Now that spring is in the air, the days are lengthening and getting warmer. That means it’s time to get outside, and if you’re looking for a new sport to let you soak in the sun and build your fitness, cycling might be your answer.
But, if you’re a beginner, you’ll need to know a few things before dashing out onto the road with, at best, an educated guess at what you’re getting yourself into. Here, our cycling for beginners guide will steer you in the right direction so you can DO:MORE and hit the road with confidence.
BUYING THE RIGHT BIKE
The first, and most obvious, thing you need for cycling is a good bike. That doesn’t have to mean the most expensive high-tech mount you can find, as long as it’s a good fit for you both physically and in terms of your goals.
Ask yourself a few basic questions:
- What sort of riding do I plan to do, and in what conditions?
- How much abuse does my gear tend to take?
- Do I plan to progress rapidly and ultimately compete, or keep it casual?
- How much am I willing to spend?
If you envision mostly leisurely rides alone or with a laid back pack of buddies, you don’t need to go all-out with superlight carbon or titanium bikes and top-tier components (drivetrain, brakes, shifters, cranks, wheels, etc.).
On the other hand, if you’re looking for more serious training or thinking of racing, you don’t want to waste time on a cheap entry-level bike you’ll outgrow. For the most part, heavier aluminum frames and stock components will be cheaper, and good solid bikes in this category can be a good bet for the casual rider (Cannondale’s CAAD10 5 105 is a good buy at $1730).
On the other end of the spectrum, you have superlight carbon frames with aerodynamic geometry and high-end components that make the whole riding experience a smooth one, all of which are conducive to climbing tough hills and racing fast (look to something like Pinarello’s Dogma 65.1 at $5,300).
Bottom line: know what you want from a bike, get yourself sized at a local bike shop so the fit is precise, and don’t expect to spend less than about $1,300 or much more than $5,000 for a first road bike.
Nearly as important as buying the right bike is wearing the right clothing. Maybe you have reservations about being outfitted in tight lycra, but try wearing jeans on any ride beyond a few miles, and you’ll understand the need for layers that have a close fit, breath and insulate as needed, dry fast, and offer sufficient padding where your seat rubs tender parts.
If you’re planning on doing lengthy rides, get a pair of cycling bibs with a thick chammy (the padding on the seat area), plus well-padded gloves (the handlebar tends to press into the ulnar nerve and cause pain without padding, not fun for long outings).
A tight-fitting jersey is essential for aerodynamic comfort in the wind, on downhills, or when riding fast. And you’ll need to make sure you have a couple of layers for shifting weather, like a waterproof cycling jacket or arm warmers.
Lastly, to maximize pedaling power, you’ll want road cycling shoes with cleats that clip into your pedals (just make sure the cleats match the pedal style, since there are several to choose from). They make hills and staying in group rides sufficiently less excruciating to be wholly worth the buy.
Before you head out onto the road, do a little beginner training to strengthen your legs and improve cardiovascular conditioning, particularly if you live at altitude or in a hilly area. Cross training with other sports like swimming and running will tone vital cycling muscles, particularly your core and legs.
Additionally, gym training with exercises like the leg press, deadlift, and squat will build strength in your quads to power up climbs and sprint to finishes on group rides or, ultimately, criterium races.
Do a pyramid-style session, starting with high weight and low reps (you should only be able to do 7 to 8 reps on the first set,) increasing reps and decreasing weight on each of your four sets. Execute anywhere from 15-20 reps to failure on your last set.
RULES OF THE ROAD
If you’re not used to sharing the road with cars, familiarize yourself with the roads in your town (they’ll feel different on a bike,) and look especially for wide roads, big shoulders, or designated bike lanes to determine your best route.
Many cities like Portland, Minneapolis, and, increasingly, New York City are packed with miles of bike-friendly roads and cycling groups of all abilities – useful for cycling beginners to learn etiquette and, particularly, ideal routes.
As for safety, it’s best to ride in a small group, one that doesn’t clog the road but increases visibility for passing cars. Wear bright colors and, if riding at low light, reflective layers. Logic will tell you to squeeze as far to the right shoulder of the road as possible, but it’s in fact best to ride a foot or so out from the right lane boundary.
This way, cars will be guaranteed to see you and will be forced to slow down and give sufficient room for passing. Also, know your hand signals–point with the left arm for a left turn, and bend the left arm 90 degrees for a right turn.
Lastly, always assume cars can’t see you and ride defensively, making eye contact with drivers crossing your path whenever possible.
TRAINING ON THE BIKE
Now that you’re on the road and ready to ride, you can use a few kinds of beginner cycling workouts to improve your strength and speed. In flat areas, try non-stop long distance rides to boost your stamina and strengthen slow-twitch muscles for long-term endurance.
If you live in the hills or mountains, create a route that gives you a mix of a few easy and tough climbs for a good cardio workout that also builds your quads. In either environment, interval training will increase your VO2 max and your actual speed by strengthening slow-twitch muscles for explosive pedaling.
Here’s a good 30-minute beginner cycling routine to follow two to three times a week for fast results:
- Warm up for 10 minutes, pedaling at a moderate pace
- Pedal for 10 seconds at high intensity, as close to your max as possible
- Rest for one minute
- Pedal for 20 seconds at medium intensity, about 60 percent of your max
- Rest one minute
- Pedal for 30 seconds at low intensity, about 30 percent of your max
- Rest for one minute
- Repeat five times