Road Bike 101
When I first started cycling, it began as a means to complete a triathlon. I didn’t feel passionate about cycling. I had a goal in mind and cycling was a tool to achieve that goal. Over time cycling became one of my biggest loves, but it was a journey for me to get there. When I purchased my first road bike, my knowledge of cycling was limited to the generic mountain bike I owned in elementary school. I knew nothing about what I needed regarding buying a bike. A young woman that lived near me offered to let me try out her bike to make sure I liked riding before I went out and bought a bike of my own.
Here is that humbling story: I had no idea what I was doing. I had heard there were several different kinds of bikes, but the meaning of that didn’t resonate with me at the time. I assumed ‘a bike is a bike.’ I told her I wanted to train for triathlons; she loaned me her huge beach cruiser with three gears. I gladly accepted. I took the bike out on city streets. I live in an area surrounded by steep hills. I attempted (with ZERO training) to take that huge beach cruiser on the city street (that did not have a bike lane) and up the biggest hill in my area. How I survived to 35, I have no idea. I had to walk the bike up the hill, then down the hill, then back home.
I decided I needed to talk to someone who knew about cycling and buying the right bike. I went to a bike shop. I was very clear my goals were a triathlon and Death Ride; I was told a hybrid was what I needed. I dropped the cash and was ready to ride off into the sunset with my new bike. Luckily a friend clarified that I needed a road bike. I was able to make an exchange (I am glad I purchased from a bike shop with a liberal return policy), and I got my road bike. As far as road bikes go, mine is considered cheap. It is about $600 and has an aluminum frame. I am delighted with Vixen (aka my road bike) and she got me through two triathlons and Death Ride.
Though cycling began as a means to complete a goal; I have grown to love cycling. I love taking my bike up in the mountains. As my legs burn and my heart pounds, I will often look in the valley of a big climb and admire views that make me feel alive.
Talk with a Master:
Rod Halbert has been riding for 25-30 years. He is currently a cycling coach and owns the cycling studio, Phoenix Cycling Systems in Loomis, California. “Cycling is a metaphor for life. There are ups and downs, some days it is easy, others it’s difficult, and there are climbs that feel like they take forever.”
His advice for people just starting out is, “If you have never clipped-in come to (spin) class and try to clip-in. See how you like it. Mountain Bike clips are best for beginner riders. The shoes are easily walkable and easier to get in and out of. Take time to learn how to keep your pedal stroke in a nice, smooth, circular motion. Take your spin shoes to the shop and have them match them to the right pedals.”
When asked about how to pick the right bike, Rod responded, “You don’t need carbon fiber. Make sure you’re serious and perhaps spend a little more, so it (your bike) lasts longer. The size and fit are the most important thing. Don’t get a good deal that’s the wrong fit. Most people’s first bike doesn’t fit them. “
Rod also had advice for riding in a group, “Leaves and white lines can be like glass. Try to avoid them. New riders are unpredictable. Make sure your moves are smooth and gentle. If you are going to make a dramatic move, tell people. Before you ride with a new group, discuss stop signs (full stop or slow) and ask how they communicate. When you are coming up on a car on a side road always get eye contact. Make sure they are looking at you.”
What you need to know:
When buying a bike, ask yourself why are you doing this? What is your ultimate goal? My goal was to complete a triathlon. At the time, I thought a hybrid bike would meet my needs. I assumed it was the best of both worlds, mountain and road bike all rolled into one. Why would any idiot need two bikes when one hybrid can do everything? I was wrong and very blessed I purchased from a bike shop that allowed returns. A hybrid is too heavy to ride more than 50 miles with any real climbing. (That is my personal opinion. And we all have a friend of a friend that did a triathlon on a mountain bike—unless you are that friend— get a road bike). Hybrids are great if you just want a casual fitness bike. The average person will not be able to keep up on a hybrid if their friends are climbing 1000 feet per 10 miles nor will they be able to traverse the terrain on a mountain bike. Hybrids do have their place and are useful for the novice rider.
A road bike is more lightweight and meant only for paved surfaces. Some bike shops have stringent return policies, whereas others will let you ride the bike for a few weeks and then return. Ask questions before you buy.
Check out meetup.com or facebook groups in your area to find organized rides. Many local bike shops host weekly organized rides. Call your local bike shops for more details. Be honest when signing up for a ride. Ask if it is a no drop ride. I once signed up for a 100-mile ride with a group of expert riders. I was left behind in the parking lot trying to clip-in (not my finest moment). You don’t want to be 20-miles into a ride and make the group wait on you, or even worse get lost. Ask if the ride is on the street or a bike path. If it is on the street, let them know you are a novice and will need someone to go over the rules of the road. I suggest a first ride with a friend on a bike path. This training ride will help you learn your ability with distance and pace. When I look for a group ride, I let the organizer know I ride 50 miles, flat (meaning no elevation/climbing) at 15 mph. They can tell me based on that information if I am a good fit for the ride.
What do you need:
-A bike. Shop around. LEARN ABOUT THE BRAKES! Disc brakes are relatively new to road bikes, and pros have strong opinions on brakes. For a road bike, I like my caliper brakes. They are the most common brakes on road bikes today. My bike has an aluminum frame. If a carbon frame is in your budget—go for it. I was a total beginner and held my own in triathlons and Death Ride (129 miles and over 15k climbing) with my aluminum frame.
-Water bottle and cage for the water bottle.
-Bike shorts-I wish someone would have told me about bike shorts before I went into the store. I thought they were just like the skin-tight shorts from the 80’s. They are not. They have a chamois pad to protect your sensitive parts. I can be a bit modest, so I was very put off buying shorts that felt like they had a diaper sewn in. I thought I wanted the most modest and thinnest pad available. I was wrong. Get over it. All cyclists wear them. You do not wear underwear under your shorts (chafing). You will also want chamois cream. The seat can get very uncomfortable, and you do not want to have to call a long ride short because you went out unprepared for the discomfort of the seat (aka saddle).
-Clips. I didn’t even know clipping-in was a thing when I bought my bike. I knew I had big goals with that bike, and I did not want to learn my bike THEN learn clipping-in. So, I went for it. I went with mountain bike clips instead of road bike clips. They are a bit easier to get in and out and you can clip-in from both sides of the pedal. Road bike clips only clip on one side of the pedal, but they have a bit more surface area which helps with a bit more power. If you want to be considered a serious cyclist, you must learn to clip-in. Different muscles are used when clipped-in. You push down as well as pull up on the pedal. The bike store should be able to put the pedals on for you and put the clips on your shoes. I went to an empty school playground and got next to the wall and clipped in and out. YOU WILL FALL, IT WILL SUCK, get back on your bike and keep going.
-Small repair kit.
-Lights. If you plan on going on the road, you must learn proper etiquette. In many places, you can get ticketed just like a car. Riding alone is not a good idea. Cars are much less likely to see a single rider. Someone once said to me, “What do you call a cyclist who thinks cars are paying attention? Dead” Get good on the bike before you consider going on the road. And when you do, be lit up and visible.
-Helmet. A must. Have the salesperson at the bike store fit you properly. If your helmet is in an accident and still looks intact— throw it out. It is considered compromised. Rod suggests anything with the MIPS system.
-Bike rack. You can usually find a cheap one on Craigslist. I prefer the hitch mount bike rack. I started with an arm bike rack that went over the trunk of my sedan, and it worked fine as well. Learn your bike rack and secure your bike well. If your bike falls off and causes an accident, you could be held responsible.
-Gloves. I am the only cyclist I know that rarely wears gloves. They pinch in between my fingers. When I do wear gloves, I make sure I am buying them from a place with a liberal exchange policy. When you are riding for 5 hours, you will be very aware where they pinch and where they put too much pressure. Buy an inexpensive pair and learn what you need before upgrading.
-Pepper spray- if it is legal in your area. It took being chased by one dog, one time before I realized I need pepper spray.
What you don’t need…yet
-An upgraded saddle. Everyone gets hit differently by the saddle, so you do not know what you need until you have ridden. Most bike shops will have a demo saddle they can loan you to try out first.
-Apparel. Wait before buying the jersey. A tee-shirt is fine. If you are going to join a club, you will want their jersey. If you do organized rides, jerseys will be for sale. I often ride in a tank top. You do not need a jersey right out of the gate.
-Paneer. The basket. I have a big paneer on my bike. I have been told this makes me less of a cyclist. I did Death Ride with that big paneer, so it stays. It holds my phone and my snacks. Wait to buy one until you learn your needs as a rider.
-GPS. You will see riders, myself included, playing with their Garmin’s before and after a ride. Before you invest in a Garmin, try using apps like Strava and Ride with GPS. For my first year, I found that they tracked my rides with everything I needed.
The most important thing is to get out there and have fun! Cycling will make you feel like a kid again!