Learn How To Ride A Bike As An Adult: The Unbeatable Method

Step-by-step guide to learning to cycle as an adult

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reviewed by Ben Gibbons

Our mission at BikeTips is to get more and more people out on bikes. We love cycling, all kinds of cycling, and we want everyone to experience the freedom of jumping on a bike and exploring the world around them.

But what if you want to experience this liberation but don’t know how to ride a bike? This is the article we will take you from being curious about cycling to pedaling under your own steam in no time.

It should go without saying, but there is no reason to feel embarrassed about not being able to ride a bike as an adult. And you are not alone.

A survey conducted in 2017 revealed that one in eight Brits don’t know how to ride a bike, despite it being one of the most popular sports in the UK.

How should a beginner learn to ride a bike?

It is never too late, and you will never regret trying to learn how to ride a bike.

A lot of the advice will cover the same ground we went over in our article on how to teach a kid to learn to ride a bike, but there are some subtle differences when learning to ride a bike as an adult.

Robbie learns how to ride a bike as an adult on a tarmac road.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Step 1. Getting the Right Equipment

If you want to learn to ride for the first time, then you are going to need a bike, but with so many different types to choose from it can be a little daunting to even start.

Before you even start to try to figure this out and part with some cash, it might be worth asking some of your more cycling-inclined friends if they have a bike that they would be willing to lend.

If they are anything like me, then they will have a collection of weird and wonderful bikes, some of which they have forgotten even exist in the dark recesses of their garage. It doesn’t need to be a good bike; it just has to fit and function at this point.

If you are keen to buy a bike, then most people starting out will be comfortable on a hybrid-style bike. These types of bikes are rugged without being too heavy and have flat handlebars that will naturally place you in a comfortable, stable riding position.

If you are worried about getting off the bike in a hurry then another good option might be a bike with a step-through frame, although they do tend to be a bit on the heavier side.

A number of bicycle safety items and general gear equipment.

Step 2. Safety First

Once you have the right bike or just a bike, before you start to practice, you need to make sure that you are doing it safely.

I’ve been riding a bike for decades and I still wear a bike helmet whenever I get in the saddle. I fell off my bike at walking speeds and stood up thankful that I had my helmet on.

Make sure you have one and know how to adjust it so that it sits properly on your head. My advice is always to get one that you like.

That way, you are much more likely to actually wear it.

Step 3. Getting To Know The Brakes

When teaching kids, it is normal to leave brakes and braking to the end once they have mastered pedaling.

This is fine for kids since there is usually an adult alongside who can intervene at the right moment, or they can just put their feet down too slowly.

For adults with more mass and momentum, this is not a great option, so it is worth getting to know the brakes at least enough to stop the bike.

For most people, pulling the right brake lever operates the rear brake, and the left lever operates the front brake. If you live in the UK, then it is likely the opposite. Check which way round your brake levers are before riding by squeezing them and seeing which brake is activated.

At low speeds for learning, any brake will do the trick and bring you to a stop, but as you get more experienced and confident, you should lean towards using the front brake more. It offers more control and stopping power compared to the rear brake.

Gently squeeze the lever to pull the brakes. Don’t try to grab a fistful of the brakes as this could make you lose control of the bike.

The levers themselves can be adjusted so they are closer to handlebars and easier to reach and pull if you have smaller hands.

Squeezing the brakes on a hybrid bike.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Step 4. Get On The Bike And Coast

Find a quiet, traffic-free spot, perhaps in a parking lot away from commuters and pedestrians.

A flat section of gravel makes an excellent place to learn the basics. Do not be tempted to try to learn on grass, thinking that it will offer some cushioning if you fall.

All it will do is sap your energy and momentum and make the learning process ten times harder. Trust in your abilities.

Kids as young as 2 years old nowadays start their cycling journey on something called a balance bike. This is basically a small bike without the complications of pedals and often brakes.

Kids coast along by pushing their feet off the ground.

They are great for building the most important foundation of learning to ride a bike: balance.

By the time kids graduate to a proper bike with pedals they already know the feel of coasting, turning, and the knowledge that speed is your friend when it comes to staying upright.

This is a great way to learn and one that even adults can take advantage of, albeit without a dedicated balance bike.

When you first get on the bike forget it even has pedals and brakes. Adjust the saddle to its lowest position and propel yourself using your feet on the ground, just like you would do if you were riding a scooter.

When you get a feel for coasting in a straight line, start adding some small turns by gently turning the handlebars so the front wheel points in the direction you want to go.

At low speeds, this is all it will take, but as you get faster, you need to lean slightly into the corner.

Learning a new skill sounds complex on paper, but after a little while, it will be completely intuitive. Look ahead and keep your feet up; you’ll likely wobble a bit at the start but will soon find confidence in your trusty two-wheeler.

Some people like to remove the pedals for this part of the process. It makes it easier to put your feet down on the ground without them getting in the way and might even make the bike less intimidating.

They are straightforward to remove, usually with a 15mm spanner. Note that the left pedal is reverse threaded (to stop it from working loose during pedaling), so you have to turn it anti-clockwise to remove it.

If you keep the pedals on and feel that you are getting to grips with balancing and coasting, then start to think about placing your feet on the pedals when you are up and running.

Don’t worry about turning the pedals, just get comfortable getting your feet on them.

A bicycle pedal and foot pedalling the bike.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Step 5. Pedaling

Once you have put the pedals back on, it’s time to practice pedaling.

If you have mastered balancing whilst coasting, then you have done the hard part, trust us. Adding the rest is just a case of adding bricks to this strong foundation.

Back in your quiet practice area, start by coasting as you did before, but now put your feet on the pedals and start to turn them. Try not to think about it too much.

Once you feel confident enough to pedal, try adding some turns or slowing down and then accelerating again. A good tip at this point is to not pedal when turning and to make sure the pedals on the inside of a turn are at the 12 o’clock position.

This prevents it from accidentally hitting the ground during a turn.

The next step is to learn how to start pedaling from a standstill.

With the pedals level to the ground, place your dominant foot on the pedal and the other foot on the ground. At the same time, push off with your foot on the ground and push down with your foot on the pedal.

This should give you enough momentum to get your other foot on the pedal and keep going.

If your bike has gears, make sure you are in the easiest gear for this step. That is the biggest cog at the back and the smallest at the front.

A man rides a bicycle down a country lane.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Step 6. Bringing It All Together

If you have mastered starting, coasting, and stopping, then you are 99% of the way to becoming a proper cyclist.

When you think you are comfortable with this, start to play around with the gears so you can operate them without having to think about it.

The same goes for braking. Get a feel for how much pressure you need to apply to slow the bike slightly or come to a complete stop.

Time To Get Started!

It can be daunting starting to learn a bike as an adult, but hopefully, this guide will help.

If you have friends who like to cycle, don’t feel embarrassed to ask for some help and pointers. I can pretty much guarantee that if they are like any other cyclist, then all they care about is seeing more and more people out on bikes, staying active and enjoying themselves.

We would love to hear any great tips that you might have that might help people learn how to ride a bike.

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David rediscovered his love of two wheels and Lycra on an epic yet rainy multi-day cycle across Scotland's Western Isles. The experience led him to write a book about the adventure, "The Pull of the Bike", and David hasn't looked back since. Something of an expert in balancing cycling and running with family life, David can usually be found battling the North Sea winds and rolling hills of Aberdeenshire, but sometimes gets to experience cycling without leg warmers in the mountains of Europe. David mistakenly thought that his background in aero-mechanical engineering would give him access to marginal gains. Instead it gave him an inflated and dangerous sense of being able to fix things on the bike.

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