So you want to start cycling? You hop on a bike and start turning the pedals – sounds easy right? and it is, it’s that simple! However, there’s a bunch of stuff that’s well worth knowing that will help you get the most out of it, help you stay safe and will help you to stick with it. With that in mind, we decided to compile a complete beginner’s guide to cycling. So whether you’ve aspirations of joining the Tour De France, want a new healthier way of getting to work or a simple pass-time to get fit and spend time with the family this guide should have something useful to help you achieve your goals.
Where to start?
To start off you need a bike… obviously! We’re all different shapes and sizes, so just like shoes, it’s vitally important to get right size bike for you. Get the wrong size and not only will you be uncomfortable and could even injure yourself, you’ll make pedaling the bike more difficult.
There are plenty of bike shops with experienced, trained staff there to help get the right bike for you. If you fancy exploring the mountains and tearing up the dirt trails you’ll want a mountain bike. If you’re solely sticking to the roads, get yourself a road racer. If you want something you can go fast on the road but is durable enough to go over the odd dirt trail you can get a hybrid between the two. Hybrids are great as general purpose bikes and are very well suited to cycling with the family, they tend to have a more relaxed riding position and can cope with most riding conditions. There really are lots of options depending on the type of bike and of course your budget.
You can spend €100 or €10,000 on a bike. But unless you are the next Chris Froome or Lance Armstrong (let’s hope not!) there really is no need to spend a silly amount. If cycling is something you are really going to commit to it is worth spending just that little bit more so you get the most out of it. Upgrades to the bike can always be made in the months or years to come when you figure out what’s best for you. But as they say, buy cheap, buy twice!
Joining a local club can be a great idea if you’re serious about getting into cycling. You’ll be able to tap into a wealth of knowledge on all things cycling from technical/equipment advice, cycling routes, diet, riding technique and loads more. The social aspect of joining a cycling club is also a great motivator. The links below will point you in the right direction for your local club:
Something else worth mentioning is the Cycle-to-Work Scheme that’s in place in the UK and Ireland. This is a tax-saving incentive where you can apply for your employer to purchase the bike for you and you pay it back over 12 monthly installments. It’s a nice way to get a really good bike without having to fork out a big lump sum. Ask your employer to see if you can avail of the scheme. I wonder if they did a Drive-to-Work scheme would Mick work out a deal?!……. 911 Turbo please!
We don’t want to come
across all preachy but a good helmet is a must, not a ‘nice-to-have’. When it comes to buying a bike helmet the same rule applies as with motorbike or motorsport crash helmets: Buy the best helmet you can afford. The question you have to ask yourself is’ How much is your head worth?’
The more expensive helmets are pricier for a reason. They give better impact protection in the event of an accident. When you do get the right helmet it’s worth taking some time to get the straps adjusted perfectly. Far too many people cycle around with helmets on but the straps flapping loosely in the breeze. Unless your lid is on properly you may as well not wear one. They do take a little bit of getting used to but after a while, you won’t even notice it.
Lycra…. We need to talk about lycra. It’s not for everyone but if you’re serious about cycling then it’s the only way to go. Lycra offers minimal aerodynamic drag and maximum comfort. cycling shorts are more function over form. They are designed to keep the rider cool and comfortable. Some shorts have padding to cushion your bum. Some use gel and some use chamois – the same animal skin often used to dry your car after cleaning it. It’s known for its cushioning and absorption capabilities.
If you’re not quite ready to put it all on display in a pair of figure-hugging lycra shorts then you can always throw on a regular pair of shorts over the top, you’ll still get most of the benefits.
Multiple light layers work best. Having 2 or 3 layers so you can take them off as you’re cycling is ideal. The worst combination is probably one light layer and one heavy, bulky layer. You’ll be either too hot or too cold and have no-where to store the bulky layer when you take it off. Also, light rain repellant jackets (yes it rains a lot so they are needed) are worth having. They can be folded up into small saddle bags and don’t really get in the way.
A must! No matter how good a cyclist you are you really should wear something bright that stands out. It’s other road users that need to see you. Even if it’s not reflective, wear something bright. Coming into the darker nights of autumn and winter something reflective, be it a full jacket or vest or just a belt, must be worn so vehicle lights will make you visible.
They are shoes that click into the pedals for more control on your feet. Not really a necessity if you are going to be commuting to and from work or doing a leisurely cycle. But if you plan on being out on the open road for 2-3 hours with no continuous stop/starts at traffic lights then they are a worthwhile extra. You can buy shoes designed specifically for cycling that don’t have pedal cleats, they tend to have stiffer soles to more effectively transfer power to the pedals, they also tend to be waterproof.
Dublin City Council have produced this great video about bike security – Check it out, it’ll tell you everything you need to know about what type of lock you need, what types to avoid, where to lock your bike up and exactly how you should lock your bike up:
Here are our Top 5 cycling accessories.
- Water bottle. Make sure it’s not empty! If you plan on being out for more than 30-40 minutes it’s worth having a bottle of water. If you want to add a little flavor, High5 electrolyte tabs are soluble tablets that add flavor to your water while supplying the right stuff needed to keep you going on the journey. If you just want plain water a little tip is to add a pinch of salt to your water. You won’t taste it but it will help with your fluid absorption. If you plan on being out for 3-4 hours, it’s worth having two bottles.
- Saddlebag + Repair kit. It’s handy to have a little extra storage underneath your saddle. If you want to carry extra tops or if you want to
take one off. Saddle bags are handy to store repair kits also. Punctures are fairly commonplace when you’re cycling so it pays to make sure you have all the gear you need to repair a flat……and that you know how to do it! Our emergency repair kit comes with everything you need for any road side mechanics.
- Pump/CO2 cartridge. Pumps can be easily mounted to the frame out of the way. Keeping your tyres well helps reduce the rolling resistance and will make you go faster with less effort. Make sure you check what pressure your tyres can handle (the max psi will be written on the side wall) CO2 cartridges are a single-use cartridge that screws into the tyre valve to inflate it in ‘1 shot’. A great space saving item.
- Ding Ding. A bell isn’t vital but if you are cycling around busy areas it can be very handy. pedestrians often won’t see or hear you coming and can sometimes walk/run in the cycle lanes.
- Let there be light! Having front and rear lights on your bike is another safety essential, similar to the Hi-Viz point above. It’s for other road users to see you mainly at night times. But even in the glorious summer days, it can be difficult on the eyes while driving in and out of tree shadows and the contrasting light that a cyclist could be missed and cause an accident.
Bikes are a pretty basic mechanical device but to some, they can seem very complicated. It’s worth learning a few of the very simple tasks needed to maintain your bike, like testing the brakes, fitting a chain, being able to remove/fit a wheel and change a tyre/tyre tube. Wherever you choose to purchase your bike, any reputable retailer should be able to give you a crash course in the basics specific to your bike.
Here’s our top 3 top tips to keep your bike in tip-top shape before heading off on each ride.
- Put ’em unda pressure! Make sure the tyres are in good condition and at the correct pressure. The ideal tyre pressure will be indicated on the sidewall of the tyre. The typical pressure ranges from 80-100 psi. 3 times higher than a car tyre!
- Lube me up! Chains should be well lubricated. Nothing worse than a squeak ringing in your ears with every stroke of the pedals. But apart from the earache, a well-oiled chain helps with the performance, making your cycling easier and smoother. Chains should be lubed up every 100-150 miles and more often if you are out in the rain.
- Have a brake, have a…. Brakes should also be checked before every trip. There is nothing complicated about it. You need to be able to stop; for a traffic light or in an emergency. Squeaky brakes are a simple indicator that generally mean the pads have dried out or there is a buildup of unwanted material. Rim brakes have a V shape cut into the pad as an indicator. Disc brake pads have a much stronger bite. They generally need replacing when there is only 1mm of pad left. Pads are cheap and worth keeping fresh.
While these 3 tips will keep you flying it’s worth bringing it to a specialist for an annual service. They can fine tune all the ins and outs of the bike keeping it running like clockwork… of the Swiss watch kind.
Time to get fit
You have the gear sorted, you’ve got your bike and now you just have to use it. With the growing media scare of obesity levels, heart attacks, and general (bad) health it’s no wonder cycling is a growing hobby. Getting into a good regular routine not only just your exercise plan but your general daily plan all contribute to a better/healthier lifestyle. There are 24 hours in a day. 6-8 of them are in bed (unless you’ve kids). Another 6-8 in work. 2 hours commuting to work (could be more, could be less). And finally, you have dinner time.
I know some people have other commitments with kids and other pass times but by adding up the hours everyone should at least have a spare 1 to 2 hours to do some exercise. It’ll help you feel much better as a whole. You could cycle to and from work. You could head out with the kids and cycle the long route to the playground. It’s very easily done if you really want to get fit and healthy.
Here are some points on the direct benefits of cycling.
- General fitness. Getting your heart rate up for 30-60 minutes a day gets more oxygen and blood flowing in your heart and lungs. After a month of committed exercise, you will really start to see the benefits.
- Weight loss. The extra bit of fat most of us carry will start to burn off. Once you eat the same amounts as before you will see the fat fall off. The volume of food must be less than what is being burnt off when you get your sweat on.
- Muscle definition and flexibility. When the fat starts to burn off you will begin to see more muscle definition in your legs and bum. Your arms will lose fat too!
- Some points on indirect benefits of cycling.
- Less chance of coronary heart disease and lung cancer
- Stress levels will reduce
- Relieves depression and anxiety
- General mood and optimism with increase
- Improved sleep patterns
- Minimal impact on the joints compared to running/walking, while still keeping flexibility in the joints.
There really is no reason not to get out and do some pedal pushing. As mentioned before, you can commute to work by bicycle, you don’t have to pay for expensive city parking and you get to enjoy more time with the family when you all head out for a cycle
There are many people out there that get annoyed at cyclist ‘taking up the road’ especially at the weekends. There are also many cyclists who get annoyed at drivers. Each side has a fair argument but both road users have every right to be there. It’s a matter of respecting one another, having a bit of patience, obeying the rules of the road and basically not being a dick – whether you’re in a car or on a bike!
We’ve got a great article on this topic that’s well worth a read actually – http://blog.micksgarage.com/why-i-hate-cyclists-and-why-you-shouldnt-either/
If you plan on doing a lot of cycling, brushing up on the rules of the road would probably be a good idea
IRISH Rules of the Road
UK Rules of the Road