Cycling Secrets: Revealed

Confused by cycling jargon? Look no further than our guide to bike basics


Posted: 12 April 2011
by Liz King

If you're an experienced cyclist, the bike section of a triathlon holds no fears. But if you haven't cycled since you were a child, a bike can seem a complicated and dangerous machine.

Most triathletes start off in the sport with one weakness: for many people swimming is the least-favoured discipline but others have no more than the most rudimentary understanding of a bike: 'you pedal and it moves' seems to be about it.

But if you're going to be a strong triathlete you need to understand how your gears work, what to wear on the bike, how to take a corner with confidence and what a derailleur is. And does. And how to spell it.

1. Bikes for beginners

Becoming involved in triathlon doesn't mean you have to spend thousands of pounds on a top-of-the-range bike. You can buy a starter road bike for under £400.

Go for a triple or compact chainset because this will give you enough variation in the gears to take you up any hard climbs. (See tip number 11 for more on gears, including, crucially, how to use them.)

When buying a new bike it's a good idea to have a proper bike fit. Some bike shops will offer this service free of charge. Think about spending more on the frame than on components: you can upgrade these as you become more familiar with your bike's strengths and weaknesses and your needs. Be warned: you will be entering the strange world of bike porn.

2. How to brake

Many beginners are nervous on the bike and so often go too hard on their brakes. If you loosen your brake adjuster slightly and brake gradually, you will have more control. Try not to snatch at them or you could fly over the handlebars.

"It is better to use front and back brakes together," says Simon Cope, Women's Road Coach, British Cycling. "You need to use them safely, too, when riding in a group. Try to see what is happening ahead of you."

3. How to corner

There is no hidden art to cornering - you can take every corner you come to at speed if you know what you're doing. The trick is to look ahead and see what type of corner you are approaching.

Cope explains: "To go round a right-hand corner, put your weight on your left leg, drop your chest towards the stem, and push your backside back in the saddle. You must look through the apex of the corner." This is the point when you are closest to the inside of the corner. 

4. The ups and downs

The way you tackle hills will depend on how comfortable you feel on your bike. If you are fearless you can descend using the biggest ring on the front cassette and pedal hard to go faster. You would need to be in the smallest ring at the back to generate most power.

For climbing, you need to go on feel but make sure you have some resistance on your pedals to push against.

"On a long climb you should try to stay in the saddle. But by standing you can use extra body weight and strength if you need to," says Cope. "If you are grinding to a halt you will have to get out of the saddle. Do this for too long and you will get that burning sensation in your legs."

5. Smooth cycling

Most people have one dominant leg, which affects your pedalling, although it's likely you don't even notice it. If you do not address the issue it may lead to hip problems. To develop better pedal action do one-legged drills on the turbo trainer.

If you do one minute on, say, your left leg, then one minute on your right, you will develop a smoother pedal action. However, one of your legs will probably always be dominant. It's natural.

6. Road safety

"Statistically speaking, cycling is very safe, but it is important that cyclists are careful and keep themselves safe," says Sheila Spiers, cycling road safety officer with Kent Highways Services.

  • Don't ride with headphones or a mobile phone stuck to your head
  • Wear bright clothing - ride to be seen
  • If you get into an altercation with a driver, stay calm.

On the next page: Top tips for cycling on mud, joining a club, gear essentials and more.


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Discuss this article

Well meaning article but rather patronising for over 5s!
Posted: 13/04/2011 at 18:17

Assume all other road users and pedestrians are blind and deaf and out to get you.

Pot holes and gravel on corners will hurt you and you bike.

If you are on a road bike you are allowed to acknowledge mountain bikers and vise versa.


Posted: 14/04/2011 at 09:45

 "Assume all other road users and pedestrians are blind and deaf and out to get you.

Pot holes and gravel on corners will hurt you and you bike."

Fantastic advice for beginners Andy- thanks!


Posted: 14/04/2011 at 10:24

If struck by a sudden rainstorm, remember to keep testing your brakes well before you need them !!!  Also avoid wet manhole covers in the road, and dont ride so close to the kerb that you ride over the grids, especially those with missing grid covers or say goodbye to your wallet!
Posted: 14/04/2011 at 15:30

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