14 October 2017

Square one: how to start cycling

Every cyclist’s journey begins with a first turn of the pedals. Here’s how to get there.

When you were a kid, riding a bike was a simple pleasure. But somewhere along the way, it may have gotten complicated.

Between unfamiliar clothes, intimidating bike shops and unpredictable traffic, it’s hard to just hop on and go if you’ve been out of the game for years. Use this guide to bypass some common roadblocks.

Roadblock: Bike shops seem intimidating

By doing a little homework, you’ll walk through the door more confident. Before you go, bring your needs into focus: What are your goals? Where will you ride? How far? Over what types of terrain?

Consider how much you can afford to pay for a bicycle and key accessories. Plan to spend at least R5 000 on your first bike. That may seem steep, but it adds up to just R420 a month for a year – less than some gym memberships and a lot more useful.

Look for reviews online to find shops that provide the best customer experience and service. If the one nearest you doesn’t have a stellar reputation, it may be worth travelling a little farther.

Roadblock: Riding is uncomfortable

It shouldn’t be. Discomfort is most often a by-product of poor fit. To avoid dooming your new bike to a future of neglect, find the frame style and size that work for your body.

Most bike shops encourage customers to go out for test rides, so take a few models for a spin. Are the hand brakes easy to reach? Can you put your foot down flat? Do you pedal smoothly without over-extending your knees or rocking your hips?

Discuss concerns with the salesman or mechanic, who can adjust fit. Resist the urge to buy a bike for its colour, or because it’s just like your friend’s. If it’s not 100% comfortable, you won’t ride it.

Roadblock: Ugh, those clothes!

Do you need Spandex? Of course not. You can ride to work, run errands or enjoy casual rides in ordinary clothes.

Choose fabrics with some give; they’ll move with you better on the bike. Protect pants from the chain with bicycle clips or clothes pegs.

For fitness rides or longer commutes, consider padded shorts for comfort and stiff-soled, clipless cycling shoes to boost pedalling efficiency. For all-season riding, choose a waterproof rain jacket with a lower rear hemline to protect your back from spray.

Other accessories, such as rain pants, cycling gloves and a cap to wear under your helmet, can also be worthwhile investments.

Roadblock: Traffic scares me

You don’t have to ride on the road to be a cyclist – although you may want to, as you grow more comfortable. Begin on paths or in parks or suburban roads that have little traffic.

As your bike-handling confidence grows, extend your range to busier roads. Keep at least 1m between your bike and parked cars to avoid opening doors; signal and move into the adjacent traffic lane if necessary.

Skills improve with practice, so ride often. Here’s how to avoid the five most common bike-car collisions.

Roadblock: What about the expense?

Aside from your bike, you need only a few key accessories to get started, some are essential, while others will make your ride a whole lot more comfortable. Click here to read more.  

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Image credit: iStock