Thinking of taking up cycling? - Start here!

Thinking of taking up cycling? - Start here!

Advice on buying a bike and safety when cycling.

New to Cycling – Advice Sheet

The following comments are for guidance, and to aid any “new-comer’s to cycling” through the thought process when considering buying a bike and taking up cycling.

1 Selecting a bicycle.

There are two main elements to selection a bicycle. These are a) what you intend to use it for, and b) the size to suit you. Intended uses might include urban cycling (to and from the shops or work). Leisure riding (a mixture of urban and rural riding). Racing (time trialling, Audax or group racing).  Off-road riding (riding bridleways and disused railway routes forest tracks and the like).


The basic bicycle choices are Touring, Racing, Hybrids and mountain bikes. Some of these descriptive are in turn sub divided. For example part and full suspension mountain bikes or folding bikes with small wheels. In addition, as the name suggests, Hybrid bicycles are designed for a range of cycling activities. To the purist hybrids are a compromise. Bicycles are produced for specific purposes and combining feature often results in an adequate but not a good bicycle. Nevertheless they suit many people’s needs. The best type of bicycle for riding with our club is a “Touring Cycle”.

Touring cycles

These tend to have a longer wheel base. More rake on the front forks is what produces the longer wheel base. These cycles are less lively but require a less attentive riding style, and allow the rider to look around while riding. They have clearance for mud guards and fittings to carry luggage and lights. All touring bicycles have a wide range of gears. There are a range of touring bikes made from steel and Aluminium. Generally quality is synonymous with price however you need to be careful to look at the equipment quality to ensure value for money.

Racing cycles

Designed for speed these types of cycle require concentration at all times. They tend to have a shorter wheel base, and are lively and quick to change direction because of a straighter front fork design. In addition they tend to have thinner harder tyres with less clearance for mud guards and no fixings for luggage carriers.

Hybrid Cycles

For Hybrid read combination. These types of cycle try to include feature from the other types and are really aimed at those who ride to work or the shops and occasional short leisure rides at weekend. They tend to be heavy and combine a shorter wheel base with bigger tyres and a robust frame. Often hybrid’s also come with suspension forks.

Mountain bikes

Designed principally for off road riding mountain bikes have an infinite variety of frame designs and suspension systems. Although they are often ridden on the roads, they are not really suitable as they soak up energy (effort exerted) through the suspension and friction of large tyres. Mountain bikes also tend to have short wheel bases so the rider cannot relax and must be attentive at all times.


Once you have decided what type of bike you want, the next task is to get the right size. Much has been written about sizing and you can find places where for a small fee they will carry out measurements and give advice. Men and Women’s frames are available but most frames are now “diamond” shaped and unisex. Essentially your inside leg measurement will determine the size of the frame, as it is this that determines “stand over”. This expression means to stand astride the bicycle with your feet flat on the ground. Once the frame is selected the saddle height (top of the saddle) is again the inside leg measurement but this time measured from the top of the pedal at its lowest point. Without getting to personal, we are all different, (long medium and short legs, bodies and arms and in different combinations) these differences make it difficult to draw up hard and fast rules. Personal preference will also have a bearing on the final position and height of handle bars, the length of the stem as well as the type and width of bars. The saddle also adjusts backward and forward allowing a sitting position over the pedals if required. The length of the forearm from elbow to fingertips taken from the front of the saddle is a good guide to the position of the handlebars, but this may not suit everybody. Various additional fittings can be purchased to raise the handlebar stem if needed.

2 What to wear.

Like all activities there is a range of activity related clothing, but people were cycling long before these clothing lines were invented. What you wear is entirely up to you, but if you become uncomfortable you will not enjoy cycling. Saddle soreness is likely to be an issue for new riders, and this can be aggravated by clothing with seams, such as Denham jeans and other tailored garments. Proper cycling trousers or shorts with a padded seat are a sound investment. When you develop a taste for cycling and become more adventurous you will find other items of cycle clothing offer advantages that casual clothing does not. Shoes are important, and need to be of a type which will not slip on the pedals. Stout shoes or trainers are recommended to spread the peddling pressure over the area of the pedals. You will need cycling shoes if you choose a clipless pedal system. It is a matter of personal choice as to whether you chose to wear a cycle helmet, but clothing that is bright/reflective is strongly recommended.

3 What to carry with you.

In short you need to carry what you might need, depending on the riding you do and where you might be if something goes wrong breaks or you get tired. Typically carry tools a puncture outfit a spare tube water and energy snacks. Carry tools that are specific to your cycle, as well as more general tools. Even if you don’t have the necessary knowledge to determine what your problem is, if you have the tools other passing cyclist can often help. Carry a spare tube, as it is often difficult to repair puncture in poor weather, but have the repair outfit just in case you get further punctures. Carry water to prevent de-hydration and energy snacks to top up and maintain stamina levels. On longer rides when weather might change carry a jacket, waterproofs and other items such as gloves, overshoes and extra layers. Always carry a mobile phone and money, and if you are being adventurous a map. (Remember, unless you have downloaded them, maps on phones are only there if you have a signal!)

4 Ride safety.

Ride safety starts at home, check your bike over regularly. This should include “Tyres” “Brakes” “Gears” “Cranks” “Chain” and the “Headset” as well as checking other fittings are all secure. Replace any worn or defective items.

On the ride safety is dependent on so many things that are outside your full control. The last thing I want to do is to alarm, but many new comers to cycling may not realise some of the issues/danger cyclist face, or how to ride to minimise the risks.  The following is a list of issues to watch out for during any ride.

Overgrown Hedges

Hedges that have not been cut for a number of years have grown to the edge of the roads and in some places overlap the road. This situation reduces visibility for all road users, but makes cyclists vulnerable to being struck from the rear or being close passed when motorist suddenly come upon them. The added danger is the risk of injury from coming into contact with these hedges. (Sticks getting caught in helmets are enough to have a cyclist off a bike and also eye injuries are a very real risk)

Drop off’s

 “Drop off’s” simply mean where it is possible to drop into a gully at the edge of the road. (Drop off the tarmac surface of the road) Where the tarmac road meets the verge, the verge is compacted or pushed aside by vehicle tyres to form a rut. These can be between a few inches to over a foot deep and vary in length from 3 feet or so. These ruts are often caused by vehicles pulling in to give way to oncoming traffic, but have also been formed over the year by successive layers of road surfacing.

Longitudinal Cracking

With the increasing weight of vehicles, and access to farms by larger heavier vehicles, roads are being compacted and groves are forming, like those found on main roads as a result of heavy Lorries. Because small side roads have not been designed to carry this heavy traffic and heavier agricultural vehicle, they are cracking along their length. This process is aided by the existence of drainage ditches, which in wet seasons allow sideways movement and the movement of the road surface allows cracks to develop. Where repairs have been made in the past and the patch moves in a similar way this can produce dead straight cracks. These and other cracks are often the origin of pot-hole, when water freezes in them. Cyclist need to avoid cracks for fear of their wheels getting locked into them like tram line. Often the compaction described above produces a longitudinal hump in the centre of narrow lanes. Debris builds up in this central area and makes the area unsuitable for cycling. The slope between the hump and the compacted area is often too steep to ride on, particularly if the weather is wet or icy.

Erosion/Debris/bank encroachment

The first thing to say is that vehicles are bigger than ever before and are the principle cause of erosion. Erosion happens in a number of ways. I have touched on the issue of drop-offs and often the action of forming these throws material onto the road. This usually happens where the verge is flat and at a similar level as the road surface. Where the verges are at a higher level than the road, erosion is usually caused by vehicles taking to the banks in order to pass one another. Loosened material then flows down the banks onto the road surface. The result is a flattened bank that spreads out over the carriageway reducing the perceived road width. This result in cyclist being unable to pull in close to allow cars to pass, which in turn leads to an escalation of bank erosion. In some small lanes in sandy areas of the county erosion combined with rainfall can cause the accumulation of sandy material in dips in roads such that the whole of the road is covered in sand through which it is dangerous to cycle. In narrow lanes debris builds up in the centre and leaves just a narrow section of exposed road on which to ride.

Weather conditions

It is easy to say “don’t go out riding in bad weather”, however for many cycling is a way of life and anyway it is easy to get caught out when weather changes. Conditions that affect cycling are many and varied and may not necessarily occur to motorists. Simple things from having an anorak hood up in bad weather restricting visibility to strong winds buffeting are not always appreciated. Things that are obvious when they are pointed out might include Low sun, ice on cross slopes or cambered surfaces, ice in the shade and puddles that may contain pot-holes and or cracks.

Stay safe advice

Take possession of the road, ride “1m out” from the gutter area where ever possible. If you ride close to the edge of the road, this can be an invitation for motorists to overtake when there is not room to do so safely. Adopting a “1m out” strategy gives you space to move into if someone passes you to close. In addition it makes you more visible to other road users, particularly on twisty roads, and helps you avoid some of the issue/dangers outlined above. Observe the Highway Code at all times.

There's lots more advice here

Maurie Parish      CTC Suffolk Group

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