Where To Start: Advice for First-Time Cyclist

Jens Voigt explains what new cyclists need to know.

This one goes out to all the first-timer riders taking to the pavement after having exclusively cycled indoors. Sure it can be a daunting task, but I’m here to help guide you and breakdown the rules of the road. The key components to keep in mind all boil down to three things: your bike, your apparel, and your emergency equipment. Cover these bases, and you’ll be set to take on the road.

1. Choose A Bike

When you’re spending time on the road, choosing the proper bike is key. There’s an unlimited selection: from steel and alloy to titanium and carbon. There are city cruisers, Dutch-style city bikes, hybrids (multipurpose bikes), mountain bikes, and racing bikes. With prices ranging between $250 and $12,000, everyone can find the right model (and price point). Narrow down the scope by considering the following:

Know Your Intended Form Of Use

First, think about how you’re going to use your bike. Do you want to commute to work or school, just ride on weekends, or really step things up and train several times a day? The more you want to train, the better your bike should be. I don’t see any reason why an absolute beginner should get a pro road bike as their first bike. It’s better to start with a simple, reliable, and easy-to-handle bike — something that allows  you to fix technical issues by yourself.

Lean On Expert Advice

Don’t be shy to ask more experienced riders (such as bike shop employees) for advice. This is especially true when you’re testing a bike for fit. Don’t leave the shop until they have helped you find the setup that fits your body. Generally speaking, it’s important to keep frame size, upper-body positioning, and seat height in mind. The most important thing is that you’re comfortable on your new bike.

Perfect Your Positioning

One thing I often see is that new cyclists sit too low on their bikes. A simple rule I follow: When you sit on your bike, push one pedal down to the lowest position. If your heel can reach that pedal (with the straight leg) while you are still sitting on the bike, that should be the correct seat height.

Secure Safety First

Never cycle without a helmet.  A broken arm will heal, but a broken head is a completely different story. As simple as it sounds, we only have one head and we better protect it. This is one place where you shouldn’t skimp on cost. I don’t care about which design or color you choose, but please get a quality helmet.

2. Think About Your Apparel

The second most important piece of equipment is your riding pants or, as I call them, bib shorts. Why? Because you’ll be sitting on the saddle for hours. Let me tell you, having sore spots or skin abrasions is a painful experience in such a sensitive area.

Go For Good Quality Bib Shorts  

A pair of good quality bib shorts with chamois inside is crucial for your well-being. What is a chamois? That’s the official term for the soft and padded area that get sewn inside the Lycra bib shorts to give your butt a softer place to rest. It also helps ensure that the weight on the saddle is equally distributed. In the old days they were made from leather, but nowadays they’re made out of synthetic materials and really provide a lot of comfort. Don’t try to ride in boxer shorts and jeans for longer ride, and ladies, never try to ride in just yoga pants. That will leave you terribly sore and uncomfortable.

Consider Footwear

I’m always torn between recommending first timers to stay in sneakers or go straight into click-in cycling shoes. Getting on and off the bike is easier with flat pedals, but riding and controlling the bike is much easier with proper cycling shoes and click pedals (which take some getting used to but ultimately offer a smoother ride). Choose what suits you best. Try the click pedals in an empty parking lot near the bike shop to get a feeling for them. With practice, they will make your riding style better and more efficient. Just one reminder: These shoes are for cycling, not walking. Try to walk as little as possible with them, and check the cleats underneath for wear and tear so you know when to replace them.

3. Consider Equipment

The next stage is equipment.

Carry A Multi-tool

Every rider should have a little bag with a multi-tool (allen keys of different sizes), at least one spare tube, and either a pump or a CO2 cartouche to repair and change the spare tube after a puncture.

Take Pride In Your Bike

Riding on a clean bike is so much more fun than riding on a dirty one. Before each ride, check the tire pressure, brakes, and chain lubrication.

Fuel Right

Your first outdoor ride might have you overestimating your nutrient needs. I’m here to assure you that you don’t need a double breakfast before you head out. Just eat like you usually would, and don’t overload your belly. Part of the reason we cycle is to stay fit and burn fat and calories. Having double breakfast is counterproductive. Plus, cycling is a lot easier on your body than running.

That said, feel free to take a banana (they are a good nutrition for cycling), sliced apple, or muesli bar with you. You won’t need much more than that for your first short ride. One thing you do want to remember is to stay hydrated. Bring along two bottles of water: one plain and one that’s mixed with electrolytes to keep your body hydrated and functional. Sweating really adds up!

Now you’re ready to go. You’ve got your bike, cycling kit, helmet, spare tube, nutrition, and all your drinks. Find some friends for your first ride, go out together, and have fun!

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