Cycling is great exercise, and it’s particularly good for those of us who are trying to maintain a healthy heart. It’s often described as ‘cardio’ exercise, which means it gets your heart pumping faster, as well as giving some of the larger muscles in your body a good workout. Starting to cycle can be a wonderful way to add variety and fun to your fitness regime, and help maintain a healthy weight – this is important for heart health, as elevated cholesterol levels are one of the risk factors of heart disease*.
However, it can be difficult to know how to start cycling for exercise if you’re new to the activity – where to go, the kit you might need, and how to stay motivated are common challenges. To help you get on your bike and start pedalling, we’ve put together some cycling tips for beginners here.
Be sure to check out our handy guides to other forms of exercise too! If you’re looking for the ultimate flexible fitness regime, we have advice on how to start running for beginners, 10-minute workouts to fit around your schedule, as well as tips on stretching to get you started.
How to start cycling: Tips for beginners
Cycling is perfect for people just starting out on a new fitness regime, because it doesn’t require too much of an initial investment: all you need is a bike, some lights, and a helmet.
The bike itself doesn’t need to be fancy – if you don’t already have one, think about the kind of cycling you’d like to be doing before you make a purchase. Road or “city” bicycles are best for urban cycling on pavement or tarmac, while mountain bikes are your best shot if you plan on taking your bike cross-country. If you’re planning on doing both, there are also plenty of hybrid bikes.
The most important thing to take care of before starting to cycle is getting some good safety gear: a well-fitting helmet and lights are key. A high-visibility jacket is also recommended if you’ll be cycling near traffic.
While there are many additional cycling products on the market (repair kits, baskets, special attachments) make sure this is the exercise for you before investing too much. The best way to do this is to just start cycling!
Where to go once you start cycling
If you’re not cycling to and from work, you might (at first) struggle to think of recreational routes to set out on. First, have a think about your local area. A map (online or otherwise) can help you plan a circuit that brings you back to your starting point. It may be you’ve spotted local cyclists turning off on paths you can’t reach by car – these are often really handy shortcuts, or particularly scenic routes.
Consider both on and off-road options, as both have their benefits, and you can get a great workout on both. Cycling off-road can be very picturesque, with much more variation in terrain and ways to avoid the hazards of traffic. On the road, you’ll get a much smoother ride, as well as skipping the potentially pretty muddy experience of cross-country cycling.
For more help and advice on how to start cycling, have a look at web-based route planners that can automatically provide you with local options, and can help calculate distance or calories burnt.
Motivated cycling for beginners
One of the best ways to stay motivated when you take up a new activity is to do it with others. Cycling can be great as a social sport, both with friends and family. Or why not join a cycling club in your area? Most towns and cities have a group, and they are often great at giving advice on how to start cycling for exercise. Not only will the other members of the group be able to give you lots of cycling tips for beginners, they are also good for a post-cycle (soft!) drink and chat.
Many clubs will also arrange cycling holidays for members. These are excellent ways to have fun while keeping healthy. You’ll be in a great mood throughout, as the cycling will give you an endorphin boost – and you’ll no doubt make some great new friends too.
Once you’ve got into cycling, remember to observe road safety rules and stay motivated. Try going out two-three times a week as a goal. This isn’t too difficult, and can be done first thing in the morning to get it out of the way – it makes an invigorating morning commute. It also has the advantage of avoiding a lot of the heavy traffic, making it a slightly safer cycle.
Whenever (and wherever) you start cycling, just remember to enjoy it. It’s a great form of cardio exercise – your heart will thank you for it!
*High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.