For those brand new to cycling, it can be easy to get intimidated by road cyclists in Lycra outfits riding with clipless pedals. But cycling is for everyone and you don’t necessarily need tons of fancy equipment to get started. What you do need? These beginner road biking tips that’ll boost your confidence to take on miles. Plus, a few key pieces of gear (like the actual bike and a helmet) to keep you comfortable and safe.
To equip you with the knowledge to get riding, here are seven need-to-know pieces of advice, and the gear to go along with it.
7 Beginner Road Biking Tips
1. Choose the right bike
Of course, you can’t get started without a great set of wheels. While we’re big fans of all types of bikes, we’re specifically talking about bikes suitable for the road. This is the most common and accessible form of cycling for beginners, and lightweight bikes—with skinny tires and efficient riding geometry—are designed to help you navigate paved bike paths and city streets.
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Just like picking the perfect pair of running shoes, you first need to size your bike. Stand over the top tube and shoot for about an inch of clearance between your body and the frame. We highly recommend visiting your local bike shop, though, as you can try different styles and heights. Need a little boost when getting around? You might want to check out the latest fleet of e-bikes; there are all types, including those designed specifically for the road.
Next, you need to pick a bike that fits your budget and riding style. Are you going to log casual miles on the weekends? Are you planning to commute to work? Road bike frames have specific styles and components tailored for each of these goals, and there are some at every price point.
So, think about how you intend to use the bike now, and how you might want to grow with it. For example: Maybe you can only ride 20 miles now, but you have a 100-mile ride in your sights. That is information to tell the specialist when you visit your local bike shop.
2. Pick a helmet
A new helmet should be worn at all times while riding, but don’t just grab the one that’s been sitting in your garage since before the pandemic. Helmets have a shelf life, so buy a new one or borrow one from a friend. New helmets meet the U.S. safety standards, so try them all on and choose one that best fits your head, your style, and your budget. The more you love it, the more you’ll want to wear it.
3. Stay safe
We’ve already mentioned how important wearing your helmet is while riding, but there’s more to staying safe on your bike than just protecting your head.
When riding alone, always carry a basic multitool, a form of identification, cash (dollar bills can also be used as a tire boot), and your phone in case of an emergency. As much as we hate to admit it, not all rides go as planned and you don’t want to find yourself stranded on the side of the road with no way to get help.
Always follow local traffic laws while riding—this includes coming to a complete stop at all stop signs and red lights (even on group rides), and using appropriate hand signals when making a lane change or turn. Never assume the driver of the car behind you knows how to drive near a road cyclist. The more aware you are of your surroundings, the more you can anticipate any drivers not paying attention or hazards out on the road.
By the way, never wear headphones or earbuds while riding outdoors. If you need tunes for motivation during a ride, opt instead for a small Bluetooth speaker and store it in your pocket or water bottle cage.
4. Create a habit
Your first few rides might be tough—your body is adjusting to the stress of a totally new activity. But like all things in life, real progress is made when you stick with it for the long run. The first step is to set some realistic goals for your new habit. Don’t expect to magically become a morning person just because you have a new bike, or plan to ride 100 miles too soon. Start small and grow from there.
No matter when you choose to ride, lay out your gear, fill your bottles, and pump up your tires ahead of time. Prepping and deciding to get on the bike is sometimes the hardest part—doing a little preride preparation will prevent excuses from getting in the way.
Setting a long-term goal is a great way to stay engaged and track progress. You can aim to ride a certain number of days a week or look for a local charity ride, gran fondo, or create your own long-term mileage goal.
5. Try a group ride
You’ll quickly find that cycling is a surprisingly social and supportive sport. Many bike shops host no-drop (meaning they won’t leave you behind) group rides, designed to teach beginner road cyclists group etiquette and showcase local routes. Another great reason to visit a local shop!
Weekly group rides can hold you accountable and give you the extra push you need to throw your leg over the saddle when motivation is lacking. Many people in these organized rides have advice from years of experience that they’re more than willing to share—watch, learn, and ask questions. You can certainly ride and accomplish goals alone, but riding with a group can make cycling easier both physically (you can draft off each other for less wind resistance) and psychologically (your new friends will motivate you).
6. Identify your ride style
As you spend time in the saddle, you’ll learn more about your personal riding style and preferences. Maybe you’ll love riding solo or decide to ride non-competitively with a group. Maybe you yearn to race or you just want ride to work every day. There are endless ways to ride and enjoy riding—it just takes a little trial and error to find your road ride style.
Eventually, you may also find that your body type and talents naturally lend themselves to a specific type of riding. If you find yourself breezing uphill faster than your friends, climbing may be your cup of tea. If you can pull away in a “race” to the town line during the Thursday night group ride, sprinting is likely your forte. Being a well-rounded cyclist is always the goal, but fostering your strengths (or what you enjoy most) is a surefire way to keep cycling fun. Plus, it’s part of the sport—professional cyclists generally specialize in one style, whether it’s sprinting, climbing, or time trialing.
7. Get other gear
Not quite ready to look like a Tour de France rider yet? No problem. There are plenty of brands that make cool cycling apparel for recreational riders, like the Bike Style collection from Pearl Izumi. If you do aspire to look like a pro, we’ve got you covered there, too. A cycling kit (a jersey, matching padded bib shorts or bike shorts, and socks) is more aerodynamic and comfortable on the bike than other athletic clothes. The material wicks away sweat and helps regulate body temperature, the form-fitting cut reduces chafing, and the padded seat (chamois) protects sensitive areas from road vibration. Jerseys are available in race- or relaxed-fit and endless colors and patterns.
While we suggest starting your cycling journey with standard flat pedals and athletic shoes, eventually you may want to transition to road bike shoes and clipless pedals. This shoe-pedal combination secures your feet in place to improve pedaling efficiency and bike handling. Unclipping can sometimes be tricky, so be sure to practice in a field until you get the hang of it.
Other important items include some tools (tire levers, a mini pump, spare tubes, and a multitool) and a cycling computer, which comes in handy for tracking mileage and navigating routes.
To stay hydrated as you ride, you should also have a water bottle and a water bottle cage too.
Michael Nystrom is a two-time IRONMAN finisher and a former editor at Active Network, Muscle & Performance and Oxygen Magazine. He covers all things cycling, from the Tour de France to new product releases, and has been published by USA Triathlon, Under Armour, Polar, Triathlete Magazine and more. When not swimming, cycling or running, he’s catching some waves or chasing his dog, Dingo.