Top tips for beginner cyclists

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Cycle to Work Day takes place on 4th August, a great opportunity to test out your pedal power by riding to work. In honour of the occasion, we caught up with Zoe Banks Gross, Head of Partnerships and Public Affairs at walking and cycling charity Sustrans, to get her top tips for beginner cyclists. “Cycling is for everyone!” says Zoe. “It’s a great way to get from A to B and to feel healthier and happier, plus it’s good for the planet”. Here are her cycling tips to get you started.

Pick comfortable clothing

Top tips for beginner cyclists

I cycle to work in my usual clothes, but I make sure they’re comfortable and breathable. I do carry a pack a mac throughout the year, and waterproofs and warm clothes for winter. Make sure you’ll be warm and dry, so you can enjoy your journey. It’s important to wear clothing that’s bright and reflective to make you more visible too. 

Choose the right cycle

When you’re choosing a bicycle, make sure your legs can be almost fully extended when in the saddle, with your tiptoes on the floor. Your knees will be bent and uncomfortable all the time if the bike is too small and it’ll be difficult to stop and get off if the bike is too large. If you can afford to buy a bicycle new, it’s worth going to a bike shop and getting expert advice. If you have a disability, there’s a huge range of adaptive bikes to choose from. Wheels for Wellbeing is an amazing organisation that promotes inclusive cycling. Check them out for more information on trying and buying adapted bikes.

Cycle safely

Top tips for beginner cyclists

Before you start cycling, make sure your bike is safe to go on the road. Have a bike mechanic look at it if you’re unsure. Invest in lights for the front and back of your bicycle prior to taking it out. Choose carefully if you need to pick up a helmet as well. I wouldn’t recommend a second-hand helmet because you won’t know if it’s been in an accident. Helmets have expiry dates too. Look out for this so you’ll know when it will need replacing.

When you’re out and about, make sure you can lock up your bike, preferably with a D lock. Park your bike somewhere safe, ideally with CCTV, locking both the frame and wheel together. 

Build on your knowledge and skills

Some local councils offer cycling lessons, which are great if you’re not yet confident on busy roads. It’s a superb way to build up your skills as well. Learn the Highway Code too so you have the knowledge to cycle safely. For example, it’s important to know that as a cyclist you’re allowed to cycle in the middle of the lane, because you’re going to be more visible and safer there. 

Find the right route for beginners

Top tips for beginner cyclists

If you’re just getting started, an empty car park or multi-use sports area can be good places to improve your balance and confidence. The National Cycle Network is an excellent place to ride if you’re honing your cycling skills. It’s a network of signed routes and paths across the UK, for cycling and walking, of which Sustrans is the custodian. Quite a few stretches are traffic free and are relatively quiet.

Sustrans produces cycle maps as well, in addition to route information on the Sustrans website. I’d also look at a website called CycleStreets, which helps you plan cycling routes on quieter streets and paths. There are so many out there! 

Pedal with a pal

Top tips for beginner cyclists

Find a buddy to cycle to work with. It can be a terrific way to find safe and comfortable routes to your work and to get into the habit of cycling. Having a quick chat on the way to work is also a fun way to start the day. Once you’re a more confident cyclist, you might want to join a club. There are clubs out there for all types of cycling.

Get kids cycling

Top tips for beginner cyclists

Cycling with older family members gives kids confidence for eventually cycling alone. For little children, visit a bike library to try out different seats and trailers and see what’s right for your family. Cargo bikes can be a great way to get kids on a bike and can be used for grocery shopping too.

When they’re ready for their own bike, don’t go for one with stabilisers. Start with a balance bike instead, to give them a chance to practice balancing. Once they’re ready for a pedal bike, check they can reach the brakes easily. Go for an adjustable saddle so it grows with them too. And consider a well-fitted helmet. Other than that, pack extra snacks to keep motivation levels high!

Cycle to Work Day

cycle to work day

Cycle to Work Day is the biggest cycling commuting event in the UK. This year it’s set to be bigger than ever, as it celebrates its tenth anniversary. Register with the Love to Ride community, where you can log your journeys, set goals and win prizes. “Cycling to and from work is an amazing way to decompress from the day and to have a work-life balance,” says Zoe. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to get on your bike!

Zoe Banks Gross

Image credit Zoe Banks Gross 2022

Zoe Banks Gross is Head of Partnerships and Public Affairs at Sustrans South. She’s passionate about getting more people cycling and walking, and making the outdoors a more inclusive environment. In 2014 she founded East Bristol Kidical Mass to get families out cycling together. Zoe has also taught dozens of women in Bristol to cycle. She likes running, hill-walking and cycling in her free time.

Image credit Zoe Banks Gross 2022

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