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Everything you need to start cycling: A beginner’s guide to embracing pedal power

Are you a new rider? Here’s what you need to be a successful cyclist

Louise Whitbread,Eva Waite-Taylor
Wednesday 29 December 2021 17:08
<p>From the best bikes to helmets for keeping you safe, we’ve got the lot </p>

From the best bikes to helmets for keeping you safe, we’ve got the lot

If you're feeling a little restless with your exercise regime and want to try something new, try cycling. Not only will it keep you fit, but it'll also help you get the most out of your time outdoors and explore your local area.

Aside from a form of exercise, cycling is a great mode of transport. It's a good way to avoid coming into close contact with people as people do on buses, trains and Tubes. Sam Jones from Cycling UK told The Independent that cycling “remains one of the best in terms of safely maintaining social distancing.”

To help make it less of a costly affair, Cyclescheme is in place, which is a work benefit many companies offer to employees, encouraging them to ride to work. It means you can save between 25 to 39 per cent on buying a bike and equipment too, which is taken from your pay at source, and you don't pay anything upfront.

Whether you’re considering starting to cycle to work, or taking it up as a new form of exercise, go to our cycling section for all of our tried and tested reviews of everything from folding bikes to bike lights and bike locks.

Read more:

But if you're unsure where to start, or are overwhelmed by all the different equipment, or simply want to get back on the saddle after a while, then we have the tips, tools and things you need to get started or pick up where you left off.

Which bike do you need?

Craig Myers, recreation manager for British Cycling UK explains that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get the best bike for your needs.

“It’s a common misconception that cycling is an expensive activity and you certainly don’t need to pay a lot of money if you’re just looking for something to get you from A to B. The important thing is that you choose a bike that is comfortable for you and is fully roadworthy,” he says, recommending to speak with friends who already cycle for recommendations too.

There's a huge range of bikes from those specifically designed to use just on the road, to mountain bikes, racing bikes and hybrid bikes which can combine certain elements of different things to make them more suitable for all of your needs. There are also folding bikes, which are great for commuting in cities, as you can get on trains easier and even take them into offices and neatly fold them at the end of a desk.

Then there are electric bikes which do more of the work for you, and also mean you won't turn up to work looking like you've done a full workout.

When trying to choose a bike, Jones said: “The most important thing is to think what you are mostly going to use the bike for.

"You could buy an ultra-light carbon framed road bike which will look amazing and cost you a hefty sum, but if all you really need is something to get you three miles to work and back, then the top-range bike is not really what you need. If you are only undertaking short journeys, a hybrid bike, which comes with racks and mudguards, might be more suitable, and is also going to be a more affordable option.”

If you do want the luxury of a little extra help, it does come with a more premium price tag. In our review of the best electric bikes, the Raleigh motus cross bar (£1,899.99, Rutlandcycling.com) came out top with our writer noting that it is a “practical all-rounder with helpful features and a best-in-class power system”.

Our reviewer added: "The instant you push off you’ll notice how the motor’s assistance gradually introduces itself as you pedal faster.”

Another option that is nifty and easy to use in cities is folding bikes. The Raleigh stowaway (£469.99, Rutlandcycling.com) topped our guide to the best folding bikes, with our writer noting that it’s a “great choice for city dwellers and commuters alike”.

It “folds down small enough to bring on the train and comes with a pannier rack and mudguards,” noted our writer. It’s also “small enough to leave in your car for weekend adventures, and the dark blue paint job looks really smart still easily portable and compact if you don’t have the storage space in your home, especially if you’re flat sharing”.

What safety equipment do you need?

Once you’ve got your bike sorted, there are a handful of essentials you need to make sure your rides are safe.

Myers said: “You should always carry a spare inner tube, tyre levers, a multi-tool and pump with you while out riding, and be familiar with how to use them.”

It goes without saying that you should always wear a helmet, to keep you cool, agile and most importantly protected. The Giro agilis (£70, Sigmasports.com) impressed us in our guide to the best cycling helmets, which you can wear “on the commute or the Sunday run with your cycling club pals,” according to our writer.

The fact that the helmet was “really comfortable, with plenty of padding and more than 30 vents to keep cool air flowing” won our reviewer over.

If you are going out when it's dark, make sure you have a high visibility jacket to keep you safe. In our review of the best reflective cycling jackets, we tested a full range to make sure you feel safer during winter rides and commutes, and the winner was the Proviz reflect360 CRS plus cycling jacket (£149.99, Provizsports.com).

It’s covered with millions of tiny glass beads, making it 100 per cent reflective at nighttime, but it will still look completely normal by day.

Our reviewer liked the “four well-placed pockets with sealed zips” and the “good-quality Velcro fastenings for the cuffs”, while adding that the shape was a great fit for women.

The jacket has an inner mesh that “means you don’t feel it on your skin, and the tough waterproofing and excellent breathability served our testers very well during winter commutes”, our writer said.

When cycling during winter, your rides are likely to get colder, so it’s important to pick clothes that will keep you warm. In our review of the best cycling jerseys, our tester found that the Rapha core (£52, Rapha.cc) to be the best, noting that the “relaxed fit means it’s easy to layer a warm base layer beneath for the harsh winter weather without feeling constricted”.

Our writer also liked the big gripper on the waistband “as it helps to keep the top locked in place even when the three large pockets are loaded up”. As for the fabric, it’s “extremely soft but breathable, so we didn’t find ourselves sweating excessively on climbs or on milder day”.

Plan your rides

According to Myers, if you’re looking to build up your confidence on a bike it can be a good idea to first head to a park or quiet road, ideally with a good smooth surface.

Start small and build up to larger rides is the advice from Jones. “A park or your garden can be a good place to take your first steps but if heading to the latter, try to pick a quiet area where not many people congregate or a quiet time of day.”

British Cycling has set up Let’s Ride Local, to help parents teach kids how to ride and provide inspiration and tips for novice cyclists from experts such as Sir Chris Hoy. It’s a handy online resource that provides routes and advice on everything you need to know about becoming a better cyclist.

Once you’re up and running and confident to go on longer rides, use a GPS device to track them, set distance goals and record your pedalling rate, power output, or heartbeats.

We’d recommend the Wahoo elemnt roam (£299.99, Sigmasports.com) thanks to its “clear mapping, a nice big 2.7in screen and superb connectivity via ANT+ and Bluetooth”.

This GPS bike computer won't distract you from the road ahead

“It’s easy to customise the metrics you view – clicking direction arrows on the side allows you to see more or less information and lets you zoom in and out of the map,” noted our writer in their review. And you can also set the LEDs on the left of the screen to show heart rate or power zones.

Once you’ve arrived home if you don’t have the storage space to bring your bike indoors or into a back garden, a good bike lock is a necessity. The HipLok DX (£69.99, Hiplok.com) was the winner in our bike locks review, which easily fits into a pocket or onto a belt loop for safekeeping.

Keep your hardware soft with a reliable bike lock, like this one, which is big enough to go through your frame or a wheel

It’s Sold Secure gold-rated and the lock is protected from the weather by a rubber seal. You get three nicely-sized, tactile keys that are easy to use, even with gloves on. And if you ever lose them you can get replacements using a unique code.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on bikes and other cycling kit offers, try the links below:

Looking for more inspiration on fitness? Read our beginners guide to how to start running here

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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