Cycling 101: What You Need to Know to Get Started
As the weather gets nicer and we all continue to look for ways to stay active and entertained outside, cycling remains a refuge for many. It’s a fresh air activity you can do alone, almost anywhere in the world, and that’s exactly what many of us need right now. If you’re craving some cardio, but never considered yourself a cyclist, we break down the basics of the sport so you can participate safely and confidently.
The basics of bike equipment
If you have an old bike…
If you have an old neglected bike in the garage, now is a great time to dust it off, lube up the chain, pump the tires and take it for a short ride around the neighborhood to make sure everything is in working order.
If the bike has gears, lift the bike so the rear wheel is off the ground and shift through all of them while turning the pedals with your hand to make sure they are working correctly. Squeeze the breaks to make sure the brake pads still make firm contact with the rim of the wheel. If there are any issues with these basic checks and you don’t feel confident fixing them, take the bike to your local shop for a tune-up. A basic tune-up usually costs around $70, and many bike shops are considered essential services, and thus, are still open.
If you don’t have a bike…
If you don’t already have a bike and want to get into cycling, buying a new one is your best option. Your local bike shop is usually the easiest place to buy a bike. If you don’t have a local shop or don’t want to leave the house, there are a lot of online options. Many companies are offering sales and free shipping to encourage new bike owners like yourself. Trek Bikes and State Bicycle Co. offer affordable options over a wide range of styles.
Getting a proper fit
Our bodies might operate similarly, but they’re all unique, and this fact extends to bike fits. Bike fit is important.The right fit means you are in a position on the bike that will enable you to ride as long as you want, while still being comfortable. If you ride too long in the wrong position, you risk creating overuse injuries that could be avoided. If you start to feel discomfort in your joints, back, or neck, adjust your fit until these feelings subside.
Here are few essential rules of thumb as a starting point:
Saddle fit: Many of us assume the softer the saddle, the better the bike, but more cushion in a bike saddle can actually mean more pain later. In general, less is more when it comes to saddles, and having the right fit will make riding a pleasure.
The saddle should make contact with your “sit bones.” If you’re not familiar, sit on a chair, and slide your hands under your buttocks to feel the bones that are pressing down into your hands. Those are the sit bones. Make sure your saddle isn’t cutting off important blood flow, and if you notice any tingling or numbness while riding, try adjusting your position.
Seat height, fore/aft: As a general rule of thumb the saddle should be centered in the clamps from the seat post (where it is attached the bike), and the saddle height should allow for a slight bend in the knee when you are seated and the pedal is at its lowest point. That’s the most important part: your leg should not be straight. It needs that soft bend in the knee, or you’ll be overextending.
Reach: You don’t want to be sitting upright, but you don’t want to be bent over in an aggressive position either. Keep an awareness of how your back feels while riding. If you feel any pain in your shoulders or lower back, it could be time to adjust your reach.
How to change a flat and other basic maintenance
Before you start riding, buy a floor pump. You’ll want to double check what type of valves you have on your tires, and get a pump that can accommodate that valve.
You’ll need to pump your tires before your first ride and at least once a week thereafter. If you don’t ride regularly, just pump your tires before your ride. Your tires will have writing on the side that will display the recommended tire pressure in PSI and BAR. In general about 85% of max PSI is the sweet spot for a smooth, efficient ride.
Also, practice changing a flat before you ride. There are countless YouTube videos that provide instruction on this. When you do go out for a ride, carry the following:
- At least one spare tube
- Two tire levers
- A small multi-tool
- A mini-pump for your tires
With these items, you can fix or adjust many issues that may crop up. Most parts can now be adjusted with just a few allen key sizes.
Basic clothing and gear
For your first ride, you don’t need to obsess over the right gear to wear. Always wear a helmet, but beyond that you can experiment and see what feels comfortable for you.
As a basic first step, a pair of bike shorts with a chamois (the padding) is a good start. It will provide more comfort as you start to go for longer rides, reducing risk of saddle sores.
Flat pedals are a good way to start riding with a regular athletic shoe. As you progress you can upgrade to a road pedal and shoe where you “clip-in” to the pedal for a more efficient stroke and connected feel to the bike. If you have any knee or ankle injuries, you may want to talk with your Orthology provider about best practices, as clip-in pedals require lower leg rotation.
Your first few rides
Where to go…
For your first ride start easy, head out for no more than 30 min and keep it local. Just pedal around and have fun. Once you’re comfortable with your bike, your clothing, and your ability to fix a flat, start adding 15-20 minutes at a time to each ride.
How to ride…
Remember, state laws vary, but act like a car. Stop for pedestrians, stop at all stop signs and stoplights, signal when turning or changing lanes, etc. Never switch between acting like a pedestrian and acting like a car. This confuses drivers and pedestrians alike, and often results in accidents.
For your actual pedaling, you don’t want to be spinning like crazy. Adjust your gears so there’s pressure, but you can still keep an even cadence. If your legs feel like they can’t “catch,” shift into a more challenging gear. And if you’re having trouble getting the pedal around, shift to an easier gear.
What to eat and drink…
Make sure to always carry water on a ride, ideally two bottles worth just in case. If you’re starting to go for longer rides, consider adding electrolytes to your bottles. And don’t forget to carry snacks. Longer rides burn many calories, and you don’t want to hit a wall mid-ride.
Keep it up…
For motivation, you can download the app Strava to track your rides and see if you can beat your previous segment times. It’s also a great way to stay connected, and see where everyone else may be running and riding.