Below we’ve tried to cover the common pitfalls of getting into riding, but not forgotten that the best thing about cycling is that it’s fun. So there are cycling tips here covering kit, clothing, nutrition, technique and more. Whether you’re a road cyclist, mountain biker or city commuter, there’s bound to be something here for you (spoiler alert: the most important one is at the bottom).
In the words of the great Eddy Merckx: “Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride.”
Right, let’s start with what to wear. There’s a huge range of cycle clothing out there, in a dazzling variety of colours and fabrics, from the easily affordable to the insanely expensive. Let’s measure you up…
1. Some decent padded shorts stop your backside hurting so much. Massively padded saddles won’t help you on longer rides: trust us on this. The only way to be comfortable in the saddle is to wear padded shorts, fit a decent saddle and ride until you get used to it.
2. Wear a helmet. We know, legislating it is massively contentious, and they shouldn’t be mandatory. But a quality lid might save your life, and it’s not hard nowadays to find one that’s comfy, light and affordable.
3. Roadies: clipless pedals (confusingly, this means the ones you clip into using cleats, rather than toe-clips) are without a doubt the way forward. The binding can be made loose enough to come away easily, you’ll quickly learn how to unclip, and they’ll make a massive difference to your pedalling efficiency.
4. Mountain bikers: get protection. Particularly when you’re starting out or learning new skills, you’ll be very grateful for a decent pair of gloves and knee pads, at minimum. If you’re learning big jumps or hardcore downhill trails, consider elbow pads and back protectors too.
5. Get some sports glasses. They don’t need to cost the earth or make you look stupid, but they will keep your eyes protected from bugs, stones, sun and rain. Some versions feature interchangeable lenses – if you can, get one lens for bright conditions and one for dull, wet days.
Now you’re wearing something comfortable, let’s move on to keeping your bike happy. You don’t need a shed full of tools to achieve this, though it helps to have a friendly bike shop nearby in case you need help.
6. Clean and oil your chain regularly, particularly if riding in bad weather. You’ll eliminate the dreaded ‘creak’ that cyclists hate, and more expensive parts like chainrings won’t wear out as quickly.
7. Check your tyre pressure: recommended levels will be indicated on the sidewall. A floor pump (also called a track pump) is a good investment, as it requires less effort to get to the recommended pressure, and they’ll feature a handy pressure gauge.
8. Fit mudguards in wet conditions. Your back will thank you, your washing machine will thank you, everyone riding behind you will be grateful. Some (including some BikeRadar staffers) will point out they can ruin the clean lines of a fancy road bike, but in the mire of winter do you really care?
9. Clean your bike regularly: hot soapy water and a sponge will do the job for most parts unless the grime is caked on, in which case there are some great cleaning sprays available. Use specialist degreaser for the drivetrain (cassette, chain, crankset and so on). Then spray your gleaming bike all over with a silicone aerosol – avoid braking surfaces – as this will stop mud sticking on your next ride.
10. Learn how to fix a puncture, and always carry a repair kit (including tyre levers, patches or new inner tube, and pump). When you’re miles from home and suddenly hear that hissing sound, you’ll be glad you learned how to fix it yourself.
Food and drink
Right, that’s clothing and kit sorted, let’s consider your fuel source. You could spend a fortune on specially formulated sports nutrition, but the truth is you don’t have to. Have a rummage around your cupboards at home and see what’s portable.
11. Stay hydrated. Whether you prefer a water bottle or a hydration backpack, make sure you pack some fluid whenever you’re heading out. You can nearly always find somewhere to refill along the way, and most coffee shops are happy to oblige for free.
12. Avoid the dreaded ‘bonk’, where your body runs out of fuel and you grind to a painful halt. The body can carry around 90mins worth of glycogen for high-tempo efforts before it needs replenishing, or else will switch to burning fat. The problem with burning fat is that you can’t work at anywhere near the same intensity level. So keep consuming around 100-250 calories every 30mins, whether that’s energy gels, cereal bars or a banana. We like carrot cake, by the way.
13. Cramping is a common complaint when you start riding harder or longer than your body’s used to. One piece of advice often offered is to ensure you replace the electrolytes lost through sweating, either by drinking specially formulated sports drinks, or by making your own (it’s basically fruit juice, water, and a little sugar and salt). No one knows for certain why cramps occur, but this seems to help.
14. A recovery drink after a long, hard ride will help the body repair itself, in conjunction with some rest. Key to this is protein, so aim to consume around 15-20g within 30mins of finishing if possible. There are plenty of premixed recovery drinks on the market, or you can have fun by making some. Our current go-to is: milk, one banana, a tablespoon of peanut butter and some honey, all whizzed up in a blender. Yum.
15. The mid-ride coffee stop is a cherished tradition, and there’s sound scientific reasoning behind it: caffeine has been found to measurably improve your endurance on the bike. Do say: “Espresso doppio, per favore.”