Every beginner cyclist makes errors as they explore their skills on the saddle. Every pro cyclist has made some error or the other when they began. Sometimes, repeating these mistakes could form a habit, which could affect performance on the saddle. Here are a few common mistakes every beginner makes, and how to avoid making them.
INCORRECT SADDLE HEIGHT
One mistake most people new to cycling make is to riding with the saddle too high or way too low. Apart from soft tires, this is one main thing that reduces your efficiency as a rider. Having an incorrect saddle height reduces the power delivered to the pedal by your legs.
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 (a little bend at the knee is required).
· Set your saddle at this height.
· Then when riding with your foot in the ‘normal’ position (ball of big toe over center of the pedal axle) you should achieve an efficient pedaling 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.
SETTING UNREALISTIC GOALS
Sometimes, cyclists new to the sport are motivated by friends who have already been at it for a while, and set goals to match their friends. This could be either the distance they cover in a day of cycling or targeting a really tough hill climb. Trying to match someone else’s riding targets is one of the easiest ways to lose the will to cycle.
It is suggested that one starts training at a pace comfortable with them and slowly increases the level of activity and sets harder goals – but only in their own accordance. The aim must always be to become stronger and faster than you were on a previous ride. Following a proper plan for a specific distance is the best way to see improvements in one’s cycling without burning out too early on.
In cycling the point when the body runs out of fuel/energy and basically grinds to a halt is known as getting the ‘bonk’. This is 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. It is suggested that you head out with a bit more food than you actually need and two bottles, especially if riding in more remote areas where there’s little chance of finding a shop. Having some extra food and water in reserve is better than running out. Hence, it is important to plan ahead.
When going on a ride, especially a long distance ride and to remote areas, not carrying any spares with you could leave you stranded somewhere. It is always recommended to carry spares and know how to fix common occurring problems on a bicycle.
A few spares that are a must-have on all rides include:
· 2 inner tubes
· A puncture kit
· Tire levers
· A multi-tool (one with a chain link extractor is recommended)
BRAKING ON CORNERS
This is an extremely common error, especially amongst those new to cycling. The safest and most efficient technique is to brake before the corner. Braking at a corner, with your bicycle banked over at an angle, will most likely result in the bicycle locking up and you losing control and crashing. So, on the approach to a bend (especially a steep, sloping one) gently brake and shave off enough speed to a point you can safely negotiate the bend. Remember to start braking much earlier in wet conditions as the stopping distance will be greater.
Another common error, especially with new cyclists, is grabbing for the brakes and pressing them suddenly with full force. This will most definitely throw you off the saddle. When slowing down never just grab onto the brakes. Instead, pull both brake levers with a light force to ensure gradual, smooth braking. Braking should be done in a controlled manner that your weight distribution on the bike remains as stable as possible. Look ahead, anticipate and brake steadily using both front and rear simultaneously. Remember to never use only the front brake, this can result in your cycle tipping over, throwing you off the saddle.
PUSHING TOO HARD, TOO SOON
The most common error is training too hard, too soon. While it is good to aim high, it is advisable to know your body’s limits and train within them. Over training can cause your muscles to tear and it will take a long time to recover and feel like hopping back on the saddle.
IMPROPER CYCLE MAINTAINANCE
Though basic, maintaining your bicycle is vitally important. Not just from a convenience point of view, but also from a safety perspective. It’s good to get into the habit of regularly checking your cycle and keeping it maintained. Focus on the brakes, gears, handlebars and tires, and regularly clean and lubricate the chain. Once in a while get your bicycle serviced, especially if you are unsure or in doubt regarding a more complex part of the bike. Don’t chance something giving way on a ride, it is time consuming and ruins your ride too.
IMPROPER USAGE OF GEARS
Your bicycle has gears for a reason; to improve the efficiency of your power over different terrain. It may take a while to discover what works for you, but you certainly shouldn’t be pedaling so furiously that your body starts to rock when pacing on a flat stretch. 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. Make sure you gear down (easier) for climbs and up (harder) for the flatter and downhill sections of road.
NOT FOLLOWING PROPER ROAD RULES
The rules of the road are just as important for cyclists as they are for motorists. A cycling helmet can only ever make you so safe and it’s good to have an understanding of road rules. Hand signals, regular bicycle checks and visible jackets are all ways to make sure you have as safe a ride as possible.