Tips for Beginner Cyclists

Cycling is a sport which has something to offer everyone, whether you are a competitive nine stone mountain goat looking to the racing scene or someone looking to lose weight or just get a little fitter to be able to commute to work or enjoy our limited sunshine come the summer months. It doesn't matter if you are 7yrs or 70yrs, male or female, cycling has a wide range of cycling disciplines and events that will appeal to all. Cycling has a tendency to become an obsession which often lasts a lifetime with the odd break from it thrown in here and there.


                                                     'Open Racing'                                                                                            'Sportives'

Buying a Bike

Road bikes are designed to travel on roads for long distances, and move at a fast pace. They are made from steal, aluminum, carbon fiber and titanium. Usually, a combination of two or more of these materials is used. The professionals at your local bike shop will explain the differences and help you find a bike that fits your body, needs and budget. Some manufacturers now make "women's bikes." More than a marketing ploy, these bikes are designed with a female body structure in mind. 


If you already own a bike make sure that it is safe and roadworthy. Good brakes are the absolute minimum when cycling. Tyres need to be in good repair and inflated to the correct recommended pressure. If the gears are well maintained you will have the ability to select the appropriate gear for the terrain. If in any doubt have your local bike shop inspect and service your bike. There is nothing more disappointing than setting out looking forward to a training run, leisure event or race and breaking down after only a few miles. 


Before Setting out

Just before you throw your leg over the bike and head out for what could be your debut spin, you will need to pack a few things in your jersey pocket or saddle bag for the journey. Unfortunately no matter how well you prepare your bike for the ride there is a strong possibility that you will have an unforeseen mechanical problem. Punctures are the most frequent form of temporary breakdowns on the bike. It is always good to have packed away the necessary items to be able to carry out some running repairs. Carry at least two spare tubes, tyre levers and a pump and if you've never repaired a puncture before, it is something worth practicing.


Another must for you pocket is a small set of 'Allen Keys', with cycling there is always the potential for something on the bike shaking loose. Roads nowadays just are not as flat and smooth as they are meant to be. It doesn't happen often but brake callipers, saddles and head sets can loosen and require some adjustment before you can proceed. Lastly, a chain breaker can be a welcome sight when you manage to snap your chain. If you are riding in a group somebody generally has one but if you are on your own you might not have the luxury of using someone else's, it is a good idea to pack one.


What to Wear

Through years of experience cyclists develop a knack at being able to tell what the weather is going to be like before setting out. A look at the sky, the formation of clouds or how low and what direction birds are flying, can provide them with enough detail to decide whether they need sunglasses, a shower cape or whether or not to just close the door again.


In the interest of safety a good helmet abiding by all the relevant safety standards should always be worn no matter what the weather. Certainly, in some accidents a helmet can reduce the risk of severe head injury but every accident is different and therefore the outcome can never be judged before the incident. It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.


Glasses can provide a good source of protection for your eyes, especially when riding in a group, wearing them reduce the chance of dirt or a stone being thrown up by a rider in front or a passing vehicle. They also can improve visibility when cycling into strong sunlight.

Cycling Shoes

Cycling shoes are again a personal choice depending on the fit you like and the pedal and cleat system that you prefer. If you've ever wondered what the extremely stiff soul is all about (and I don't mean the etherial one;) - it's all designed to transfer as much power as possible from your legs to the tarmac without being energy inefficient in between. So my advice would be to purchase a pair with a carbon or stiff polyamide (nylon) sole.

Summer or Winter

The time of year and weather will dictate what you will need to wear while out cycling. Summertime provides an opportunity to tan those snowy white, baby skin smooth shaven legs by wearing a good padded pair of shorts and a short sleeve top. Even on the best of days our climate can be often very unpredictable and you should always carry a gilet or shower cape which will provide an extra layer against the cold.

Wintertime on the other hand is a period when it's a must to dress for protection from the cold and the ever present threat of rain. Most winter jackets come with a windproof front, if they don't get your hands on a windproof gilet to put over your existing winter jacket should the weather turn cold. In order to provide warmth for the legs you will need a pair of super roubaix bibtights these are generally worn over the top of a pair of shorts. Hands and feet are very much a personal thing; some people suffer worse than others. Purchase windproof gloves at the very least or if you can afford it a wind and waterproof pair. Waterproof and windproof overshoes are also on offer for you feet and are a worthwhile winter purchase.


Nutrition / Hydration

Staying adequately hydrated and fuelled up with energy is critical to all cyclists, not just racers. Being conscious of your body's needs will ensure maximum comfort during your ride and aid in recovery afterwards.


Food is your body's fuel. To produce energy for exercise you need to ensure that you provide it with the best quality of fuel and at the right times. Your body has enough energy stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver to support up to an hour of moderate exercise. Any longer than this and you need to top up your blood glucose - fuel levels - with food. One way of doing this is to carry small snacks with you; they need to have the right balance of easily absorbed fast acting carbohydrates to give you an immediate boost and slower sustained energy to keep you going longer.

While cycling this is quite easy done by packing a few easily carried snacks into your jersey pockets, banana's, fig rolls, malt loaf and cereal bars have always been favourites with bike riders. However, to ensure that you are getting the optimal balance of fuel types sports specific energy bars have been designed that are easy to eat on the go. Energy gel is another type of carbohydrate energy food. Contained in easy to stow sachets a gel is absorbed by your body even quicker than a bar giving you an almost instant boost.


We can survive for several days comfortably without food and for weeks before we risk death but even a short amount of time without water can be detrimental to our health. When exercising our need for water increases, it is needed to allow for sweating and for the metabolic processes within our body which turns food into energy for movement. Even if you are only cycling at a moderate pace and for a short distance you should take care to drink. If you are training or racing the need for regular hydration is even more important and not just because you are exercising harder. In competition not drinking can stop you racing to the best of your ability. Just a 2% drop in hydration results in a whopping great 10% drop in performance.

A bottle of water is the very least you should carry with you on your cycling journey to assist the body digest food for energy and avoid dehydration. As with food there are sports drinks specifically designed for use before, during and after exercise. These drinks contain carbohydrates in the right amounts to keep you fuelled while cycling. They are designed to release energy either slowly or rapidly and to be easily digested even when you are exercising hard. They are pleasantly flavoured which will encourage you to drink helping you to stay fuelled up and avoiding the proverbial 'Knock', 'Bonk' or 'Hitting of the wall'.



CTC - the UK's national cyclists' organisation