How to begin cycling for fitness

Cycling expert Elle Linton with her bike

As a certified cycling coach and bike enthusiast, I enjoy riding whenever I want to change up my workout routine and get away from my usual go-tos, like running or lifting weights at the gym.

Cycling is not only great for improving your fitness levels and boosting your mental wellbeing, it’s good to try if you have an injury and are unable to do higher-impact workouts. As it’s low-impact, cycling puts less of a strain on your muscles and joints.
When you get the hang of it, riding also gives you a sense of adventure and wanderlust, and the fun of it all might make you forget you’re exercising at all.

If you want to try cycling but don’t know where to start, let me help. I’m sharing all of the cycling tips I’ve learned over the years (I’ve been serious about cycling since 2014, taking part in duathlons and triathlons, even cycling from London to Paris!). You’ll need to be aware of these things if you want to cycle for fitness.

Now let’s get started:

Your bike matters

Cycling on the road through greenery

Just like picking out the perfect pair of running shoes, you’ll need to make sure the bike you use is right for your needs. Before purchasing a new bicycle, consider where you intend to ride it. Are you cycling on the road? Or do you want to ride your bike off the beaten track and explore the forest’s many trails? You can choose between a road bike, a gravel bike, a hybrid bike and a mountain bike once you’ve made your decision.

A gravel bike, in my opinion, is the best and most versatile option. These comfortable drop-bar bikes often feature wider tyres, and can be used both on and off roads – no wonder they’re growing in popularity.

A word of warning: if you’re buying a second-hand bike, try to ensure that it hasn’t been stolen. To be safe, double-check by asking the seller if they have any receipts proving purchase or a frame number for the bike (you can check these on the BikeRegister website, where owners can log bikes as stolen).

Also read: Fitness Expert Elle Linton’s guide to running for beginners.

So does your outfit!

When it comes to cycling, what you wear makes a huge difference. As a beginner, I recommend focusing on selecting clothing that is lightweight, sweat-wicking and really comfortable – trust me, padded shorts will become your best friend on lengthy rides!

In terms of footwear, go for good-quality trainers with a hard sole. You want to be able to press down on the pedals through your forefoot easily, and shoes like this will help you with that.

What other items should you include in your cycling kit? A helmet, bike lights (for both the front and back) and a decent lock are all equipment that will help you stay safe while riding your bike and prevent it from being stolen. As you get more comfortable, you can look at upgrading your gear.

You need the right setup

After you’ve got the right gear and bike, the next thing you’ll want to think about is your bike setup. Your saddle should be aligned with your pelvis so that you can extend your leg without locking your knees – there should be a slight bend here. If you place your saddle too low, you risk putting too much strain on your joints and developing knee pain. And if it’s set too high, you won’t be able to press hard enough into the pedals to get the power you need.

If you still need extra help, go to your local bike shop or make use of social media and watch a few videos on setting up bikes to get a better understanding of it all.

Top Tip: The best way to keep your joint health strong? Try a daily supplement like Nature’s Truth Montmorency Cherry & Turmeric Complex which is a must-have for a fitness-focused wellness kit. Studies suggest it might help ease inflammation and joint pain.

Don’t worry about distance at first

Woman cycling through mountains

My community frequently asks me about distance when they first start cycling for fitness. It’s a difficult question to answer because it all depends on what level you’re starting from. You might already be a workout fanatic, or just starting to improve your fitness levels. Regardless, don’t get obsessed with distance… yet. Remember: you’re trying to develop a new healthy habit, not trying to put yourself off it.

The first couple of times, have fun and just ride! Get a sense of your own natural pace by exploring your local area. Anyone who follows me will know about my love for Strava: it’s a GPS app for fitness where you can see cycling routes that are near you and try them out. Again, be mindful of the ones you pick at first, and try to always start and finish at the same spot.

Practice makes perfect

How do you make the transition from spin classes to cycling for fitness? With a consistent training plan, of course. Deciding what you want to get out of your rides, whether it’s training for an event or simply to explore your surroundings, will help frame your next steps.

If you want to improve your fitness and participate in cycling-related events, it’s a good idea to join a group or community to ride with. You can also look into local cycling clubs, many of which hold skill sessions for learning how to ride a bike outside. British Cycling’s Breeze is a great group for women to join in terms of communities. One of the main reasons I enjoy cycling (along with many others) is because of the social aspect – it’s exciting to be surrounded by people who share your interests, and it keeps you motivated.

If you’re not comfortable venturing out at first, you can focus on indoor cycling, which can include buying your own bike for your home (who doesn’t want to try Zwift or get a Peloton bike?) or by attending regular spin classes. Building skills and stamina indoors can help you gradually but steadily gain confidence for when you want to go outside.

Keep nutrition in mind

Man drinking water after bike ride

As with any exercise, it’s important to fuel yourself properly to maximise performance and recovery. Keep hydrated on your rides and be sure to pack workout-boosting snacks, like protein bars and bananas, for any long rides. Certain supplements might also support your exercise programme; beetroot extract can improve athletes’ stamina, potassium can aid hydration and muscle recovery, and caffeine can help you stay alert and energised.

Top Tip: Discover the supplements that can boost your workout here, from stamina to recovery.

Don’t compare yourself to others

If there’s one thing I want you to take from this, it’s that you shouldn’t compare your cycling journey to others. Just focus on your own plan to improve your fitness levels. As you gain confidence, you can begin to track your progress and set fun goals for yourself. The most important thing is to stay consistent and keep moving!

Read more from Elle and the Nature’s Truth Expert health and fitness panel here.

Elle Linton

Elle Linton

Fitness Instructor

A Certified Fitness Instructor and Entrepreneur, Elle Linton – founder of the keep it simpElle community and blog – is on a mission to show us how powerful our bodies are and what they can achieve through fun physical movement that is rewarding and beneficial to all. With incredible expertise in cycling, running and more, she’ll be sharing her best exercise tips and tricks, so you can feel empowered to start or rekindle your fitness journey and up your physical wellbeing game.