If you are brand new to road biking this guide is based on my own experiences, when I started out a few years ago biking up a steep learning curve.
Why start road biking?
Well for me it was simple; a friend and I had a few drinks in our late twenties and he proposed a mammoth 7 day cycle ride from Chamonix to Barcelona for charity. Of course with a few beers already consumed it was easy to say yes without really thinking about what I have committed to. Surely enough a few days later the enormity of what I had done hit me, which was a good thing. In a positive light I would be helping raise money for a charity, getting fitter (reduction of beer belly) and completing a personal challenge. So I had three reasons to start road biking, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or continue it after the challenge ride was over.
Are you a MAMIL (Middle Aged Men In Lycra)? Some are touting it as the new mid-life crisis… I think people in this recession have just become more aware of a lot of things and high on peoples agenda are health/fitness, green alternatives and community. Cycling fits into all these categories and that why I think many are getting into it. Triathlons have seen a increase in entrants over the past few years for those who really want to change of gear in regards to fitness.
The cycle to work scheme has encouraged many new riders to the sport as the discount for buying a bike is significant, however you still are likely to turn up at work sweaty, so shower facilities are a must, imagine those who sit next to you. Fuel prices are ever increasing so if you live near to work cycling on some days can save you money and keep you fit at the same time, sunny days permitting.
Where do I start choosing a road bike?
This is the most frequently asked question that anyone getting into this sport asks. Every cycling forum has a thread dedicated to it here, here and here as examples. There is no right or wrong way to answer this, so I am going to tell you what I did and how I came to my conclusions.
Ultimately I had a budget in mind, no more than £1000. I wasn’t even sure at that time whether I wanted to ride after the event, so I didn’t want to commit a large budget to the bike. However I didn’t want something crap, as I was going to ride up and down the Col du Madeline and the Alp D’Huez in the French Alps on day 1 and 2 of the ride. After spending time on the forums it was clear to me that there were some popular bikes in that price range and so based on personal choice I wittled it down to three brands I was interested in Trek, Focus and Specialized. These three brands had the greatest number of positive reviews, which gave me confidence in them. I also asked a few people I knew which concreted my thoughts. At first I wanted to buy the bike from the bike shop, but I was buying at the wrong time of the year and all the last years bikes were sold out, so sale bikes were far and few between. I didn’t want to pay the full price, so I decided to start looking at second hand bikes. I know this isn’t everyones cup of tea, but committing £1000 and extras to a sport I had only just started seemed a little crazy. In the end I was looking at the Specialized Allez Elite and the Trek 1.7 as they were popular and had more choice online unlike the Focus. I went to see a few bikes, but I found a brand new Trek 1.7 that had about 1 hours riding on it for half its price, it was a no brainer.
I still ride this bike today, I have broken 2 spokes, changed both tyres due to wear and had numerous blow outs. I recently bought a turbo trainer for the winter and when using it can see there is quite a lot of flex in the bottom bracket, so when I do buy another frame/bike, I will look for a much stiffer frame to increase efficiency, but its perfectly fine for now.
Note: The first thing I noticed about riding a road bike is the lack of comfort. The saddle is thin with little padding, the shorts have some padding but it only take 1 hour in the saddle (when you first start) before your rear starts aching. The riding position can hurt your arms, back and legs get tired. THIS IS ALL NORMAL. You just have to suck it up and get through it, even after a few short weeks of riding a few times a week, you will notice that these things start to become insignificant, that riding is a pleasure and you can ride further. Remember to get the road bike fitted to your needs as this will help make you more efficient and result in less pain.
Gears: Its a smaller point, but you are faced with what gearing ratio is suitable? Well its down to you, but I started with the standard on the bike, which is a double chainset and a 12/26 cog at the back. This I think is perfect for riding in most of the UK. As I was doing a lot of climbing I decided to buy 13/29 cog to give me better gearing for steep climbs. A triple chainset at the front is also fine giving you a greater range of gears and is ideal for beginners.
Tyres: It may not be something you are worried about at this stage, but when you buy wheels you need to decide which type you want. I have written a guide about you want a clincher vs tubular to discuss the difference.
What other accessories do you need?
It may seem obvious, but just buying a road bike is not enough. Most importantly you will need to buy a helmet, which is only needed if you crash, but could save your life on that off chance. Riding on the road has its inherent dangers and with nothing but skinny tyres between you and the road, one section of wet road paint markings is enough for you to come off. You will need to decide whether you want to ride with flat pedals/shoes or SPD pedals/shoes. The SPD setup is more expensive, but will give you greater efficiency when riding and is the choice for most riders if they are covering long distances. If you are uncomfortable with clipping your feet to the pedals try practicing on a flat grassy area, so if you do fall off, it doesn’t hurt too much You will need clothing and depending on what time of year you are cycling, you may need long sleeve base layer, over jacket, tights, gloves and winter shoes covers onto of your summer wear of a race jersey, shorts and fingerless gloves. Gilets are recommended for windy conditions and you may need sunglasses. Get a mini pump for rides and a foot pump for getting right pressure to begin with.
Extras: You may want a cycle computer to give you stats etc…If you want to get fit but hate the cold, I suggest a turbo trainer for those cold dark winter days. To work on your bike you may want a bike stand, which is useful.
Riding on your own is okay, but joining a club is a great way to meet like minded riders and get involved in events. I joined a UK club and a Spanish club for my training, both of which offered a great resource of knowledge and made riding competitive. There is nothing more auxilerating than being part of a peleton and flying down the road using 40% less energy than the front guy.
Point to note – don’t ever slam on your brakes when riding close to others, all riders behind you will have no warning and you will all end up crashing. Also be careful putting your water bottle out when riding in a group, if you drop it its likely to knock off the rider behind you and he/she won’t be happy.
What you need on a ride?
Water Bottle – Dehydration is a killer and don’t think about stopping for a pint….well maybe one
Sugary food – So many riders take gel supplements and chewy energy bars, which I was guilty of, but when one of my fellow riders showed me the genius of dried fruits, particularly apricots and dates, I’ve never looked back.
Spare inner tube – This is a must, blow outs are common and if you ride enough, it will happen now and again. The last thing you need is to be on a solo ride and have no spare inner tube.
Spares: Pump to blow up your inner tube, allen key set.
Mobile Phone – Simple if you get into trouble you can call someone
Money – I take a few pounds coins and maybe a £5 note, you never know when you might need it
Suncream – Yes on sunny days you will get burnt and it exhausts you of energy
Music – I like to ride with music, but it is important to be aware of what is going on around you and if you have it too high you can’t hear cars behind you etc. keep it moderate and keep safe.
Weather – If it is windy or you will be coming down a large decent take a gilet with you, as it gets very cold. In wet conditions take a lightweight rain jacket to put over your jersey
Lighting Conditions: If you are going out near dawn/dusk you may need bike lights, reflective clothing is also useful in these conditions. Some sunglasses come with different lenses for different lighting conditions. Usually they are fairly easy to change so worth spending the time on.
Stopping: You might want a lock, but they are heavy to carry, so depends where you are going.
Final tips learnt the hard way: Remember braking and turning corners in the wet are dangerous. Take it easy and get to know your bike and your capability instead of trying to show off. Keep a eye on the road, there is usually debris and road kill waiting to hit your tyre if you are not careful, as well as oil on the road.Look out for the painted white lines on the road as well as drain covers which in the wet can be very slippery. Most of all have fun, but be safe.