How to learn to ride a bicycle? – The Ultimate Guide

We had a chat with one of our adult friends who recently came to the realization that she forgot how to ride a bike. So she had to learn how to ride a bicycle again, this time as an adult. We drew from her experience in riding this article, as well as tips and tricks that worked for us when we first learned how to cycle.

Our ultimate guide to learning how to ride a bicycle includes the following steps:

  1. Find a bike
  2. Wear protective equipment and comfortable clothes
  3. Find a good spot to practice
  4. Adjust the saddle height
  5. Test the brakes
  6. Plan your path
  7. Try pedaling for short distance
  8. Come to a halt, repeat
  9. Go the extra mile

Now that you have a general idea of what this article entails, we can get started with the first step: find a bike.

Find a bike

If you are learning how to ride a bicycle for the first time, there’s a chance you don’t own a bicycle yet. You can borrow a bike from a friend or acquaintance if that’s the case. If you don’t have a friend with a bicycle, you can also look into bike-sharing systems in your area. Citi Bike in New York City and Capital Bikeshare in Washington D.C. are popular examples of bike-share systems. However, many other cities in the US are home to systems like this where you can check out a bike for hours at a time for a certain fee. 

Some types of bikes are more beginner-friendly than others. If possible we recommend getting a bike with straight, flat handlebars which support an upright riding position. Wider tires also help since they are easier to balance and control, especially on uneven terrain. Hybrid bikes typically have flat handlebars and wider tires, which make them good beginner bikes. City bikes, which make up a subgroup of hybrid bikes, are especially comfortable and easy to ride thanks to their bigger saddles, elevated handlebars, middleweight tires and good suspension. This type of bike, as you can tell from the name, is very popular in urban areas. For more detailed information on hybrid bikes, head on over to our article titled: “What is a hybrid bike?”

Wear protective equipment and comfortable clothes

Safety should be top priority when learning how to ride a bike. Be prepared for the possibility that you will fall off the bike when practicing. Some protective equipment and accessories will help minimize the damage to your body. These include knee and elbow pads, which protect the joints against scrapes. But more importantly, make sure to put on a helmet when learning how to cycle. In the event of an accident, helmets reduce the likelihood of a head trauma, which is arguably one of the worst injuries you can sustain on the saddle.

There are different helmet types, including commuter, road and mountain helmets. A regular commuter helmet should do the job for a beginner just learning to cycle. Your helmet should ideally fit snugly without being too tight. It should also come down to an inch above your eyebrows. You can adjust the straps of the helmet to make sure it sits nicely on your head and doesn’t fall off or wobble during your ride.

Find a good spot to practice

Finding an appropriate spot for learning how to cycle is essential. The ideal place should have little to no traffic. It should also be flat and smooth. Good terrains for practicing your cycling skills include smooth gravel and grass. The surface should not be sloped or uneven, especially if it’s your very first time on the saddle.

Adjust the saddle height

There are various methods to find the correct saddle height for yourself. Here we will provide a brief description of one of those methods. Put your heel in the middle of the pedal, which should be at a 6 o’clock position. Your correct saddle height is one where you can reach the pedal in this position without having to roll your hips. Your legs should be straight when you do reach the pedals but you shouldn’t have to exert yourself to do so.

Ultimately, finding your optimal saddle height entails trial and error. So feel free to make adjustments afterwards based on what feels comfortable as you spend more time on the saddle. You might want to set your saddle a little lower than its optimal position if it’s your first time riding a bike. This will allow you to get your feet on the ground faster and more easily if you have to stop suddenly. 

Our complete guide to finding your saddle height can be found here.

Test the brakes

Make sure to gauge the bike’s reaction to its brakes and get a feel for them prior to starting to pedal. For this part, get off the bike and walk it next to you. Push the brakes to see how much strength you need to put into them, how they feel in your hands and how fast the bike reacts to the brakes being pulled. Commit the exact location of the brakes to your muscle memory in case you need to make an urgent stop.

Plan your path

Plan the route you want to follow in your mind. We recommend starting with short distances and working your way up from there. (Let’s say 60-80 feet) It helps to know your path beforehand so you don’t have to make impromptu decisions while also trying to balance on the saddle. Make sure your planned route doesn’t involve significant bumps, pits or any kind of rough terrain that can throw you off your balance. You could practice cycling on a driveway, smooth gravel, the sidewalk, or on a short stretch of a park trail near you. As we already mentioned in the first step, make sure your path is subject to as little traffic as possible.

Try pedaling for a short distance

Now that you have everything ready and planned out, your next step should be learning to pedal. Initially you will have your one foot on the ground and the other foot in the pedal, with the bike between your legs. Make sure you are seated comfortably on the saddle, push off as you lift your foot off the ground and start pedaling with both feet. Starting to pedal is perhaps the most daunting part of the entire experience. Here are some tips to make it easier:

  • The quicker you are about it, the less time you allow yourself to lose your balance. Start pedaling swiftly, but without rushing it or panicking. 
  • Do not stop paying attention to the handlebar while focusing on your feet. Make sure it’s pointed to where you want to go without wobbling left or right as your foot finds its placement on the pedal. 
  • Look straight ahead. You might be tempted to look down at the road or at the distractions around you. This might result in you losing control and steering toward those distractions. We recommend keeping your eyes on where you want to go. This will help you control the direction of the handlebar better.
  • Get into a swift rhythm of pedaling once you take off. If you are pedaling too slowly or too fast, you might lose your balance. For your first time on the saddle, a moderate pace is best.

Come to a halt, repeat

Dismount from the bike once you make it to your planned destination. Best practice is to stop using the brakes and put one foot on the ground when the bike comes to a halt before it tilts to the side. Repeat the previous step three times by pedaling short distances.

Go the extra mile

Once you feel comfortable riding short distances, try your hand at cycling longer ones. Start to incorporate turns into your planned route. For instance, you could practice going around the block. Once you get a handle on turns and going longer distances, try to go over small bumps, grates, cobblestones and other kinds of uneven surfaces you might run into in your area. We would recommend not going into traffic before you feel comfortable cycling over these kinds of potential hazards. You should feel in complete control of the bike if you want to start commuting to places by bike, even if you live in a bike-friendly area.

Final Thoughts

Cycling will not feel natural and easy the first time you try doing it. However, you will feel more and more comfortable the more time you spend on the saddle. Not only that, you will start to see the fun in cycling. And if you’re like us, it won’t only be a means of transportation but it will also be a way to clear your head, exercise and find peace in the great outdoors.

If you need additional motivation to get on the saddle, feel free to check out our article titled: “13 Benefits of Cycling

About the Author

About the Author

Hey, what's up? Ali here. EDM addict, gym rat, and Tame Impala fan of the Cycle Simply Team.