10 Tips for Beginner Cyclists

Lance Armstrong’s record 7th win of the Tour de France amazed us all. Suddenly, those of us who never followed cycling became interested and even inspired to try this exhilarating sport.

And why not? Cycling welcomes all ability levels, it’s an excellent calorie burner and it can help you develop strong legs. As if your physical well-being weren’t enough reason to start, cycling is the ultimate stress reliever. Give your bike one hour, and in return you’ll receive an undeniable sense of freedom, and an invigorated body, mind and spirit. Who can’t use more of that these days? And here’s a bonus. Since cycling doesn’t require much planning (and may be as easy as opening your front door) it’s perfect for the tightest of schedules.

So kick back, as we demystify the sport of cycling. We promise you’ll enjoy the ride.

1. Bike basics.
Road bikes are designed to travel on paved roads for long distances, and move at a fast pace. They are made from steal, aluminum, carbon fiber and titanium. Usually, a combination of two or more of these materials is used. The professionals at your local bike shop will explain the differences and help you find a bike that fits your body, needs and budget. Some manufacturers now make “women’s bikes.” More than a marketing ploy, these bikes are designed with a female body structure in mind.

2. It’s like riding a bikeâÂ?¦
They say you never forget how to ride a bike, but be patient. At first, a road bike’s skinny tires and lightweight frame may challenge your sense of balance a bit. Set yourself up for success by learning on level ground, in an area with minimal traffic. First, practice getting on and off the bike and using the brakes. Next, while pedaling, shift through all the gears. Don’t forget to practice making hand signals and turning. When you’re ready, start with rides of up to 30 minutes. Spend the
first five minutes with a warm up, keeping the gears in low resistance. Don’t pressure yourself to go fast and furious. There will be plenty of time for that down the road!

3. Take it to the next level.
Join a group ride organized by a cycling club. Group rides are super motivating, and you’ll meet cycling enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. Want to keep it a girl thing? Women’s only cycling clubs and tour groups are increasing in popularity and offer a great mix of challenge and support. Keeping a cycling journal will help you track progress and set reasonable goals.

4. Get in gear, and get up that hill!
Use bike gears properly and you’ll become an efficient cyclist, conquering hills you never imagined possible. When tackling a hill, shift to an easier gear just as begin the climb. Keep shifting as pedaling becomes more difficult. The speed at which you pedal is called your “cadence” and it is measured as rotations per minute (RPM). Slowly build your cadence to 80 RPM to 100 RPM. To ward off tired legs, try to keep it there even on hills. To check your RPM, count the number of times your right leg extends in 30 seconds, then multiply by two.

5. Drink and be merry!
Proper hydration is critical for your safety and success. The wind whisks away sweat, making it easy to underestimate fluid loss. Poor hydration leads to poor performance, increased body temperature and an increased heart rate. It can also increase your perceived rate of exertion (how difficult the exercise feels to you) and lead to serious heat related injuries such as heat stroke. Always carry at least one water bottle, and identify places along your route to fill up. Last but not least, follow the golden rule. Strive for urine that is clear and odorless. Find you’re not drinking enough? Freeze one of your water bottles. Cool water goes down easier than warm.

6. Safety first.
Bicycles are recognized as vehicles in all 50 states. So, become familiar with the rules of the road for your safety, and because it’s the law. Keep these tips in mind. Always ride with your helmet, and mark the sticker inside with current emergency information. Ride with the flow of traffic, using a designated bike lane when possible. Don’t assume cars or pedestrians see you. Check the roadway for potholes, loose gravel, glass and other debris that may pose a danger. Looking at least 20 feet ahead will give you time to safely react to potential hazards. Carry your cell phone, and let someone know the route you plan to follow.

7. Relax and enjoy.
Keep your body relaxed while riding to help battle early fatigue and next day aches and pains. Make a mental relaxation checklist. Neck, shoulders and lower back are three areas that tend to tighten up. Even wiggle your fingers and toes occasionally. And don’t ignore your core. Developing a strong core will improve your form and your level of comfort on long rides.

8. Time for a check up.
Yes, even your bike needs a check up. Get committed to bike maintenance, and the result will be a safe, top performing and long lasting bicycle. A certified bike mechanic must perform a tune up after the initial break in period. Your bike needs periodic check ups too, so ask your mechanic about scheduled maintenance.

9. Be good to your mother.
Become a commuter. Save some money (and the environment) while kick-starting your day with a killer workout. While commuting to work isn’t possible for all of us, if you are one of the lucky ones, you’ll face those early morning meetings with endorphin levels flying high and without that double shot latte.

10. Shop a specialty bike shop.
The trained professionals you’ll find here will help you make sound choices on quality equipment and accessories. And, they’re trained on how to properly use and care for the items. Because they practice what they preach, staff can often offer insider information about local routes and possibly introduce you to a cycling partner. Many shops host basic maintenance clinics and special cycling events too.

From casual weekend rides, to racing, you decide how far to take the sport. Just grab your bike, open the door, and get going! Your ride is waiting.

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