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How to Ride a Road Bike for the First Time – 11 Steps

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So, you have caught a bit of the Tour de France on the television and have decided you want to give a road bike a go, and why not? There’s no doubt it can be exhilarating, and the way in which it can give you a real sense of speed and wind in your hair is something you can only experience by having a shot.

But before you do, I have some tips and advice that will make life that bit easier.

After all, there are a few differences with a road bike to a mountain bike, and not acknowledging them could lead to problems. 

I will take you through 11 key steps that every budding road cyclist should know. Following these steps should lead to you feeling more confident, and less likely to run into problems.

Road cyclist riding up a road in the woods

Step 1: Make Sure the Bike Fits

The first step is to make sure the bike fits.

This is something where you should go to a local cycle shop and let one of their team size you up.

You can do this even after you have purchased your bike, but the key here is in making sure that each and every aspect is set up perfectly for you. [Source]

This is important because it will not only determine how comfortable you are on your road bike, but will also directly affect the amount of power you can put through the pedals.

Less power is going to clearly equate to less speed, and while that’s not always a bad thing when starting out, it will develop into a real problem.

Also, if the bike does not fit you correctly, then you will be putting undue pressure and strain on the wrong areas. That will also tire you out, and the aches and pains that will undoubtedly come along could very well put you off trying out your road bike once again.

So before you do anything else, get someone to help you with setting up your bike. It will make such a difference, and you will be so glad you did it.

Here is a rough guide of what size bike you may need depending on your height, as recommended by (Source):

Your heightApproximate bike frame size
4’11” – 5’3″ 13 – 15 inches
5’3″ – 5’7″ 15 – 16 inches
5’7″ – 5’11” 16 – 17 inches
6’0″ – 6’2″ 17 – 19 inches
6’2″ – 6’4″ 19 – 21 inches
6’4″ and taller  21+ inches

Step 2: Get All Your Protective Gear Out

Look, I am going to be honest here.

There is a chance you could end up falling off your bike at some point!

It happens to the best road cyclists in the world, so you are not immune to the possibility of this happening.

That is why I have mentioned getting your protective gear out and making sure it’s ready for action.

Invest in a quality helmet, and consider some kind of cycling sunglasses to cut down on glare. Being blinded for even a second or two can spell disaster, so you need to be prepared in such a way so as to stop that from happening.

Also, please do invest in a pair of cycling shorts.

They have extra padding to prevent saddle sores, and if you are serious about getting into road cycling as a hobby, then a quality pair of shorts will prove to be the best possible thing.

Step 3: Inspect Your Bike

Before you venture out for the first time, you want to make sure you are able to inspect your bike.

That means checking the tires are at the right pressure, and also that the brakes work.

The recommended tire pressure for a road bike is somewhere between 80 and 130psi, and you can get pumps that show you the pressure in the tire.

You certainly don’t want to find out at the most inopportune of moments that the brakes don’t engage.

Pay close attention to the chain. Make sure it’s perfect, and add some oil if required. You should be able to rotate the pedals and chain without too many problems, so try this when the bike is stationary.

Also, if you have toe clips installed on the pedals, then make sure they are in place. They will make you feel more confident about being in control of the bike. 

This is something you need to do every single time you go out on your bike.

If you are unsure about what to do, then have someone who is more experienced as a road cyclist take you through their pre-ride checks, and just follow what they do.

Here’s a quick checklist of what to look out for:

Bike FeatureWhat You Are Looking For
ChainWell oiled and rotates freely
Front and back tiresPressure of 80 to 130psi
Toe clipsAt correct angle for your feet
Front and back brakesAre clamping successfully onto the tires
CarryPuncture repair kit and water
Bike SeatAt correct height and angle for you
A road bike by the side of a road
Giving your bike an inspection before going out on it, will reduce the likelihood of getting stuck while out on your ride

Step 4: Know Your Route

It can be nerve-wracking as a road cyclist, and that is why I do recommend knowing the route you will be taking before you start.

It lets you understand where potential issues may be located, or where you will be running into more traffic than you may be comfortable with.

Just going out for a general ride is not going to involve a complete lack of planning. It would be both insane and dangerous to do this, and it’s not something we recommend. 

Step 5: Know How to Fix a Puncture

There is always the potential for you to get a puncture, and that means you need to know how to fix it in order to get back home. Once again, this is all about preparation, and while you could go years without getting one, not having the knowledge about what to do is insane. [Source]

Also, a puncture repair kit is something you can carry with you. It won’t take up a lot of space, and it also doesn’t weigh much, but you must know what to do with it, or it is pointless!

Step 6: Start in a Quiet Location

A road bike is completely different from any other bike out there, and with narrow tires, it does require a bit more balance as there’s less room for error. 

For those very reasons, I suggest you go ahead and start in a quiet location. That means a quiet road, or even in a park away from people, and traffic as well.

The idea here is it gives you the opportunity to get used to the feel of the bike and to get your balance just right with it. You can stop and start as often as you like, and certainly until you feel confident enough to get out there where things are busier.

Also, if you do decide to venture out onto a road, then I have another tip…get someone to come with you.

Now, you may think that you are an adult and that you will be fine, but there’s a bit of an art to getting used to cycling with a road bike.

A riding partner, who is experienced, will be worth their weight in gold.

Step 7: Start at Less Than Two Miles

While you may dream of covering distances you see in the Tour de France, that’s not something you should be attempting the first time you go out on your road bike.

Actually, what I recommend, and a lot of other specialists recommend this as well, is to limit your first ride to somewhere in the region to two miles.

Now that may not sound like a lot, and it’s certainly not a lot by the standards of a road bike, but that’s because the first time is all about getting used to the bike.

Two miles is ample time for you to get used to the feel of the bike and how it rides.

Also, the position you will be adopting on a road bike is completely different from a mountain bike.

That means a shorter ride allows your body to get used to the position, and it could stop you from developing a whole host of aches and pains.

Step 8: Riding on an Uphill Slope

The odds of you having a ride that is completely flat every step of the way will be strongly against you, although I know it’s not absolutely impossible.

So, if you are going to encounter any kind of a slope, then this is what you need to do.

The key with riding uphill, and we also include the slightest of slopes in all of this, is to make sure you lean into the bike and slope.

This will help you to apply a bit more force to the pedals, and it will certainly help you to power up that slope rather than coming to a complete standstill.

If struggling, then don’t be afraid to get up out of the saddle in order to apply even more force. With this, you need to maintain a good grip of the handlebars, and it should lead to you being able to get up that slope.

A road bike popped up on a sidewalk
Road biking up and down slopes is a skill that can be learned with cautious practice

Step 9: Being Cautious on the Down Slope

After having just explained how to deal with an uphill slope, I also need to look at a downward slope. Considering you are new on your road bike, then caution and safety will be the most important points here.

Now while leaning over the bike and into the slope helps with going uphill, the same does not apply to going downhill.

Instead, you need to keep a firm grip on the handlebars and be prepared to gently tap on the brakes if you feel that the speed is getting too much.

Just a light tap on the brakes can make a real difference, but don’t slam on the brakes. That will lead to you coming off, as they do tend to be rather sensitive.

When starting out, don’t try and pedal when going downhill. That will only increase your speed to such an extent that you may struggle to maintain control.

Instead, allow gravity to take control of things when it comes to speed. However, as I said, keep an eye on your brakes, and don’t be afraid to use them.

Step 10: Always Carry Water

Dehydration can be a real issue, so always carry a water bottle on your bike, and make sure you can get to it without any problems. You also don’t want to be looking down too long in order to find it, so know where it is in advance.

Dehydration can lead to cramp, and you don’t want that to happen on your road bike at any point.

However, keep in mind your first ride is going to be quite short, so while you may not feel as if you could become dehydrated in such a short distance, that’s not true.

Step 11: Just Have Fun

The final step is the most important one of all, and that’s to just have fun.

If you feel anxious about going out on your road bike for the first time, then make sure you get a partner with a bit more experience. 

They can help guide you on how to deal with the traffic, as it certainly feels a lot different on a road bike than a car.

But don’t overthink things.

Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed with worrying about being out there on the road. Yes, it can be daunting, but it’s supposed to be fun and something to enjoy.

Overall, if you prepare for going out on your road bike, and start off by getting used to the bike in a quiet location, then there’s no reason why riding a road bike for the first time should come with any problems.

The best approach is undoubtedly to just get out there and get started.

The roads are waiting for you, and as long as you start things off by avoiding busy traffic, then this is something you will undoubtedly get used to doing.