By: VeloVixen | Author: Liz Bingham
If there's one thing we've learnt over the years, it's that nobody knows everything about cycling. But when you're first falling in love with cycling, it can sometimes all feel a bit daunting.
So earlier this year, we asked you: if you could turn the clock back, just what would you tell your younger cycling self?
We wanted to know what 'tricks of the trade' have come with cycling experience that you wish you'd known when you were first getting out on your bike?
That biking will always make you smile...
We were inundated with top tips for novice (or not so novice) cyclists that will help eradicate any feelings of befuddlement and - occasionally. Thank you SO much to everyone who contributed!
Here are the pick of the bunch, edited into some more easily digestible categories.
Click on any of these (below), or why not stick on the kettle and peruse the lot - you're sure to learn something! Pick and choose which ones to take most to heart - some we agree with more than others, but they're all valid...
Invigoration & Inspiration
- 'It was going to make me feel so good. I'd have started earlier.'
- 'How fun it can be. The first time, it all hurts: your butt, muscles, ...The click pedals scared me, but after some rides you get used to it, and it feels great to ride a race bike!'
- 'Riding is good to get rid of depression, really makes you happier.'
- 'You don't need perfect weather to enjoy the challenge and you don't have to have the perfect body to wear cycle gear that gives you confidence. First bike at 35, 20 years later before I wore padded leggings with pride. Don't wait for perfection. Enjoy the moment.'
- 'That it didn't matter what I wore, just get on and do it. It's not easy to go on your first ride joining a group but do it and you won't look back. You'll feel amazing at what you've achieved and will look back and think did I really manage to cycle that far. #Goforlt'
- 'How much fun cycling in a group can be!'
- 'Find your own pace and make each ride an adventure. Stop and take in the scenery!'
- 'It's great for your mental health.'
- 'That biking will always make you smile.'
Riding Techniques & Styles
- 'To own the road and not try to cycle as close to the verge as possible. It makes it far easier to navigate potholes, drains and there is some space you can move to if a car is overtaking far too tight. This does not mean you should cycle in the middle of the road though.'
- 'Riding a bike will get you fitter, but learning some skills will get you there quicker.'
- 'That increasing the cadence [rate of pedal spinning] made life so much easier and more comfortable, don't struggle in a hard gear.'
- 'How to use the gears to cycle more efficiently.'
- 'Don't go at every hill like it has to be conquered! Start in the easy gear, get into a good rhythm, this will save the legs for when you really need them.'
- 'Hills don't get easier but you get fitter!'
- 'That it’s also important to do weights and/or run so build up strength and finally see hills as a challenge no something to be feared.'
- 'That you can get up those hills, that swearing really badly helps.'
- 'It's ok to only go to spin class in the winter if you're a fair weather fairy like me, it doesn't need to be miserable. If it's not fun have a break and come back in a few days and try again.'
- 'Always stand up on the pedals when going over a cattle grid to avoid a bruised bottom.'
- 'Don't ride the roads you know from driving. They'll be busy with cars. The UK is blessed with tens of thousands of back roads in every county that are known to and used by farmers and cyclists. Get out of the town and into the country and find quiet country lanes with less cars - it's more scenic, it's more relaxing and it's less stressful.'
- 'Safe riding techniques. I did training as a Cycle Trainer which stood me in good stead for my own cycling experience.'
- 'I consider cycle training very important as traffic conditions have changed. When I first started cycling there were not very many dedicated cycle routes, unlike now.'
- 'Research the Sustrans routes, so many challenges and opportunities.'
- 'When taking a tight corner on any bike for my weight to be downward on the opposite pedal to the turn. So for a sharp bend to the left - weight on the right pedal at the bottom of its arc. This keeps the bike in control.'
- 'That it's ok to be at the back. Don't let the fear of being last stop you having a go. There is only one way to improve and that is to get out and ride. Other riders don't mind waiting- as long as you try your best and are having fun!'
- 'Protection!!!! How much I needed this! The more out of your comfort zone you get, the more you need.'
- 'If you fall (and I did. A lot!) get back on and keep cycling. Eventually you will get the hang of it and fall in love with your bike and the joy it brings.'
- 'Good techniques for cycling in traffic, through Bikeability courses. Although they weren't available then (only cycling proficiency). Bikeability helped me gain confidence and learn how to cycle better and more safely.'
- 'How far to go - further than you think, just make sure that someone knows where you are and when you'll be back. This can be free/simple (leaving a note/sending a text) or more expensive/advanced (using a real-time location tracking/beacon app on your phone for a friend to track you).'
- 'Firstly, I wish I'd know what a difference the right road bike can make and not been intimidated by making the move from my hybrid.'
- 'That good tyres make a huge difference to riding a mountain bike (plasticky ones are rubbish for grip).'
- 'Women-specific saddles. Oh yes, they exist and are a blessing from heaven.'
- 'That making sure your bike is properly adjusted to your specifications (I.e your height, posture etc.) can make the world of difference to how comfortable you feel when riding and ensures your cycle ride is effortless.'
- 'Big squishy saddles are not as comfortable as you'd expect. Go and have your bottom measured at a bike shop (not what you imagine! Honest!) You need a woman specific saddle designed so you're sitting on your sit bones. You'll never have another problem!'
- 'A good bike makes all the difference. After battling up the trails on a 100 quid hybrid I really appreciate my trek hard tail. What a treat..and now I'm having so much more fun!'
- 'Make friends with your local bike shop.'
- 'Make sure your saddle is the correct height, which is usually higher than you think it should be.'
- 'Get a bike fit as early as possible to help prevent injuries.'
- 'That a bike fit will be your best investment ever.'
- 'If your budget allows, get a proper bike fit by a qualified person / team. Along with a seat that matches you anatomically that will keep you comfy on those long rides.'
- 'The importance of buying a bike that fitted me. My tip is to take someone experienced with you to help you get this right. I did this to help parents buying bikes for their children. It prevented many being mis-sold.'
- 'How much more enjoyable and how much further you can ride your road bike with the right saddle and the right riding position.'
- 'How to deal with 'toe overlap' - when your foot gets in the way of the front wheel when you turn it. It can be dangerous and worrying about it spoils the fun. You can deal with it by fitting shorter cranks (even down to 160 mm) and raising your saddle to compensate.'
- 'About crank length! I had lot of knee problems at first, which was only cured when I found out that the standard-length cranks on my bike were too long and swapped them for shorter ones. It's definitely worth getting a bike fit. Many cycle shops will do this free if you're buying a bike from them.'
- 'Nothing will affect you more than being uncomfortable in the saddle. Your position on the bike, is utterly dependant on having a good position on the saddle, impossible without padding. Back/neck pain? Again, likely to be position on the saddle. Hands hurt? Your position on the saddle.'
- 'How much benefit new riders get out of a bike fit. I thought bike fits were only for experienced cyclists. Same with padded knickers. I'm 63 now and only started cycling regularly about 2 years ago. Absolutely loving my new life and the new friendships I have grime riding with my local breeze club.'
- 'Have a bike fit as even the smallest 'tweak' can make a lot of difference and can save you from 'niggly' injuries.'
- 'The height of the seat and then how to get up on the bike now that you see the seat is so high (many people told me my seat was too low, and when I got it high, nobody told me how to get on the bike, I fell that first ride with my higher seat, lucky I found a video from a Spanish site showing that, simple but necessary).'
- 'To make sure my saddle was at the right height. I see so many new cyclists cycling all scrunched up on a saddle that is too low and wasting effort by riding like that.'
- 'How to stay comfortable on your bike - the saddle is everything. Most people new to cycling find that their saddle hurts them. There are literally hundreds of different saddles out there and it’s unlikely that the saddle that fits you is the one that came with your bike. There's no substitute for trying saddles of all sizes and shapes. Don't just pick the ones that ‘look’ comfortable (wide, lots of padding) since they often aren't - try all shapes and sizes until you find what works for you.'
Find out more about bike fits here.
- 'I wish I'd known that cleats really aren't that scary and do make a huge difference - just be prepared to unclip early approaching junctions to limit any topples!'
- 'Clip in... don't avoid it... it will change your cycling beyond belief for the positive and it doesn't get any less scary the longer you leave not doing it!! However make sure you have a lovely and patient experienced cyclist to ride with who can take you through the stopping technique and don't be embarrassed!'
- 'Make sure when you buy clipless pedals, initially slacken them as much as possible so that your you are less likely to get stuck in them and fall off.'
- 'You will fall off the first time you are clipped in and it's likely to happen at the most embarrassing moment possible????'
- 'That when I first started using clipless pedals, you don’t have to be clipped in to pull away from a junction. Just pedal and clip in at a safer place if you have trouble clipping in. I’ve spent many a time flapping trying to clip in, but your bike will move forward when you pedal if you clip in or not so no need to panic.'
- 'That two bolt system for cleats would be adequate and that I didn't need to three bolt for how I was riding. A lot of my rides involve slipping around on shiny coffee shop floors as a result haha!'
- 'I'm still very new to cleats but making sure my shoes were tight enough near my ankles made clicking out a lot easier! Clicking out both feet in plenty of time and using my toes to cycle really helped my confidence! Also, if you can't click out, don't panic and keep cycling slowly until you can!'
- 'How to work the clip in and clip out with both feet. It's really important to be able to click out approaching Give Way signs and roundabouts or stopping in general. It must become second nature.'
Who to ride with
Groups & Clubs:
- 'What a huge support network I would grow to have... age, job, and anything else was no barrier. If I'd known about the friendships I have made I would have started cycling so much earlier!'
- 'More like minded female cyclists! Cycling with a companion (s) has many benefits, not only company! A companion who helps out with mechanical glitches, (even if both are baffled there's comfort in sharing your problem), someone who entices you out when dark clouds beckon, and a companion with whom to share the wow moments of the open road!'
- 'Cycle with people to encourage you when it gets tough so joining a club or group is a great idea.'
- 'Ride with women, at least some of the time.'
- 'Join a cycling club or triathlon group with classes.'
- 'You can find a local riding club but it can be intimidating at first. If you're really new to cycling, try and take if up with a friend (or your partner) at the same time and you can ride (and progress) together as well as give each other mutual support.'
- 'There's no such thing as being too slow. If you are ‘slowing the group down’ you can guarantee that some other are pleased because secretly they were struggling to keep up.'
- 'Find ride buddies, you can achieve anything with friends at your wheel. Enjoy, don't take it too seriously. Always let someone know where you are and when.'
Organised Rides & Campaigns:
- 'About clubs and Breeze rides for beginners. The support both physical and emotional is invaluable and as well as making some fantastic friends it can make the difference between giving up and including cycling in your life.'
- 'That I could sign up to HSBC Let's Ride site for guided rides so I could be more confident in road cycling and get to meet lots of new people.'
- 'A huge part of cycling is the social side. Find a local cycling group, they may look scary, like they are all super-fast but they are usually a friendly bunch. Most groups have rides for different abilities and you will learn a huge amount, and eat a lot of cake.'
- 'To join Breeze in all the areas nearby and go on as many group rides as I could do. I have made so many great friends and learned so much from the Breeze Champs. Definitely one of the very best things I have ever done.'
- 'Join the various women only Facebook groups such as the VeloVixen Women's Cycling Chat Group for all the invaluable advice and frank, honest discussion and fun.'
Riding with existing mates:
- 'To find a friend to go out with and build up experience together. If you have a bestie by your side, you can laugh and encourage each other through the hills, the wind, the rain and the chafing! Don't be pulled along by cyclists who are much faster than you.'
- 'Bike with your bestie.'
Going it alone:
- 'That it is okay to go at your own pace. Don't be bullied into trying out keep up with others. You won't enjoy it. Build up gradually and don't be afraid to go out on your own. I have found that cycling by myself is the most rewarding thing; I can stop when I want to take a photo or simply have a breather.'
- 'How much I'd enjoy all the events that I've signed up for solo and hadn't wasted my energy feeling nervous about going on my own.'
- 'Your partner MAY not be the best coach.... ;) I've invested in an MTB coaching day and I learned so much (without any domestics…!) And met so many new people... and I got to ride somewhere different!'
- 'You'll find there is quite a lot of snobbery around road cycling in particular whether that's the bike you have, clothes you're wearing, how fast you're riding, how quickly you can climb a hill. Ignore it all. It's critical to find friendly and happy people to ride with who will give you confidence rather than make you feel not good enough.'
Clothes for Cycling
- 'First and best tip ever for women cyclists - make VeloVixen your go to site for absolutely everything. Fantastic guidance, advise and clothing all in one place. [Note: this really was a comment, we promise!]'
- 'That cheap gear is not cost effective and will rub.'
- 'Whilst not wanting to spend loads, remember: buy cheap, buy twice.'
- 'Brands don't matter too much, but just make sure it fits you snugly.'
- 'Make sure you have decent kit with good padding and sweat wicking. It's true that there's no bad weather, just the wrong clothing.'
Pants under shorts!
- 'Not to wear pants under my padded shorts and to use chamois cream. I found out the hard way and was so embarrassed when a cycling companion mentioned that she had noticed I had pants on. At that moment in the ride, I was so rubbed and sore from the seams that I thought I would never ride again!'
- 'Not to wear pants underneath your cycling shorts! You really don't need them and they look a little silly under Lycra!'
- 'Not to wear knickers under my shorts.'
- 'That you don't wear pants under your cycling shorts!'
- 'Wear tight-fitting breathable clothing, regardless of the temperature. It keeps you cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter, and stops the wind getting to you.'
- 'Stop waxing, the more hair you have the comfier you will be!'
- 'Get a good pair of padded cycling shorts.'
- 'That buying the best possible female specific padded shorts and a female specific cut out saddle from the ‘get go' will make the difference between a comfortable ride and an uncomfortable riding experience. Sore girly bits? It's your pants that are likely to be the cause!'
- 'Buy the best padded cycling shorts/tights that you can afford, try different saddles until you find one you like.'
- 'Decent padded shorts.'
- 'Spend the most you can afford on good shorts with best pad. Tops don't matter so much. Then, shoes which fit neatly at the heel and give space in the toe-box for expansion on hot days and wool socks on cold days. Then, put ‘miles in legs'.'
- 'There are padded knickers...get them. Wear them. Good clothing helps. Doesn't have to be expensive or new but good kit that fits makes riding more fun.'
- 'Use chamois cream... and yes, it will get better!'
- 'Chamois cream, riding 'commando' - and get a decent saddle'
- 'I wish I'd known about chamois cream; wouldn't dream of riding without it now!'
- 'Use a good quality chamois cream as these will save you from a lot of discomfort.'
Other Kit Tips
- 'Investing in a good pair of cycle shoes/trainers helps prevent power loss through the feet.'
- 'Comfortable sport bras. Necessary and very important.'
- 'Hi-vis isn't just for builders. When I first started buying gear I just bought things that were pretty. But while reflectivity is good for low light, hi-vis colours are good for all times of day, especially those odd times that sneak up on us - dusk, fog, sudden downpours. Wearing hi-vis apparently makes you look bigger to car users too. In my experience they are more generous when overtaking than if you're in greys and blacks. And now that I've looked properly, I've found really nice gear in luminous colours to suit commutes and weekend rides at all times of year.'
- 'Wear very visible clothing.'
- 'Well-manicured and brightly polished nails complete the girly look and sets us apart from the blokes!'
- 'Accept helmet hair!'
- 'How to change a tyre.'
- 'Learn how to fix a puncture and carry the appropriate kit to do so. You could have a long walk home!'
- 'It doesn't matter if you have no idea about bike maintenance. Keeping your bike clean and putting a bit of oil on the chain is about 90% of the maintenance done.'
- 'Nothing beats jelly babies for a quick sugar boost mid ride when you feeling your legs start to struggle plus they are cheap and taste good.'
- 'Eat for the ride, bananas, malt loaf, nuts, porridge flap jacks etc to keep you fuelled.'
- 'A peanut butter and jam sandwich on brown bread can keep you going for a long time - frozen in the summer!'
- 'Learning to eat and drink without having to stop will keep your energy levels toped up, meaning less stopping and more miles covered.'
- 'You can eat an extra piece of cake.'
- 'Set yourself an alarm to remind you to eat and drink regularly. It's easy to forget when striving to keep up with more experienced riders.'
- 'How to avoid feeling low when it gets hard - take some chocolate with you and use it as a treat! Or if you're cold or wet, stop at a cafe and get a hot drink and some cake!'
- 'Electrloytes are vital for many people, without them you may get cramps or get dehydrated on longer rides. Depending on budget for (a) cheap, just put some orange juice (sugar) and a pinch of salt (sodium) in your water, (b) for mid budget use some anti-diahorrea tablets in your water, and for (c) expensive buy electrolyte tablets from the likes of High5, SiS or Nuun.'
- 'Learn to eat on the move without stopping (and drink from your water bottles without stopping), it'll mean you can continue your ride for longer and further and without inconveniencing other traffic or cycling partners with constant stops.'
- 'What you eat doesn't really matter so much as that you do eat. Pro cyclists may need to worry about carbohydrate absorption rates and fructose/glucose ratios, but generally you just need something little and often to keep your body supplied with fuel. Eat whatever tastes good to you!'
- 'Embrace having an appetite.'
What to take with you
- 'Always have an emergency tenner for that much needed cuppa and a well charged phone just in case.'
- 'Strava and GPS devices often have emergency alarms to alert your family to any mishaps.'
- 'Carry an In Case of Emergency card, with a contact name, phone number, and your blood group. And hope you'll never need it.'
- 'Always carry a small first aid kit including sting relief.'
- 'Keep your mouth shut when cycling through a cloud of flies.'
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