How can a beginner get better at cycling?

two cyclists

You may want to start cycling for your health. A major study of more than 10,000 people found those who cycle at least 20 miles a week are half as likely to have heart problems as those who don’t cycle at all. You may want to start cycling again to do a charity ride and raise money for a good cause. Or maybe the great green credentials of cycling appeal. You may be like me and decide to learn to ride a bike as an adult. Whatever your reasons for riding a bike, here are some useful cycling tips to make cycling easier and safer, when you are a cycling beginner, or need a big refresher to help you get on your bike again.

What type of bike should I buy?

If you’re buying a new bike, don’t buy a mountain bike unless you are intending to ride off road. If you want a bike to ride around your area, riding mainly on the road, a hybrid bike with road tyres is probably best to start with. You may want to change later on to either a road bike or a mountain bike.

What size bike do I need?

One of the most important things for your comfort on the bike is having a bike of the right size. Take advice from a good cycling shop that will advise you personally.

Many people have the saddle set too low. When you first get on a bike, having the saddle low seems comfortable and safe, but after a few rides check it again. The easiest way is to sit on your bike and put your foot on the peddle. There should be a very slight bend at the knee – if it’s not like this, you are too high or too low.

If your saddle is too high, you’ll be rocking from side to side as your ride. This uses a lot of energy and puts unnecessary pressure on your joints. If your saddle is too low, you will not be able to use your full amount of pressure. You will probably hurt your knees as well.

How can I cycle safely?

One of the most important things is to own your bit of the road. This means that you don’t ride hugging the kerb. If you do this, it encourages cars to squeeze past you, sometimes dangerously.  You could also clip your pedals against the side of the kerb and risk falling off your bike. Equally you shouldn’t be right out in the road, as this can exasperate other road users and lead them to be aggressive towards you.

Prudential – My Ride London  sums it up like this:

  • Look around you while cycling – stay alert
  • Think of other road users ahead and behind you
  • Communicate your intentions clearly to other riders and road users
  • Keep both hands on the handlebars, except when signalling
  • Keep both feet on the pedals
  • Be considerate of other road users and pedestrians
  • Use your bell when necessary to signal you are nearby
  • Ride single file on narrow or busy roads or round bends
  • Use cycle lanes where available
  • Don’t undertake vehicles, in any circumstances
  • Watch out for people getting out of parked cars and leave ample space when overtaking

Cycling technique for beginners

Once you have got your saddle adjusted properly ask someone to ride behind you for a while. If you can’t do that, ask someone to stand behind you and watch you ride away from them. The ideal is that your upper body does not move – it is just your legs. Many cyclists rock from side to side. This can be because you are pushing too high a gear (more on this below) or because the saddle is too high. Either way take action so that you don’t injure yourself.

Also ask them to look at your pedalling action. The movement of your knees should be forward and backwards (looked at from behind), not out to the side. Your feet should not be splayed out on the pedals. Get a good cycling action from the beginning. It is more efficient (so you’ll go faster), and you are less likely to injure yourself.

The cycling technique that protects your knees and other bits from soreness and pain is also the most efficient way to cycle. So two great reasons to pay attention to how you cycle.

Why do my knees hurt after cycling?

One of the problems you might have is that you get sore knees riding a bike. This can be very off-putting. This is usually because you’re using too high a gear (see further on). Move to easier gears and see what a difference that makes. Many years ago I did a charity cycle ride in Cuba. Several of the participants complained about their knees. I told them to ride in lower gears and just turn the pedals more. They were amazed at the difference it made to their comfort and enjoyment of cycling.

What can I do about bum/butt pain while cycling?

If you do much cycling, your bum may feel bruised after cycling. This bike seat pain can be a problem, but if you persevere things will get better as the skin gets used to the cycling. But you really do need to get the right saddle for you. Choosing the right saddle for you is important. A good bike shop should be able to give you advice. If you’re a woman, make sure you get a women-specific saddle. Women’s pelvises are wider than men’s, so women’s “sit bones” are different to men’s. If you’re new to cycling, don’t assume a very wide saddle will be more comfortable. It may chafe the sides of your thighs. It may force your leg’s apart and put pressure on your hips and knees.

Getting the angle of the saddle right is important too. If you hurt at the front, tip the saddle very slightly back. If your bones that you sit on hurt, tip the saddle very slightly the other way. Make small adjustments and try them out.

Are cycling shorts necessary?

If you do much cycling, buy yourself some proper cycling shorts. Once again women should buy lady specific cycling shorts, so that the pad is cut correctly for them. Cycling shorts have improved dramatically. I love the Terry cycling shorts with a long leg. They’re fitted lycra but are very flattering – particularly good for older or larger ladies. You can also get baggy shorts with detachable padded linings for both men and women. I’d avoid Italian cycling clothes unless you’re very petite, as their sizes tend to come up very small. You don’t have to be very big before you’re buying an extra large size and just squeezing into it. As a woman I highly recommend the Georgena Terry range (#notsponsored). They fit well and the range is extensive. There are some funky styles and they have plus sizes and even maternity cycling clothes. Whether you’re a man or a woman don’t wear knickers/underwear under your cycling shorts.

How do Iuse gears on a bike?

Using gears (shifters) correctly can make a huge difference. says:

” If you’re new to cycling, the concept of shifting gears can be confusing. But you won’t go very far if you avoid using your gears—literally. Bikes have gears so you can pedal comfortably no matter what the terrain, making your rides easier and more fun. So we put together a handy guide that incorporates everything you need to know about how and when to shift your gears.”

The magazine Cycling Weekly says:

“The first time you encounter a hill on your new bike is likely the first time you consider putting your new machine straight on eBay and forgetting all about your brief love affair with cycling.

“There’s no greater leveller for an inexperienced rider than a slight incline and a complete lack of understanding of how to use your gears.

“This is part a science and part art. Get someone experienced to talk you through the science. Then just keep practicing until you intuitively know what to do.

“The fundamental tip about gears is that it is always better to be in a lower gear if you are unsure. This is because it’s easier to go up a gear than come down a gear.” says:

  • For smoother shifting, pedal lightly while using the shifter. Don’t back-pedal.
  • If you’re pedaling too fast, and there isn’t enough resistance, shift into a harder gear. You’ll also go faster.
  • If you’re pedaling too slow, and it’s hard to turn over the pedals, don’t be afraid to shift into an easier gear. It’s better to ride at a more efficient cadence anyway.
  • Another way to think of it: In both the front and back, “Moving the chain closer to the bike makes it easier, and moving the chain away from the bike makes you faster,” as submitted by one of our readers fcchambers.
  • Lastly, practice makes perfect. Play around with shifting, and see how it feels to ride in different gears.


I hope these tips will help you enjoy cycling more.

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race” H.G. Wells