10 Tips for New Cyclists

What are some of the best practices for new cyclists?  In my last post, I introduced the Rails to Trails system, which provides multi-use trails that help keep cyclists free of road traffic. (See “Discover the Magic of Old Railways Turned Into Bikeways” for more.)

But beyond safe places to ride, there are a few simple things that can go a long way for turning a casual rider into an avid cyclist.

1. Be sure to talk to your doctor about exercising first. Know what physical limitations you might have.

“You can do this.” A note I found cycling the Wabash Cannonball Trail. Photo: Brandon Withrow.

2. Start with what you are comfortable, but be open to more. A mile or two done a few days a week may seem like a lot, but this can quickly—and surprisingly—feel too short. You will likely find yourself wanting to extend your capacity within a month. Don’t underestimate yourself.

3. Get the right bike for you. You can start off with a cheaper bike from the store or borrow a bike, just to be sure you actually enjoy cycling before investing in something nicer. However, there is no bike like the right bike for you. Bikes have sizes and features that can be adjusted to your body type and needs. A good bike shop, especially those run by avid cyclists, will help you get a frame fit for you.

It is worth noting that those adorable bikes with baskets are fine for going to the grocery store, but they are usually poorly designed for the human body and have few gears. You want a bike with plenty of gears to choose from. Also, use those gears. They are there to help you manage things like road grades and speed.

4. Get cycling shorts and jerseys. Yes, I know. Cycling shorts are awkward at first. I was there once too. Those padded spandex shorts may take some getting used to—and you can wear regular shorts over them if you want—but they can easily take you from two miles a trip to ten. They go a long way in taking the pain out of sitting on a bike seat. As for jerseys, avoid cotton. Cotton will soak up your sweat and not dry out. Find the right style of jersey for you with breathable fabric (polyester). A good cycling jersey is worth the money.

5. Get a helmet. Falling off a bike exposes your body to any number of injuries, and the head is extremely vulnerable. Buy a good helmet and always use it.

6. Engage is safe habits. Outside of clothing, there are other best practices for safety. Have a good water bottle. Consider (for longer trails) having a good bike bag for food, extra water, and tools. When you eventually work yourself up to longer rides, especially for weekends away, you’ll want to be prepared. Consider riding in a group.

Keep in mind that AAA now has a bike benefit. They will, under certain conditions, come to the aid of a cyclist who needs transportation after a bike breakdown. If you do end up cycling on the road, learn the rules of the road for your location—in most places, bikes belong on the streets or bikeways, not sidewalks. Learn how to signal. Wear bright colors and get good lights for your bike.

7. Visit Trail Link to find your local cycling trails. You can search by length, surfaces, or activities. You can subscribe to Trail Link annually to get the full app for your phone and take the trail maps with you. There are a lot of paths out there that you may not know about.

8. Gamify your trips. Get a good app for tracking miles and calories, like Runtastic, which you can also use for other exercises. There are others that are more specialized for cycling (e.g. Strava). A good app will let you challenge your previous trips, encouraging you to go further. They will also tell you how much water you are losing as you ride, which will be far more than you realize.

9. Enjoy. Take photos. Post to Instagram. (You’ll find Mindy and I there). These are opportunities to tell others what trails you love and why. They are chances to meet other cyclists or just to track your adventures.

10. Give. Donate money and/or time to your local park system and organizations like Rails to Trails who help make these paths available. They are constantly struggling to get support for projects like these.

Know of any other tips for new cyclists? Add them in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Photo: Cycling the connector at Side Cut Metropark. Brandon Withrow, 2017. CC2. Use with credit.