27.07.2012 Health & Fitness

Top 10 tips for starting out in cycling

A useful guide for cycling beginners on the road
By RealBuzz
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Cycling is a great activity to improve your fitness levels, but cycling can be a daunting prospect for beginners. It's essential to pick the right kit, equipment and bike to make the most of your cycling career. Cycling is a great way to get healthy so here's's guide to cycling beginners wanting to start road biking.

Cycle helmets
Wearing a cycling helmet is an essential part of any bike ride, whatever sort of riding you're into. If you're looking at getting into serious mountain biking or cyclo-cross then you should look at getting a more heavy duty helmet, with a full face guard. They don't have vents like a normal helmet and are heavier, but if you come off those bikes at speed, you'll need all the protection you can get!

Insuring your bike
Most household insurance policies have some degree of protection, but check the small print carefully. They may not cover the bike in transit and might also have an upper limit of around £500, which won't cover the more expensive mountain and road bikes. British Cycling, the sport's governing body has good cycle cover (tel. 0870 871 2000).

Cycling public liability insurance
You also need to make sure you're covered in case you cause an accident when out riding. Membership of British Cycling includes liability insurance and a free legal advice service, which will cover you in the event of an accident, whoever is to blame.

The bike chain
This is one of the parts on your bike that you can easily neglect, but don't! All it needs is a regular clean and lubrication and it will last so much longer. Every month (more if you are a regular cyclist) set aside half an hour to give it some TLC. Scrape off dirt, wipe it down, check for damage to any of the links and lubricate. Don't over lubricate though. Wipe the chain of excessive lubricant.

Bike brakes
Make sure that you keep your bicycle brakes in top condition. Check them before every ride and remember that the left brake lever operates the back brake and the right lever does the front brake. Use both coming down a steep hill. If you use the front one too much on its own you could end up coming over the handlebars!

Cycle gears
Most bikes have either hub gears or derailleur gear. The former are normally found on more basic bikes and the latter on racing bikes and mountain bikes. Both work best when they're looked after properly.

The cycling derailleur gear system:
This cycle gear system is made up of two main parts, a rear mechanism with up to 10 sprockets (these are the bits that the chain moves up and down on when you change gear), and a front mechanism that allows you to move the chain up and down the sprockets. Depending on how many gears you have on your bike the front gear mechanism will have two or three chain rings. So if you have an 18-gear bike you will have two chain rings in the front mechanism and nine sprockets in the rear mechanism.

Make sure that you keep the system well lubricated and get rid of any dirt that you can see building up on it. When using your cycle gears, remember that the top gears are for going down hills, which means that the chain will be on the smallest sprocket on the back wheel; whilst the bottom gears are for up hills and so the chain will then be on the largest sprocket — easy!

Bike saddles
Pick the wrong saddle and you're in for a very uncomfortable cycling career! The more expensive the bike, the better quality the saddle and the more likely it will be to have gel padding, but you can't guarantee that.

Experiment with the saddle for the first few bike rides to make sure that it's in the right position and then make sure it is securely in place to stop it moving around. It's often a good idea to ask the experts in the bike shop to help you with the correct position. This includes making sure it's at the right height so you have some bend in your knee and also that it's at the right angle.

Bicycle handlebars
The position of the saddle and the handlebars are very closely linked. Once you've decided on the position of the former you should make sure that the latter is just below the former.

Make sure that the cycle handlebars are not out too far from the stem as you will run the risk of damaging them with serious implications for yourself should this happen mid-ride! Keep checking them regularly, as they are always under pressure.

Bike wheels
Look after your bike wheels as they can be more sensitive than you think and very expensive to replace. Don't ride over kerbs and other obstacles if you can avoid it, as these incidents are likely to cause most damage. Keep checking your bicycle's wheels for damage and replace them as soon as you notice any buckling. They are very difficult to repair.

Cycle tyres
Just like car tyres, those on your bike will also have a limited life, which you can extend by looking after them. Avoid situations where damage could be caused and regularly check for problems.

Bike pedals
The type of bike you buy will dictate the type of pedal you have. There are three types and in most cases they are interchangeable. As you spend higher figures on a road bike, you may find that they don't actually come equipped with any pedals at all and you have to buy them separately. A top set can add about £100 to the price of a bike, and then, if you choose the cleat type of pedal, you will also need shoes to clip into them.

The other two sorts of bicycle pedals are the toe clip type and the standard pedal with neither cleats nor toe clips. You'll get these on most bikes. As you become more confident and look for better performance on your bike you will probably want to try the others.

The health benefits of cycling
Choosing the right road bike for you
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