Road Cycling Tips For Beginner Riders

Find out what kind of bicycle is best suited for,learn the correct size, body placement, setup, handling & behaving in traffic.

Introduction guide for beginners and moderate/amateur cyclists that refers to road cycling training and recreation that includes: selection of suitable bicycle, right body positioning & setups for bicycle, tips on handling and of course, proper behaving in traffic to increase your safety.

  1. Cycling Tips for Beginner Riders

Selection of the suitable bicycle                        

What bike is best suited for you? First, we need to point out some things that will determine your suitable ride: type of road bike, frame geometry, and most important comfort. A couple of things that we will look at, are differences between types of road bikes, like how are they suited for the needs and purposes of your riding :

road bike

Image Source: Chicagotribune.com

  • Road (racer) bikes:

Are designed and intended for cycling on the road, high speed and long run

Characterized with low weight frame, usually aluminum (cheap frames) and carbon (expensive frames), 700c (28 inch) wheels, skinny tires, drop handlebar, integrated shifters (which combine brake lever and gear shift)

They have elevated seat position in comparison of the handlebar to make sure it is the most efficient pedal position

Crank sets have larger gearing size than usual bikes, based riding on the smooth tarmac surface at high speeds

Drop handlebar provides you with multiple hand positions which is going to give you more comfort on the longer rides

Brakes are usually caliper, designed for light weight and aerodynamic

Wheels are skinny and lightweight which provides less resistance on surface and efficient riding on high speeds.

  • Touring bikes, similar futures and frame geometry towards road bikes but have a few specifics that differ:

Frames are out of steel for liability, strength and ability to carry a lot of weight

Steel frames are also good because of their repair ability. If the frame brakes or cracks it can be easily repaired by welder

They have mounting point with  joints for bolts so u can mount racks and load the bike with bags, kit, camping equipment, basically anything you need for long trip

Tires are wider and chunkier for bad tarmac and smooth gravel

Like road bikes, they have the same drop handlebar for multiple hand position and integrated shifters

Instead brake calipers touring bikes usually have brake hydraulic steel disks (sometimes just regular string mechanic brake) for ability to run them for very long period of time with out much maintenance

  • Commuter Hybrid bikes

Very comfortable riding position, because of the frame geometry and seat position

It has light weight efficient frame and mounting option for racks

Higher than road bike, in order to have better view for environment and traffic

Flat handlebar to elevate your head in front of the bike

Hydraulic brake disk and consistent reliable braking with low maintenance

Also have high gearing as road bike because it is intended for ride on the same surface

Tires are 700c (28 inches) but wider and chunkier for more comfort and bumps on the road

Wheels should have a reflective stripe on the side of the tire to make bike more visible from the side for traffic

  • Leisure Hybrid bikes

Leisure Hybrid Bike

Mostly used for riding in parks, woodland and bicycle tracks

In general very cheap bike, lightweight, simple, easy to maintain

Nice comfortable seat position, frame geometry and flat handlebar

Wider tires from normal road bike (26 inch, 27.5 inch, 29 inch) slightly capable for riding on gravel

They have caliper brakes with lever/wire mechanism and are simple to maintain

It has lower gearing for easier pedaling and lower gear ratio so the cyclist can ride with comfortable pace

These are some basic characteristics for road bicycles that will help you choose one for yourself. The only question remains, what kind of bikes are best suitable for beginners? On one side you have speed, lightweight & long run, on the other comfort, easy handling & low maintenance. Here is our suggestion:

Road racers are fast, light and very exciting to drive but hard for handling because of their skinny tires, not so wide drop handlebar and high seat position. They are best suitable for more experienced riders who know how to position their body during climbs, descends, long runs and do not mind for less coziness on saddle.

Touring bikes have more comfort but they are built for long ride and traveling, best suitable for cycling enthusiasts who likes to travel with bicycle. Because they are used for big runs and usually loaded with traveling gear & equipment, they have high maintenance.

Hybrid (Leisure & Commuter) bikes are fun, comfortable, and easy to handle. They are for people who use it for everyday activities such as riding to workplace, park, training with your friend on cycling path, in other word best suited for beginners. Frame geometry is designed so that you can sit upright, with out bending your back. Wide tires and long, flat handlebar which allows much better handling on straights and corners. Also hybrid & mountain bike frames are built with additional futures which allows easier installation for traffic requirement gear (head & tail lights, reflective stripes, mud guards) and parts have very low maintenance. This leads to conclusion that the best road bicycles, for not just beginners, but everyone who prefer enjoyable and pleasant ride, are hybrids. The only one noticeable difference between these two types is that commuter cost more than leisure.

Frame sizing

How to choose the right frame size? A couple variables are involved, when choosing the right size, such as height, length of extremities and suitable body position. There are 3 main measurements that affect frame dimensions and those are Seat tube, Top tube and Head tube.

Two things, which follow these measurements, will decide your suitable frame size: seat height and arm reach. Seat size can be easily adjusted and we will show it in our next subtitle. For arm reach, the most important thing is that, when seated, rider needs to be able to reach handlebar, in that way, so he can have upright position, easy access for brake levers, gear shifters, smooth handling and comfort.

Close reach will result with bad handling and you will look ridiculous on bike. Too far reach will not give comfortable position, because, in order to operate properly, you need to lean more forward and afterwards, pain will manifest in crotch and back for being unable to support your upper body properly.

Planning to buy a bicycle? Make sure, before that, you try a couple of them. Ask vendors about top tube sizes (S, M, L, XL) and consider bikes with longer head tubes (easier to handle, it elevates you so you can have better view on surroundings).

If you do not know your size you can always  search Google with “bike frame calculator” and insert your height (in metric/imperial units). Calculator will show the correct length of the frame top tube.

  

  1. Bicycle Setups and Correct Body Positioning

Continue reading and learn the basics about bike setups and positioning, including: essential bike parts, cycling preparation, right body placement, gearing and gear ratios and some tips for traffic riding.

bike setup

Essential bike parts

What do we want to say, about this title, is that every cyclist, beginner or more experienced rider, needs to know some crucial tings about his own bicycle in order to maintain it more efficiently and easily, so the bike can last longer. We will categorize parts in 3 groups which differ from level of maintenance:

1) Parts that require minimum or low level of maintain:

Frame, seat tube, pipe & handlebar, frame fork, brakes (brake jaws, levers, disks, hydraulics), wheel hubs and bottom bracket.

These parts usually require some cosmetic attention such is washing & cleaning from mud, dust, mechanic oil.

2) Parts that often need to be maintained:

Wheels (strings & inner tires), crank set & gearing, chain, brake/shifter wires

Some of these parts require, after certain period of riding, to be cleaned from old mechanic oil (it contains dirt, mud, some fragments of fractioned metal) and put new one. It would significantly reduce chance of damage that will result on repair or buying a new part.

Really easy to clean and it is not time consuming:

You need a couple of things like motor oil/gasoline, small painting brush and old dry rag

Make sure to have a small opened container for gasoline because it should be easier to apply on brush

All is left to brush the parts with gas and clean it with rag

After that, let it dry and apply new mechanic oil or special lubricant for bicycle

Other parts, like strings on wheels and brake/shifter wires, needs tuning. During cycling, every imperfection on the road (bumps, cracks, bad tarmac) and shifting gear, are cause for strings/wires to go off balance, what will result in wheel wobbling and bad gear changing. Tuning needs a bit more knowledge, so our suggestion is going to local cycling mechanic. These parts are cheap, have low cost for maintenance and if broken or damaged, they can be easily changed.

3) Expendable parts

Outer tires, chain, brake caliper/disk packs

bicycle expendable parts

Parts that during their exploitation period (driving bicycle), needs to be changed:

Tires will lose their grip and it would be hard for anyone to handle in wet/dusty corner.

Pedaling and constant force applying, affects chain in that way that it will slowly be more extended. This will affect mostly on gear changing, power transfer and it could damage crack set sprockets, cassette and rear gear changer.

Brake packs are made from rubber and because of friction with metal (wheel, disk) it expends itself.

Expendable parts needs to be changed around 4000km (2500m) or 2yrs. Changing tires, packs & chain is easy, but you can always consult or visit your mechanic, because it should be cheap service.

 

Cycling preparation & correct placement on bike

When preparing for riding, you need to check a couple of things before sitting on bicycle:

Your tires must be cleaned from any small material (thorns, scrap metal, tiny chunks of concrete) and dirt. That will reduce chance of damaging the inner tire.

Check tire pressure by applying your thumb on rubber and squeeze it with your other hand. If tire deforms significantly it needs pumping. Wheels with correct amount of pressure allows you better handling and less surface resistance.

Check the brakes by pushing bike and pulling brake levers a bit.

Spin both wheels in place with your hand so that you can check if they are touching brake packs. If it does:

Wheels or brake jaws are probably a bit off center, and it can be easily adjusted

Check the wheel from the top view if it’s crooked. If that’s the case, then it needs string tuning.

Correct body placement is the most important thing in cycling. It allows better handling, comfort and pedaling. First, we will start with the seat. There are 3 adjustments: height, angle and distance from handlebar.

Seat needs to be around the same height as your hips. Too much elevated seat is not good for crotch and rider needs to move his bottom left/right in order to reach pedals. Too low seat position will give you the most upper body position and easy handling, but it would result in bad pedaling and knee injuries. Our opinion, from experience, is that beginner riders set their seats 23 cm (1 inch) lower than their hips for more comfort and better handling.

Angle adjustment only exists because of the seat shape variations. You need to set angle in that way so the seat top would be parallel with ground. It is easier to change positions and move your bottom during climb/downhill with flat saddle.

Distance changing option helps correcting handle reach by pushing seat forward or backward, depending on the rider size towards frame. Try to set saddle distance in that way so u can have easy access to brakes and shifters.

And finally, we will give you advice about correct foot placement for pedaling:

Never pedal with your heels or feet fingertips, because you will not transfer force efficiently on pedals.

Best way to pedal is with your top part of the foot. You will be more durable, generate more power and save yourself from injuries.

 

Gearing and gear ratios

This chapter will explain some basic stuff that you need to know about changing gears and gear combinations. There are bicycles (BMX, pony, and lady / city bike) that have single gear. They have only crank set with one chain ring and cassette with one row of sprockets. Bikes like these are only built for leisure & pleasant driving on flats. Because of terrain profile, there was a need for bicycles with multiple gears, in order to climb & decline a hill, ride faster on flats and having more option for riders pedaling style (low/high cadence-rpm).

cycling gear ratio

Image from: Allterraincycles.co.uk

Road, mountain bike and hybrid, are some of examples. The only difference is in gear variability towards speed:

Road bikes have high gearing settings for more velocity and small hill climb

On the other side, mountain bikes have low gearing for big hills and tough terrain

High gearing defines big crank sets with more number of chain ring sprockets (50/36, 53/39) and small cassette sprocket ratio (2512T or 2311T)

Low gearing cranks usually have 3 chain rings with sprockets (48/34/24, 44/34/20) and high cassette ratios (3612T, 3211T) for easier climbing.

Considering gear ratios & combinations for cycling, most beginners will ask what gear to choose and how to change it, during riding.

 

Hybrid bike example:

Bicycles like these have 3 chain ring sprockets on cranks and usually 8 rows of sprockets on cassette, which means, for example, they have 3 x 8 = 24 gear combinations. Gears are changing by shifters and pedaling.

Usually there are 2 shifters (integrated of levers) on handlebar, left one is for crank, other for cassette.

Lever shifters have numbers (1, 2, 3 & 18) and are connected with derailleur by wire.

Front derailleur is for crank sprockets and it positions chain on crank rings (1smallest to 3biggest).

Rear derailleur is for cassette sprockets and it change chain position from biggest row (climbing/ high rpm) to smallest (decent/ low rpm).

For instance the lowest possible gear would be 11 chain position (smallest crank chain ring1, biggest cassette sprocket row1), and highest gear would be 38 (biggest crank chain ring3, smallest cassette sprocket row8)

Changing gear on crank set would depend on the road (3flats/downhill, 2hills/slow cycling, 1large hill slops)

As for cassette gear options it varies from riding style and terrain (123hills/high cadence (rpm), 45flats/low cadence, 678speed/downhill/ very low cadence.

Our suggestion, for beginners, is that they need use lower gearing ratios and high cadence. That way you will build strength and endurance faster trough training and bypass pain and muscle fatigue, which is cause by higher gearing with low rpm. To learn more check out this Wikipedia page.

 

  1. Handling & Behaving in Traffic

Handling bicycle in general is easy but there are a couple of tips to make you feel relaxed and more aware on surroundings. with the right frame size, handlebar, saddle height and tires situated for you, in way of having better comfort & handling, next up is the proper body placement & position, during cycling:

Behaving in Traffic

  • Before you sit make sure that the bike is in low gearing for easier pedaling (2nd sprocket on crank). After you gain some movement, shift it to higher gear for more speed
  • Hands need to be wide placed on handlebar with strong grip with your index finger positioned for brake/downshift lever and thumb placed below for up shift lever.
  • When riding, pedal only with top of the foot (never pedal with your fingers or heel).
  • For efficient pedaling, upper body needs to be still and let legs do all the movement labor. Do not move or tilt towards them to add some force, because you will tire yourself and risk having pain in crotch & back.
  • In order to change gears smoothly, when up/downshifting, never apply to much force on pedals unless you want to damage gearing. When changing gears, always (especially on climbs, when gravity pulls you back) loosen a bit on power until derailleur change chain position on another sprocket.
  • If you need to accelerate or climb (with out loosing much speed) for short distance, shift rear derailleur for 2 higher speeds, then get out the saddle and elevate your head above handlebar and make sure your hands are wide on handlebar. Hand grip needs to be strong because arms must move bicycle sideways a bit and have more support for body. When you start moving bike sideways, apply more power on pedals using your own body weight. In that way you will help your legs to accelerate or climb with out loosing velocity and after that, get back in your previous position. Cycling like this only helps you to provide power on bike for short amount of time because it consumes more of your strength and tires your legs. To improve this technique it needs time & practice.
  • Cornering a bike can be tricky, especially in tight, slippery corners. Avoid cycling on wet tarmac, and always brake before taking corner. For taking long downhill turns, lower yourself a bit, move your bottom on the back of the seat. While taking corner, don’t pedal and straighten one leg, which is opposing from bike turning direction (for example right turn left leg). This position will give you more balance because your straighten leg will act as ballast towards the force that would overthrow you. Watch out for gravel and sand while cornering, if you do not avoid it, tires will lose grip and you might fall.
  • Climbing a hill does not require much attention on handling, just watch for road bumps and rocky gravel. While cycling on hill, always use low gears so u can pedal with high cadence. Doing so, your legs will be more durable and after some time of riding you will have better condition & heart rate.

 

Knowing environment and handling in traffic is of great importance for your safety and we will give you a couple of advices for open road cycling:

  • Always make sure you bring required equipment & accessories for road (front/tail lights, reflective stripes).
  • Wear helmet and some shirt with distinctive colors (advisable to have reflective strip on it) so it would be easier for drivers and other participants in traffic to spot you.
  • You need to know traffic signs and rules. If you want to ride on open road you must follow the same rules as vehicles.
  • Ride your bike close to the side of the road, so drivers can have enough space to pass. Personally as a fellow cyclist, I will advice you not to listen to music while riding in heavy traffic because it will reduce your awareness and attention.
  • When turning, always show the direction with your hand. Do not cut corners, other drivers, people on footpath and always stop at stop signs.
  • If cycling downhill at higher speed, NEVER cut narrow corners, because of the wind you cannot hear if some car or truck is coming towards you. Always stick at your side and follow it.

Learn More:

Road and Indoor Cycling Training

Cycling Health Benefits

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