Congratulations, you just bought your first bike. Now what? Now the fun starts! Every cyclist was a beginner once upon a time, and the journey is a lot easier if you know what you’re in for.
Cycling is a fantastic sport because it’s low impact on the joints, and it gives you an opportunity to get outside and exercise in the fresh air (which has been shown to be even better for your mental health than exercising indoors) - but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
Here are six unexpected things every beginner cyclist should know.
1. Your legs aren’t the only thing that’ll hurt
Don’t get us wrong - your legs will definitely hurt.
But what most beginner cyclists don’t know is that there’s a whole range of other bits that’ll hurt when you first start cycling.
Aches in your unmentionables, your wrists, your hands, your upper back, shoulders, neck, and any other niggling injuries that you haven’t paid attention to can all leave you wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into.
Luckily, all of this is normal when you first start cycling.
Most aches and pains will sort themselves out as you become more comfortable on your bike, relax a little, and buy kit (like cycling shorts or a bib) designed to make your ride as comfortable as possible.
Along with a good kit, ensuring your bike fits you properly is vital in avoiding aches and injuries. If you aren’t quite ready to splurge on getting a professional bike fit, here are some basic adjustments you can make at home:
- Use the ‘LeMond Formula’ to calculate how high your saddle should be. To do this, multiply your inseam length by 0.833 - the resulting number is how far the top of your saddle should be from your bottom bracket.
- You can test that the saddle is the correct height by sitting on the saddle and dropping the crank to its full extension with your foot on the pedal. Your leg should be straight, without feeling like you’re straining.
- Shoulder and wrist pain can signal that your handlebars are too wide. When your arms are extended, your hands should fall directly in line with your shoulders.
- The human body is adaptable, so a couple of millimeters off one way or the other shouldn’t cause massive strain. If you have pre-existing injuries, you should be more mindful of your riding position and may want to go for a professional fit.
2. You’ll never be fully comfortable around motorists
Cycling on roads without protected bike lanes can be pretty terrifying for a beginner cyclist.
The bad news is that fear never fully goes away. The good news is that it’s a healthy fear to have because it keeps you alert and aware of motorists when you’re cycling on roads.
Here are some tips for beginner cyclists when hitting the roads:
- Always wear your helmet!
- Stick to protected bike lanes as much as possible until you’re comfortable enough to ride on unprotected bike lanes.
- Ride with an experienced cyclist or ideally, a group. When you’re comfortable enough to cycle alone, let a friend or family member know what your route will be and let them know when you reach your destination.
- Avoid cycling during rush hour, unless you’re commuting to work.
- Wear bright, reflective colours so motorists can easily see you.
- You should have a white light on the front of your bike and a red light on the back, and both should be visible from 200m.
- Your bike must have a bell, horn, or other warning device.
- Familiarise yourself with your local cycling laws.
3. It’s harder than you thought it’d be
If you already do an endurance sport like running or swimming, your body will have an easier time becoming cycling fit but it won’t necessarily be easy.
If you aren’t active and decide to start cycling, you can expect a lot of panting, sweating, and shaky legs. You may even experience some dizziness or nausea if you push yourself too hard or aren’t nourishing your body properly.
The strangest part of all? You’ll love it!
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of satisfaction in re-visiting a route that left you breathless and realising it isn’t all that challenging anymore. Soon, you’ll probably find yourself getting addicted to that feeling.
When you start cycling, consistency is key. It’s much better to commit to shorter, more frequent rides than infrequent long rides.
Ideally, you should be cycling every couple of days to improve your fitness, even if it’s on an indoor bike. If you leave large gaps between your cycling sessions (a week or more), your body will lose the fitness gains you make and you’re likely to become frustrated at the lack of improvement.
Remember to be patient with yourself. You won’t go from being a couch potato to doing a Gran Fondo in a week, but if you cycle consistently and keep challenging yourself, you could be doing one within a year!
4. You’ll stop thinking cycling clothing looks weird
A lot of beginners look at serious cyclists and think, “Uh, do I really have to wear Lyrca?” The answer is no.
There’s no law that says you have to wear anything specific (except for a helmet) but once you start immersing yourself in the sport, you’ll probably want clothes that are functional and comfortable. That’s when you’ll realise your old gym clothes just aren’t cutting it anymore.
As a beginner cyclist, your clothing isn’t what’s holding you back from going harder and faster (only time and dedication can do that), so you don’t need to immediately rush out and buy expensive cycling clothing.
Until you’re ready for padded shorts and cycling jerseys, here’s how you can make the clothes you have work for cycling:
- While cotton is nice for clothing, it’s terrible for exercise. It doesn’t allow your sweat to evaporate, leaving you a hot, wet mess. Choose clothes made from Spandex, Lycra, or other materials designed for sport.
- Wear a tight-fitting shirt. A baggy shirt will effectively act as a sail, forcing you to work even harder against the wind.
- You don’t need to wear tight shorts if you don’t want to, but avoid very baggy pants (like basketball shorts or sweatpants) and pants with a drop-crotch. These will make swinging your leg over the saddle much, much harder than it needs to be.
5. You’ll get addicted to your cycling data
At some point along your cycling journey, you’ll get curious about exactly how many kilometers you rode. Then, you’ll get curious about your average speed. Then your elevation. Then your heart rate. Then your cadence. Then your intensity zones. Then whether you’re getting enough sleep.
Welcome to the world of activity data tracking: GPS computers, fitness trackers, heart rate monitors, power meters, speedometers, cadence sensors, and more.
Cycling is such a data-rich activity that you can measure and optimise almost every part of your performance. If you like to geek out over numbers and find it motivating to compare yourself to your previous stats, you couldn’t have picked a better sport than cycling!
6. You’ll love cycling more than you ever thought possible
When you start your cycling journey, you have no idea where it’ll take you.
A year from now, maybe you’ll be preparing for your first bikepacking adventure. Maybe you’ll be training for your first century. Maybe you’ll have a whole new community of likeminded friends. Or maybe you’ll simply be a fitter, healthier, and happier version of yourself.
Beyond any particular goals or measurements, cycling is simply fun. Whether it takes you back to the nostalgia of your childhood or you’re learning to ride a bike from scratch, there’s no sense of freedom and wonder that can compare to hopping on your bike and exploring your neighbourhood, country, or even the world. The sky’s the limit.
Wherever your cycling journey takes you, it’ll reward you as long as you keep putting in the time and effort.