5 things I wish I'd known when I started cycling

From remembering spares to not wearing underwear under your shorts… and a whole lot more

Whether you’re a seasoned road racer, an avid bicycle commuter, a keen mountain biker, or just someone who loves the feel of getting along on two wheels, the chances are you’ve learned a thing or two about cycling since you first started.

These nuggets of wisdom could be essential advice to make your ride more comfortable or it could be something more ephemeral such as the feeling of freedom you get when you fly downhill. BikeRadar spoke to several cyclists about the things they wished they’d known when they first started riding.

If you think we've missed any good ones, or have some to share yourself, pop them in the comments section below this article!

Chloe Kembery

Kembery finds exploring by bike the perfect pace to see the world
Kembery finds exploring by bike the perfect pace to see the world

London-based Chloe Kembery got into cycling five years ago and commutes every day by bike. Cycling has opened up a whole new way of exploring the world for her, with bike-based adventures including London to Paris, riding along the Cote D'Azur and exploring Finland's gravel tracks.

1. Embrace the lycra!

When I first started, I never thought I would get over my fear of 'looking like a cyclist' and eventually embrace walking around my local supermarket in full kit.

2. It's a great way to travel

Cycling has turned into my preferred form of everyday transport, and it's the ideal speed to discover a new place on holiday.

Everywhere is within cycling distance, and you just need time (and sometimes a bit of training).

3. There's training available for cycle commuters

Cycle training is subsidised in most London boroughs, which really helps you get over the fear of the speed and road rage you encounter with city cycling.

It's worth looking online to see if there's training available near you if you're getting into commuting by bike or know someone who is.

4. I'd become so active

Becoming a cyclist has lead me to live an active lifestyle even if I never win any competitions.

I've become someone who prioritises getting up early to swim, cycle, run or do yoga before work, and I think of a long cycle ride as a treat... yet it still surprises me when new friends describe me as sporty!

5. Look after your kit

Handwashing cycle shorts is worth the extra hassle so the chamois lasts longer — top tip!

Colin Hall

Colin Hall enjoying the riding in Morzine
Colin Hall enjoying the riding in Morzine

Colin Hall has been mountain biking for nearly 25 years and got into riding bikes as a kid. Along the way, he’s seen bikes and cycling tech develop a lot.

1. Fads pass

There’s always a new thing in biking, something that everyone wants, needs and has to have… for a year or so until you’ve bought it and realise you could still ride without it. When I started, that was hydraulic rim brakes, and now it’s probably e-bikes. You don’t always need the new, shiny expensive things to enjoy riding!

2. Keep your bike as secure as possible!

Don’t keep it (or them) in a garden shed, unless it’s really secure. I’ve lost about five bikes from various garages and sheds, so if you can, keep your prized ones in the house! That said, I’ve also got a metal shed that I keep my commuting bike in. It sounds like thunder when you knock on it, which is a good deterrent!

3. Good socks are magical

Keeping your feet dry and at a comfortable temperature improves any ride. It’s unpleasant not knowing if your feet are still attached to you because they’re so cold, or when they swell up because of the heat. Good socks make things better!

4. Travel with your bike

Riding new places, on new trails is the best thing. I had my first trip to the Alps this July and it was awesome. I also have many fond memories of trips to far-flung UK destinations. As well as giving you a change of (beautiful) scenery, it pushes your skills forward and you come home a better rider.

5. Always carry spares!

I learned the hard way, riding a bike in Morzine where I accidentally tore the mech hanger off the rear wheel. Mech hangers have to be ordered in and can take several days to arrive, which means either several days of not riding on a holiday, or paying out for an expensive hire bike.

As well as spare inner tubes, tyre repair patches, a quick-link to fix your chain and a good multitool, it’s always wise to have a spare mech hanger, a few cable ties and some duct tape to hand.

Debbie Bradley

Debbie Bradley is a full-time working mum, successful duathlete and ambassador for Liv Cycling. She started cycling at a later age, signing up for her first duathlon around her 40th birthday.

1. Find the right saddle for you

When I first started cycling I really struggled with the discomfort of being in a saddle even for just an hour! I assumed the larger and more padded the saddle, the more comfortable it would be. This is where I was wrong.

I tried several different ones until I found the right one for me. Since using the Liv Contact SLR Forward, I’ve never looked back! It is possible to be comfortable on a bike — it’s just about taking your time to find the right fit for you.

2. Finding the right kit is crucial

There’s so much to learn about kit and layering in cycling. It’s amazing how much you need for a start. At first, I tried to make do with my running kit but quickly learnt there’s no substitute for properly fitting, non-flappy kit in cycling! Yes, you can buy cheap stuff on eBay, such as the arm warmers from China that cost me £2.99 but were 3 inches too short and fell down on my first ride…

My essentials are a base layer, arm warmers and gilet. Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learnt over the past few years is the importance of investing in a quality base layer. This is your foundation and keeps you warm/cool and dry.

Another top tip is if you’re going on a longer ride, take a spare base layer in your back pocket. Whether you are wet or sweaty you’ll be thankful of a dry, bottom layer to get you home. Plus they take up hardly any room.

3. Get a bike that fits

It took me three time-trial bikes to realise how different the geometry is between men's bikes and women’s. I have quite a short body so the top tube was always too long and I couldn’t get as low as I wanted to. It was only after getting my Liv Avow that I finally felt like I was in control of a bike (rather than the bike controlling me).

Thanks to a ladies specific bike and a good bike fit, I’m more aerodynamic and producing more power than ever. But it’s not just about making performance gains. A bike that fits you and has a good set-up will make you more comfortable on the bike and less susceptible to strain or injury.

4. Keep yourself fuelled up

My most important tip here is do not wait until you are hungry or thirsty before you refuel/rehydrate on the bike!

Even a steady ride can burn hundreds of calories, so you must keep hydrated and take on some carbohydrates every 30-45 mins. Unlike running where you can walk if you run out of fuel, cycling can take you miles from home and walking in cleats is not very fun! Who cares if your pockets are full and you bring stuff back — it’s better to take more than you need.

Always stick some money in your back pocket too — you never know when you might need an emergency fuel stop!

5. The meaning of N+1!

In the cycling world, the tongue-in-cheek N+1 rule refers to the number of bikes that a person 'should' own. 'N' is the number of bikes you currently have — you always 'need' another bike! A good comparison is shoes. How many of you own just one pair of shoes? Exactly!

The idea is that you have different bikes for different purposes. A road bike, an off-road bike, a summer bike, a winter bike, a racing bike. They are all suited to different rides and different adventures so it’s hard to stick to just one. 

I love all of my bikes and, like picking a between members of your family, it is impossible to pick a favourite! But probably the most versatile and fun bike I own is Bobby the BRAVA – perfect for all-terrain and great for when my daughter Lillie joins me on a ride.

Aoife Glass

Aoife Glass, women's cycling editor at BikeRadar, loves exploring by bike
Aoife Glass, women's cycling editor at BikeRadar, loves exploring by bike

BikeRadar’s women’s cycling editor got back into cycling as an adult. It began with commuting to work to save money, then rapidly evolved into mountain biking and road cycling. Aoife loves the adventures you can have on a bicycle, the distances you can travel, and the friends you can make through the cycling community.

1. A good pair of padded shorts is worth every penny

If you’re riding regularly, you’ll never regret investing in a good pair of padded shorts that fit well, and that’s true for ALL types of cycling. I have my favourites that I alway reach for if I have a long ride planned, because the last thing you want to be thinking about when you're riding is shorts that are too tight, fall down, roll up or chafe!

2. That you don’t wear underwear under padded shorts

I learnt this the hard way, after experiencing some very uncomfortable chafing on a long ride.

I also realised the benefit of slathering on chamois cream, either on the chamois pad itself or directly onto my skin. Yes, it feels pretty weird to start with, but you really appreciate it after you've been riding a while.

3. A little skills coaching goes a long way

I’ve found with my mountain biking that some expert observation and guidance has been helpful for getting my technique right and losing bad habits. It’s worth every penny! I've been lucky enough to get mountain biking coaching sessions with riders such as MTB world champion Katy Curd, for example.

A good coach will observe what you're doing, and whether it's right or wrong, and give you simple ways to break down skills to make them easier to learn. Between that and a little practice, your riding will come on leaps and bounds.

Coaching isn't just for beginners either — we all progress, and sometimes pick up bad habits along the way, and a coaching session can help with that. It's also not just for mountain biking: road cyclists or anyone looking to get in road racing will get those essential skills dialed much quicker with a good teacher.

4. That I’d get so fit

When I first started cycling again as an adult, I wasn’t very fit. And that's something of an understatement.

But cycling is great in that you don’t need a lot of fitness to get started and it isn’t as immediately tiring as, say, running. And because it’s enjoyable to do, I found I did it regularly.

In a matter of months, I was the fittest I’d ever been in my adult life, without really feeling like I'd made much of an effort. It was easy to fit into my day as I commuted by bike, which meant I was spending 30 minutes each way doing exercise, when normally I'd just be sitting on a train. The fitter I got, the better I felt, the more I wanted to ride!

5. Cycling can be so many things

It’s a means of transportation and commuting. It’s a competitive sport. It’s a way of exploring and touring. It’s a personal challenge. It’s a way of relaxing. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a form of cycling that’s perfect for you.

For me, cycling began as a way of getting about that was cheaper than public transport and less likely to get affected by train strikes or traffic. It evolved into something I did for fun and exercise, and then became my career.

Now, it's my job, it's my hobby, it's how I've met many of my friends and it's something that I still love as much as ever. I'd have never thought any of that would happen when I first started all those years ago.

What do YOU wish you'd known when you first started riding?

Whether it's hints and tips, experiences you've had, what cycling means to you, your friends and family or even lessons learned the hard way, share them in the comments section below.

Aoife Glass

Women's Cycling Editor
A mountain biker at heart, also drawn to the open road. Likes big long adventures in the mountains. Usually to be found in the Mendip Hills or the Somerset Levels in the UK. Passionate about women's cycling at all levels.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Rocky, rough and a long way from anywhere.
  • Current Bikes: Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2015, Juliana Furtado 2013, Canyon Roadlite AL
  • Dream Bike: Juliana Roubion, Liv Avail Advanced SL
  • Beer of Choice: Red wine for the win!
  • Location: Weston Super Mare, Somerset, UK

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