Ten tips to build confidence on a bike

Cyclists in Melbourne

Clare Barry

Posted February 12, 2021

Like the idea of cycling but feeling a little wary? Try these expert tips to help get you going with confidence. 

As Melburnians ease back into the city for work and play, new pop-up bike lanes are set to smooth the way for two-wheeled transport. And a new program, Let’s Ride Melbourne, is ready to inspire commuters to get on their bikes.

Developed by RACV and the Melbourne, Port Phillip and Yarra city councils, the program brings together riding-specific advice, newsletters, route-planning and workshops for those who like the idea of cycling, but need a little bit of encouragement to make it a regular part of their routine.    

A key part of the program will be a series of bike skills workshops designed to boost riding confidence. Running at inner-city locations in March, the workshops will be hosted by experts from social enterprise bike shop Good Cycles. We asked their lead trainer, Donovan Roberts, to share his tips for building confidence on your bike. 

Ten tips to help build your bike-riding confidence

Start off-road

For absolute beginners, or those who haven’t hit the saddle since high school, Donovan says getting off-road for the first few rides is vital. “Find an empty carpark or a park where you can ride around – somewhere there’s not cars coming up behind you – to get your confidence up. Then you can move to riding on a bike path with others and work your way up to a bike lane on the road.”

Practise and practise

“The best thing you can do to get your confidence up is practise, practise, practise,” says Donovan. “The more you do it, the more comfortable you get, and you enjoy it more.” Any kind of riding will build confidence, whether it’s a back-street trip to the supermarket, weekend rides for fun, or extending your daily commute. 

Share the ride

Riding with someone you trust and who knows what they’re doing can be invaluable for easing you into commuting or longer recreational rides. You could ask a colleague who lives locally to show you the ropes and routes, or make contact with a local cycling group. Scout around on social media, do an internet search, or keep your eyes open for flyers posted along popular cycling routes.

Maintain your machine

A bike that works properly is a head start – even slightly underinflated tyres can turn a fun ride into a chore. “Check you’ve got plenty of air in your tyres and that the chain is oiled and not too rusty, and that the brakes work – they’re the essential things you should always check the day before you plan to ride,” says Donovan. If your bike is squeaky or rusty it might need a service at your local bike shop. As you ride more often, consider investing in a small hand pump, tyre levers and a patch kit or tube, and learn how to use them. “If you ride regularly you will get a flat tyre at least once a year,” says Donovan. He also suggests you make yourself familiar with the whereabouts of bike shops on your route – they might be able to do a minor repair on the spot. For extra peace of mind a subscription to RACV Bike Assist means you can call an expert to get you on your way if you strike trouble.

Ride high… and low

Adjust your seat height as you build confidence. Set it low to begin with – so that your feet are flat on the ground when stationary – to give you a lower centre of gravity so you feel closer to the ground and less likely to wobble. “But as you get more confident it’s good to try raising the saddle,” says Donovan. “That allows your legs to stretch more so you get more power and it doesn’t fatigue your legs.” To adjust your seat height, loosen the pinch bolt or quick-release lever on the seat post, twist the seat to move it up or down, then tighten the bolt or lever.

Take your time

While you’re building confidence on the bike, don’t be in a rush. If you’re commuting, Donovan recommends factoring in enough time to allow you to have a coffee before you clock on. “That way if everything goes well you can have a coffee when you get to work, but if there’s a holdup you can deal with that without being late.” You might get a flat tyre or want to walk a hilly section, or just enjoy taking the morning air. “Riding is a fun way just to explore your local area,” says Donovan, “you’ll smell the trees and bakeries and see things you’d normally miss when driving a car.”

Cyclist and tram on the road

Break it up

If you decide to try riding to work, Donovan says five to 10 kilometres is a good starting range. You can break up the distance by catching a train part of the way, or riding in then catching public transport home, reversing the order the next day. “You don’t have to tackle it all in one go,” he advises. “It’s best to have small bites at cycling and build it up that way.”

Eyes (and ears) on the road

Donovan says you’ll ensure a smooth ride by constantly scanning ahead for minor hazards like potholes, drain grates and steel roadwork plates. Also try to make eye contact with motorists and other bike riders, and signal so your intentions are clear. Freeing your ears of headphones so you’re aware of what’s going on around you is a good idea.

Not feeling it? Just opt out

The beauty of two wheels is that if you feel uncomfortable on the road at any time, you have an out on every route – the footpath. “If you’re not feeling confident, just get off your bike and walk for a while,” says Donovan. If a particular intersection feels intimidating, pull over and join the pedestrians to cross it with the green man.

Think about what you wear

Stretchy sportswear will make any ride more comfortable, but if you’re commuting and don’t want to lug your work gear along for the ride, try to avoid wearing loose clothing that can get caught in the bike chain or wheels. A light windproof jacket will keep you warm without bulk, and Donovan says that for extra comfort you might consider wearing padded shorts under your usual clothes.