8 mistakes everyone makes with bikes, from saddle height sadness to underwear errors

Improve your cycling by learning from the mistakes of others

mistakes every cyclist makes with their bikes
(Image credit: ORRO Bikes)

I’ve been a cyclist for many years and like everyone, I’ve learned from my mistakes. Now I‘ve penned this handy advice piece so you can learn from my mistakes too. From not having the right kit to failing to set up and maintain your bike correctly, there are plenty of pitfalls facing the ardent cyclist. And plenty of potholes, come to that. I can’t do much about holes in the road, but hopefully by reading this you’ll be able to swerve some of the most common mistakes every cyclist makes. 

Taking up a new sport is like learning a new language, and that’s certainly true of cycling. Purchasing the best road bike is only the beginning. You’ll have to get to grips with a complex set of habits, rituals and customs so of course, there will be mistakes along the way – especially if you don’t have the benefit of a club or friends to help you.

Here are 8 of the most common pitfalls that face the new cyclist so you can avoid them. Don’t worry; we’ve all made them. If you’re a more relaxed cyclist, you can also find out the mistakes everyone makes with ebikes

1. Not carrying spares

Mistakes every cyclist makes

Bet you wish you'd brought your tyre levers now

(Image credit: Getty)

There are a few vital items you need to carry with you at ALL TIMES in case you breakdown. Top of the list is a chain tool. NEVER leave home without one. Many multi-tools will have them fitted but if yours doesn’t then you can pick a decent one up quite cheap. This is essential because if the chain goes, your bike ceases to be a bike and becomes a two wheeled trolley. 

Almost as essential are a spare tube, pump, tyre levers and patches. A spare tube is another insurance policy to avoid a long walk. Alternatively, tubeless tyres are very popular nowadays – they're filled with sealant that can reseal and get you home. Although be aware that even tubeless tyres can't withstand having a big chunk taken out of them.

Other things that are useful are the above mentioned multi-tool, a couple of zip ties, some money and of course a phone.

2. Not dressing for the conditions

Mistakes every cyclist makes

Well, it's one way to stay dry

(Image credit: Getty)

If you are new to cycling it’s quite an investment to get fully kitted out for all conditions. Most riders will take up the sport in the summer and purchase the classic Lycra jersey and shorts because this is what a cyclist looks like in the Tour de France, job done. 

When temperatures drop though you will really start to suffer unless you invest in a good pair of warm tights, a winter jacket and gloves. There’s no need to spend a fortune but to avoid hypothermia the correct attire is essential, especially in the wet. If there is a chance of rain or if you are heading to high altitude where the weather can change in an instant ALWAYS carry a lightweight jacket, just in case. Carrying an umbrella, as shown above, is not something I recommend.

3. Not eating and drinking enough

Best cycling water bottles for cycling

Refuel regularly

(Image credit: Getty Images/Thomas Tolstrup)

Eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty. Remember this. If you’re heading out on a long ride and there will be significant distances between towns then always carry some food. Keep eating and drinking as you go to keep your muscle stores topped up, because if your body runs out of fuel and you get what’s called the ‘bonk’ you’ll just grind to a halt. Also known as ‘hitting the wall’, ‘blowing up’, or the ‘hunger knock’, once the bonk strikes, it takes a long time to recover, making the rest of your ride purgatory.

4. Setting your saddle height wrong

Mistakes every cyclist makes

This guy has got it all wrong. Don't be like this guy

(Image credit: Getty)

As a kid you probably set your saddle height by seeing if you could sit on it and still touch the ground with your feet. This will have been okay for whizzing around on a Grifter but there’s lot more science that goes into getting your seat into the proper position. 

The most common mistake people make is to set the saddle too high. Although you will still be able to turn the pedals, this will result in too much movement in your hips and put too much pressure on your knees. 

Two simple ways to set the height correctly are to use the Lemond method, which is to multiply your inside leg measurement by 0.883 and make that the distance from the centre of your crank to the top of your saddle. 

Alternatively, simply sit on the bike and with the pedal at its lowest point and put your heel on it – not the ball of the foot but your outstretched heel. If you can just touch it then your saddle will be about the correct height.

5. Not cleaning your bike in bad weather

Mistakes every cyclist makes

Get the muck off

(Image credit: Getty)

After a wet ride, especially in winter when the roads are covered in salt and grit, no matter how tired and miserable you are when you get home, right away get a bucket of hot soapy water and give your machine a wash. You don’t have to get your bike back to showroom condition, just get all the gunk off. Then go sort yourself out before coming back to give it a more careful once over and put a bit of oil on the chain. 

Look after your kit and it will look after you.

6. Riding your £10K carbon bike all year round

Tour de France

Don't follow the herd

(Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The temptation is strong. You have a beautiful bike with amazing carbon wheels and want to ride every day, but if you want it to stay beautiful then you need to lock it away wrapped up in a warm blanket in the winter months. Investing in a cheap heavy winter bike, WITH MUDGUARDS will extend your best bike’s life and also make you much more socially acceptable on group rides at the weekend. Remember: carbon wheels are for the summer, mudguards are for the winter.

7. Pushing too big a gear

Mistakes every cyclist makes

Time for a lower gear, we reckon

(Image credit: Getty)

It’s easier to spin a small gear than push a big one. Fact. If you ride a road bike, chances or even most hybrids, chances are your bike will have at least 16 gears, so use them. Don’t labour away in a huge gear up a hill or into the wind when you could make life easier for yourself because spinning uses less energy and does less muscle damage. 

We are of course all different and some people will prefer to push a slightly larger gear than others but as a general rule, especially if you are out for a long ride you’ll stay in better shape for longer if you pedal quicker and don’t grind.

8. Wearing underpants under cycling shorts

Rapha New Season Colours Lookbook Spring 22

You wouldn't want to cramp your style, would you?

(Image credit: Rapha)

And last but certainly not least… It may seem perfectly normal to wear pants under cycling shorts. I mean, you always wear pants under standard shorts, right? But no, it’s one of the first mistakes all riders make. For comfort and to eliminate chafing, the soft pad, or chamois that’s sown into cycling shorts goes next to the skin, making it de-rigueur to go ‘Commando’ as they say. 

It’s quite obvious when you see a rider with briefs on under their Lycra as they will bulge and gather, ruining the sleek lines of the tight fitting fabric on top of them. So if you do spot someone sporting this look please inform them, politely of course, of their error.

Cycling expert

Simon Warren's been obsessed with cycling since the summer of 1989 after watching Greg Lemond battle Laurent Fignon in the Tour de France. A few weeks later he rode his first race, a 10 mile time trial on the A1 and the rest is, as they say, history. Although not having what it took to beat the best he found his forte was racing up hills and so began his fascination with steep roads. Trips were planned, and pilgrimages made to find ever steeper slopes which led to the publication of his first book 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. He has now written 14 cycling guides and lives in Sheffield with his wife, 2 children and 5 bikes.