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New to Cycling? Here’s What You Need


We love it when more people try out cycling, because it’s good for their health, the environment, and the safety of all the other cyclists on the road. (When cars are more used to seeing lots of cyclists, they are more aware and cautious with their two-wheeled counterparts.)

But to someone who hasn’t ridden a bike since they were in middle school, the world of cycling can look pretty intimidating. There’s so much gear out there to buy, and if you’re riding in a crowded big city like San Francisco, you might think you need nerves of steel (or a lot of good luck) to get home in one piece.

Luckily, getting back on your bike isn’t actually all that hard.

There’s a limited amount of gear that you need, and most of it can be acquired pretty quickly and affordably. And when it comes to getting those nerves of steel…well, we can help you with that too.

Check out this post for the absolute essentials you need if you are new (or coming back) to riding your bike.

1. A bike!

Of course, you can’t bicycle without a bicycle. Shopping for a bike might seem like a daunting (and expensive) task, but here are some basic guidelines to get you started.

If you’re just a casual cyclist, you don’t need a fancy, or even new, bike. There are lots of used and refurbished bicycles to be had, especially if you live in a city like San Francisco with plentiful bike shops.

There are also budget options available at big box stores, but you should consider the quality of the product you’re getting; if you want to become a regular cyclist, it might be worth spending a little bit more for a used bike with really high quality materials as opposed to a cheaper new model.

When it comes to choosing a road bike vs a mountain bike vs every other kind of bike you see, don’t overthink it. Visit a bike shop and tell that you’re a new (or returning) cyclist and just need a bike to get around. You can get a simple road bike that will do for general city riding, without all the extra bells and whistles.

If your city isn’t hilly, you don’t need too many gears (you could even get away with a single gear bike if your city is flat and you’re just a casual rider); however, if you’ll be doing a lot of hills, look for a bike that will allow you to shift across several gears to ease the pain of the hills.

The most important feature is good brakes that you can use. Be sure to take any bike you like out for a test ride, to get a feel for how it is to be on the bike, as well as to test out the brakes on sudden stops, different surfaces, etc.

The bike shop employee can help you fit it correctly so that you aren’t hyperextending your legs or back, so you’ll have a safe and comfortable riding experience from day one.

2. A helmet

Wearing a helmet, especially if you’re riding in the city, is essential.

Make sure your range of vision is unobstructed by the helmet; you’ll need to be able to see in front of you, as well as over each shoulder, to safely ride. If you try on a helmet that makes it even a little bit hard to see, try a different size or brand until you get one that feels like you can really see around you.

A trained bike shop employee will be able to help you properly fit your helmet, which you should ask them to do before you leave the shop. In general, your helmet should sit low on your forehead (about 1-2 finger widths above your brow), without wobbling, and the straps should feel snug but not constricting.

Other safety gear can be good to have too (like elbow pads), especially if you have a previous injury that you’d like to protect, but a helmet is essential.

3. Safety lights and reflectors

If you ride your bike after dark, safety lights and reflectors are the law.

According to the California DMV:

“Using lights and reflectors at night is the law (CVC §21201). During darkness, bicyclists must have the following equipment:

  • A front lamp emitting a white light visible from a distance of 300 feet.
  • A rear red reflector [or a rear red solid or flashing light with a built in reflector] visible from a distance of 500 feet.
  • A white or yellow reflector on each pedal or on the bicyclist’s shoes or ankles visible from a distance of 200 feet.
  • A brake which will enable the operator to make a one brake wheel stop on dry, level, clean pavement.”

Many bikes come with the necessary reflectors on the rear and the pedals, but double check that your bike has them before hitting the road. You will most likely to need to buy a separate front lamp, but this doesn’t need to be expensive or super high-powered — just get a light that is bright enough to help you see and be seen (from at least a distance of 300 feet) in the dark.

Other equipment it can be nice to have: a bell and a mirror. While neither of these is essential, they can be helpful. A bell is a good way to alert fellow cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers of your presence — which keeps all of you safer — and a simple side mirror can, of course, help you get a better range of vision behind you, so you can see cars and bikes coming up that you otherwise might not have noticed.

4. Practice

Before you hit the mean streets during rush hour, if it’s been a while since you rode your bike, try taking a spin on your bike in a less stressful environment.

Visit a park with wide bike paths, or cycle down quiet city streets with well protected bike lanes, to get a feel for being on two wheels again. While it usually comes back pretty easily, it is better to get your bearings back in a situation where there is less immediate danger than a busy downtown street.

Once you feel more confident on your bike and you’ve practiced turning, stopping, merging, and using hand signals, you should try moving into a situation more like the one you’ll be cycling in most often.

You can do it!

Biking might seem intimidating, but one of the things we love about cycling is that truly anyone can do it. If you get equipped with the essentials and give yourself a little patience to get back up to speed, you can get on the road on two wheels in no time!