there who never learned. Take it easy, practise somewhere safe and away from traffic, and make use of all the amazing content to get you into the saddle and enjoying life on two wheels.
What is the average cycling speed for beginners?
Cycling speed is not the best indicator of effort. For example, if you live in a hilly area, then your average cycling speed will be lower than someone who lives in a particularly flat area. Despite this, the average cycling speed for beginners is anywhere between 10 and 15 mph.
What should I carry while cycling?
You should carry a water bottle, a multi-tool, a couple of tyre levers, a spare inner tube, your mobile phone, and a little cash for emergencies — perhaps that means a taxi back if you run into a mechanical issue you can’t fix on the road.
How long should I cycle as a beginner?
For your first few rides, aim for anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes. Focus on duration rather than distance. Build your time on the bike during each ride, and you’ll start seeing great results rather quickly.
How do beginners start cycling? Our number one piece of advice is to just start.
As a beginner, you have a lot to learn — but hopefully, this blog post has provided you with the information and the confidence to get started.
Before you know it, you’ll be riding to work, planning crazy endurance adventures, and pestering your friendship group to start cycling.
Download the Styrkr cycling training plan and begin structured training today