How to Start Cycling: What You Need to Know

Cycling collage

Verywell / Amelia Manley

Cycling is a sport that many people love to participate in. There are plenty of reasons, too, as it is a good form of exercise and can be a way to clear your mind. Cycling also can be enjoyed both outside or indoors. If the weather isn't ideal, you can ride on a stationary bike.

Whether you are combining cycling as a form of exercise and transportation to get to and from work, or cycling in your leisure time, cycling is a beneficial activity that is good for your body and mind.

"Cycling is for everyone and has many disciplines to suit a wide range of interests, not just the stereotypical MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra)," Alison Wood, FdSc Cycling Performance Coach, Veloqi Cycle Coaching, Endurance Cycling for Women and Co-founder of the Beyond Cycling Club.

Getting started is straightforward. All you need is a bike and a helmet and some basic cycling tips to get you moving in the right direction. In no time, you will go from a novice cyclist to a knowledgeable rider. Here’s what you need to know to begin cycling.

What You’ll Need  

Cycling does require some gear to get started. Choosing the right bike, helmet, and gear can make a difference in your cycling experience. 

“As with any new activity, you're not going to buy the perfect equipment the first time,” says Michael Ceely, cycling enthusiast, counselor, and mental performance coach. “Get equipment that works for you now, knowing that you may upgrade later as your cycling skills improve.”

Bike

There are many types of bikes to choose from and you’ll want to consider where you plan to cycle to determine which type of bike is ideal for you. A road bike is designed to ride on paved streets, whereas a mountain bike is geared for rugged terrain.

Consider a hybrid bike if you want to be able to bike in a variety of settings. When looking for bikes, experts suggest shopping in person.

“Go to a local bike shop instead of purchasing online,” says Ceely. “The staff can keep you from making those rookie mistakes like buying the wrong size bike.”

Helmet

Helmets are an essential piece of safety gear to wear before hopping on your bike. A helmet minimizes head injuries in a bike crash or falling due to an icy road or slippery pavement. Wear a helmet that fits well and sits snugly on your head.

According to the League of American Bicyclists, when figuring out if the helmet is the right size for your head, the helmet shouldn’t move much when shaking your head from one side to the other. Make sure there is a width of two-fingers between your helmet and your eyebrows.

To find the right helmet for you, may require trying on different sizes and brands until you find one that fits. Some people find it useful to start out with the smallest size and work their way up until they find a helmet that fits.

It also may be helpful to have a professional in a cycle shop help fit you for a helmet. They also can talk to you about MIPS (or multi-directional impact protection system) helmets. While slightly more expensive, these helmets may do a better job at protecting your head in a crash. In basic terms, they contain a slip plane or slip liner that allows the helmet to move around your head during a crash, which means less force is transferred to your brain.

Gear

Wearing clothing and shoes designed for cycling also can be helpful.  When you’re just starting out, you can use everyday clothing as you figure out what works best for you.

“Pick up second-hand equipment, and buy clothing from cheaper outlets, or just use what you have, and start from there,” says Wood. “You don’t need to be clad head to toe in the latest cycling jersey, a T-shirt will do just fine.”

Keep in mind, though, that cycling clothing is designed to make you more comfortable during your ride and might add to the enjoyment of cycling. For instance, padded cycling shorts for great comfort. Meanwhile, there are jerseys that offer sweat-wicking capabilities as well as pockets in the back to carry things like your phone, ID, and money.

Shoes

Cycling shoes have stiff soles and are designed to clip onto the bike pedal. If you’re just beginning, you can opt to wear sneakers until you feel more comfortable to clip on bike shoes.

Some bikes even offer dual sided pedals, which have a clip on one side and standard platform on the other side. This feature allows a rider to use either cycling shoes or standard sneakers.

Keep in mind that wearing cycling shoes has a learning curve since they clip onto the bike pedals, so it’s important to practice in an area where you can fall with minimum injury, scrapes, or scratches. In one study, cycling shoes were beneficial when riding uphill and doing high-power sprints but riding at a steady and low-intensity rate didn’t show advantages.

Beginner Cycling Tips

While getting started cycling is relatively simple, it is still important to be prepared—especially if you are new to cycling. Make sure you have a bicycle that works properly and fits you. Here are some other things to consider before setting out on a long cycling ride.

Get a Tune Up and Inspection

Although you may already have a bike that has been collecting dust in the basement or garage, it is important to make sure it is road worthy. Before jumping on your bike, have an expert make sure it is in good working condition.

“Take it to a bike shop for a safety inspection and tuneup,” says Ceely.

They can ensure your tires are inflated and not showing any cuts or gashes and that the brakes and gears work properly. If you don’t have a bike, Ceely recommends purchasing a bike from a bike shop where they can guide you and ensure the bike fits you and is ready to ride. 

Practice First Before Hitting the Road

Riding a bike may seem easy.  But if it’s been a while since you last rode a bike, consider practicing first in a safe area with no cars.

“Test out your skills in an empty parking lot,” suggests Ceely. “You may have forgotten the subtleties of shifting, braking, and turning.”

Feeling confident on your bike is important. You want to be able to ride comfortably and maneuver quickly when needed. 

Know Your Contact Points

Contact points are your hands, feet, and backside. Making sure your contact points are correct will make a difference in your cycling experience.

“The most important factor that affects your contact points is how you are positioned on the bike,” explains Wood. “Having a bike that’s too big or too small can put your body in an uncomfortable position and cause problems with your contact points, as well as other typical cyclist pain points, such as the spine and knees.”

Join a Local Cycling Club

Finding a local cycling club can be a good way to meet other cyclists in your area. A club or group offers the opportunity to connect with like-minded people who share the same hobby as you and find others to go on bike rides. You will also find experienced riders who can give you advice.

“You will learn so much from riding with others," says Wood. "Plus, making friends in your new hobby doubles the fun and helps you keep motivated and consistent,”

If you do not know of a local cycling club in your area, you may want to check out USA Cycling. This governing body for cycling can help you find a group that is right for you.

Nutrition and Hydration for Beginner Cyclists

Staying hydrated and eating well will directly impact your cycling experience.  Making sure you're well hydrated and have snacks available while you ride is important. 

“Pre-hydration is key," says Ceely. "That means the night before, drink a couple glasses of water with dinner."

Before beginning your ride, drink water at least 1 hour before because this allows your body time to absorb the fluids before you start sweating, he adds. There also are differences on what men and women need when it comes to nutrition, especially with regard to carbohydrates. If you want more specifics on this area of nutrition, it might be helpful to speak with a registered dietitian.

You also should always bring full cycling water bottles, and an energy bar or snack, suggests Ceely. During your ride, you also should focus on eating before you're hungry and drinking before you're thirsty.

”Stick to real food for fuel—a mixture of sweet and savory—and [something that] contains a balance of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.” says Wood.

Safety Tips

As with any sport or physical activity, there is a risk for injury. While this should not keep you from participating in cycling—unless healthcare provider recommends against it—there are some things you should do to stay safe while cycling. Here are a few things you may want to consider.

Wear Reflective Gear and Lights

Make sure to put lights on your bike, especially when riding at night to ensure drivers and pedestrians can see you. Consider wearing a reflective vest or reflective gear so drivers can spot you from a distance and avoid wearing dark or black clothing.

“Having lights on your bike and wearing bright colored clothing is important,” says Ceely. 

Obey the Rules

 A bike is another type of vehicle; and it’s important to respect the rules of the road, just like you would if you were driving a car.  Make sure to pay attention to stoplights and stop signs and be vigilant.

“Don't roll through stop signs assuming drivers or pedestrians will give you the right of way,” says Ceely.  "Don't assume drivers always see you. Riding a bike doesn't mean that you’re exempt from the rules of the road."

Wear a Helmet

A bicycle helmet that is the correct size for your head should be worn, whether you plan to go for a long bike ride or a spin around the block. Purchase a helmet that has a certification from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. A helmet can save your life in an accident. 

Talk to a Healthcare Provider

Even though cycling is a low-impact sport that most people can participate in, it is still important to talk with a healthcare provider before starting a new exercise regimen. They can assess your medical history and your fitness level and make recommendations about what is right for you.

A Word From Verywell

Cycling is a wonderful way to exercise and spend time outdoors. There is an initial investment in purchasing some gear, including a bike and a helmet. Plus, staying hydrated and eating nutritiously is important for an enjoyable and successful cycling routine. 

When beginning a new sport or exercise plan, speak with a healthcare provider before you decide to take up cycling. They can guide you in figuring out if cycling is good fit for you based on your medical history, physical activity level, needs, and goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many miles a day should a beginner bike?

    The amount of miles you ride a day can depend on different factors, including what other types of exercise you do daily or weekly. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults engage in a minimum of 2 1/2 hours or 150 minutes of aerobic activity with a moderate intensity per week. Another option they suggest is more vigorous aerobic activity for 75 minutes or 1 1/4 hours per week. Or consider a combination of intensities that are done throughout the week instead of in one day.

  • How many times a week should a beginner cycle?

    In one study, cycling 1 1/2 hours per week improved cognitive function and mental health in older adults. Frequent cycling also will make you more comfortable riding a bike, help you gain more confidence, and increase your stamina. 

    Riding a bike under 10 miles per hour is considered a moderate-intensity aerobic activity. And when riding at speeds above 10 miles per hour it’s considered vigorous-intensity aerobic.

  • Is biking better than running?

    Biking and running are both beneficial sports that are a type of aerobic exercise and are good for cardiovascular health. Riding a bike is considered a low-impact activity while running is a high-impact activity. There are other factors to consider such as whether you can or want to do high-impact activity or low-impact activity, as well as what a healthcare provider recommends—especially if there are concerns about joint health or bone strength. Your budget will also dictate which activity is best for you.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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