Everyone's a beginner once, but some people are more prepared for what cycling's all about than others. Here's what no-one ever tells us about before we get into cycling

It’s really hard

Peter Sagan struggles in the torrid conditions at Ghent-Wevelgem (Watson)

Peter Sagan struggles in the torrid conditions at Ghent-Wevelgem (Watson)

This one is kind of obvious, but it still comes as quite a shock just how physically demanding cycling is.

Unless you come to cycling from another sport, chances are you’ll be reasonably unfit when you first sit on a road bike. With mental images of powering to victory up Alpe d’Huez, you’ll actually find yourself pouring with sweat and feeling a little bit sick within five miles of your house.

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“It wasn’t this hard when I used to do my paper round on a bike,” you say to yourself as you struggle to hit a respectable speed in the lightest of headwinds. The difference is, though, that when you were doing your paper round, no-one expected you to ride fast. Now you’re on a flashy bike you feel the need to travel slightly faster than 10mph.

The bad news is, though, that it never really gets much easier – as Greg LeMond said – you just get faster.

You can’t avoid going up hills

The first time you encounter a hill on your new bike is likely the first time you consider putting your new machine straight on eBay and forgetting all about your brief love affair with cycling.

There’s no greater leveller for an inexperienced rider than a slight incline and a complete lack of understanding of how to use your gears.

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“Take as much speed as you can into the hill,” your friends will tell you. And this is good logic. Except that you can’t remember how to change down a gear and you end up stuck in the big ring as the hill gets tougher.

As hard as you may try, while sitting at home looking at a map, you can’t escape the hills (except if you live in Lincolnshire) and the easiest way to get over your fear of climbing is to face it head on.

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We’ve all had to do a walk of shame – pushing our bike up a hill that’s defeated us in one way or another – so, in fact, there’s no shame at all.

You end up buying A LOT of kit

If you’re like me, you set out by buying a road bike and just learning to ride it without any of the faff of buying specific cycling kit.

Flat pedals with little reflectors on looked a bit ridiculous on my brand new Felt, and I wasn’t the trendiest in regular gym shorts and a t-shirt but I wasn’t prepared to turn into ‘one of those guys in Lycra’ just yet.

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Then I found out just how uncomfortable the saddle was and I set about searching for some padded shorts. Then came the cycling jersey, and the rain jacket and the cleats and the arm warmers and the toe warmers…you get the idea.

I now set aside half of my wardrobe space for cycling kit, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. The sooner you give into the fact that you’ll own more cycling gear than normal clothes, the sooner you’ll become a real cyclist.

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You’ll become more well known at your local cafes than you are at your local pub



Cyclists like coffee and cake, there’s little doubt there. Becoming a cyclist means that you’ll become well known at the cafes in your area, but unlike being a regular at the pub at the end of your road, you’ll only ever go to cafes that are about 30 miles away from your house.

It’s strange that one of the most enjoyable things about cycling involves you not actually being on your bike, but a cafe stop has long been a ritual of cyclists of all levels, so to not stop for a cake and some caffeine after a tough slog would just be rude.

Your diet will consist of energy bars and gels

When you’re not in the cafe you’ll find that your diet doesn’t really improve much. A bit of porridge before a ride, maybe a banana if you’re feeling exotic. But in reality, the rest of your daily intake of calories will come in the form of energy bars that are claimed to taste like apple and a bevy of gels.

Sure, they work while you’re out riding, but the lesson you’ll soon learn is that too many gels will turn your guts to water…and that’s something no-one wants while out on a ride.

You’ll end up getting addicted

women cycling

There’s no escaping it; cycling will take over your life. The joy of being out in the countryside, with nothing between you and the open road is something that never wears off.

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Even if you’re the kind of rider who needs a little encouragement to get out on your bike, it’s likely that you’ll spend a good part of your time looking at places to ride, kit to buy, gadgets you need and ways to fix your bike.

It’s inevitable, so don’t fight it!

  • James

    Cambridgeshire does have hills, you just have to find them and ride up them a few repeats/times in a challenging gear lol

  • Jon Freeman

    Norfolk is not flat. It doesn’t have long hills and therefore at experienced club cyclists speeds your momentum down a hill will carry well up the other side. However, for a beginner there are numerous places where they could easily grind to walking place or a complete stop because of a short but steep incline. Parts of Holland are flat. Parts of Norfolk are a little bit like Holland but on the whole Norfolk is not flat.

  • Marcus Taylor

    I use a full sus mountain bike with hybrid tires for commuting to work taking half the journey off road to miss the worst traffic. It’s about 12 miles each way and a better work out than riding the racer.
    The racer is for summer only, the rest of my riding is in forests etc which is way more fun anyway. The forests get full of recreational muppets blocking the single track in the summer so a good time to switch to road. Mountain bike is usually used in the wet as skinny tires are crap and I ain’t getting paid to risk hurting myself.
    Climbs are only insurmountable if there isn’t enough traction, whack it in the lowest gear, stand up and grind it out on the road. Don’t try and ride flat out all the time, enjoy the scenery, ride with someone and chat when there is no traffic, the miles will soon clock up easier than you think.
    Finally be wary of junctions and driveways, racers don’t stop that quick with block brakes and they lock up easy in the wet.

  • GeorgeB

    I think LeMond was referring to competitive cycling. but I suppose your right as well.

  • J1

    I hate that LeMond quote, it’s absolute BS. You can go the same speed for less effort as you get fitter.

  • John Prince

    ERROR: Most cyclist like beer and are great people to visit local pubs with

  • Herve Shango

    the last bit and first bit is so true, i have been addicted to cycling the whole of 2015

  • Stevo

    Regarding point 4: Maybe you should train more? Or do your clothes not fit? There’s no reason anyone shouldn’t look OK in cycling kit.

  • Gary Jogela

    All good comments.makes me realise it’s not just me after all.

  • Eric

    don’t space out on that wheel you are sucking….overlap fall down go boom. Happened once when I was 14….I’m almost 50 now…still feel guilty for the rookie mistake that broke an older dudes arm……tales from a former Junior.

  • lee

    When you’re in a car you know the terrain better than anyone… down to the surface.

  • Scott Wilson

    Any of them hills along the low villages are killer climbs if your not ready for them

  • trummy

    Take the hills as they come and then recover in a good pub with a decent pint- very satisfying

  • Andy Roche

    Interesting article, but if you think Lincolnshire’s flat, you need to have a go up the cobbled Michaelgate climb in Lincoln at the Lincoln Grand Prix Sportive. This comes at the END of the whole route!

  • Cullipool

    Be careful with the back brake!

  • Fran

    1. Inclines (never mind Hills) that you never noticed in a car/van.
    2. Road surfaces, the main roads can be so much smoother due to the amount of traffic compared to the hard shoulder or a back road (usually better maintained but the juries still out on that one)
    3. You will get used to the pain in your ‘derriere’ it won’t be a limiting factor.
    4. It’s difficult to look good in Lycra (substitute difficult with impossible)
    5. Comfort is a relative term, 80-100psi in a tyre narrower than 2 fingers, on a contraption with no suspension?
    6. You become a Nutcase, yes, you get the ‘buzz’ from the achievement of a good spin some say it’s from the endorphins but they could be hormonal. You also become addicted to apps, be it a weather apps, hoping that the weekend will be still and dry or Strava/Mapmyride watching how you’ve improved/disimproved week by week.

    That’s the 6 things no one told me before I started cycling this autumn.

  • Simon Mason

    Lincolnshire has the Wolds – look up Saxby Hill Climb.

  • Ady

    Try Norfolk and Cambridgeshire if you really want flat.