For many people, learning to ride a bike is an integral part of their childhood. Others first hop in the saddle as teenagers, and still more individuals don't come to find the joy in cycling until they're adults. Have you recently begun to consider taking up cycling as one of your primary forms of exercise? It's a good choice: it boosts your heart health, increases your lung capacity, and can be an excellent way to burn calories while working towards a weight loss goal. No one starts out at the level of a Tour de France winner, though, and it can take some serious time and effort to feel completely comfortable when cycling long distances.

As a beginner, there are a few important things to keep in mind, beginning with a simple fact: you don't know everything necessary for success right off the bat. Instead, it's important to take your time, learn the "ins and outs" of cycling, and find the type of routine that suits you best. Likewise, you'll also want to be careful to avoid making mistakes that are both frustrating and discouraging. From trying to do too much too fast to simple misunderstandings about how to choose a bike, let's break down the biggest pitfalls beginner cyclists should look to dodge.

Choosing a bicycle too large or small for your body

Not all bikes are the same, especially if you're a particularly tall or short individual. Purchasing a bike that doesn't correspond to the size of your body will not only make it very difficult to adhere to a routine, but it will also make for a physically uncomfortable ride. It could even potentially increase the risk of an athletic injury. As a result, you should take the time to carefully select a bike that matches your height and the length of your legs. Typically, you can use an online calculator to find out the right frame size for your body. Bike shops can also be a helpful resource, as an experienced employee can help you try out several different models to find the one that matches your body.

Failing to adjust the seat properly

Once you've selected a bike that is the right size, you'll want to make sure that you've correctly set the seat height on it as well. Even a bike that matches your body perfectly will be unwieldy and uncomfortable to use if your saddle is in the wrong spot. Too high and you won't be able to effectively power through every rotation of the pedals. Too low and you'll risk injuries and cramps while also hampering your power output further. So, what do you need to do to know you're in the correct sitting position? When on the pedals, your knees should never exceed about 35 degrees at your leg's most extended point in the pedalling stroke. Again, a third party is helpful in judging the right height.

Pushing yourself to ride too far too early

Biking is fun, and that means it's easy to get lost in the enjoyment and the sense that you're making lots of progress. However, many beginner cyclists risk pushing themselves too far, too fast, and that brings with it the risk of injuries or even burnout. You don't want to invest in everything you need to start cycling only to make yourself sick of it based on exhausting, over-extended riding habits. Rather than trying to cram in as many miles as possible in a week or even a session, create a program that slowly ramps up the intensity. You must accomplish short rides with regularity before you can step up to the longer distances. Don't chance hurting yourself because you feel capable of pushing forward early on; that may be so, but the extra stress on your body isn't a fair trade.

Forgetting to drink the appropriate amount of water

We all know it's important to drink water when we plan to exercise, but it is easy to underestimate just how much you need to consume when you're planning on cycling. Especially when you factor in the weather, you’ll have to plan on perspiration sapping your body's water reserves at a rapid pace. Beginners often think of just drinking water when they're thirsty, but you should develop a regular habit of drinking water throughout the day. You'll know you're well hydrated when your trips to the bathroom increase, but don't worry: it becomes another normal part of life for a cyclist. Be careful to avoid drinking too much while on the bike, even though you'll need to replenish your hydration levels along the way. Too much water equals lots of sloshing in your stomach, and that's best avoided.

Cycling in the wrong type of clothing

If you thought you'd be able to get away with cycling without purchasing some special clothing for the task, it's time to think again. Choosing the wrong clothes not only means you'll heat up faster and perspire more, but they can also cause uncomfortable chafing. Many a rider starting out has wondered why they can't seem to stay comfortable during longer rides. Their clothing choices are usually a big part of it. While Lycra shorts and a cycling top might not be the most fashionable items in your wardrobe, they'll keep you comfortable and dry throughout a ride. With fabrics meant to feel comfortable and avoid chafing even when close to the skin, you'll feel much better with the right outfit.

Thinking you can ride hard without eating

You'll burn tonnes of calories riding, and that means understanding how to eat right. When you're just starting out, it can be tough to change your diet, but it's necessary. You'll also need to learn how to eat in the middle of riding sometimes. As you undertake more strenuous journeys, you'll find that you run out of energy and reach a point where you begin to feel dizzy. You may even experience more severe feelings of vertigo. This feeling is because your body has used all its store of an important energy-producing nutrient. Small, potent snacks along the way can help you avoid this dip in energy. 

Leaving your repair kit at home

Picture this: you’re in the middle of a long ride, and you're far from home. You go over a particularly rough patch in the path you've chosen to ride, and you feel your bike shudder. You recognise the tell-tale signs that say you've just blown your tyre. As you hop off the bike, you realise you don't have any means to fix it. No patch kit, no spare tube. They're all still back at the house where you left them, or worse, you might not even have anything to do repairs at all! Bike maintenance is a core part of being a cyclist, so never leave home without the tools you need to make a roadside DIY repair in an emergency.

Never changing up your routine

Once you get through the initial difficulties and begin to build up some cardiovascular endurance, riding becomes more fun. Shorter rides become easy, and sometimes even middling distances become another regular part of your day's routine. As a beginner, it's important to focus on continuing to challenge yourself even when you reach a new level of comfort. If you only ever continue to follow the same routine you established six months or even a year ago, how can you improve? Boredom can even set in as you go through the motions each ride. Cyclists need to occasionally undertake very challenging rides, going farther or faster than before. Variation is how you break out of stagnation and make it fun again!

With practice, everyone can enjoy cycling

At first, that can seem like a lot of things to work to avoid; once you put in the work to develop good habits, though, you'll soon find it all becomes second nature. You'll quickly find the right place to put your saddle, and you'll learn your limits the first time you bike too far and need to call for a ride back home out of exhaustion. Some lessons are easier than others, but in the end, what matters is learning from mistakes and continuing to build your ability week after week. Some mistakes are best avoided altogether, though, like finding yourself stranded with a flat. Keep these things in mind and enjoy your cycling with fewer worries.

This article is exclusive to Sports Fitness, where you can shop for an array of cycling clothing and accessories for both beginners and more experienced cyclists.