Body & Fitness

How to start cycling: a guide for grown-ups

Tips for adults who haven't ridden a bike since they were a kid.

The Aotearoa Bike Challenge kicked off on February 1 – it encourages New Zealanders to bike to work for the month of February and feel the health benefits of getting some regular exercise and fresh air.

The challenge is a NZ Transport Agency initiative which ran for the first time last year, when more than 14,000 Kiwis from 1000 workplaces took to peddling in to work for the month of February.

With this year’s challenge, businesses and/or individuals can sign up any time during the month and you only need to make one 10-minute journey by bike to qualify for prizes.

If you’re thinking of taking to two wheels, but haven’t ridden a bike since you were a kid, you might want to ease yourself into it, cycle skills expert Marilyn Northcotte, from Wellington, suggests.

“The saying goes, ‘It’s just like riding a bike’ – as in once you’ve learned you never forget how. But that saying is not really accurate,” Marilyn says. “You need to spend a bit of time getting to know your bike, especially if you haven’t ridden for a while. The other thing to think about is that today’s bikes are quite different to the bikes that were around when we were kids.”

Here, Marilyn, who has been involved in training and building people’s confidence on bikes for more than 20 years, shares her top tips for getting in to cycling:

Marilyn Northcotte has been involved in training and consulting for Kiwi cyclists for more than 20 years. Marilyn won the Outstanding Contribution to a Bike Friendly Future category at the Bike to the Future Awards in 2017, and judges credited her with being one of the go-to cycling experts in Wellington and beyond.

Get to know your bike

If you haven’t ridden for a while, don’t pedal straight out onto the busy streets. Get to know, or reacquaint yourself, with your bike at your local school or park where you’re off-road and there’s lots of room to accommodate a few wobbles.

If you’re buying a new bike…

Make sure it’s one that best suits your needs. If you plan to use it to commute to work, a ‘hybrid’ or what Marilyn calls ‘city’ bike that allows you to sit higher up and that has a thicker frame and wheels, might be the way to go. (A hybrid bike is a general-purpose bike that can tolerate a wide range of riding conditions and applications.)

“Road bikes are perfectly fine for most people’s needs, but look into what’s available and think about what you’ll be using your bike for,” Marilyn suggests.

To avoid getting a sore butt

Well, actually, you can’t really avoid that. Even Marilyn, who has been cycling for many years, still gets a sore butt if she’s on her bike for hours at a time.

“Some people wear padded bike shorts, which can help. But really, over time you just adapt to the friction and pressure and you don’t get sore any more.”

(Unless you’re riding for hours at a time.)

Wear good footwear

Wear shoes that cover your entire foot and toes. If your shoes have laces, make sure they’re tightly tied and can’t loosen and get caught in your bike or wheel spokes.

Ride consistently and predictably

When you’re cycling in traffic, ride consistently and predictably, Marilyn says. Don’t weave in and out of lanes. Don’t zip in and out between cars. When you’re turning, do a shoulder check and indicate by putting out your arm.

“These are all common sense things and these actions and behaviours tell the drivers of the cars around you that you are a consistent cyclist, who will be predictable in your movements.”

Stay safe

Always wear a cycle helmet and be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Observe the traffic volume, weather conditions and degree of visibility.

Never ride two abreast. Even though it’s not law in New Zealand not to, it’s not a smart idea, Marilyn warns.

Top places to ride in Christchurch

Christchurch Adventure Park

Recently reopened following the Port Hills fires, the Adventure Park caters to a range of skills with a variety of mountain biking tracks for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders.

Bottle Lake Forest

Perfect for a family ride, with mostly flat terrain. There are options for either a 7km family loop ride or a 10km round trip – coastal ride to Spencer park


Running from the University of Canterbury to the Central City, this urban route offers easy cycling access to a number of high schools and intermediate schools along with Canterbury University.

Papanui Parallel

This recently opened cycleway connects Northlands to the Central City to give a safer option for cyclists travelling into the Central City from the northern suburbs.

McLeans Forest

A 15 minute drive out of Christchurch and perfect for family rides with all ages and skill levels. The forest offers three mountain bike loops and 17km of trail in total. Bike hire is also available on site.

Top spots to cycle in Auckland

Devonport – Takapuna ride

The Devonport to Takapuna Great Ride includes paths, boardwalks and bridges weaving through parks, mangroves, and heritage streets. The ride is 9.5km and takes around 40 minutes.

Woodhill Mountain Bike park

Just 40 minutes from downtown Auckland, with the option to hire or bring your own mountain bike. Purpose-built tracks for a range of skill levels and abilities – perfect for beginner to advanced riders.

Auckland City waterfront

The Auckland City waterfront ride is a great way to explore the central city. The route is entirely off the road, paved and flat, making it perfect for new riders.

Te Ara Tahuna Estuary

A great route for a family day out – the path is mainly flat and sealed, covering a range of environments from the beach and estuary to bush trails and parks.

Cascades shared path

A scenic, easy, family friendly ride, taking around 30 minutes. The Rotary Centennial Bike Trail runs 1.2km through the park and has been designed to help kids learn to ride and improve their skills.

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