The Ultimate Road Cycling Guide for Beginners

Road cycling guide for beginners: Professional cyclists descending a big mountain during a road race.

This guide will help you get started with road cycling.

I packed it with plenty of tips and know-how from my and other riders’ experience. It’s written in an easy-to-understand form, so it’s ideal for beginners.

Whether you want to gain fitness, spend time in the fresh air, visit new places, or meet new people, you are in the right place.

We will dive into the basics, choosing and riding a road bike, fueling your ride, and much more.

Let’s dive in!

What Is Road Cycling?

Road cycling involves riding a road bike on paved roads.

Road bikes are known for their drop handlebar, low weight, smooth and narrow tires, aggressive geometry, and aerodynamics.

These features allow you to ride fast on paved roads (mainly tarmac) without spending as much energy as on other bike types.

Road cycling is popular among cyclists because of the experiences it brings, such as visiting beautiful places, pushing your limits, or simply maintaining your fitness.

How to Get Started with Road Cycling?

Here is a brief description of the basic steps to get started with road cycling.

1. Get a Road Bike

YOELEO R12 on a beachfront in Croatia during sunset.

You don’t have to buy a brand-new bike if you are just getting started with road cycling.

I recommend starting with a bike you already have at home, borrowing one, or buying a second-hand bicycle.

This way, you avoid spending money on something you may not enjoy.

However, if you are serious about buying a road bike, read my ‘How to choose a road bike‘ guide to learn what to expect and look for.

It explains the bike frame materials, geometry types, components, choosing the right bike size, and much more.

You will also find helpful tips in my article ‘How much should you spend on a bike?.’

2. Buy Cycling Accessories

Kask Protone Review: Petr Minarik with a white Kask Protone outside

Cycling accessories are optional, but I highly recommend them. If I had to choose one accessory, it would be a bicycle helmet.

Although its wear is not mandatory in every state or country, it can literally save your life.

According to this study, the number of head injuries is reduced by an average of 60% when wearing a bike helmet.

You should also consider buying other accessories like a saddle bag, spare tube, mini pump, and tire levers. They will save you if you get a puncture miles away from home.

Other accessories, like speedometers, bike computers, power meters, bike radars, etc., are suitable for passionate cyclists.

3. Clarify Your Goals and Expectations

A cyclist climbs a hairpin in Italy

By clarifying your goals and expectations, you will realize why you want to do road cycling.

Maybe you want to race, explore your area, visit new places, make new friends, or combine everything.

Knowing your motivation will help you in the long run. Sometimes, you may feel like you don’t want to cycle anymore.

But when you remind yourself why you started, you get the needed push to keep going.

How to Ride a Road Bike?

This section includes tips to help you avoid some of the most common mistakes beginners make.

How to Shift Gears on a Road Bike?

Road bikes use groupsets from different manufacturers. The most well-known are Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo. You can watch the following video to see how they differ.

When I tried Shimano 105 groupset for the first time. I was amazed at how cleverly designed it is (brakes and gear shifters are integrated into a shift lever).

Detail on the Shimano Ultegra electronic shifters (buttons).
Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifters

The easiest gear is when your chain is on the biggest sprocket on the cassette and the smallest chainring. The hardest gear is the opposite (smallest sprocket and largest chainring).

Here are a few tips for shifting gears:

  1. Use your entire gear range depending on the terrain you ride. Many people use just a few gears, contributing to increased wear of given cassette sprockets.
  2. Keep your cadence around 85 RPM (revolutions per minute). The sweet spot differs among riders. You should not pedal too slow (you will tire your muscles faster) or too fast (it won’t be too comfortable) unless it’s part of your training.
  3. Avoid cross-chaining (see the picture below) to improve drivetrain efficiency.
Cross-chaining vs. good shifting - illustration of the wrong and right chain positions.
Avoid cross-chaining to reduce chain friction and drivetrain damage. Follow good shifting best practices to improve efficiency.

How to Use Brakes on a Road Bike?

Road bikes use disc or rim brakes. The rim brakes are more affordable and lighter but less effective when it’s raining.

Disc brakes are becoming more popular. However, rim brakes are fine too, especially if you don’t live in a mountainous area or are not a heavy rider.

Disc vs. Rim brakes: Canyon Endurance road bike with rim brakes on the left side vs. YOELEO R12 road bike with disc brakes on the right side
Rim s. disc brake road bikes

We differentiate mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes.

The hydraulic ones can better dose the braking power and are easier to use because you don’t have to apply as much force on the brake lever.

But due to their high effectiveness, you have to be careful when using them.

One of the most common mistakes of beginners is that they only use the rear brake. But you should use both brakes simultaneously.

Before you gain experience, break well in advance to avoid skidding and losing control of your bike.

If you need an emergency brake, lean your body backward. The change in your center of mass will help keep your balance and traction.

Pace Yourself

Pacing is important when road biking. But if you are a beginner, you don’t know where your limits are.

That’s when a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test comes in. It tells you what maximum effort you can sustain for one hour.

Once you know your FTP heart rate or power, you can ride based on these metrics. A power meter is not cheap, but it will be easier to manage your energy resources, especially during long rides.

When climbing, many people go to the red early on. This is not the best strategy. Instead, start slowly and increase your speed if you feel well.

Remember that external factors such as headwinds or a climb significantly affect your (average) speed, so you should adjust your effort accordingly.

Additional Tips for Riding a Road Bike

  • Look ~30 feet (~9 meters) ahead to choose the best path, avoid potholes, see braking cars, etc. Don’t look at or right in front of your front wheel.
  • Ride out of the saddle every 15 minutes to relax your back muscles and reduce pressure on certain body parts (especially your butt).
  • To ride faster, sit in a more aerodynamic position. It’s the position with your elbows bent to 90° (not the position on the drops).
  • When descending and cornering, be careful not to hit your pedals with the tarmac. See the following video for more details.
Guide to cornering on a road bike
  • Don’t ride as far right (or left) as possible. Keep two possible ways to avoid a pothole, a drain, etc. But make sure to consider the road and traffic. Here are more bicycle safety tips.

Road Cycling Clothing

One of the best investments you can make for improving your road cycling experience is buying quality, cycling-specific clothing.

Especially cycling shorts (also called bib shorts) with a jersey make a difference.

The shorts have padding (also called a chamois pad), so they will make long rides more bearable. I recommend using them with a chamois cream to improve your riding comfort further.

Cycling clothing is designed to be more breathable and remove sweat from your body.

It’s also snug, so you will be more aerodynamic and ride faster than in casual, floppy clothing.

Road Cycling Pedals and Shoes

‘A penguin walk’ is one of the distinguishing marks of road cyclists. You likely also have seen videos of cyclists who failed to unclip on time and fell over. These ‘fails’ are caused by road cycling shoes.

They have cleats that clip into road bike pedals. They keep your feet in a fixed position, making your pedaling safer because your feet won’t slip off the pedals.

Cycling-specific shoes are also more comfortable and stiffer, improving power transfer.

Although my first road cycling shoes were cheap, they took my cycling to the next level.

Shimano Ultegra road bike pedals review: Right Shimano Ultegra pedal on a Shimano 105 groupset
Shimano Ultegra road bike pedals

Road bike pedals can only be clipped in from one side, so some riders prefer mountain bike pedals.

You can clip in them from both sides. In addition, MTB shoes have recessed cleats, so they are easier to walk in.

I recommend reading my guides on ‘How to choose bicycle pedals‘ and ‘How to choose cycling shoes‘ for more details.

What to Eat and Drink When Road Cycling?

To avoid bonking (sudden loss of energy and exhaustion), you have to fuel properly during your ride.

This topic is pretty complex, and there are nuances between people on what they should eat and drink to maximize their performance.

However, the basic principles are:

  • The warmer it is, the more you should care about your hydration and drink more water.
  • The more intensive (or longer) your ride, the more calories you should consume.

I like having one bottle with water and one with maltodextrin and glucose (in a 2:1 ratio) for extra calories. During summer, I drink about one bottle every hour, so I try to refill when possible.

With food, it’s more complicated. My favorite ‘bike’ meal is these oatmeal balls. They are tasty and full of energy, and you can customize their ingredients as you want.

Many pros eat rice cakes because they also are full of carbohydrates. You can also eat bananas, dried fruit, toast with cheese, etc.

Then, there are cycling-specific products like gels, electrolytes, carbohydrate drinks, and many more.

You will find whatever suits you best once you ride more miles.

How to Cope with Pain When Cycling?

Let me tell you something that’s not easy to hear. Cycling can be painful. Surprisingly, that’s what many find appealing about it.

However, you will likely experience moments when your legs and lungs will burn from your efforts.

Trust me. You will eventually learn to manage the pain and get used to it.

Once you get better fitness, you won’t get tired as quickly and will be more powerful.

Leverage techniques like cold showers, recovery rides, etc., for better regeneration.

Don’t push it too hard when you are getting started. Instead, get basic fitness before chasing KOMs (King of the Mountain) in your area.

Many cyclists ride as hard as they can every ride, but it’s counterproductive.

You have to ride slower to become faster.

This a great video explaining why riding slowly makes you a faster cyclist

Road Cycling FAQ


Road cycling is one of my favorite cycling disciplines thanks to the high speeds and long distances it allows me to ride. It brought me a lot of great experiences.

I hope this article helped you get started and provided valuable tips, so you will experience similar feelings.

Feel free to share in the comments below what are your favorite tips or whether you have any suggestions to improve this article.

Preview picture credit: Saris

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