15 Things to Avoid as a Beginner Cyclist
We all make mistakes when we try our hand at a new skill. This applies to riding a bike as much as anything else; complicated or not.
The important thing is that we learn from these mistakes, and where possible, learn from others so we don’t have to make them in the first place.
In this article we’re going to highlight some of the mistakes that we have made, so you can evade them as you continue to learn and improve on your cycling journey. We’ve also linked some of our articles where you can explore the themes further.
- Incorrect Saddle Height
- Not Enough/Too Much Food and Water
- No Spare Tubes & Puncture Kit
- Wearing the Wrong Clothes
- Unadjusted Bike Settings
- Poorly Maintained Gear
- Overtraining or Skipping Recovery
- Bad Braking Technique
- Using Your Gears Incorrectly (Which Gear/When to Change)
- Wearing Underwear
- Under/Overinflated Tires
- Stick Only to Cycling
- Not Knowing the Rules of The Road
- Forgetting to Apply Sun Block
- Underestimating Wind
- Unclipping Too Late
Incorrect Saddle Height
Incorrect saddle height results in lower power output (inefficiency), increased likelihood of injury, and uncomfortable riding.
Once you have (hopefully) purchased a bike that fits you, the next step is to adjust the saddle height. Your local bike shop should help with this if you ask. To do it yourself:
- Take your Allen key and loosen the screw that secures the saddle
- Adjust it so that when you sit on it with one pedal at roughly 6 o’clock, your heel rests on that pedal with your leg completely straight.
- Re-tighten or adjust further if necessary
Not Enough/Too Much Food and Water
When you run out of energy or become dehydrated while riding, it can feel like an impossible task to carry on. The effects of ‘bonking’ and dehydration also make it more dangerous to be on the road.
Almost all cyclists (even professionals) will get their nutrition or hydration wrong at some point. To avoid this, start with these 3 things:
- Know how far you will ride in advance
- Keep small snacks at home to take with you (banana, breakfast bar, sports drink/gel)
- Always take 1-2 water bottles wherever you go
Eating too much before a ride can cause nausea while drinking too much can lead to imbalanced electrolytes (hyponatremia) which has similar symptoms to dehydration.
No Spare Tubes & Puncture Kit
When it comes to punctures, the question is not if, but when. The last thing you want when the time comes is to be stuck somewhere without a spare tube to make this simple repair.
Always carry at least one, if not two spare inner tubes. Now you can avoid the embarrassment of calling for a ride, or waiving another cyclist to ask for their spare, Also, don’t forget the basic roadside repair tools (tire levers, a multitool, repair kit, and a pump/gas canisters).
Wearing the Wrong Clothes
Getting caught out with too much or too little clothing can lead to overheating, severe cold, or riding miles while soaking wet. Once the weather has taken hold, it is often too late to do anything.
If you plan on climbing to altitude, expect more volatile weather. Descending is always colder due to sweat buildup, wind, and reduced effort.
First and foremost, always check the weather on the day of your ride. Once you know the forecast, choose the appropriate layering. 2 pro tips: too much is better than too little, you can always take off a layer. If you live in a rainy region, take along a light rain vest stuffed into your pocket.
Unadjusted Bike Settings
After you purchase a new bike, it is important to take it to the bike shop where you bought it a month or so afterward.
This check-up is to adjust the cables and to ensure all of the components are working correctly. Almost all bike shops offer this service for free with the purchase of a new bike, if not, it may be wise to find a new (better) local bike shop.
Poorly Maintained Gear
Neglecting your bike by avoiding basic maintenance will increase how quickly certain parts wear out.
New bike components are costly, but you can increase how long your current components last with some simple home maintenance. For example, if your chain is squeaky, it is time to give it some attention.
To get the most from your bike, perform these 2 quick and easy maintenance practices regularly.
- Clean and oil the chain (degreaser + bike specific oil)
- Wash and dry your bike
Depending on usage and how much maintenance you are comfortable with, it’s recommended to take your bike in for a professional service every 3-6 months. Living in a wet climate (Pacific Northwest), will require more maintenance compared to living in a dry climate (California).
Overtraining or Skipping Recovery
Overtraining can lead to prolonged fatigue, overuse injuries, and illness. This can occur by simply training too hard too soon, training too much in general, or by having poor recovery habits.
Effective recovery strategies allow you to improve performance, stay healthy, and keep riding. Here are the top 3 things you can do to avoid overtraining:
- Sleep enough (7-9 hours)
- Eat enough nutritious food and drink plenty of water
- Do other activities such as yoga or weightlifting to support cycling
Bad Braking Technique
Poor braking technique will increase the likelihood of an accident, or prevent you from stopping safely when necessary.
Learning to brake correctly, and being comfortable with your brakes, will help keep you and other road users safe. When braking, remember these 4 techniques:
- Apply pressure to both brakes slowly, don’t pull hard or sharply
- Favor the front brake 60/40, it’s your most powerful one
- When stopping quickly, shift your weight back by hovering your butt over and behind the saddle
- Always brake before you reach a corner
Check out YouTube for how-to videos on braking techniques.
Using Your Gears Incorrectly (Which Gear/When to Change)
New cyclists often don’t know how to use their gears correctly, meaning inefficient movement and the potential to damage the drivetrain. This happens by not using the full range of gears, using the wrong one, or changing at the wrong time.
To get the most out of your gears, be patient, practice often, and follow these 4 tips:
- Switch to a lower (easier) gear as you reach an incline or come to a stop
- Limit the use of the highest/lowest gears (as it increases wearing of components ‘cross- chaining’)
- Reduce pedal pressure just before you shift gear until the change is completed – Also, make sure to keep pedaling while changing gears – always keep the pedals in motion!
- Try to maintain a cadence of 80-100rpm, use your gear range to achieve this
Wearing Underwear (Avoid it!)
Wearing underwear with your bicycle shorts can lead to chafing and rashes. This is because bicycle shorts with a chamois (the cushion between the legs) are made to be worn without underwear.
Good quality shorts have sweat-absorbent, non-chafing materials designed to ensure a comfortable ride. If you spend long hours in the saddle, you can use chamois cream to help prevent any duration-related sores or chafing.
Too much tire pressure makes your bike more uncomfortable to ride. It also reduces traction (grip) on the road, making it harder to control the bike (especially in corners). Too little pressure will slow you down, and increase the likelihood of pinch punctures.
To get it right, you can find your target pressure range (PSI) written on the tire wall. Keep your back tire in the higher end of the range. Use the bottom end of the range to gain more traction for wet-weather riding. Make sure to check it regularly.
Stick Only to Cycling
Cycling can be addictive, especially when you start out. You may want to be out every day, exploring and pushing your physical ability, but this should be avoided.
Cycling uses a limited range of muscles in the body, is done in a sitting position, and is a highly repetitive movement. Because of these characteristics, it is important to create a varied activity routine, otherwise, injuries, overtraining, and other problems can arise.
Mix in other activities like walking, yoga, hiking, swimming, running, weightlifting, and dance to supplement and improve your riding performance.
Not Knowing the Rules of The Road
To be on the road without knowing the rules and how to read your environment is dangerous to you and other road users.
You must be able to understand the flow of traffic, the behavior of other road users, and how to be predictable. To do this, be familiar with hand signals, road signage, and the rules of the road.
Forgetting to Apply Sun Block
Every cyclist is guilty of forgetting to apply sunscreen at one time or another. This can result in severe burning in the short term and long term skin damage, if you make a habit of it.
Remember that sun damage occurs through clouds and it is a cumulative process. Make it part of your pre-ride preparation to apply sunscreen, or keep a little bottle in your saddlebag.
Wind resistance is very difficult to cycle against. Cycling against the wind (headwind) can severely limit your speed and drain your energy quickly. Heavy wind (especially crosswinds) can be dangerous because it can blow you into traffic or blow debris into you or your path.
Always take extra precautions in the wind, giving yourself more space and time to maneuver than usual, and expect potential incidents like branches falling from trees.
Unclipping Too Late
If you fail to unclip from a pedal before you come to stop you will be embarrassed and could suffer a painful impact.
Get into the habit of unclipping one shoe when you’re approaching red/amber lights, stop signs, or stopped traffic. This gives you time to break and put a foot down without having to make a last-minute move.
Most cyclists get this wrong once or twice in the beginning, so don’t be discouraged if it happens to you.
There is definitely a lot to learn when you first begin cycling. Choosing certain things to work on for each ride will help you improve without getting overwhelmed. The important thing is to get out there regularly, have fun, and you will soon have the confidence and technical ability to ride in any situation.
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