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Cycling 101 For Beginners

Cycling in Ottawa 101

Spring is here and Summer will be quick to follow. It’s a great time of year for cycling in Ottawa. We are very fortunate in the Ottawa area to have such easy access to bike paths within the city and more challenging hilly routes just across Gatineau Park.  Cycling in Ottawa is also made easier thanks to the NCC Weekend Bike Days.

How to Get Started

Starting a new exercise can be challenging. But remember, every cyclist was once a beginner too. Here are our top  tips to get you ready for cycling season:

Buying A Bike:

Go to your local shops in your community and test out several bikes. You don’t necessarily need to buy the flashiest one with all the bells and whistles, but you do want something that fits you properly. Most bike shops will offer free or low-cost bike fittings. We can’t stress how important it is to have a properly fitting bike. Poor fit can make the ride more challenging, overly stress your muscles and joints leading to discomfort and potentially injury, and make it an unpleasant experience.

Saddle Height:

An easy way to find the right saddle height on your own is to place your heel on the pedal at its farthest point away from you. Your leg should be straight. If your knee is bent in this position, you’ll want to raise your seat. If you can’t reach the pedal, you’ll want to lower the seat. When you then place your foot properly on the pedal to start cycling, there will be a slight bend in your knee which is ideal.

Relaxed Arms:

You will also want a slight bend in your arms. Your handlebars should be at a height where your shoulders are relaxed. Carrying tension in your shoulders while cycling will create unnecessary strain in the neck, upper back and shoulders that can lead to pain and discomfort. Your handlebars should be at the same height as your seat or higher depending on your size, the type of bike you are using and how upright you want to be while cycling. Having the handlebars lower than the seat will create extra strain on your wrists, elbows and shoulders.

Key Pieces Of Equipment:

When getting started with cycling, there are a few key pieces of equipment that you will want to invest in both for comfort and for safety. From the City of Ottawa and according to the Highway Traffic Act, your bicycle must be equipped with:

  • A bell or horn in good working order
  • At least one braking system on the rear wheel capable of skidding that wheel on dry, level pavement
  • A white front light (visible from a distance of at least 150 metres)
  • A red rear light or red rear reflector
  • Two strips of white reflective tape on front forks (each strip to be 125mm by 25mm)
  • Two strips of red reflective tape on the rear forks


A helmet should sit level on your head. You’ll often see a cyclist wear the helmet tilted back. This lessens the effectiveness of the helmet in the event of a crash. The front part of the helmet should sit about 2 inches above your eyebrows, keeping your forehead protected. The straps under your chin should form a V. The straps should be tight enough that the helmet does not move around easily but it is also comfortable.

Bike Shorts

This is a “maybe” piece of equipment. After you are on your bike for the first ride, you will most likely experience soreness in your buttocks. For some, finding a comfortable saddle will take care of this. For others, investing in a pair of padded bike shorts will go a long way. The good news is that over time your body will get more used to cycling and become less sore with each ride. It certainly can be a deterrent for people getting into cycling, but it will improve the more you cycle or with the addition of a softer saddle and/or padded bike shorts.

Gears Are Your Friend

Changing gears while you ride can help with the efficiency of your cycle. If you are trying to make your way up a hill or to get started from a standstill, you will want to use a lower gear. If you are looking for more speed on a flatter surface without having to peddle quickly, a higher gear can help you achieve this. Somewhere in the middle can let you coast at a good speed. Using the gears to your advantage will make cycling easier vs making it more challenging than it needs to be.

Cycling  in Ottawa can be a fantastic way to exercise and an efficient way to get around the city. Our chiropractors, physiotherapists, and registered massage therapists are here to assist you as you increase your activity level.

For more information or to book an appointment with one of our chiropractors, physiotherapists or massage therapists, visit our clinic websites at Curavita Byward and Curavita Glebe. You can also reach us at 613.860.8600 (Byward) and 613.237.9000 (Glebe).

Byward Market

333 Cumberland Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7J3
Phone: 613.860.8600


108A Third Avenue
Ottawa, Ontario K1S 2J8
Phone: 613.237.9000

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