10 cycling mistakes to avoid

Common cycling errors new riders make

Whether you’re new to cycling or a dyed in the wool veteran with thousands of miles in the legs, we all make mistakes. It’s the way we learn, the ‘experiential learning cycle’ as it were. So, before you make any more have a look at these common cycling mistakes, hopefully they’ll help you out and may even improve you as a rider…

Saddle height

Aside from soft tyres this is the one main thing that makes you inefficient as a rider, as the power from the legs just simply isn’t being delivered properly because you’re positioned too high or too low. As a guide the optimum position leg wise can be achieved as follows; Ride along with your heel on the pedal. When your leg is at the very bottom of the pedal stroke your leg should be almost straight, but not quite. Set your saddle at this height. Then when riding with your foot in the ‘normal’ position (ball of big toe over centre of the pedal axle) you should achieve an efficient pedalling action, at an ideal height. Don’t be afraid though to adjust a little higher or lower from this point, just to fine tune things if needed. You should still be able to touch the ground with your toes either side of the bike whilst sat in the saddle.

Not fuelling enough 

You may have heard of the phrase ‘hitting the wall’ in running, referring to the point when the body runs out of fuel/energy and basically grinds to a halt. Well, in cycling it’s known as getting the ‘bonk’.. it’s something that has happened to most riders, even those at the top level but it is one thing that’s best avoided if at all possible. Try and head out with a bit more food than you actually need and perhaps two bottles, especially if riding in more remote areas where there’s little chance of finding a shop. Having some food/drink in reserve is better than running on your reserve tank, as it were… plan ahead.

Braking in corners

This is very common error, especially amongst those new to cycling. The safest, most efficient technique is to brake before the corner, not actually through it, as doing this with your bike banked over at an angle will most likely result in the bike locking up and you losing control and crashing. So, on the approach to a bend gently brake and shave off enough speed to a point you can safely negotiate the bend. Practise makes perfect. Remember to start braking earlier in wet conditions as the stopping distance will be greater.

No spares!

When embarking on a spin that’s going to take you a fair distance from home you need to ensure that you’ve packed a few essential spares and tools that could get you home should you have a (non catastrophic) mechanical. As a guide I always take with me the following items that can be easily stowed in a small saddlebag under the saddle or distributed in your pockets:

2 x inner tubes

Tyre levers

Patches (instant stick on type are best)

Mini Pump

Multi tool (ideally with chain link extractor)

Grabbing for the brakes

This mistake is most common in those new to cycling and, like many things, takes a while to get ‘dialled in’. When needing to slow don’t just ‘grab’ the brakes hard. Braking should be done in a controlled manner so the weight distribution of you on the bike remains as stable as possible. The dangers of sudden braking include loss of control and stability and in some cases can simply result in catapulting the rider over the handlebars. So, look ahead, anticipate and brake steadily using both front and rear simultaneously, with slightly more emphasis on the front brake.

Riding too far, too hard, too early

Or, ‘don’t bite off more than you can chew!’ Know your ability and ride within it. There’s nothing wrong with aiming high but the key to achieving those lofty ambitions is to build things up incrementally. Cycling is a tough sport but wonderfully rewarding. Don’t bruise your moral by doing too much too soon, as it can take a long time to get back on track.

Poor bike maintenance

Again, this is basic stuff but vitally important. Not just from a convenience point of view when having to get picked up from the roadside by a friend or family member, but more from a safety perspective. It’s good to get into the habit of regularly checking your bike and keeping it maintained. Focus on the brakes, gears, handlebars and tyres and regularly clean and lubricate the chain. Once in a while get your bike serviced, especially if you are unsure or in doubt re a more complex part of the bike. Don’t chance it.

Incorrect / inappropriate clothing

This is yet another element of the sport that you need to get right, as otherwise you could find yourself at best a bit uncomfortable and at worse in extreme difficulty. So, plan ahead. Check the forecast. How long is your ride going to be? Is the weather likely to change? In colder conditions it’s best to slightly overdress than under dress as you can always peel off layers or at the very least unzip to let cool air in. Conversely, if heading out in shorts and short sleeves and you encounter a rainstorm, for example, your body temperature can plummet, so always pack a rain cape and or gilet that can be folded compactly into your pocket. I always carry both. This becomes even more important if you are riding in hilly or mountainous terrain with drastic elevation change. It could be very hot on the climb, but once you reach the top and start the downhill your body temperature will drop. Wearing a windproof cape will prevent wind chill and keep in vital body heat.

Not using gears

Your bike has gears for a reason; to improve the efficiency of your power over different terrain. Most bikes nowadays will have upwards of 20 gears, giving a very wide choice of ratios to suit all abilities. So, make sure you use them. It may take a while to discover what works for you but you certainly shouldn’t be pedalling so furiously that your body starts to rock whilst doing 10 miles an hour on flat stretch of road. At the other end of the spectrum you shouldn’t be heaving a large gear so your knees begin to hurt and every pedal revolution is like doing a weights session. Find a happy medium, on the flat regardless of ability you should aim to turn at an rpm (pedal revolutions per minute) of around 70-90. Make sure you gear down (easier) for climbs and up (harder) for the flatter and downhill sections of road. This may seem like basic stuff but if I had a pound for every person I saw struggling in the wrong gear…. ;)

Squeaking chain

Come on, you don’t want someone to think you’ve got a little door mouse living in the tubes of your bike do you? It can be infuriating and also it won’t be doing your bike chain or cassette (cogs on the rear hub) too much good either, as the sound is friction wearing out your components. So, pop on some light oil or chain lube, (there’s a wide variety available for wet and dry riding) wipe off the excess and away you go! No more squeaks and your chain will be ever grateful!

Written by Matt Stephens

Matt is a former British Road Race champion who represented GB in the Olympics, World Championships and Commonwealth Games. He is now a regular commentator for EuroSport and a presenter on Global Cycling Network


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