Life & Style

Cycling Tips for Beginners

Looking for cycling tips for beginners? Jo Holtan discusses her journey starting out as a cyclist, and the tips and advice she wished she had been given.

Now that summer is here it’s a great time to dig your bike out of the shed and get out and about on two wheels.  If you’re thinking about starting cycling, then today I’ve got a great guest post from a lady that I really admire – Jo Holtan.  

Edinburgh-based Jo took up cycling just a few years ago and cycles on her trusty secondhand bike.  Jo tells me “I’m not a cyclist.  My cycling kit does not match.  My cycling shoes are a pair of beaten-up New Balances I bought on sale at the Mall of America three years ago.  But I do ride my bike everywhere“. I love this philosophy, I can really relate to it.

Cycling Tips for Beginners

Today Jo shares her cycling tips for beginners:

lady on a bike

Just over two years ago I started cycling and quickly became inspired by how cycling changed the way I felt about the city streets, my legs, and even my style. Here are some things I’ve learned about cycling – my non-trite cycling tips for beginners if you will – that I wish I had been told at the start.

It’s not about skirts, heels or lycra

When I first started cycling, it seemed the only role models were either the cycle-chic women who wore flowing skirts on stylish expensive bikes. That or women who were competitively riding slick expensive bikes.  

While I can be competitive and I often wear skirts, neither felt accessible for the cyclist I wanted to be.  I began to experiment with my everyday style to see how I could put it on two wheels and make it waterproof.  I came to realise that what you wear when you are cycling doesn’t matter.

As long as you are wearing a style that represents you and makes you feel confident on your bike – be it wearing skirts, heels, or lycra – you can cycle in it!

cycling tips for beginners

Cycling is about feeling connected to your journey

There is an amazing intimacy with cycling.  Not only do learn the landscape of the streets, secret shortcuts, and the bends and potholes of your path – but you also connect with people in a way you just wouldn’t on a bus or in a car.  There is an openness that comes. And while sometimes this can mean conflict, the meaningful interactions with strangers at stoplights or while passing just can’t be beaten.

It’s connecting to your strength

Cycling has changed the way I view my body, especially my legs.  The stronger I am, the faster I get to where I am going.  I am more aware of how my diet impacts my commute. And how doing a few sun salutations in the morning makes the cycle into the city centre much easier.

It’s about owning your experience

It’s a fact that there are barriers to cycling.  And while there are a lot of high-level changes that need to be made, there are small innovations that can make a real difference.  

Recently I connected with Sarah from Snook, a service design firm in Glasgow.  Together, we launched Cyclehack. This is a 48-hour event aimed at making cities more cycle-friendly.  With our new member Matt on board, the weekend in June has developed to include designing and prototyping ideas based on barriers to cycling.  Along with our global partners, all our cycle hacks will be uploaded to an Open Source Catalogue to share with the world.

It’s about being afraid

Yes, it’s scary to start cycling. It’s scary to cycle in different cities. To put your bike on a train for the first time, or approach an unfamiliar and large roundabout.  It’s scary to be at a traffic light with other cyclists, especially those that are competitive.  But you always get back on your bike.  You feel more confident in your route.  And then there’s the moment when your legs take you uphill at a decent speed.  Facing your fear and celebrating your successes, no matter how small – that’s what’s cycling is all about. It’s one cycling tip that I really wish I had been told.

Cycling is about the bike

I remember the exact moment when I met my bike and since then we’ve been inseparable.  A used Saracen from the late 80s, she rides like a dream and has become essential to who I am as a cyclist.  I know that some people collect bikes and have ones for all the different cycling experiences. However, I’m happy with just one, at least for now. Therefore, pick a bike that makes you happy. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You just have to want to ride it.

Thanks Jo for these fantastic cycling tips for beginners. Need any more convincing to get on your bike? Try this post on why cycling is good for you!

All photos c/o Jo Holtan.

Life & Style

Autumn Cycling Tips

cycling autumn tips

Do you need some tips on cycling in the autumn? Read on!

Autumn is a great time to be out and about on your bike. Whether you’re commuting to and from work, or just out for a leisurely cycle ride.  The air is cool and fresh, and you get to enjoy the autumnal landscape in all of its glory.  Right now the sun is still (mostly!) shining and the leaves are still on the trees. However, without wanting to be a harbinger of doom, sadly it won’t be long before the nights really start drawing in, the temperatures tumble and we’re awash in a sea of fallen leaves.

My Top Autumn Cycling Tips

autumn cycling tips

The good news is you don’t have to put your bike away in your shed or garage for the season though. I’m here with some handy autumn cycling hints to keep you cycling right through the autumn and beyond!


The first of my autumn cycling tips is the most important.  Good lights are the most essential things you can carry with you.  Even if you aren’t planning on cycling after dark, dark mornings and shorter days can catch you out if you’re not careful.  

As well as being incredibly dangerous, in the UK it’s illegal to cycle without lights in the dark.  You can get a £30 fixed penalty fine for even missing just one light.  So always carry some front and rear lights with you just in case.  It’s also worth carrying a spare set of lights and a set of batteries too, just in case your batteries run out, or you lose a light.

It doesn’t matter if your lights flash or shine a steady beam just as long as you have them. The law was changed in 2005 to allow for flashing lights, in case anyone says otherwise.  And if you’re going to be cycling in an area with poor street light provision then you will also need a bright fixed beam front light to light your way.  Your local bike shop can advise on the best light for you and your budget.

My top cycling tip this autumn is also to make sure all of your reflectors are in place too. This includes your back reflector, and your wheel and pedal reflectors.  It’s important to be seen by motorists and every little helps.


I am a strong proponent of fitting front and rear mudguards to your bike for any kind of road or pathway cycling in autumn.  Even if it hasn’t been raining, damp roads and paths can still throw up a lot of mud and water.  Mudguards will protect you from a mud-splattered face. This is never a good look if you’re on your way to work or into town to meet friends! It will also stop you from getting a not particularly sexy big brown muddy stripe up your back!

Fallen Leaves

It goes without saying that fallen leaves are synonymous with autumn. Whilst I don’t have a specific cycling tip to avoiding leaves in autumn, I would say you just have to learn to deal with them.  

Piles of fallen leaves on the road or cycle path can look innocuous enough. However, they can actually be hiding a whole host of nasties. From dog poo to the very worst, a large pothole.   If you maintain a good road position, about one metre out from the kerb, then hopefully you should avoid most of the piles of fallen leaves.

On the off chance that you do come across any then the best advice is if in doubt, move out to avoid the hazard.  Look behind you first to be sure it’s safe to do so. Then signal before maneuvering so that motorists and other cyclists know your intentions.

If they’re wet then fallen leaves can also be slippery under your tyres.  The best way to avoid slipping on wet leaves is to keep a steady pace and not make any sudden movements.  So where possible avoid accelerating, braking, or making any sudden turns on wet leaves.  Brake before you reach the leaves. Then ease up on the brakes as you cycle over them.  If you are executing a turn, the key is to do it slowly without braking.

Tips for Autumn Cycling Clothing

Cold weather can make dressing for a bike ride or commute difficult.  One of my top autumn cycling tips is to layer up.  Instead of wearing one big jacket or jumper, it’s better to add or remove layers as you warm-up or cool down.  

A good starting point is to dress so that you feel the cold for the first 10 minutes of your cycle.  If you are warm and cosy before setting off on a ride then chances are within 10 minutes you’ll be a hot and sweaty mess!  However, if you start off cold then there’s a high chance that within 10 minutes you’ll be at a good temperature.

There you have it: my top autumn cycling tips!  What are yours?  Leave them in the comments below! I’ve also some really handy tips on cycling for beginners. And I have a useful reminder on why cycling is good for you, in case you’re tempted to put your bike away in the shed for the autumn!

Happy autumnal cycling!