In this time of social distancing and “stay home” restrictions, even parks and natural areas are closing in many areas. While getting outside is more important than ever to our physical and mental health, it’s difficult to know how to do that in a safe and responsible way. One solution is cycling! Whether riding through town or along back roads through the country, cycling is a sport that is easy to practice in isolation.
If you are new to cycling but interested in giving it a try, here are some tips to help you get what you need and get started!
10 Cycling Tips for Beginners
1. Choose the Right Bike
Which bike is right for you depends on where you plan to ride and your personal preferences. A great road bike will give you the thrill of zipping down a deserted country road, while a sturdy mountain bike will take you off-road along a single track in the hills. Hybrid bikes and e-bikes are also available. A local bike shop is the best place to ask your questions and get outfitted with the best bike for you. (If your local bike shop is closed during the corona crisis, you may still be able to call and consult with an expert by phone).
2. Get to Know your Local Bike Shop
Personal service, reliable quality, and knowledgeable staff are just a few reasons to let your local bike shop help you get started. When you buy your bike there, they will adjust it to be sure it fits you perfectly. You can also trust them to help you maintain your bike for years to come. This way you’re not only investing in a high-quality bike, but also in a small business in your local community. (Again, if your local shop is temporarily closed, they may be able to take your order over the phone and help you get on the road soon.)
3. Learn about Cycling Safety
A quality, well-maintained bike is the first step toward safety. Be sure to have the right equipment, including a good helmet that fits well. You’ll want a helmet with a MIPS design to protect not only against impact injuries but also rotational forces. MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. Try the Giro MIPS helmet, available for both men and women. Other important safety equipment includes a bell and lights if you are out early in the morning, late in the evening, or in foggy or inclement weather. Choose brightly colored clothing and/or wear a bright, reflective vest for visibility on the road. Planning your route ahead of time can help you avoid highly trafficked roads for a safer and more relaxed ride.
4. Clothing Matters – Choose Lycra
Ok, so you might feel like you walked out of an 80s music video, but there are legitimate reasons that cyclists choose the clothes they do. A padded pair of Lycra bicycle shorts will make your ride easier and more comfortable. Choose a pair of bib pants (hey, you’re already wearing Lycra, why not go all in?) since they’ll stay up well no matter what and keep you comfortable. Castelli is a great brand that we highly recommend, with excellent bib pants options for men and women.
5. Get a Good Jersey
Have you ever wondered what those strange back pockets on cycling jerseys are all about? The first time you wear one a long ride, it’ll make sense. Those rear pockets are a great place to stash a snack, a jacket, or other things you might need handy. Jerseys come in full- or partial-zip for ventilation purposes. We recommend a full-zip jersey, and when you have this feature on your next tough climb, you’ll understand why. Try this Weimostar jersey for men, or this sleek and stylish Beroy design for women.
6. Protect yourself with Good Outerwear
Being prepared for changing weather conditions makes all the difference when it comes to comfort and safety. Invest in a breathable wind and waterproof shell that compresses down small when not in use. Get protection from the elements when you need it, but ease and convenience when you don’t. The Squamish from Arc’teryx (available for men and women) is a great choice that checks all these boxes. We’ve tested it on rides in the Rockies during spring and fall when the weather is unpredictable and it’s our go-to jacket.
7. Track your Stats with a Bike Computer
Yes, there are smartphone apps that can keep track of your ride, but there are advantages to being able to get all your stats with just a quick glance. Knowing your speed and cadence as you ride can help you learn and improve. A model equipped with GPS will help you stick to your planned route. You can also choose one that monitors your heart rate. Garmin is a trusted name, and they have a variety of models available from simple and basic to more deluxe models with heart rate monitor and dynamic performance monitoring.
8. Be Prepared to Repair
A simple repair kit can save the day if things don’t go according to plan. Patch and pump a flat tire, fix your chain, and make other adjustments as needed with a small repair kit that fastens easily on the frame of your bike. Beginning cyclists who may not feel comfortable making repairs on their own should still have the necessary supplies with them. Be sure to get a kit that is specifically adapted for road bikes or mountain bikes. An alternative that we prefer is a kit that mounts on the post under the saddle, so it virtually disappears until you need it. Whichever kit you choose, be sure it has two extra tubes, a multi-tool, tire levers, and a small pump.
9. Secure your stuff
Jersey pockets are great for a few essentials, but another way to have some snacks close at hand, plus a safe place to keep your phone, car key, cash, or other essentials is a Top Tube bag. There is an overwhelming variety of styles and sizes to choose from, including small and sleek bags for riders who want to go fast and long, as well as models that let you see and even use your phone while protecting it. We like the Topeak Fuel Tank because it’s easy to use and offers a good compromise on space vs. size profile.
10. Fuel your Ride
The right food and drink can mean the difference between enjoying your ride and feeling miserable, exhausted, or sluggish. Give your body what it needs to perform well and take you where you want to go. Water is essential, but you can also quickly and easily turn your bottle of water into an electrolyte-rich sports drink with Nuun effervescent tablets. Choose your favorite flavor, pop it in, and replenish lost electrolytes in a flash (with a kick of caffeine for an extra energy boost). On a short ride, grab your Nuun tablets and a banana and you should be good to go. For longer rides, try Bloks quick energy chews from Clif Bar. They have plenty to choose from, but we find the citrus flavor especially delicious and refreshing. We also like the quick energy of GU Energy Gels when we’re out on a cycling adventure. Recently we’ve discovered RXBAR protein bars and we love that these bars give much needed protein from real food sources. Plus – chocolate! These are quickly becoming a new favorite!
We know that trying a new sport can seem overwhelming, especially when nothing around us seems normal. But with a few basics, you’ll soon be out in the fresh air and sunshine, experiencing the freedom of the open road. Cycling can be a great way to maintain safe social distancing while still spending time outside and getting great exercise. Combining outdoor activity with the excitement of trying something new is a great recipe for both physical and mental health in this time of illness and uncertainty. Be well!