Cycling Survival – rookie mistakes to avoid!

Some great tips for our new Lotus roadies and reminders for the rest. There is always something more to improve on in this sport!

Poor bike maintenance

Clean and oil your chain regularly, particularly if riding in bad weather. You’ll eliminate the dreaded ‘creak’ that cyclists hate, and more expensive parts such as chain rings won’t wear out as quickly. Always check your brake pads and that your tires are properly inflated.

Not using the gears

We often see newbies grinding along in their bike’s highest gear, and walking up the gentlest slopes. More rarely, a rider will have legs spinning furiously as they potter along at 5mph because the bike’s in low gear and, apparently, staying there.

Play with the gears. Go somewhere quiet, like back streets or a car park when the supermarket’s closed and ride around, changing gear. Change between the chain rings, using the shift levers on the left hand side of the bar and feel how it’s harder to pedal in the big ring, easier in the small. Click between the rear gears, using the right hand levers. You’ll notice that the differences are smaller than with the front, which allows you to fine-tune the gear you’re using.

Buying a bike with too-high gears

The popularity of ‘compact’ chain sets, with smaller gears than those used by racers, means this is less of a problem than it used to be, but it bears mentioning anyway. Some road bikes come with high gear ranges because they are specifically intended for racing. So unless you are intending to race, you want a bike with lower gears so you can more easily ride up hills.

The tell-tale feature to avoid is a chain set with 53 and 39-tooth chain rings. Instead, go for a compact, with 50- and 34-tooth chain rings.

Take a look at the rear sprockets too. A sprocket set with a range from 11 to 23 teeth is for racing or flat country. Look for a largest sprocket with 28, 30 or 32 teeth which will give you a low bottom gear so you can spin more easily up hills.

Neglecting your bike shop

Yes, you can get amazing prices for bike stuff on line, but for a beginner it’s really worth cultivating a relationship with a good bike shop. As well as offering knowledgeable technical advice, a bike shop is often the center of a cycling community. Finding the right bike shop for you, and spending money there is a great way to tap into the local scene and advance your riding. Get to know our Lotus GOLD bike sponsors More bikes and Comor!

Attacking hills

It’s a classic rookie error: the road goes upward and you attack it with gusto, only to turn the second corner and find a) there’s a lot more hill than you expected and b) your legs and lungs are already screaming. You’ve depleted your reserves, put yourself into oxygen debt and your body’s saying “Basta! Enough!” If you’re lucky, you’ll have a gear low enough to let you recover; if not, may find yourself roadside, having a little rest.

For beginners, the first step in learning to pace yourself is to start in a low gear, perhaps even your lowest. Spin easily, breathing steadily and find a rhythm you feel you could sustain all day. When you’re sure you’re completely comfortable, then it’s time to click up a gear and pick up the pace. A heart rate monitor can be a very useful tool for measuring your level of effort.

Eating wrongly

Cycling needs fuel and your body doesn’t have a limitless store of it. After riding for a couple of hours or so you will have used up the glycogen in your muscles and liver. That can lead to the dreaded ‘bonk’, where you get light-headed and wobbly and have to stop for food. Don’t let things get to that stage by eating little and often while you ride.

But it’s just as important not to overdo it. A big meal straight before a ride can leave you feeling nauseous when you put in any effort, or just make you sluggish. The combination of cooling down and a full belly after a mid-ride meal can produce ‘post lunch syndrome’, where you just feel you can’t get going again. If you like a big lunch, don’t stop for it immediately before a big hill.


If you’re fit from another sport it’s tempting to throw yourself in at the cycling deep end, bashing out mega miles. But fitness is activity-specific and even if your heart and lungs are in good shape from, say, running, your pedaling muscles won’t be.

Getting straight into pounding out big distances means you risk over-use injuries and fatigue, so build up gradually. With a little patience you’ll soon be knocking out centuries.

Forgetting spares

You don’t need much to get yourself out of mechanical trouble on the road, but without the bare minimum you’re walking if some things go wrong. The absolute essentials are a couple of spare tubes, a pump and tyre levers, all of which will get you out of the most common problem, a flat tyre. Add a multi-tool and you’ll be able to tighten most things that might come loose as you ride.

Thinking it’ll be easy on the front because it’s easy in the bunch

Learning to ride in a group is all about positioning and moving in a line of riders. One of the most common mistakes is thinking that taking a turn on the front will be easy because you’re not having to work very hard.

Thing is, the draft from the riders in front gives you a big advantage. You do up to 40% less work than the rider out front, depending on the conditions. You can be cheerfully riding along while the rider up front is going flat out.

Nobody is going to think ill of a newbie who doesn’t take long, hard turns on the front, so don’t bury yourself trying to do your ‘share’ before you’re fit enough to comfortably finish a 100km club ride.

Another common bunch-riding error is to hang around at the back of the group trying to stay out of the way of more experienced riders. The problem with this is that anything that stretches the group out has a far greater effect on the riders at the back than those near the front; you can waste a lot of energy getting back in contact every time. Far better to ride near the front, in second or third wheel, where you can more easily respond if the pace picks up — and ask for mercy if it picks up too much!

Too much chatter

Lotus is all about the social, however during our training sessions and on group rides it’s very important that you stay focused! Pre and post rides are best for getting into conversations with other members. So come for post training beers at Castaway!


Rachelle Grace