It can be pretty daunting setting out on a bike for the first time, with lots to think about all at once, especially when the riding gets a bit technical. Here are a few bits of advice to help you along - don’t take them out with you on the ride and try and follow them rigidly, just have a look at them from time to time and try and introduce them into your riding, and they’ll begin to come naturally.
Pedal with the balls of your feet on the pedals. When you’re freewheeling on the straight, keep your pedals at the same height, with your strong leg forward, rather than one leg stretched and the other tucked up. Round corners, keep your outside leg straight.
Choose a gear that gives you a small amount of resistance in your legs. Not so hard that you’re straining to turn the pedals, and not so easy that you’re spinning the pedals around unnecessarily.
Try and anticipate the terrain ahead, and change into the right gear just as you are about to need to use it – don’t do it as you’re slowly down and crunching through the chain, it’s not good for you or the bike!
Try to avoid a combination of the small chainring at the front and small cogs at the back, or the large chainring at the front and large cog at the back. This runs the chain at an angle across the rings and cogs, and it won’t work as well. If you want this gear, change into the next chainring and one of the middle cogs – it will give you the same ratio.
If you are about to hit a technical section or corner that you want to slow down for, try to brake beforehand so you’re at the right speed entering it – this will give you a lot more control through the difficult bit.
If you’re skidding, you’re not in control. Don’t slam the levers on as hard as you can, modulate the power to come to a controlled stop.
It can be tempting to rely too much on the back brake, but the front brake does most of the stopping, so use this too and you’ll have better control of your speed and be able to stop more quickly – don’t worry, you won’t go over the bars as you learn to control the power.
When riding on the road, it can be easier on particularly steep hills to stand, but not for too long, alternate between standing and sitting on longer climbs. On descents over bumpier roads it can also be more comfortable to take your weight off the saddle a bit.
When riding off-road, stand up when going downhill or fast, particularly over bumpy terrain, as it will be more comfortable. Don’t stand up completely straight, hover over the saddle and you’ll be in more control of the bike, moving it with the inside of your thighs on the nose of the saddle. Try to resist the temptation to stand up and stomp on the pedals on climbs, swinging the bike side-to-side, as this is less efficient, and you’ll get less traction on the rear wheel.
On the road we have to share with cars, pedestrians and horses, off road with walkers and horses. Slow down and give way to people and horses, and make sure you leave enough room for cars to pass. Some useful resources include CTC's guide to riding in traffic, and the Surrey Hills AONB Code of Conduct produced by their mountain biking group.
A good way of improving your confidence and riding skills is to join a club. Dorking Cycling Club is a very friendly club with road rides to suit all abilities, and there is also a club finder on the British Cycling website.