Cycling For Beginners: Everything You Need To Know

Have you been wondering how to get into biking? It can be confusing (and intimidating) knowing how to get started, but the good news is that it’s an easy sport to get into.

In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about cycling for beginners including the best bikes for beginners, what gear you need, where to ride, and more.

Still have a question that’s not answered here? Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help you out!

cycling for beginners

Figure Out What Kind Of Bike You Need

If you already have a bicycle, you can skip this step. But if you don’t have a bike yet, that’s the first thing you need to do.

Consider what type of cycling you’re interested in. Do you want to try road cycling? Mountain biking? Or maybe you’re just looking for a bike for cruising around town?

Depending on the type of cycling you want to do, you’ll need a specific type of bicycle. If you want to road bike, you’ll need a good entry level beginner road bike. If you want to mountain bike, you’ll need a starter mountain bike. If you want to ride bike paths and rail trails, you’ll want a hybrid bike.

There are lots of other types of bikes including beach cruisers, gravel bikes, and commuter bikes (just to name a few). For more information on all the types of bikes and which kind is best for you, read this guide:

You’ll also want to make sure that you’re buying the right size bike. A bike that’s even a little bit too big or too small, will reduce your enjoyment on the bicycle.

Get A Helmet And Bike Gloves

There’s lots of grear to accumulate over the coming weeks and months if you decide this biking thing is really for you. You don’t need a ton of stuff to get started.

But there are two things you don’t want to wait to get: a good helmet and bike gloves. These are critical safety items.

For helmets, there are different types of helmets you can choose from depending on what kind of riding you want to do. Road helmets are lightweight, breathable, and aerodynamic. Mountain bike helmets provide more skull coverafe and generally have a visor to protect your face and eyes. Urban and recreational helmets focus on being a little more stylish and are (usually) more affordable, but also tend to have less breathability.

Use these guide to help pick out a helmet, depending on which kind of helmet you want:

Bike gloves, while not quite as critical as a helmet, can also be an important safety item. In the event that you crash, gloves can save the skin on your palms from literally getting scraped off.

Gloves can be either half-finger or full-finger. Which you use is largely depending on personal preference, though full-finger gloves can provide more protection for off-road riding.

Find Safe Places To Ride

Now that you have a bike and a helmet and gloves, it’s time to ride! But where?

To get started, look for no-traffic areas like bike paths and rail trails, or low-traffic areas like neighborhood streets and designated bike routes. The best place to start is usually with your city. Most towns will have official bike maps that show these paths and routes.

There are also apps and websites that can help you out. We’ve compiled these for you:

Figure Out How To Carry Water

There are several things you should always take riding with you (more on that in a moment), but the most important of these is WATER. Staying hydrated while riding is critical for your performance (and happiness) on the bike.

The easiest way to carry water is to add a water bottle cage to your bike, and put a bicycle water bottle in it. This solution is relatively cheap, easy, and keeps the weight off your back.

Another option is to buy a hydration pack (looks like a backpack) or a cycling fanny pack to carry water. This is more popular amongst mountain bikers than road cyclists, but anybody can use one. The nice thing about a pack is that you can carry more water (as well as gear), and it’s a bit easier to drink from than bottles while riding.

For more help on figuring out how to carry water (and how much water you should be drinking), check out this guide:

What To Take With You Riding

In addition to water, you should take along a few essentials to make sure you are safe and can make it home no matter what. I recommend bringing a fully charged cell phone, a credit card, an energy bar, and a fix kit.

Your fix kit should include (at a minimum) a multi-tool, a spare tube, tire levers, and a mini-pump or C02 cartridge/pump. I’ll share more on how to learn to use these a bit further down.

How to carry all this stuff? You can put them in a jersey pocket (if you have a jersey) or a seat bag. You can also put them in a hydration pack (if you choose to carry one).

Invest In A Pair Of Bike Shorts

While it’s perfectly fine to get started riding in a pair of gym shorts, you’ll discover sooner than later that you want a pair of bike shorts. Bicycle shorts have padding that make sitting on a bicycle saddle infinitely more enjoyable.

You have several options. You can just buy a pair of padded cycling underwear to ride under your existing shorts, you can buy a pair of cycling-specific lycra bike shorts, or you can buy baggy mountain-bike style shorts. There are even cycling skirts if that’s more your style.

Depending on what type of bike shorts you want, here are some guides and our top picks:

Find Other Women To Ride With (Or Learn To Safely Ride Alone)

Finding a group of other women to ride with can be life changing. In my experience, women in this sport are great at helping lift each other up. Cycling can also be a lot less scary if you have other people around you.

To help you find these women, we’ve created a list of women’s group rides and clubs and some tips for on going on your first group ride.

If there isn’t a group in your area, or you simplify prefer to ride alone, that’s fine! Personally, I do most of my rides solo.

If that’s the route you choose to go, here is a podcast episode I recorded on tips for riding solo.

Choose Pedals And Shoes

Mountain Bike Shoe vs Road Cycling Shoe

Your bike may have come with plastic platform pedals, in which case throw on your tennis shoes and start riding. However, many bikes are sold without pedals and you’ll need to add them. A good place just to get started are cheap platform pedals.

At some point, you will decide you’re feeling confident on the bike and are ready to invest in clipless pedals and real cycling shoes. There are all kinds of clipless pedals, but I personally think the best for beginners are simple SPD pedals.

There are also reasons you may choose to continue riding with flat pedals. If you’re just biking around town, it can be easier to wear regular shoes and use platform pedals. Also, if you are mountain biking, flat pedals and a good pair of mountain bike shoes can be safer and more enjoyable than clipless pedals.

For more information, check out these guides:

Learn The Rules Of The Road (Or Trail)

There aren’t a lot of “rules” for cyclists–so don’t panic! There are a few things you should know, however, to make sure that you are safe and that you are a good fellow cyclist.

When riding on the road, follow the rules of traffic. This means riding on the right side of the road, stopping at stop signs and lights, and generally behaving the same way you would if you were in a car.

Of course, you don’t have a turn signal so use hand/arm signals to indicate when you are turning or stopping. (These are also the same signals you should have learned in driver’s education).

If riding on a trail, be courteous of other trail users. Always yield to pedestrians and equestrians as well as uphill riders when you are riding downhill.

Learn Some Basic Bike Maintenance Skills

There are a few things you should learn right away. These include pumping up your bike tires, cleaning and lubing your chain, changing a flat tire, and tightening bolts on your bike.

Before every ride, you’ll also want to do the “ABCs”. Check the Air in your tires. Pull your Brakes to make sure they are working. And clean and lube your Chain.

This all might sound a little scary, but I promise it’s not. Practice in the comfort of your home or garage, and be patient with yourself. I promise you can do it!

Here’s my guide on bicycle maintenance:

Other FAQs

The tips I’ve shared above should be enough to get you started. But if you still have a bunch of questions, browse thru these FAQs. Still don’t see your question? Add it in the comments below and I’ll add it.

What is a good bicycle for beginners?

A good bicycle for beginners might be the one you already have. Take that bike sitting in the garage to your local bike shop to get tuned up.

If you don’t already have a bike, then it’s really dependent on what type of cycling you want to do. If you are looking for a road bike, check out our favorite entry-level road bikes under $1,000.

A lot of beginners may be even better served by a hybrid bike. Hybrid bikes are designed for general fitness riding and cruising around town. They also have flat handlebars rather than drop bars, which are attractive to many beginners.

Just be careful, because a lot of hybrid bikes are HEAVY and won’t be that enjoyable.

What is a good cycling training plan for beginners?

Don’t worry to much about “training.” In the beginning, you should just get out and ride. You’ll gain fitness and skill just by going.

Once you really feel ike you need a training plan, I like this one from Cycling Weekly.

How do I shift gears on a bike?

Not knowing how to shift is one of the biggest fears I hear from beginners. Don’t sweat it! Here’s a guide to help you out:

How do I bike up hills?

In the beginning, you may have to walk up hills. That is okay and there is no shame! We all were there when we started.

Still, there are some tips that can help you get a little further next time.

  • Make sure you are in your lightest / easiest gear (see above guide on shifting gears).
  • Keep your upper body relaxed.
  • Start out slow and save your energy. Push to hard at the beginning of a climb and you will blow up. Take it slow and steady, and if you make it, next time you can try pushing a little harder.
  • Standing up can help on steep sections, but is tricky for beginners. Try it once you feel confident.

How do I ride a road bike?

Just like any other bike! But it’s usually the drop bars (handlebars) that really throw people off. Don’t worry–it’s not that different from riding a regular flat bar bicycle.

When you are pedaling, you can sit up and rest your hands on the top part of the bar. When you need to brake, slide your hands forward so that you can reach the brake levers.

In the beginning, you’ll have no need for the more aggressive curved part of the handlebar. Just focus on riding with your hands on the upper section of the handlebar.

Practice in your neighborhood, or even in your driveway. It may feel a little weird at first, but I promise you’ll get it in no time!

What are the cycling essentials?

The bare essentials are a bike, a helmet, gloves, water bottles or another way to carry water, and a fix kit (tube, pump, tire levers).

Over time, you’ll want bike shorts, cycling shoes, cycling socks, a cycling jersey. Don’t feel like you have to rush into buying everything at once.

How do I get better at cycling?

Lots of practice! If you’ve just started, don’t sweat it. You’ll get better just with repeated riding.

It can also be really helpful to ride with other women or take a cycling clinic. Find our list above for resources on clubs and group rides.

How long should I ride my bike?

However long feels good to you. There is no rule on this!

In the beginning, this might literally be around the block. Keep adding little bits of distance until you feel confident riding longer distances.

If general fitness is your aim, shoot for riding one to two hours, five times a week. But don’t do this on day one, work your way up.

How do I get on a bike?

To get on your bike, pull in the brake levers so that it stays still. Lean the bike slightly toward you, so that the frame is a little lower and it’s easier to get your leg over.

Swing your leg over the frame. Put your bum on the saddle, one foot (tip-toe) on the ground, and the other on a pedal.

How do I learn to ride a bike again after many years?

The good news about riding a bike is that it’s just like riding a bike (ha)! In all seriousness, just go try it and be patient and kind to yourself.

If you are worried about balancing and pedaling, try going to a grassy spot. (Maybe your backyard where nobody can see you?)

If you can pedal right off the bat, great. If not, try lowering your seat all the way. Put your feat flat on the ground (bum on your seat), and practice scooting along. Then try going a little faster and gliding with your feet off the ground. Once you’ve mastered that, you can try pedaling.

You’ll also want to practice braking. To do so, walk next to your bike and pull the brake levers. Pull and release. Try it a couple times while walking, and then on the bike while riding. (Still in a grassy spot).

Once you’ve got the pedaling and braking thing down, start by doing some laps around the neighborhood. Take it slow, and remember to keep your eyes looking forward.

My butt hurts. What now?

Aha. The biggest barrier to becoming a true cyclist: a sore bum!

Don’t worry, this is a totally normal beginning for every cyclist. As your muscles get stronger, your bum will hurt less.

You should also get a pair of padded bike shorts and a good saddle. Also, read all of these articles. We’ve spent a lot of time on helping you get comfy on the bike.

About The Author

kristen bonkoski

Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.

An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.

Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life.  Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son.  If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.

Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.

IG: @kristenlbonkoski

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