For a solid start: the right bike plus a helmet
To learn to ride a bike, the first step is (obviously) to get a bike. You have the choice of a hybrid bike, town bike, folding bike, mountain bike, or road bike. Read our guide on how to choose between all the different types of bike and pick one that matches your preferences and the type of cycling that you plan to do.
And don't forget to buy a bike helmet. A helmet is essential to protect any rider, whether they're a beginner or seasoned cyclist. Make sure that you choose a size that fits your head properly; to be truly effective, a helmet should fit snugly (but not too tightly).
Familiarize yourself with your bike in a quiet setting
Before setting off on your first ride, take the time to get familiar with your new ride. Walk your bike over a distance of a dozen meters to test out how it responds to turning, braking, etc. This will help you understand how responsive your bike is, which will give you more confidence while riding it.
To practice, go somewhere quiet at a time when it's free of vehicle or pedestrian traffic. Ideally you should select a location where there's a flat area as well as slightly sloping road. Ask a family member or close friend to help guide and assist you as you learn.
Adjust your seat to the correct height to help you feel confident as you learn to ride. The saddle should be neither too high nor too low: while seated, your feet should rest flat on the ground on either side with your legs slightly bent.
Exercise 1: Balance
For this first exercise, which consists of finding your balance on two wheels, you have three options It's up to you to choose what works best for you:
1 - On flat ground, sit on your bike's saddle and push yourself along with your feet.
2 - Start at the top of a gentle slope and coast down while holding your feet out so they don't touch the pedals.
3 - Have someone push you while you hold your feet out (so they don't touch the pedals)
The goal of this exercise is to find your balance point. Use your feet to push yourself along one foot at a time, a bit like walking.
By the end of this exercise, you should be able to coast on your bike, balancing yourself without putting your feet on the ground. Bear in mind that it may take several sessions to gain the confidence that you need! It's important to understand that speed helps you keep your balance.
Also very important: look ahead and into the distance, not down at the ground, to keep your balance!
Exercise 2: Braking
Braking is done using two hands and both brake levers. Remember that the left brake lever controls the front brake, whereas the right lever controls the rear brake.
Important: avoid braking suddenly or while turning, and especially not with the front brake only, as this can cause the front wheel to skid, which could make you fall.
Practice some braking exercises once you've learned how to keep your balance. Use your brakes instead of your feet to stop your bike. This will help you work on both your balance and your braking skills at the same time.
The main purpose of these exercises is to help you handle your braking system to be able to stop your bike.
Exercise 3: Pedaling
You've done it! You can keep your balance on your bike and can brake easily. Time to move on to pedaling!
As with the balancing exercises, have someone push you on a flat surface, or coast down a road with a gentle slope, with your feet resting on the pedals but not pedaling. Stop yourself after a short distance. Repeat until you're comfortable with your feet resting on the pedals.
The simplest way to stop yourself when you are just learning is to gently apply the brakes to slow yourself down, then once you're moving very slowly, take one foot off the pedal, lean to that same side and put your foot on the ground.
You're now ready to start pedaling! While on a gentle slope, or while being pushed by someone else, gather some speed, then place your feet on the pedals and pedal a few times.
Be aware that, even on a very gentle slope, you risk picking up speed quickly. Ride on like this for a few yards and apply the brakes. Repeat until you're comfortable pedaling.
If your bike has multiple speeds/gears, ask your helper to set it to the most suitable gear.
Exercise 4: Pushing off
Start by pushing with your foot: place one foot on the pedal in the low position, and the other resting on the ground; stand towards the front of the bike, near the handlebar. From this position, push with the foot that was on the ground until you gather a little speed, then sit on the bike and start pedaling.
Next, and slightly more difficult, learn how to start without pushing off with your foot. On flat or slightly sloped ground, squeeze both brakes. Position the front pedal in an upper position so that your first push on the pedal delivers a burst of power.
Then perform the following three actions at once: let go of the brakes, push on the front pedal, and lift your foot off the ground and onto the rear pedal to start pedaling. The world of cycling is now open to you!
You've now learned the basics of riding a bike! Congratulations! You're not quite ready for riding in town or on streets with traffic. Keep on riding in parks and quiet streets as you patiently build your confidence and skills.
To improve your cycling even more, practice some exercises: changing gears, keeping your balance at slow speeds, braking accurately, mastering bike maneuvers and controlling your trajectory.