5 Cycling Tips for Beginners


With gyms closed, yoga studios shuttered and your group fitness classes canceled, the cycling world is welcoming a whole host of new members. If you're one of them, welcome to cycling! Here are 5 tips from our experts to help you get started.

Don't Be Intimidated

Sure, when Billy "Crank It Up" Johnson zips by with his fancy socks up to his mid-calf where all 8 of his clothing items are the exact same shade of cyan on his shiny $15,000 road bike that looks like it came from the year 2050, it may seem like you and Billy are actually doing two different sports. Don't be fooled by the "peacocking." You don't need to spend a fortune to be fast, and just because someone has every bell and whistle, doesn't mean they are fast.

"The most important thing is the engine that powers your bike," says Hunter Allen, legendary cycling coach and author. "Don't be intimidated by any rider. Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes, so 'don't judge a book by its cover.' Cycling is for all people, and the vast majority of cyclists are friendly and welcoming, ready to help you if you show that you want help. Just ask!"

Remember, all cyclists were beginners at one point and it doesn't matter whether you're riding an expensive bike, an entry-level road bike, or a beginner mountain bike. We can all enjoy the great outdoors from two wheels.

Earn Safety Through Handling and Learning the Rules

Safety is paramount, and while there are always risks when cycling, you can mitigate those risks by practicing your handling skills and learning the rules that bicyclists should follow. Learning how to handle your bike comes with time spent on your bike, but you can expedite that process by practicing certain skills and drills.

First, try reaching for your bottle and placing it back in its cage. Repeat 20 times even if you don't take a drink, and do that at some point during each ride for a few weeks. You'll be surprised how quickly you become more stable and confident in using this important skill.

Next, remember to keep your weight towards the back of your saddle when descending. One of the most common ways to crash on a descent is to have your weight too far forward — if you hit a bump, you could go over the handlebars. Keeping your hips back will keep you on the bike — you don't want to learn that lesson the hard way!

Finally, use your hips to turn (cornering), not your handlebars (steering). By shifting your weight to one side of your bike and applying pressure on the opposite pedal, you can turn the bike without turning the handlebars. This will lead to smoother turns and a safer ride. Try this on a straight road first — when there are no cars going by of course!

Being predictable is key for a safe ride, which means you need to know the rules of the road. What is listed here is only a start, so do a little reading and pick the brains of the more experienced riders you meet to learn more.

Always ride with the flow of traffic on the right-hand side of the road (not on the sidewalk), and yield to pedestrians and to other vehicles already on the road. Obey all traffic signals and signs — you're on a vehicle, and you are the driver. Finally, use hand signals to tell drivers and other cyclists what you intend to do. By following the rules, you greatly increase your chances of a safe ride and an enjoyable start to your cycling journey.

Fuel Yourself Properly

If you've come from other sports like swimming, spinning, weightlifting, or running, you may not be accustomed to eating while you exercise. For various reasons (including the fact that bikes are fun and awesome!), cycling adventures tend to be longer than other sports.

"If you find yourself going out on your bike for more than about 90 minutes (60 minutes if it's an intense ride), then you will want to consider bringing some calories with you," says Bob Seebohar, Olympic dietitian for the 2008 U.S. Triathlon Team in Beijing. "That's especially true if you haven't eaten anything in a while."

There are three macronutrients — carbohydrates, protein, and fat — but carbohydrates are the best to eat during exercise since your body can most readily use them. "Most sports nutrition products have simple sugars and/or maltodextrin in them which tend to provide a 'spike and crash' type of effect, and may be detrimental to long-term health due to their high glycemic nature," says Seebohar. "UCAN Energy powders and UCAN Bars are great options because they provide steady energy that's easy on the stomach."

Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!

With temperatures soaring over the summer months, hydration is of utmost importance for your enjoyment of cycling and for your performance. Hydration can be broken down into two things: water and electrolytes. Water by itself is actually a poor hydrator, and you need electrolytes (mainly sodium) in order to retain the fluids you drink. Furthermore, drinking too much water relative to electrolytes can lead to hyponatremia, a dangerous condition that can lead to severe harm or death.

"It's important that you take in electrolytes like UCAN Hydrate along with water to stay hydrated, potentially prevent cramping, and improve performance," instructs Registered Dietitian Lauren Mitchell. "Clinically, dehydration can be defined as losing more than 2-3% of your body weight during exercise. Signs and symptoms of mild dehydration include feeling dizzy, lightheaded, reduced cognitive function, and feeling thirsty." Studies have shown that losing more than 3% of your body weight in sweat is detrimental to performance as well.

How much should you drink? Mitchell notes that everyone is different but a good starting point is to consume half your body weight (lbs) in fluid ounces of water per day, plus what you sweat out during exercise. "Your body's hydration is influenced by various factors such as your own body's sweat rate, sweat sodium concentration, activity level, and age."

Environmental conditions cause sweat rates to vary dramatically as well. You can more accurately determine your sweat rate, and your body's hydration needs, by weighing yourself before and after a ride. If you drank nothing during a 1-hour ride and you lost 2lbs, you know that you sweat about 1 quart (32oz) in one hour under those conditions. Mitchell recommends replacing what you lost in sweat but by consuming it throughout the day, and not in one sitting.

Pace Yourself

Pacing is a tough skill, but it's key to finishing stronger, enjoying the sport, and performing at your best. It's a key component and skill that each of us learns when we begin endurance sports and we continue to refine and improve on over the years.

There are several different ways to pace, but "pacing yourself by effort level is the most critical and key skill you need to successfully 'meter' out your energy during your ride," says Hunter. "Pacing by speed is challenging as terrain and wind can strongly impact your speed. Pacing by heart rate is also a very good way to pace yourself as you can easily hold between a certain range of beats per minute in the right 'zones.' Heart rate does have some flaws, though, since it can be affected by a number of other factors like heat, humidity, hydration status, level of caffeine in your system, and other factors

The gold standard in pacing is by using a power meter since it is a completely objective measure where 200 watts is 200 watts no matter if you're going uphill or downhill, or if it's 90 degrees or snowing." If you want to learn more about power meters, you can pick up Hunter's book "Training & Racing with a Power Meter". Pacing well will make your whole cycling experience more enjoyable, and with these tips, you'll be on the fast-track to strong pacing.
Take these 5 tips to heart, and your cycling journey will only get better from here.

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