Cycling for beginners

Cycling is a truly invigorating and liberating experience, enjoyed by people of all ages and from all walks of life.

Whether you’re cycling to work, to school, to the shops or just for fun, the humble bicycle is an easy way to get more active.

Regular cycling can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. It can also boost your mood and keep your weight under control.

This guide is designed to make cycling a safe and enjoyable experience for beginners, and provide you with tips on staying motivated.

Cycling safety tips

  • Get training
  • Wear a helmet
  • Be seen and heard
  • Check your bike
  • Be alert and plan your route
  • Always follow the Highway Code

Before you start

For most people, cycling is a safe and effective form of exercise. If you have any health concerns or an existing medical problem, see your GP before you start.

For short journeys, any good working bike will do. You might have an old 10-speed racer, a shopping bike or a bargain mountain bike that you could use.

If you’re buying a second-hand bike or you have an old bike that’s been gathering dust, consider having it serviced at a specialist bike shop to ensure it’s roadworthy.

If you’re buying a new bike, there are many models to choose from. Hybrids, road bikes and mountain bikes are the most popular.

A specialist bike shop will advise you on the correct frame size and help you select a bike to suit your budget and the type of cycling you want to do.

Find out if your workplace operates a cycle to work scheme. This is a more affordable way of buying a new bike and safety equipment.

There are many bikes available for people with disabilities. The two main providers of specialist bikes are Wheels for All and CTC.

Starting out

If you haven’t cycled much before or you’re out of the habit of cycling, find yourself a traffic-free area to start off in, such as your local park.

Practise riding single-handed so you can make hand signals, and get comfortable looking over both shoulders to improve your visual awareness.

To learn to cycle with confidence, see CTC’s cycle training or Bikeability for information on training schemes, some of which are free.

Before you start cycling in traffic, check the Highway Code for up-to-date rules and regulations for cyclists.

For health benefits, adults and older adults should do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.

Children and young people should do at least an hour (60 minutes) of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity every day.

A 30-minute ride, where your breathing is quicker and deeper, will count towards your recommended weekly activity target.  

If you’re just getting started, take it slowly and increase your cycle rides gradually. Any improvement on what you currently do is beneficial.

Staying motivated

Make it a habit
The easiest way to ensure you cycle regularly is to use your bike as a means of everyday transport. Work out your routes on the Sustrans website, Transport Direct’s cycle journey planner or Cycle Streets. If you want some company on your bike ride, whether it’s to work or just for fun, find a cycling pal using BikeBUDi.The free Bike Hub iPhone app finds quickest or quietest cycle routes, on roads or on cycle paths. It also locates nearest bike shops.

Cycle to work
Commuting by bike is cheap, green and one of the easiest ways to fit exercise into your routine. Work out your route to work using Sustrans or contact your local council for free cycling maps. Transport for London has an interactive cycle journey planner and free local cycling maps.

Cycle to school
Riding to school is a great way to get the kids more active. Cycling has many benefits for children such as improved health, confidence and concentration. Parents may want to accompany younger children, which makes it a good way for grown-ups to get cycling, too.

Mix it up
There are many wonderful places to cycle in cities and the countryside. Cycling is an ideal way for friends and families to explore their neighbourhood and beyond. Sustrans has free information packs about cycling in your region.

Join a bike ride
From charity rides to park cycles, signing up for a bike ride is a great way to stay motivated and experience the great outdoors. Find a bike ride near you using Bike Hub's events search or Sky and British Cycling’s Sky Ride.

Page last reviewed: 30/06/2014

Next review due: 30/06/2016

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

2wheelsftw said on 25 January 2012

I'm also glad to see the NHS promoting cycling. I've been riding solidly for the last 11 years and by following a bit of simple advice and wearing a decent helmet i've had very few encounters with danger. One tip though make sure you have a decent helmet! Don't skimp when it comes to safety there are a range of good quality helmets out there. These guys also list the weight so if your looking for small children like I was they were extremely helpful in deciding whether the helmet would be suitable for someone his age! http://www.koo-bikes.com/mtb/protection/helmets.html

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citycyclist said on 28 October 2010

Great to see the NHS promoting cycling - if only local hospitals did so that would be great ..

It's a shame under the route planning section and links bit you dont mention http://www.cyclestreets.net/ which in my experience is far better than transport direct (better routes and much more user friendly), and actually covers all of the UK rather than just a few areas.

Jonno

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