Advice for nervous beginner

rachelandrew Posts: 3
edited January 2013 in Road beginners
Hello, I'm new to road cycling (in fact pretty new to cycling at all). I'm a runner and really fancy having a go at duathlon and triathlon, so the first step is getting to grips with the road bike. I apologise in advance for the total newbie nature of this post.

I have a Specialized Allez Sport, fitted by the local bike shop. I'm wearing MTB shoes with SPD cleats as I had those already for the spin classes I do. So I understand the mechanics of clipping in and out however I'm so nervous of doing so I've only got as far as clipping in one foot so far. On my first ride I managed quite well with that one foot. Today I went out and immediately toppled over sideways, then did it again about 10 minutes later, which has left me a bit bruised but has also really knocked any confidence I had.

I love climbing hills, and that's the only time I feel as if I'm in control of the bike. It feels really twitchy and light on the flat or downhill. I'm not really very sure of basics like which gear I should be in, which won't be helping.

So really I'm just looking for any advice for a true cycling newbie, especially in terms of building confidence, or any good books/online resources/videos that might help me learn more about how to control the bike. At the moment I'm going over to Windsor Great Park to practice, where I'm more likely to ride into a deer than a car. I don't think I'm at a point where I could add dealing with traffic to the mix! However I really want to be able to properly enjoy cycling by the summer :)



  • 16mm
    16mm Posts: 545
    edited January 2013
    You do want to use clipless pedals, but I'd get used to riding the bike with normal flat pedals first, then put the spd pedals back on when you're happy. If you're beginning riding then you'll have plenty to get used to.

    Don't make it harder than it needs to be. Flat pedals are cheap, and you can use trainiers you already have.

    I assume you're OK with setting off, stopping steering etc. If not then bikeability may help.
  • gezebo
    gezebo Posts: 364
    Just ride!! It's as easy as that.

    A bike has two wheels and is naturally unstable so falling off is all part of it :-)
  • 16mm
    16mm Posts: 545
    gezebo wrote:
    Just ride!! It's as easy as that.

    A bike has two wheels and is naturally unstable so falling off is all part of it :-)
    It sounds like the OP thinks falling off is the start of giving up, rather than enjoying riding, and I'd agree.

    You really shouldn't be falling off on a road bike.
  • Mikey41
    Mikey41 Posts: 690
    First of all I think getting to grips with the pedals is where to start. If it's any consolation, I had exactly the same fall today when I failed to unclip.

    Position the bike indoors next to a wall or in a doorway where you can support yourself with your hands. Clip in both feet and practice releasing and re-clipping both feet until you can do it without looking. Do one foot at a time (most people tend to always put down the same foot, I always use my left). Set the spring tension of the pedals to the softest setting, that will also help unclipping.

    Next, find a flat section of quiet road where you can practice unclipping while the bike is moving. Coast along, unclip one foot and then clip in again, then do the other foot. Then you can pick a stopping point, unclip well in advance and you're there.

    As far as handling the bike goes, road bikes are very responsive things, the key is to relax on the bike. Keep a relaxed grip on the bars, keep arms and shoulders relaxed. You barely need to turn the bars at speed, just lean it in smoothly and it will turn. Plenty of grip from even entry level tyres, don't worry about that.

    What gear to be in depends on how fast you are turning the pedals. Common wisdom is to be turning the pedals at anything between 80-100 rpm (known as Cadence). You will find a speed that you are most comfortable with (mine seems to be about 90), so if you are spinning too fast, go up a gear, if too slow, drop down one.

    The biggest thing that will help is practice on the bike, staying away from traffic until you are more confident is a good move.

    Good luck! :D
    Giant Defy 2 (2012)
    Giant Defy Advanced 2 (2013)
    Giant Revel 1 Ltd (2013)
  • Mikey23
    Mikey23 Posts: 5,306
    Most of us have done that fally off thing... It's a rite of passage. You will get used to it and it will become second nature. I came to cycling after years of running and it was a shock to the system. So much to learn and relearn. But worth the effort
  • Hi Rachel,

    I think what you're doing is probably a good idea (you would know!), but getting out on the roads little by little is also a good idea; I don't think that allowing yourself to put it off will do you any favours.

    I'm not going to pretend to be a psychologist and give you any quack psychoanalysis, but some people seem to respond best to 'flooding' - being thrown in at the deep end essentially - whilst others seem to get on better with 'baby steps'. From the information you've given us I think you fall into the latter camp, but the only reason I state that is that you shouldn't be worried by some people telling you to 'just get on and ride your bike!'. That does undoubtedly work for some people but not everyone. If you don't feel ready to grin and bear it then don't. Finding some quiet roads and practicing every now and then is a good idea. Another excellent aid is to ride with someone else (do you have any friends who cycle?) who is 'experienced'; relinquishing some control and just focusing on pedalling can help with the mental side of things, and being able to ride in convoy is really good for your bike handling skills, not to mention opening up a world of possibilities later on.

    But if you struggle that much with being clipped in, one option is to consider temporarily swapping to clips and straps (or plain platforms prior to that). There is no shame in this whatsoever; not everyone takes to having their feet 'attached' immediately. As you will know, SPD pedals with loose springs are far from difficult to get out of, but the twisting motion is not necessarily natural if you panic; hence the overbalancing that happens to most at some point or other. A toe clip that's the right size for your foot (very important) with a loose strap provides minimal retention; your foot will still move fairly freely if you're one to panic because your foot's stuck as you've forgotten you're clipped in, and if you withdraw your foot it will just come out the way it went in. Despite that you should still be able to pedal with confidence, which is a huge part of the reasoning for attaching your feet to the pedals in the first place.

    Wishing you the very best of luck. Most if not all of us have been where you are now to some degree. It does get better, and it probably won't take as long as you might think. If you have any more questions do post them, and of course do let us know how you get on... :)
  • MichaelW
    MichaelW Posts: 2,164
    Get rid of those clipless pedals and put some plain flat ones on. You need a certain amount of bike handling skill to use SPDs, they are not for newbie riders. If you are riding on the road, you need to learn a fair amount of roadcraft (ie where to position and what to look out for). You cant learn this if you are worried about staying on the bike.
    Most people who made a fairly painless transition to SPD were riding confidently on BMX or whatever before making the switch.
    Dont even use toe clips to start with.
    I am happy on toe clips but my everyday bike for nipping around town has plain pedals, and I do a lot of longer rides with them.
  • smoggysteve
    smoggysteve Posts: 2,909
    16mm wrote:
    gezebo wrote:
    Just ride!! It's as easy as that.

    A bike has two wheels and is naturally unstable so falling off is all part of it :-)
    It sounds like the OP thinks falling off is the start of giving up, rather than enjoying riding, and I'd agree.

    You really shouldn't be falling off on a road bike.

    I've been riding for years and still at times forget to clip out. Happens to the best of us. Just remember to push off with a bit of pace to keep the wheels turning so you get the chance to clip in, and when stopping, just slow down, unclip and glide to a stop with your foot close to the ground. It will become second nature. Have faith.

    I also started using spd-sl from the very start and was fine so the thing about not being for beginners is complete boll@cks. If you can ride a bike and as you say have used spd for spinning its just a confidence issue. Just ride and try not to think about it too much. Nothing wrong with occasionally unclipping one foot while coasting just to make it easier. Sometimes I think these forums seem to over complicate things instead of just looking at the simple answer. Get out there and cycle, if you fall off once in a while remember, we all do. Check out to see that we are all fallible.
  • cougie
    cougie Posts: 22,512
    Bikes are very stable - as someone pointed out - you shouldn't fall off.
    It's only when the bike has stopped that it's Unstable - and then if you put one foot down its stable again.

    It's really simple.
    Are you slowing down and getting ready for a possible stop ?
    If so unclip your left foot.

    As to feeling twitchy and light on the flat - maybe your years are too low.
    Aim to spin at 80rpm
  • I'm new to road cycling (in fact pretty new to cycling at all).
    Me too.

    I bought these M324 pedals, which have SPD one side and flats the other.

    I also have some MTB shoes (Specialized Tahoe Sport).

    First I practised clipping in and out indoors, holding on to the sideboard. About 50 times each foot.

    Then I went out to a quiet local road and cycled up and down it very slowly, clipping in and out one foot at a time, using the other pedal on the flat side. About 100 times each foot.

    Then I went out. Still pretty cautious - I'd unclip one pedal well in advance, and switch to flat side, then clip back in when going again. Often I'd just clip in one side if there was a lot of stop/start.

    That was two months ago - totally love clipless now.

    Top tip: have the clip tension on the pedal really low - a good hard yank will then still unclip you when you're distracted and forget to twist first, and you won't fall over.
    Is the gorilla tired yet?
  • Thanks for all the advice :)

    I do have the pedals that are flat on one side and the clip on the other, however I was trying to persevere as I know exactly what I am like and if I stop using the clips, I'll find it very hard to get back to doing so.

    I'll check the tension on the clips and give it another go somewhere quiet, if I can at least get to feeling ok about it, then if I decide not to use them the first few times on the road it won't be because I feel like I failed with them.

    Glad to know I'm not the only person toppling off their bike. At least now I have done it, and sustained nothing worse than a couple of bruises and somewhat dented pride, I know it's not something I should be too worried about.

  • If you use the clipless pedals, then like the others have said, practise and persevere. Also, anticipation is paramount when riding clipped in, give yourself plenty of time when you have junctions etc. You'll be fine just don't give up.
    I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast, but I'm intercontinental when I eat French toast...
  • keef66
    keef66 Posts: 13,123
    You could try the multi-release SPD cleats. They are what I had when I first went clipless.
    That way if you forget to unclip by twisting your foot, it will still disengage when panicking and pulling upwards.

    If it's any consolation, I had my first clipped-in fall after a mere 10 years practice.
  • 16mm
    16mm Posts: 545
    If the pedals are stopping you riding, or enjoying riding then they are a problem.
    If you ever feel you need clipless for performance then you'll learn later.
  • I've found that being clipped in is a great incentive to develop my low speed control and balance.

    I can't quite trackstand yet, but I can go very, very slowly. That and a bit of anticipation means that I can often avoid unclipping at lights.
    Is the gorilla tired yet?
  • rich164h
    rich164h Posts: 433
    It does take a bit of getting used to it, but after a while it will feel perfectly natural. Now it feels odd to ride a bike without clipless pedals to the point where it almost feel less safe not to be clipped in!

    Stick with it, it will come.
  • jonomc4
    jonomc4 Posts: 891
    clipless - the only useful advice I can give is get used to thinking when you might need to unclip before you actually need to unclip. Better a cautionary unclip than a fall
  • Monty Dog
    Monty Dog Posts: 20,614
    Sounds like the OP isn't actually getting the bike up to enough speed and therefore it's very unstable - once you get above walking pace stability of a bike improves considerably and you have enough momentum to freewheel, look down at the pedals etc. Find yourself a quiet road or deserted car park and just ride around in circles, stopping, starting etc - it'll soon be second-nature. We all started somewhere and don't let one small incident spoil your enjoyment.
    Make mine an Italian, with Campagnolo on the side..
  • Today I went out and immediately toppled over sideways, then did it again about 10 minutes later, which has left me a bit bruised but has also really knocked any confidence I had.
    Always lean your bike towards your unclipped pedal when stopping and standing.

    Also this 5 min. clip may help-
  • Tom Butcher
    Tom Butcher Posts: 3,830
    I'd go for flats - I know the OP doesn't want to but the performance difference is minimal and if you are a competent rider you shouldn't ever be falling off through being clipped in, or as close to never as makes no odds. It's only hard to learn how to use clipless if you aren't really ready to use them yet.

    it's a hard life if you don't weaken.