Safe Cycling: 3 Ways to Get More Out of Each Ride

As a League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor (LCI #4661), I teach people how to ride in traffic.  A big part of it is about learning to safely coexist with cars, trucks, buses and even other cyclists.  Traffic can be pretty intimidating for most folks until they get used to it.  
But it’s about more than just safety.  It’s also about how to ride well because when we ride well, cycling becomes more fun.   Here are three easy ways to ride better and have more fun cycling as a result.
rear cassette
Use all of your gears to better control cadence and ride further and faster with less effort.
Focus on Cadence, not Speed
Do you want to go faster and further while feeling more relaxed?  Then focus on cadence instead of speed!  Cadence is your pedaling rate measured in revolutions per minute.  Keep it as steady as possible…ideally between 75 and 95 revolutions per minute, even if it means dropping to a lower gear and slowing down when climbing hills or pedaling into the wind.
How can you tell what your cadence is?  A cycling computer will measure it for you.  You can also use a stopwatch.  Set a short interval of time, say, fifteen seconds and count how many times you pedal down with one leg.  Multiply by four and that’s your cadence.  There’s even an easier way.  Just pedal at a pace that’s comfortable, not too hard and not to easy and try to stay as consistent as possible.  You’ll be amazed at how much further you can go and how much better you feel!
Learn to Shift Smoothly
Unless you’re riding a fixie or a single speed bicycle, your bike is equipped with lots of gears.  You can use your gears to keep your cadence steady.  Focus on the road ahead and shift gears well in advance.  Don’t be shy about changing gears often. Remember, you’ll have more fun cycling and go further if you can keep your cadence steady!
As a side note, most modern derailleurs are designed to be shifted while pedaling, but you don’t have to mash the pedals while shifting.  If you slightly reduce pedaling power as you shift,  you’ll find that you can shift gears with less effort. 
Eat and Drink With Your Ride in Mind
Cycling causes the engine within to burn fuel in the form of calories and water.  The further and faster you go, the more you burn.  Eating and drinking in the right combination can add to riding enjoyment.  The wrong foods and beverages (and the wrong amounts of the right ones) can cause trouble.
The general rule is to drink before you’re thirsty and eat before you’re hungry.  It starts the night before a long ride.  Complex carbohydrates like pasta and breads will provide a store of energy while riding. During the ride, easily digestible foods are your best bet.  Bananas are a great choice and favored by many cyclists because they are carb-rich and also a great source of potassium and other vitamins our bodies consume while cycling.  Experts recommend snacking in small amounts every 20 minutes or so during a ride.

The same is true of hydration.  Dehydration is always a risk when cycling hard, even on cooler days and in dry climates where you won’t sweat as much.   Plan to drink one small water bottle every 12-14 miles.  It’s better to sip than guzzle, especially if you have miles to go.


Bob Sharpe is a League of American Bicyclists Certified Cycling Instructor and founder of Bike 5, a movement that encourages people to bicycle for short trips of five miles or less.  You can reach him directly through the Bike 5 page on Facebook.

This article is one of an 11-part series on the basics of riding on the road and covering the primary topics found in the League of American Bicyclists Smart Cycling course.

Read all 11 articles in Bob's Safe Cycling Series here.

Find more resources for better bicycling on our Bicycle Skills and Safety page.


Improving safety for Missourians who bicycle, walk, and drive is one of the primary goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. Work to educate and inform Missourians about important safety and skills topics such as those found in this series on safe bicycling is an important part of that effort.

Your ongoing membership and generous financial support help turn our Vision into reality!