If you’re new to cycling: Congrats! There are so many amazing adventures in store for you. We’re stoked to have more company in the bikes lanes, but we also understand that cycling can feel really overwhelming at first. On top of knowing the basic rules of the road, it can seem like there’s a whole set of unwritten rules out there as well. Can you wear low socks? Do your water bottles need to match? Well, we’re here to say: Forget the rules! Riding bikes should be fun, and in order for you to have the most fun out there, you’re going to want to avoid the most common cycling mistakes for beginners. These nine aren’t rules; they’re just tips and simple fixes that’ll make riding more safe and enjoyable for you.
1. Setting Your Seat Too Low
Experiencing pain in the front of your knee? Your seat might be too low, causing you to under-extend during your pedal stroke. This is a common mistake amongst beginners because most people feel more comfortable and confident if their feet can reach the ground. But having the wrong saddle height could put you at risk for injury.
To fix: Bump up your saddle. At the right seat height, your knee should be slightly bent at the bottom of your pedal stroke, without rocking your pelvis. Measure the distance between the bottom bracket and the top of the seat. This is your seat height. It should be very close to the product of your inseam (in centimeters) multiplied by 0.883. If you need help, roll down to your local bike shop. The staff will likely be happy to set you up and share your saddle height. Then, get comfortable lifting yourself off the saddle and straddling the top tube so your feet can touch the ground as you come to a stop. It helps to lean the handlebars toward the foot you want to place down.
2. Assuming You Need All the Best Gear
You don’t need fancy clothes, clipped-in shoes, or a top-of-the-line bike to become a cyclist. Sure, slick equipment can be a lot of fun, but there’s nothing like smoking a bunch of high-end carbon bikes on a climb when you’re riding an old beater. The important thing is that you just get out there and ride—and worry about any potential gear upgrades later.
3. Not Getting Your Bike Fit
How your bike fits you is one of the most important aspects of riding. If the fit is painful, you’re not going to spend much time in the saddle, no matter how excited you are to ride that new bike. To get the right fit, two elements are key: seat height and reach. The seat height should be high enough to give you a very slight bend in your knee when your foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke, as mentioned above. Proper reach means your arms and torso make a 45-degree angle over the bike. Too long, and your back will be sore reaching for the handlebars; too short, and your knees will be too close to your arms. When you’re shopping for a bike, make sure to take it for a test ride to see that the size is correct for you.
4. Avoiding Bike Maintenance
You don’t have to be a pro wrench, but routine maintenance will not only save you a bundle at the bike shop, but it will also prolong the life of your bike. Check out these three super-easy maintenance tasks your bike mechanic wishes you’d do.
5. Doing Too Much Too Soon
One of the biggest sources of injury comes from trying to take on too much mileage before you’re ready. Build up slowly, ease in, and give your body time to adjust to new distances. Similarly, if you’re on a training ride, don’t start too fast and risk burnout and fatigue in the second half. Warm up during the first third of the ride, then settle into a rhythm for the second, and give it everything you’ve got for the final third.
6. Not Carrying a Tube or Patch Kit
One minute you’re out there on the trail, cruising along with the perfect tailwind, having the time of your life. Then that unmistakable sound of air hissing out of your tires shatters your peaceful reverie, and the party is over. If your flat tire backup plan is to phone a friend, take a few minutes and check out this guide to changing a tube or patching one. You won’t believe how much more independent you’ll feel with the proper tools on hand—a spare, a patch kit, levers, and a mini-pump—and the know-how to get yourself back on the road in 15 minutes.
7. Not Using Your Gears
Gears are your best friends on a climb, and your greatest source of speed on a long, rolling stretch of road. But it does take a little practice to get the hang of when and how to shift into your most efficient gear. Here’s a basic guide to using all your gears.
8. Not Learning How to Ride in a Group
Group rides have their own protocol and etiquette for a reason—it’s easy to cause a crash if your riding isn’t predictable. If it’s your first time riding with a new group, hang out in the back, observe, and ask for help if you need it. No question is a dumb question when your own safety and the safety of the group is at stake. For more on group-riding rules and technique, check out this article.
9. Forgetting to Refuel
If you’re only riding for an hour, you should have water but don’t really need to eat on the bike. If you’re planning to ride over two hours, bring a snack along and start eating 45 minutes to an hour into your ride. Continue to eat small amounts every 15 to 20 minutes. Forgetting to refuel can put your body into a deficit and cause you to bonk—or go into a hypoglycemic state. Tiredness, irritability, dizziness, nausea, confusion—it’s not a strong way to finish a ride.