Beginner Bicyclist Guide

Beginner Bicyclist Guide

Updated March 1, 2016 . AmFam Team

Get to know the right gear for bicycle safety. Our guide for beginning riders helps create a lifetime of happy pedaling!

All bikers, from the professionals at the front of international races, to the family of four leisurely riding the local trails, started somewhere. And most probably still remember the first rules of safety they learned the first time they hopped on a bike.

A basic set of biking rules is important, especially for beginners. Here are some safety reminders to keep everybody riding right:


Not just a helmet, the right helmet. We’ve all seen it—a biker wearing their helmet pushed way back on their head, practically dangling by the chin strap. Not ideal. Find a bike helmet that fits squarely on top of the head and covers your forehead. Adjustable chin straps and internal structuring make fine tuning your fit easy and comfortable, so wearing a helmet becomes second nature.

A bicycle built for you. Riding a properly fitted bike puts balance on your side and gives you more control.  Use this simple fit test to make sure the bike you’re on is right for you.

  • When standing over the bike, allow a 2-inch gap between you and the top bar. You may want 3 to 4 inches of clearance on a mountain bike.
  • The seat should be high enough to give your leg a slight bend when at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
  • The handle bars should easily be reachable from the seated position, and you should be able to apply enough pressure to the brake levers to safely stop the bike.

Dress for the ride. This doesn’t mean you need to dress head-to-toe in spandex, but your clothing should be comfortable for riding. You’ll want a complete range of motion, so pedaling is comfortable − but remember to secure any loose clothes that could get snagged in your wheels or chain.


Once you’ve got the right gear and you’re on the right bike, it’s important to know the basics of safer riding.

Riding on the sidewalks is totally okay for kids. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends children 10 and younger ride on the sidewalk whenever possible.

Save the night rides for later. New riders should feel completely comfortable on their bikes before they begin riding after dark. When you’re ready to start riding at night, use lights and reflectors to keep yourself visible.

Know your hand signals, and use them. Letting drivers and other people on the road know your intentions makes the streets safer for everyone.

  • Left turns are signaled by putting your left arm straight out from your body, and parallel to the road.
  • Right turns are indicated by putting you left arm straight out and bending at the elbow so your forearm and hand are straight up.
  • Slowing and stopping are signaled by placing your left arm straight out and bend at the elbow so your forearm and hand are straight down.

Fun fact: Right and left hand signals we derived from automobile drivers, who could only signal with their left arm while driving. As biking has evolved and become more common, it is now acceptable to signal a right turn with your right arm straight out, mirroring a traditional left turn signal.

The more time you spend on your bike, the more confident you’re going to feel—you might even find a new dream to pursue! Thinking of biking to school or work? Discover the secrets to commuting on two-wheels.


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