Cycling for beginners: 5 tips for first-time cyclists

Written by James Jennings for Real Insurance.

In a post-lockdown world, it’s no surprise that people are wanting to get out and about - and perhaps even less surprising that they’re looking for options other than public transport.

Metrocount, an organisation that monitors and collects traffic data has taken a look at 7 bike monitoring sites across Australia to see how Covid has affected cycling. This was done to compare and also contrast trends in different cities before, during and after lockdowns began. They found that average weekly cyclists have increased in the non-CBD areas, with one suburb by as much as 69%. As well as this, the six non-CBD locations each recorded higher peaks in cycling for the three months following initial reports of Covid transmission. Only the Melbourne CBD site recorded a decrease in average weekly cyclists volumes.

We spoke with Bicycle Industries Australia’s General Manager Peter Bourke and Matt Clarke, who has been a cyclist for 30 years. He is now in his forties, and has had his share of bike accidents with “the scars to prove it”. Real Insurance found out about what every new cyclist needs to know, from the equipment required, to how to stay safe on the road.

#1: Choose the right bike

“Your local bike shop is the expert,” says Bourke. “The first question they usually ask is, ‘What type of riding are you going to do? Is it riding to work? Is it off-road? Is it on shared paths? Is it riding with your children?’ That way they’ll determine the right bike for your needs.

“If it’s someone starting out, it could be a nice hybrid bike that can do a little bit of gravel, but mainly rides on a sealed road. And it’s a very nice, comfortable ride.”

#2: Essential cycling accessories

While helmets are a legal requirement, “the best thing about bike riding is there isn’t actually anything essential you need,” says Bourke.

“If you’re going to go for a bit of a ride and you’re going to cover a few kilometres, padded shorts do help, though. And you can wear them underneath your normal shorts if you’re a bit shy!”

Lycra has its advantages, but if you’re just riding to work or with your children to the local shops, everyday clothes are as good as anything else because you’re comfortable in them.

“In winter weather, a nice breathable jacket will keep you dry and warm,” Bourke adds.

Matt Clarke’s essential pick is a good pair of riding gloves. “Gloves are super important in the sense that if you do fall, often the first thing to hit the ground is your hands,” he says.

“I also really like wearing bike glasses that block the wind when you’re going downhill or are riding fast. Investing in a set of glasses is always a good idea, since they can really help improve your visibility.”

Bourke also suggests a pump, a patch-repair kit and a bike light as important extras to have. “Just keep in mind that there are two different types of lights – ones to help you see, and ones that help you be seen,” he says.

#3: Think about road safety

“You have to have a mindset that car drivers can’t see you,” says Clarke. “Because quite often, they don’t.”

“When you’re driving a car, your mindset is you’re looking for other cars, not so much cyclists. So as a cyclist, from a defensive-driving perspective, I think you’ve got to have this mindset that they can’t see you.”

“You’ve got to do everything you can to be seen, in terms of what you wear and using your signals, but also being super aware: if someone didn’t see you, and you turn this corner, will you survive? You’ve got to make those decisions as you’re riding.”

Clarke also says it’s important to check the basics every time you get on your bike:

  • Test the brakes
  • Make sure the wheels are properly attached (modern bikes have quick-release wheels, so this isn’t as crazy as it sounds).

You might also consider taking a road safety course, such as the one provided by the City of Sydney. Private companies also offer paid-for courses around the country.

Don’t forget, cycling is covered by laws, so make sure you stay up to date with the legislation locally, as each state differs. There are tough fines for non-compliance so it’s worth being across the rules.

#4: Plan your route

“One of the best things cyclists can do is think about where they want to go from and to – just because there’s a route that you drive in your car, that doesn’t mean it’s the way you have to ride,” says Bourke.

You may know how to choose the most appropriate route when driving a car, but a bike is different: there could be a quiet street that you wouldn’t necessarily drive on, but it could be perfect to ride. Or you could take a shared path via a creek or similar.

Google Maps is an obvious place to start (remember to click the cycle symbol) but many local councils provide cycle maps that you can use. Search info for your local area. Transport NSW has Cycleway Finder, South Australia has a “Cycle Instead” website, the Sunshine Coast provides cycling routes and the City of The Gold Coast has a website with walking and cycling maps.

#5: Try a practice run

“Another tip is to ride the route on a weekend or when it’s less busy – preferably in the bike lane if there’s one available – so that you’re comfortable with your route,” says Bourke.

“Also, always look 10 metres in front of you in terms of objects on the road, but also remember to look 30-40 metres ahead in the traffic to see what’s coming up.”