Nothing is better than the thrill of speed and efficiency on a sleek road bike or the thrill of steep descents and technical terrains on a mountain bike. All cycling disciplines are uniquely rewarding and a great way to stay in shape. Cycling is the way to go if you're eyeing an outdoor activity to seriously amp up your fitness, boost your mental well-being, and even expand your social circle. In this guide, we'll share some wisdom from our extensive time on two wheels and tips to help you start cycling.
Benefits of cycling
Cycling is a fantastic exercise with numerous benefits for physical and mental health. Here are some of its key advantages.
Cycling is an excellent cardiovascular workout that helps strengthen your heart, improve blood circulation, and lower your risk of heart disease. It can also help manage conditions like high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Regular cycling can burn many calories, making it an effective way to manage or lose weight. It engages large muscle groups, promoting calorie expenditure even after the ride.
Muscle tone and strength
Cycling works various muscle groups, including the legs, core, and upper body, especially if cycling uphill or over mountains. Over time, this can lead to improved muscle tone and strength.
Cycling is a low-impact exercise, so it's gentler on the joints compared to high-impact activities like running. It's a suitable option for individuals with joint issues or arthritis.
Balance and coordination
Riding a bike requires balance and coordination, which can help improve these skills over time. This can be especially beneficial for older adults.
Exercise, including cycling, releases endorphins, which can boost mood and reduce stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression. It also provides an opportunity for mindfulness and relaxation.
Improved lung function
Cycling increases lung capacity and can enhance respiratory health by making your lungs work harder as you breathe deeply during rides.
Group cycling or joining cycling clubs can provide community and social interaction, promoting mental well-being.
Commuting and environmental benefits
If you cycle for transportation, you not only get exercise but also reduce your carbon footprint by using a sustainable mode of transportation.
Different types of cycling
There are several cycling disciplines to enjoy. Each type of cycling offers its own unique experience and challenges, catering to a wide range of interests and fitness goals. The choice of which type to pursue depends on your preferences and objectives. Here are three of our favorite disciplines.
Road cycling is a popular and competitive discipline involving riding bicycles on paved or asphalt roads. It's characterized by its focus on speed, endurance, and long distances on smooth and often hilly or undulating terrain. Road cycling caters to a wide range of cyclists, from recreational riders to professional racers. Road cycling is excellent for building cardiovascular fitness and endurance, and we highly recommend it.
Mountain biking occurs on off-road trails, often in hilly or mountainous terrain. It's an adrenaline-pumping activity that challenges riders with rough terrain, steep climbs, and descents. Mountain biking can include cross-country, downhill, and trail riding. This cycling style is an excellent cardiovascular workout that strengthens leg muscles, improves balance, and enhances core stability. It's a fun way to improve overall fitness.
Gravel cycling is a cycling discipline that involves riding on unpaved and often gravel or dirt roads. It has gained significant popularity in recent years, appealing to riders who seek a combination of road and off-road experiences. Gravel riding offers a unique blend of road cycling and mountain biking.
15 cycling tips for beginners
Cycling is a fantastic activity for beginners, offering health benefits and a sense of adventure. Here are some essential cycling tips to help you get started.
1. Choose the right bike.
Select a bike that suits your needs and riding style. Road cycling, gravel riding, and mountain biking require different types of bikes best suited for each riding style and terrain.
For road cycling, you’ll naturally need a road bike. Road bikes feature lightweight frames, drop handlebars for multiple hand positions, narrow and high-pressure tires for reduced rolling resistance, and a wide range of gears for various gradients.
Mountain bikes are ideal for off-road adventures. They feature durable frames, wide and knobby tires for grip, front suspension (hardtail) or both front and rear suspension (full suspension), and disc brakes for better control and stopping power.
Gravel bikes are a blend of mountain and road bikes. They typically have wider tires with tread patterns suitable for mixed terrain, disc brakes for greater stopping power, more relaxed geometry for stability, and mounts for racks and panniers to carry gear on longer adventures.
Road and gravel bikes are most similar, but their subtle differences make all the difference for competitive cyclists. If you’re just starting out and want a mix of road and gravel riding, a gravel bike is your best choice. You can ride it comfortably on paved and unpaved roads, but you will sacrifice aerodynamics, which are essential if racing and trying to keep up with a peloton.
Learn more about the differences between road and gravel bikes.
2. Get the right bike fit.
The wrong bike size can make cycling uncomfortable and even cause injuries in the long term, which is why you should ensure your bike is the right size for you. An appropriate frame and saddle size are essential for comfort and efficiency.
If you’ve never been fitted for the proper bike size, your local bike shop is the best place to start. Bike fittings generally cost a couple hundred dollars, but if you hope to become an avid cyclist, you won’t regret the expense. Bike fitting includes discussing your cycling goals and a physical assessment to discover how your body responds in the saddle.
3. Wear the right cycling gear.
The right cycling gear not only keeps you comfortable but can also enhance your performance while cycling. The first step is to always wear a properly fitted helmet for safety, whether you’re road biking, mountain biking, or gravel biking. Dress in moisture-wicking cycling clothes to stay comfortable and visible, especially in low-light conditions. A cycling baselayer, worn under a cycling jersey, helps you regulate your body temperature and wicks sweat away from your body so you stay dry.
You should also invest in padded cycling shorts with chamois–these can be a game-changer for long rides. Many cyclists prefer bib shorts with straps over the shoulders to bike shorts that come to the waist. Bibs prevent chafing and slippage at the waistline and are usually more comfortable for long rides.
You’ll also want to grab good cycling shoes and cycling-specific socks. Cycling shoes have cleats designed to fit your pedals for efficient pedal strokes. Bike socks are designed to fit cycling shoes, so they’re thin, breathable, and snug. Because cycling is not an impact sport, your socks don’t need padding. Padded socks can create additional pressure points that make pedaling uncomfortable.
4. Check your bike before each ride.
Before each ride, perform a quick bike check. Ensure your tires are properly inflated, brakes work, and gears shift smoothly. Lubricate the chain regularly to ensure its longevity and optimize your riding performance.
5. Learn basic bike maintenance.
Familiarize yourself with basic bike maintenance tasks like fixing a flat tire and adjusting your saddle and handlebars. Knowing how to perform minor repairs can save you from getting stranded on a ride.
Make sure you’re equipped with essential road bike accessories like a flat repair kit, chain lube, and front, rear, and side lights for safe riding. Learn what to do if you’re in a bike crash and how to prevent and treat common cycling injuries.
6. Start with short rides.
If you're new to cycling, begin with short, easy rides to build your confidence and fitness gradually. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of your rides as you get more comfortable. In between rides, you can also incorporate strength training exercises that will help improve your endurance and cycling power. You don't need to bulk up or dedicate endless hours in the gym. A couple of days of weekly targeted strength exercises can significantly boost your riding power and speed.
7. Master bike handling skills.
Practice essential bike handling skills like starting, stopping, turning, and braking. Find an empty parking lot or quiet street to practice these skills. Also, learn essential cycling calls for group rides to know when to start or stop or what lies ahead.
8. Follow traffic rules.
If you're riding on roads, obey traffic laws. Use hand signals for turns and stops, and be aware of your surroundings. Make yourself visible to motorists with reflective gear and lights.
9. Stay hydrated and fuel up.
Cycling uses up a lot of energy! Bring water and snacks on longer rides to stay hydrated and maintain your energy levels. Drink water regularly, even if you don't feel thirsty. Properly fueling your body boosts your performance and ensures faster recovery time between rides.
10. Plan your cycling routes.
Plan your cycling routes, especially if you're venturing into unfamiliar areas. Planning out your route helps you stay on target and prevents the possibility of getting lost. Plus, you can save your favorite routes and revisit them again and again. Use cycling maps or route planner apps like Strava to find safe and scenic routes.
11. Prepare for the weather.
Check the weather forecast before heading out, and dress accordingly. Wear and pack rain gear if there's a chance of showers, and wear sunscreen and cycling sunglasses on sunny days. Don’t let rain or winter weather make you nervous. You can still cycle safely and have a great time if the roads are wet or the air is frigid, as long as you prepare correctly. Learn how to prep for winter-weather cycling or riding in the rain.
12. Keep your bike clean.
Regular cleaning and maintenance not only prolong the life of your bike but also contribute to your safety and overall riding experience. Dirt, grime, and debris can affect the performance of various components, such as the drivetrain and the braking system. A well-maintained bike is more efficient, shifts smoothly, and brakes effectively. If you frequently cycle on muddy roads or in rainy weather, use mudguards to protect your bike.
13. Ride with others.
Consider riding with a friend or joining a local cycling group. Group rides can be enjoyable and help you learn from more experienced cyclists. Even indoor cycling can be a social event with a smart turbo trainer and the Zwift app, which gives you access to a virtual cycling community with live races and events.
14. Listen to your body.
Pay attention to your body's signals. Take breaks when needed, and don't underestimate the power of rest. What you do on your off days is just as important as the days you cycle.
15. Have fun!
Don’t forget to have fun while cycling. Take in the scenery, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy exploring new places. Here are a few of our favorite bike trails near our Hincapie store to visit if you’re in the area.
Cycling is an enjoyable activity, whether doing it for exercise or to one day compete in a race. If you’re still not sure where to start, contact us! We live and breathe cycling and can help you pick the right bike, find the best gear, or just chat about cycling.
Better yet, we’d love for you to join us for a Gran Fondo Hincapie near you! Start training and get ready for a long ride with other cycling enthusiasts and fun for the whole family. We’d love for you to be a part of our Hincapie community!
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