A man leans over a bike.
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Cycling tips for beginners

4 minutes

If your commute’s looking different post-lockdown and you’re considering swapping public transport for two wheels, you’re not alone. Here’s how to get on your bike safely.

  • Cycling in major cities like London could increase tenfold after lockdown
  • Riding a bike can improve your overall health and mental wellbeing
  • Why you should wear a helmet, join a cycling group and other tips to stay safe 

For most of us, the coronavirus crisis has meant rethinking how we get around. When we start going back to work, it’s unlikely we’ll be doing what we’ve always done. Instead, cities are anticipating a surge in cycling to work. 

In London, cycling is set to increase tenfold, while new walking and cycling routes would be fast tracked post-lockdown. Demand for bikes and gear has increased too, with bike company Brompton reporting a sales increase of around 15% in March 2020.

In Bristol, a scheme to turn part of the city’s historic centre into a pedestrian-only zone is under way, expected to be unveiled post-lockdown. The council are also working on restricting vehicle access and widening pavements to improve cycle routes across the city. 

As well as changes to urban areas, which will mean better access for cyclists, the transport secretary Grant Shapps announced the government wants at least one city centre to be zero-emissions. Councillors are calling for York to bid to become the UK's first showpiece zero-emissions city, with only bikes, pedestrians and electric cars allowed in. 

Besides the obvious environmental benefits of cycling, it’s also great for your overall health. 

Research has found that cycling to work is associated with a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer when compared to commuting by car or public transport. Overall, cycle commuters were at a 41% lower risk of death. 

What about cycling and your mental health? It’s great for that too. A Canadian software company did a study on commuting and found employees who cycled to work showed significantly lower levels of stress within the first 45 minutes of work than those who travelled by car. Closer to home, a Cycling UK survey of more than 11,000 people found that 91% of participants said cycling was important for their mental health. 

Ready to get on your bike? Here are ten tips to get you off to a good start. 

 

1. Start small

If you’re new to cycling, especially in an urban area, or haven’t been on a bike in years, start small. Rather than ploughing head on into your commute, pedal around quiet, local streets or in nearby parks first. If you can, buddy up with a friend who is comfortable cycling – they can give you some tips (from a safe distance of course) so you feel safe and secure before you tackle longer rides. And don’t forget, everyone you see on a bike was a beginner once, so it’s okay to take it slow. 

2. Choose a bike that’s right for you

Before you set off, make sure your bike is the right size for you, and meets your needs. Bike shops are open in the current climate, and the in-store experts will be able to make sure the bike you choose is comfortable and fits you properly, which can help prevent injury. If you’re looking to buy a bike second hand, Cycling UK offers a guide on what to look out for. Make sure your bike is serviced and in full working order too: you wouldn’t drive a car that wasn’t roadworthy, so don’t take the gamble on a bike either. You should check that both brakes work, your tyres are puncture-free and there are no wobbly or loose bits. Cycling UK advise checking for wear in the rims or cracks in the frame, spin the pedals and make sure the chain is oiled. Not sure you’ve got the energy to pedal? Perhaps an electric bike is best for you.

3. Take lessons

Complete beginner? It might be worth investing in some lessons. Cycling UK has advice on how to find an instructor, though availability may vary due to coronavirus. To maintain social distancing, it may be worth asking a friend or family member to help show you the ropes. There are plenty of great videos and tips to guide you (and your teacher) through.

4. Invest in the right gear

To helmet or not to helmet is a question that sparks fierce debates among cyclists. There’s no law enforcing helmet use, and it’s your choice, but if you’re just starting out you might feel more comfortable wearing one. If you’re cycling with children, make sure their helmet fits properly.  Otherwise, you’ll need a lock for your bike if you’re planning to leave it anywhere, bike lights and a puncture repair kit. Your local bike store can advise on the best clothing and accessories to keep you safe and comfortable in all weather.

5. Know your route

Cycling to work might seem simple, but planning is essential. Whether you use maps, apps or old-fashioned practice, knowing where you’re going and what you’ll do with your bike when you arrive will make commuting on your bike much less stressful. British Cycling has a video guide on how to plan your route, and a blog with daily tips on how to get the most out of your commute. 

 
Research has found that cycling to work is associated with a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer when compared to commuting by car or public transport. Overall, cycle commuters were at a 41% lower risk of death.

6. …and some city riding skills 

If you’re going to be riding in traffic, it’s crucial to know how to navigate the roads. From knowing your road position and avoiding car doors to staying visible and making clear signals, there’s lots to think about. Check out Cycling UK’s top ten tips for staying safe in urban areas. 

7. Join a local club 

Want to learn more? Get to know fellow cyclists in your area? Go on weekend group rides? Most areas have cycling groups or clubs you can join. At the moment, you can’t join group rides, but the sense of community (even if just via Whatsapp) can be helpful for new cyclists. Your fellow riders can help with technical questions and share tips and tricks they’ve picked up over the years. British Cycling has a club finder, while Let’s Ride is a good resource for group rides. Breeze Rides has women only groups and meets ups. 

8. Cycle with a friend or colleague 

Friends or colleagues already cycle to work? Arrange to meet up with them, at least for your first few runs. Sometimes having a buddy can boost your confidence. 

9. Make use of pedestrianised areas or cycle lanes 

Many city councils are working hard to widen pavements and fast track cycle lanes. You’ll still need to know the basics of riding in the city and cycling etiquette, but without jostling for space with cars and buses.  Be sure to obey any markings, lights or signs in the cycle lanes. 

10. Have fun 

Lastly, enjoy yourself and have fun! Cycling should feel good (especially compared to being squashed into a packed bus or train) and will hopefully become a lifelong habit that improves your mental and physical health while helping the environment. 

Getting a new bike? Don’t forget to add it to your home insurance.  

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