Seven cycling “faux pas” I made when I first started cycling

Nobody is perfect, and I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve made my fair share of cycling “faux pas” as I became more enthusiastic about my daily cycle. Maybe this quick list will help you avoid them or perhaps you can chuckle as you identify a couple you’ve made yourself.

It’s worth saying that there’s no right or wrong way to cycle, so there are no rules you have to follow – these are just a few suggestions that might make your experience even more enjoyable.

Crossing the chain

Crossing a chain is when you ride in the largest (hardest to pedal) chainring, and largest (easier to pedal) sprocket on the cassette. Riding in the smallest (easiest to pedal) chainring and smallest (hardest to pedal) sprocket is also crossing the chain.

The first version is much more common, mainly because often people simply don’t want to ‘wimp out’ and ride in the ‘little ring’. However, it’s not very good for your chain as it stretches it, and often causes a nasty rubbing noise – so you might want to avoid it.

Not using gears

I’ve seen many a beginner rider on the roads grinding away in a high gear, or spinning their legs insanely fast in a tiny gear. Quite often, they’ve been riding a bike that looks like it might have been pulled from the garage that morning, for the first time in a few months. In these cases, I expect the gears might be unused because they’re not working too well. These riders should check out our London Cyclist Maintenance Guide, and skip to ‘adjust derailleur’.


The other option is that the rider is just happy pedalling at that speed. It’s hard for me to criticize because I ride with a characteristically low cadence. However, the recommended ‘revolutions per minute’ (RPM) is 90. You can check what you’re doing either using a cycling computer, or counting how many times you turn the cranks over a minute – and it’s a good idea every so often to have a go at sticking to 90, as getting into a habit of turning a high gear slowly can put stress on your knees.

No puncture repair kit

Heading out without an inner tube, tyre levers and pump isn’t that dissimilar to driving down the motorway with a quarter of a tank of petrol and no cash or card to top up. If you don’t have puncture repair tools, you are not self sufficient. If you are unlucky and get a puncture, you’re going to have to find a helpful stranger, a bike shop, phone a friend, or walk home.

Of course – there are a few things you can do to reduce the number of punctures you get.

Chain stain

I am so guilty of this. Apparently it’s a real ‘beginner cyclist’ mistake, but I just seem incapable of avoiding it…



Wearing underwear under cycling shorts

Cycling shorts are made with a chamois – the padding is usually seamless – because seams can cause nasty chafing that you definitely want to avoid. The idea of not wearing underwear is a little alien to some people , but it really is what is advised by all cycling clothing manufacturers. You should however always wash them after wearing.

Not eating enough on a ride, or eating too much

If you’re heading out on a long ride, you’ll be burning quite a lot of calories, and you need to make sure you replace these – generally with carbohydrates. Nutrition brands such as High5 and SIS make this easy for you with energy drinks (most effective for topping up carb stores quickly), gels, and bars. Energy from solid food, eg energy bars, takes longer to be absorbed, but a lot of people like the familiarity of ‘normal food’.


Of course, some people go the other way… if you are on a ride where you are aiming to push yourself, avoid big meals along the way – stop for a Full English and you’ll be feeling it.

Forgetting to unclip

This is only relevant for those riding with clipless pedals or cages – but hands up if you’ve done it?

There’s a few common “mistakes” from us – we’d love to know if you’ve got any additions?

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25 Responses to Seven cycling “faux pas” I made when I first started cycling

  1. Nick 11/06/2014 at 5:56 am #

    I’ve been riding with the same mate for about 20 years, and he refuses to understand – despite an engineering background – that crossing the chain is bad for the bike, and bad form.

    And as for chain stain .. I don’t know how he does it, but my teenage son manages to get them on his left leg.

  2. MJ Ray 11/06/2014 at 12:41 pm #

    I don’t remember the last time I had a chain stain. Seems like it would be difficult to do on a bike with even a chain disk protector and near impossible with a chain guard – do you have either?

    @Nick – if the chain stain is on the outside of the left leg, that’s usually from walking too close while wheeling the bike.

  3. mollie 12/06/2014 at 5:52 am #

    I totally disagree that there isn’t a ‘right way’ to cycle – there is an it involves obeying the highway code and not putting other cyclists in danger through ineptitude!
    Unfortunately there is plenty of them about, the red light jumpers, the inside of the lorry squeezers, the in the middle of the junction ‘slow coach’ waiters, the ‘undertakers’ (when somebody else is cycling in primary position) and my pet hate- dead speed shoalers pushing to the front at each light then wobbling off at dead slow speed and holding back everybody else …
    I’m sorry about a bit of a rant, but a few days back, some slow and inept female cyclist decided it would be a good idea to push her way in past me and a row of slow moving cars ( there was a few of us waiting for the traffic to move off around an obstruction in the road), couldn’t judge the distance properly, bumped into me quite heavily, so I wobbled and nearly hit the deck and just avoided colliding with the poor cyclist behind me!
    Still, I love riding to work and even more I love to do so ‘properly’ in the hope that the poor inept sods will learn by observation how to ride a bike 🙂

    • Asher Jacobsberg 13/06/2014 at 10:32 am #

      That is always frustrating, but what difference did the rider’s gender make? Why is that the detail you pick out?

      • coney 13/06/2014 at 11:15 am #

        uh…’s the only detail you chose to pick out, actually.

      • John H 13/06/2014 at 4:11 pm #

        There were lots of details its you who has drawn attention to it and are trying to make an issue of it.
        There are many inept cyclists of all genders out there . Enough to go round.
        Try and focus on the issue and not nit pick the issues suited to your obvious agenda !!!!!!!

        • Asher Jacobsberg 13/06/2014 at 5:13 pm #

          No, there were three details you provided: slow, inept and female. The first two are relevant to your story. I was just pointing out that the thrid wasn’t.

          You didn’t mention her race, her hair colour or anything else that has no impact on her ability to cycle or why she was cycling in an irritating way.

          Obvious agenda? I was pointing out some (I assume) inadvertent sexism. It seems odd to try to dismiss that rather than just say, ‘yeah that wasn’t really relevant I’ll try not to do it again.’

      • mollie 19/06/2014 at 8:26 pm #

        In case it escaped your notice Mollie is a female name and I also happen to be a woman – I wasn’t picking on the other person’s gender (which is irrelevant as there is plenty more inept and slow male cyclists) but on her appalling ineptitude which put me and another rider in danger.

        • Asher Jacobsberg 20/06/2014 at 10:09 am #

          I thought ‘mollie’ was likely a female name, but you can never assume with people’s online monikers. Being female doesn’t mean you can’t inadvertently reinforce gender stereotypes.

          Of course the gender is irrelevant. Just look at the sentence; would it work without the word ‘female’?

    • Aoife 20/06/2014 at 11:51 am #

      What about the over takers? When you’re on the cycle lane, (or non existing one) the car is on your right and a cyclist over takes you and the car on the right hand side? (when they have no intention of turning right). This is a single lane road with barely enough space for one cyclist and a car. The driver gets so confused when they see a cyclist on the right that they swerve to avoid them and nearly hit the cyclist on their left. I blame cyclists who seem to have no knowledge of the drivers blindspot..

      That’s my rant, and I have done the old lady thing of pointing this out to the ‘offending’ cyclist at the traffic lights. To be fair it has always been accepted graciously. 😉 (or else they think I am indeed crazy).

      • Steve 02/07/2014 at 11:41 am #

        It’s no different to a car overtaking. When your cycling in a cycle lane then they are in another lane, no problem with over taking. If your not in a cycle lane and the car is overtaking you then the cyclist should not be overtaking the car, neither should another car. Though how a cyclist can be going fat enough to overtake a car overtaking a cyclist I don’t know, unless your talking about undertaking a slow moving car which, as a cyclist that overtakes or stays with the rest of the traffic where there is no cycle lane (as you should), annoys me.

        • MJ Ray 02/07/2014 at 12:14 pm #

          Average motor speed in London is not that high, but some people do ride even slower for various reasons, so it is possible to for bike to pass car passing a bike – I was told not to do that when learning to ride (and drive, too) but I don’t think it’s explicit in today’s Highway Code rules about overtaking because it doesn’t tell you to signal right during the whole overtake any more (which would then tell others not to overtake you, by rule 167). Maybe I’ve overlooked something.

  4. Gordon 13/06/2014 at 10:12 am #

    Re unclipping – equally bad is choosing not to unclip but then leaning against something that isn’t steady! in my case it was a bendy bollard in the middle of Cambridge whilst on a group charity ride – fortunately no-one had a camera to hand to record my pratfall!

  5. Paul 13/06/2014 at 10:37 am #

    I always dismount on the left side of the bike. Only this morning I decided that it would be a good idea to practice on both sides as failing to be used to his might lead to a unclipping faceplant on the right….

  6. Andrew Wilcox 13/06/2014 at 10:55 am #

    Not paying any attention to saddle height and handlebar position.

    Everyday you see someone riding with their knees going up and down, and in and out.

    Under-inflated tyres

    Or over inflating tyres on old rims and tyres. I have enjoyed that supersonic bang as the tyre rips or the tube forces its way out between the rim and tyre a few times.

  7. Paul Collins 13/06/2014 at 11:12 am #

    Riding without gloves is not a good idea as after a spill gravel rash will render both hands unusable and unless you have a very close friend some things become impossible without using your hands.

  8. Rob McIvor 13/06/2014 at 12:25 pm #

    Fitting an over-bright flashing rear light or angling your light so that it is going to annoy anyone riding behind you. I did this once on an overnight Audax ride and was (politely) asked to set the flashing light to steady. Having subsequently found myself behind riders with flashing lights powerful enough to be mistaken for an aircraft beacon, I now understand why.

    Flashing lights, front or rear, is generally a no-no in a group.

    • spoquey 13/06/2014 at 12:55 pm #

      Ha ha I gave up doing the Dunwich Dynamo, because those thousands of flashing lights did my head in.

  9. Sophia 13/06/2014 at 12:25 pm #

    I get chain stain all the time. I got it today, for instance. I’ve been cycling for years. I think I get it when I’m standing, waiting for lights to change on one leg and have leaned the bicycle on my leg rather than having both feet on the ground and being balanced.

    • MJ Ray 13/06/2014 at 12:30 pm #

      Do you lean the bike to the right, then? I always lean left. Do you have a chainring guard of any sort? But maybe the best tactic is to coast up and not have to stop 😉 Easier said than done in London.

  10. Mark 18/06/2014 at 8:17 am #

    Chain stain. Lol, i still get that now and I’ve been riding all my life and in 30 (8 years in London riding my bike) !! Is there a secret to avoid it, or just be more careful?

  11. jonty 07/07/2014 at 11:06 pm #

    Not using gears!
    Well I have been rideing for many years, and I very rarely change out of top gear, this is because I don’t have the funds to set up custom gearing to suit my own style, and standard setups are all redicualously low ratio.
    This is not a mistake of riding style, it is a shortcoming of the gearing ratios on off the peg setups.
    I rode up holme moss yesterday on the tour de france route, I only needed to change down to 3 below the top gear on the bike I was using, does this mean I don’t know how to ride a bike, or need patronising advice on how to set up a derailier?
    I think not.
    I saw plenty of all the gear no idea cyclist, using there lowest gears, whlyst I sailed past them on a cheepo, found in a skip mountain bike.
    How about overtaking without a rear observation to make sure no one is coming past you? thats amaisingly common, and very inconsiderate and dangerous, and more often than not done by the lycra shorts and £1000+ bike mob who seem to think they are somehow better cos they throw loads of money at the kit, instead of finding a bike in the back of a garage (or a skip) and using it.

  12. Richard K 17/07/2014 at 1:37 pm #

    I’ve been riding in Greater London for the best part of 11 years and I get chain stain reguarly, especially when I’ve been drinking. I’m surprised drinking and cycling isn’t on the list.

  13. SteveP 25/08/2014 at 10:52 am #

    “Cross-chaining” – “illegal gears” – that’s historical stuff and no longer very relevant. Technology has moved on. Think about a road bike triple, with three front chainrings. The chain and mechs are set up to allow the use of any gear combo (otherwise you could have a dangerous lockup or failure).

    So the “rules” would say you can only use your large rear cogs with the small front ring and the small rear cogs with the big front ring… but what about the middle ring? Is it somehow magical now that it’s between the two other rings? Because now you can use the middle ring for all the rear cogs. Incredible!

    How about SRAM’s “22” groupset? The one they advertise as being 22 gear combos? (11 rear, two front). Must they be reëducated?

    In truth, the crosschain options are slightly less efficient and put added stress on your equipment. But so does standing on the pedals or riding in the rain – there’s no danger in the practice and in many cases it is better to grab that last big rear cog than shift the FD in a crunch

  14. Ivan 25/06/2016 at 12:56 pm #

    Yes, fiddling with mechanical parts of my bike not really knowing what the results could be all while out riding.

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