Here’s What You Need To Know Before Your First Outdoor Cycling Ride

Get ready to master the open road.

By PelotonUpdated November 8, 2023


Whether you’re a longtime indoor cyclist or have never put your feet to the pedals in any setting, outdoor cycling can be a great form of exercise that helps you get out into nature and your community. Ready to give it a try? Peloton instructor Christine D’Ercole, who’s an accomplished racer and longtime cyclist, says there are a few key things you need to address before hitting the road.

The Thrill of Outdoor Cycling

“Riding outside is beneficial in so many ways,” Christine says. “Besides improving your cardiovascular health, regular aerobic exercise increases blood and oxygen flow through your brain and helps improve production of serotonin and dopamine—the brain chemicals that make us feel good.”

Why Outdoor Cycling is a Game-Changer

Outdoor cycling is more than just a great workout. Once you feel comfortable on your bike, you can ride trails out in nature, turn your commute into part of your exercise routine, or explore new far-flung neighborhoods while also using more eco-friendly transit. There’s nothing like getting fit and having fun at the same time.

How Outdoor Cycling Compares to Indoor Cycling

The strength and endurance developed during indoor cycling classes is a great benefit when you take your hard work outdoors. “Riding indoors is great practice for anything you'd like to do outdoors, including those long 50, 60,100+ miles benefit rides, enthusiast club rides, and competitive racing,” says Christine. “The bulk of my training is what I do indoors while teaching my Peloton classes, and I have a few medals to show that it works!” 

Unique Challenges of the Great Outdoors

While there are so many things that you can apply from an indoor cycling workout to an outdoor one, there’s a lot of new information to keep in mind in order to stay safe and get the most out of your time outside. You’ll be encountering potential weather changes, varied terrain, and unpredictable surfaces, not to mention cars, pedestrians, and other cyclists.

Benefits of Outdoor Cycling

Physical Advantages: Terrain & Resistance

Hopping on your bike is a great way to get your cardio in. Cycling is a low impact activity, so it’s much easier on your joints than running and can even help reduce some joint pain and stiffness. It also works all of the muscles in your legs and core, so you’ll get strength benefits as well. 

Remember: A flat ride will be easier than one with multiple hills, so feel free to vary your routes based on how intense a workout you’re looking for.

A Mental Boost

Getting to know all the processes around outdoor cycling can be good for your brain too. “Learning any new skill—like developing the understanding of how the shifting mechanisms work and how and when to use which gear—not only stimulates the brain, it also can be very empowering,” says Christine. “Coordinating this while keeping the body balanced and in the rhythmic movement pattern of pedaling further stimulates brain activity. Cycling is simply incredibly healthy all around!”

How It Complements an Existing Workout Routine

A well-balanced workout routine has multiple components. Outdoor cycling is mainly a cardio exercise, so it can complement your strength or flexibility training, while also working your legs, glutes, and core muscles. 

Preparing for Your First Outdoor Ride

Choosing the Right Equipment

The first piece of equipment you need is, of course, a bicycle itself. Consider where you’ll be riding and its terrain and weather patterns, as well as your budget and what features are important to you. Some cities offer bikeshare programs that you can try out if you aren’t sure or aren’t ready to invest in your own.

You’ll also need safety equipment, including a helmet as well as lights and reflective gear if you plan to ride in dim or nighttime conditions. And while you may want to invest in cycling-specific clothes and shoes as you get more into it, tight-fitting leggings or shorts and closed-toed sneakers should likely suffice when just starting out. (If you already own workout clothes, you’re probably set!)

Once you have all your tools in hand, you’ll need to put in some consistent maintenance to keep them in their best shape. “Maintaining your bike is pretty simple: Keep it clean and properly tuned. Don’t leave it in the rain. If it must be outside, get a cover or tarp for it,” Christine says. 

And when your bike gets a little dirty from your outdoor activities, make sure to take care of it shortly after. “Keep your bike clean by washing it every so often, especially after a rainy, snowy, or dirty ride,” Christine says. “I like to put my bike in the tub and use Simple Green to degrease and clean it. Remember that there are bearings in every part that turns, wheel hubs, bottom bracket and headset, pedals, and derailleur pulleys. Feel that each of these parts rolls smoothly—if you feel resistance or crunching while rotating, get them checked.” 

If any part of your bike doesn’t seem or feel right, Christine always recommends visiting your local bike shop as soon as possible to have a professional check it out. This is one of the top ways to stay safe and take care of your bike at the same time.

Mapping a Route & Choosing Terrain

Now that it’s time to hit the road, where do you want to go? Your area may have maps of streets that have protected bike lanes or parks with bike trails. If you’re new to cycling, look for spots that have designated bike paths so you don’t have to worry as much about cars. You’ll also want to look for flatter areas for a gentler ride, or hillier terrain if you want more of a workout. Apps and outdoor communities like AllTrails, Strava, BikeMap, RideWithGPS, and Komoot can also help you out, as can Google Maps.

Things to Know Before You Hit the Road

Assess Your Safety

Outdoor cycling comes with a few hazards that you won’t find in your living room or local studio. Make sure you take the time to prepare and maintain your awareness once you’re on the road with a few key tips.

Importance of Wearing a Helmet

You should never get on a bike without a helmet. “It should go without saying, but protect your head,” says Christine. “No matter how short your trip, wear a helmet—it will literally give you peace of mind.”

Leaving Headphones at Home

An outdoor environment means you need to stay even more alert to what’s around you, so one key part of your indoor workout experience will likely have to change: “I recommend that you do not wear headphones,” Christine says. “We love riding to music in our indoor cycling classes, and it can be tempting to take it on the road. However, if you are riding where there’s other moving activity, even if it’s other cyclists, it’s important to remain alert and to listen for the proximity of other riders or cars.” 

Staying Vigilant on the Road

When you’re aware of your surroundings, you’re able to react appropriately to any potential problems or accidents that could arise. “As a cyclist, you have a slightly higher and more open visibility than a driver in a car, and at speed, you are able to see and anticipate the moves of pedestrians and vehicles around or ahead of you,” says Christine. “However, those pedestrians and vehicles are generally not on the lookout for cyclists, so be mindful of this and don't be afraid to use your voice and your brakes (gently) to announce yourself.”

Understanding Traffic Rules & Etiquette

Laws for cyclists vary across states and cities, so make sure you know what your local policies are before you head out. In general, cyclists on the road need to obey the same traffic laws as cars, which means precautions like stopping at red lights and stop signs, checking for pedestrians, and signaling (using your hands) when you’re going to turn.

Weather Considerations & Dressing Appropriately

Weather can change with little warning, and you don’t want to be stuck miles away from home without a jacket in sight. Gear up accordingly for your ride, including sunglasses to keep your own visibility high, a light rain coat, and removable layers for temperature changes. You’ll also want to avoid wearing any loose clothing that can get tangled in your bike chains. If you’ll be biking at night, add some reflective clothing or accessories to make sure you stand out.

Training For Success

No matter what kind of terrain you have access to, you can get creative with your workouts to achieve your fitness goals. “If you have a short steep hill, you can perform 'hill repeat' intervals—just be sure to recover in between!” says Christine. “If you have a long flat stretch, you can practice your sprinting skills. If there is a long winding incline, practice efficiency in climbing by riding in a light gear and keeping your cadence over 80 or at a moderate to brisk pace.”

Just like when you’re riding inside, it’s important to maintain proper form during your outdoor rides in order to stay safe and put more power in each pedal stroke. “If you are in any way uncomfortable while riding or are experiencing discomfort some time after your ride, you should get a form check,” she adds. “While there is some cost involved, it is 100% worth it.” 

Not sure if you need to revisit your setup? Christine says to note how you feel during and after your ride. “Pay attention to the signals your body is giving you. If you feel perched onto the bike and your hands hurt, something can be adjusted. If the saddle isn't comfortable, it can be changed,” she explains. While it can be exciting to get outside for an outdoor ride, remember that it’s important to take the necessary steps in order to stay safe and ultimately feel good after your workout. “In order to promote your continued self-care, take the time to get this looked at and remember that riding with proper form can help reduce the risk of injury.”

Embracing the Open Road with Confidence

While it may seem like a lot to tackle, the easiest way to master outdoor cycling is simply by getting out there and going. Put your helmet on and get peddling! 


Level up your inbox.

Subscribe for a weekly dose of fitness, plus the latest promos, launches, and events.

By providing your email address, you agree to receive marketing communications from Peloton.

For more about how we use your information, see our Privacy Policy.