“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” or in the case of a new cyclist, “a single mile.”
But the world of road cycling can be intimidating and overwhelming, to say the least, so here are some tips to get you rolling.
1. Buy your bike from a local bike shop
The heart and soul of a bike is its frame so no matter what your budget is, be sure to get the best you can afford even if it means going with cheaper components.
If you’re wanting to do touring or long-distance rides, then a frame with a relaxed geometry, which has you sitting more upright, is the ticket. If you want to race or your focus is speed, then an aggressive geometry that puts the rider in a more aerodynamic position is in order.
Although we’ve only scratched the surface of this topic, your local bike shop is a great resource to help you find your perfect road bike. Be sure they offer to fit you to the bike; some stores call it a “fit kit.” This process not only helps them zero in on a frame size for you but enables them to adjust the seat and handlebars so you’re in the most comfortable, efficient position.
2. Cycling clothes – ride in comfort
Whether you’re rolling with friends to a coffee shop or tackling a century, the wind is your enemy so close-fitting kits, usually made of lycra, enable you to be more aerodynamic. The shorts protect your inner legs from chaffing when doing fast cadences, too. Toss in the padded chamois and you too will be singing the praises of lycra!
Cycling jerseys come in two styles: club or racing. A club fit is looser and comes with the traditional two or three rear pockets. Race cuts are skin-tight for aerodynamics and also come with rear pockets.
Next, are your shoes. And like selecting a bike, this can be complicated. Most beginners start with street shoes and traditional pedals that don’t require clipping in. In this way, they get used to riding and shifting gears without also worrying about unclipping. Once confidence is built, you can switch to cages which allow you to use street shoes. You can adjust the strap’s tightness to experiment slipping a foot out when coming to a stop.
The next jump is to the cleated system. Much like ski boots, the idea is that with the twist of a foot the cleat will disengage from the pedal and the rider can set their foot down. Cleated shoes vary in price and quality but all offer stiffer soles that transfer power from your legs to the pedals more efficiently. If you have a trainer for your bike, you can safely practice clipping in and out without falling over. Eventually, you’ll need to ride outside and if it’s any comfort, taking a mild fall due to not being able to unclip is a right of passage for all cyclists!
3. Get a helmet
A good helmet is not only essential for your safety but is required by most clubs, races, or sportives. And you don’t have to spend a fortune, either, as even the least expensive must pass safety tests.
Additionally, invest in some cycling glasses. Aside from protecting you from sunlight, you’ll be glad you have a pair on when a bug smacks into the lens and not your eye.
4. Where To Ride
With apps like Google Earth, Strava, Map My Ride, and Garmin, it’s easier than ever to create routes and verify road conditions without setting foot outside. With Google Earth and its “Street View” option, you can check the road for traffic and if it looks safe to bike on. Naturally, nothing beats a test drive on unknown roads to verify or asking local riders what they prefer.
Cycling in the country not only offers breathtaking scenery but is safer since there is less traffic. If urban riding is your only option, try to schedule your ride before rush hour and be sure to stay wide of parked cars; the last thing you need is to slam into someone’s door when they open it.
Always obey traffic laws as if you were driving a car. Be especially careful when turning left (if cars drive on the right-hand side of the road) or turning right (if cars are on the left side). These are your blind spots and when you’re most vulnerable to being hit.
5. Join a Cycling Club
Cycling is a brotherhood shared by all types and all ages. And nothing sums that up better than your local bike club. This is where you can meet seasoned road dogs who will be more than willing to help out a rookie. Clubs are also a great way to learn to ride in a group, hear about new products, and even sell and trade bikes and gear.
If you don’t feel comfortable creating routes then consider going on a club ride. You’ll be in good hands and will be traversing the best routes around.
6. Take food on your bike rides
On long rides lasting more than an hour or two, if you wait to eat or drink until you feel hungry or thirsty it will be impossible to replenish your body and you could have a hypoglycemic reaction. To avoid this, discipline yourself to eat every hour whether you’re hungry or not.
The banana is the cyclist’s go-to food. It fits perfectly in a rear jersey pocket, is packed with nutrients, is in an easy-to-eat food that, with practice, can be consumed while riding. And once you’re done, the peel can be tossed into the weeds, if you’re out in the country, that is.
There are also PowerBars and gels but be sure to try these well in advance of a big ride to make sure your stomach can digest this food. There’s nothing worse than eating something new on a long ride only miles later wishing for a restroom!
7. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Staying hydrated cannot be overemphasized enough. On long rides, especially when temperatures are high, you will need electrolytes and not just water. There are many powder supplements you can order online or at your local bike shop, but as with the energy products, be sure to try these on training rides and not at a Grand Fondo!
8. Make sure you know how to fix a puncture
It happens to everyone: a flat tire or a mechanical. So before you launch a long solo ride, be sure you’re familiar with how to fix a flat. Your local bike shop can show you or may even offer a class on basic bike repairs. Reach out to a bike club for help or watch a tutorial on YouTube.
Most mechanicals can be avoided by checking your brakes, shifting, cables, etc., before you ride. But even these preventative steps can’t stop the inevitable which leads us to our next subject…
9. Essential Cycling Tools And Gizmos
As a new cyclist, you want to be as prepared as possible for anything that may go wrong. It is essential to carry a spare inner tube, tyre levers, and a pump or C02 dispenser. On solo rides, consider carrying two tubes and extra CO2 cartridges.
Next, purchase a small multi-tool specific to cycling. These have various wrenches to tighten or loosen brakes, cables, handlebars, etc.
Lastly, a waterproof pouch is a great investment and fit nicely in your jersey pocket. You can carry cash, a credit card, and some form of ID. Because it’s waterproof, it’s a great place for any medications you may need.
10. Weather It Out – Just Get Out And Ride
When creating your route or if you’re about to go ride, be sure you check the weather. Is there a chance of rain? If so, should you pack a rain jacket? How hot will it get? How cold? Are you dressed for success?
As a cyclist, you need to factor in the wind chill when dressing for fall or winter rides. As a rookie, this will be by trial and error as you determine how many layers are too much or too little. The ideal is to be a little chilled when you start knowing that after a few minutes of exertion you’ll warm up.
Perhaps the most important weather information is wind direction and wind speed. Most cyclists would agree that it’s best to head into the wind first and let Mother Nature help on the return leg. There’s nothing worse than hammering early in a ride only to find you had a tailwind!
The cycling computer has not only changed over the years but offers amazing features some of which can protect you on the road.
The most basic computer tracks your miles, speed, and distance while the top-tier models can connect to your phone via Bluetooth to display incoming calls and texts, connect to bike sensors like cadence, power meters, lights, and rear radar. Yes, you read that correctly, I said radar. The rear unit beeps when a car (or cars) approach from the rear and an icon appears on your computer screen, too.
Another nice feature of high-end computers is that you can upload your ride to platforms like Strava or Garmin Connect. This enables you to track your training, tally up your yearly mileage, and of course, brag to your friends!
12. Form to be Fit
Whether you plan on being competitive or merely want to ride for fun, your form (how you sit and how you pedal) are important to your success. A higher cadence (how many times your pedal rotates in a minute) is better on your joints and aerobic system than pounding out miles in big gears. At first, this may feel awkward or counterproductive, but if you learn how to spin well you’ll reap the benefits.
Keep your upper body relaxed and elbows slightly bent and find a comfortable yet aerodynamic position.
We hope these tips inspire you to take that first step into road cycling. It’s an exciting, invigorating, and amazing world!