Advice for you beginners

If you’re new to all this road cycling malarkey then hopefully I can come up with something here to help you save time, money, pride etc… most of this stuff I learnt the hard way. So in order to save you some hassle – do as I say, not as I do.

You need cycle specific kit. Don’t skimp on the cycle kit. Sports Direct stuff is cheap for a reason, don’t bother. Decathlon, some good (jerseys), some not so good (shorts). Halfords have some decent stuff, and if you sign up to British Cycling you’ll get 10% off. I’ve heard there are good deals in Aldi and Lidl too.  If you’re like me (NOT minted nor a pro) then you might want to save some cash by getting the cheap stuff, but this can be a false economy. Buy right, buy once – certainly this is true of cycle kit. Don’t skimp on padded shorts. You NEED padded shorts, and you need DECENT ones. I’d recommend buying some decent bibshorts for £30+, something like DHB Aeron Race from Wiggle would be a good starting point. In my anecdotal experience I found more expensive bibshorts out last cheaper ones, and look better and, of course, are more comfortable. Ideally you’ll want lots of kit, if you only have one of everything you’ll wear it out in no time at all. For commuting you can get the cheaper (but still good quality) stuff, and get a set for each day of the week that you commute on, for longer rides/club riding/sportives/racing spend a bit more on something nice.

Wash your kit using special sports wash detergent. Do it yourself, don’t trust your partner to do it right. Regular detergent will trash your kit.

Don’t be scared, get clipless pedals ASAP. Every now and again I ride without being clipped in and it feels so alien to me now. You *might* have a moment of stupidity when you forget to unclip, but you’ll learn quick – unclip before you need to and remember which side you’ve unclipped. Shimano SPD-SL are popular and what I use. If I had enough money to replace my shoes and pedals I would probably try a different system though. Don’t waste your time, money, pride on buying MTB pedals / shoes. Sure, they work, and you can walk a lot better in them, but thats not what you’re buying these things for. So many people make this mistake and then end up getting proper road shoes and pedals anyway, including me, so now you don’t have to.

Shave your legs. Do it. Do it. Do it.

Wear a helmet, but make sure its a road helmet if you’re riding a road bike. Make sure its on properly, and the chin strap is tight (but not strangling you, obvs). Take it off as soon as you get to where you’re going to avoid looking like a dork.

When you socialise with more experienced cyclists its easy to be excited and to want to make a good impression, but its best to keep your mouth shut and learn.

Keep your bike clean. Its fine to have a beaten up old piece of crap for commuting or riding to the pub, but the bike you take out on the weekends must be pristine. Buy a degreaser. WD40, GT85, petrol or white spirit will do the job, but a proper degreaser will make your life a lot easier and get the bike properly clean. Having said that I’m currently going through a GT85 phase…

Keep spares of bike consumables at home, i.e.: chain, cassette, brake blocks, tyres, inner tubes, brake and gear cables. You don’t want to miss out on a ride, or have to take the train to work, because you don’t have a spare brake cable at home.

First upgrade should (probably) be your wheels. Most bikes come with pony wheels. Its the best upgrade you will make, light wheels with good bearings will transform your bike and will probably shed half a kilo of your bikes overall weight. Keep the pony wheels for trashing in the wet winter months. Don’t go for the very lightest wheels you can afford, especially if you’re not as light as you could be yourself – go for the best you can afford. Worth knowing – depending on the amount and type of riding you do, your wheels might last as little as one year. Buy a new cassette for the new wheels, and buy a new chain for the new cassette. Also buy new tyres – basically you don’t want to have to take part worn stuff off your old wheels in order to put it on your nice new wheels.

Buy a cassette removal tool and chain whip. You’ll be replacing your chain and cassette relatively regularly, so best that you can do it yourself. In fact…

…Do all your own bike maintenance. If you don’t have a tool then buy the tool. There are plenty of places on the interweb where you can watch videos or find diagrams telling you how to do the work.

Buy a bike computer. Using an app on your phone is all well and good, but never mount the damn thing on your bike unless you want people to talk bad about you behind your back. A bike specific computer is the way to go, and get an out the front mount so you can actually read what its saying. I’d recommend getting a heart rate monitor to go with it, and if you’re loaded then get a power meter. If you do, however, beware of being cliché “all the gear and no idea”.

When you first get into cycling I’d recommend the Strava app as a motivational tool. For the sake of Pete, don’t risk your life going for PRs or KOMs. For me Strava really helps me push myself much harder than I otherwise would have. And its a great way of keeping in touch with people you’ve ridden with. Dish out the kudos and you’ll make lots of friends, and its all free.

Get a CO2 valve and canisters instead of a small pump for taking on rides with you. Small pumps are rubbish. I tend to pack 2 spare tubes and 3 canisters and valve, plus tyre levers, multitool, chain link and patches in a saddle bag.

Learn how to ride. In particular learn how to pedal and how to take corners. Look it up. Practice. Don’t grip the handlebars too tightly. Don’t pedal and lean too much into corners.

Learn how to change a punctured tube quickly if you’re going to be riding with other people. Practice at home in the warm before you have to do it in the wet/cold/dark.

Ride up lots of hills. When you first get into cycling you may well enjoy the descents, but the more you cycle you’ll learn that to become faster you must ride up lots of hills. Eddy Merckx said “don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades” and he was right. If you do insist on blasting down the biggest steepest hill, as with KOM hunting, for Pete’s sake be careful. Only go full throttle downhill if you know the road, the conditions are good (at speed the slightest bit of side wind can have a big effect) and there are no side roads that other road users might be waiting to turn in/out of – they wont see you coming. Don’t be brave/stupid – crashing from 50mph into the back of a parked car can be fatal. Cycle helmets aren’t that good.

If you’re going out for a ride the next morning, get everything ready and make sure the bike is good to go the night before. And don’t wait until bedtime to check it, or you’ll be up at midnight hitting stuff with a hammer, stuff that shouldn’t be hit with a hammer.

Camelback Podium water bottles (called bidons) are the ones you should get. And Elite water bottle cages are the way you should attach these bidons to your bike.

Read up / watch videos about saddle height and bike fit. Keep making small adjustments to your bike in order to make it comfy. If you’re loaded you could get a professional bike fit, but I have heard both good and bad stories. I figured it all out myself easily enough. Don’t set your saddle too high is probably the most important rule – you can do some damage down there. As soon as you experience any sort of discomfort after a ride, i.e. knees, groin, back – even if you think its because it was a longer than normal ride, see if you can improve your saddle position. Also, remember, that as you lose weight and get fitter your position will change on the bike, so adjust accordingly.

Read the rules. Some great tips and humour in there. Enjoy!

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