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A Guide to Getting Started in Cycling

Cycling 101

By Joe Rich, OutRival Racing & The Cycling Formula

Physical activity has become a great source of stress relief during the Covid-19 outbreak. Many have laced up their sneakers and continued, began, or restarted their running careers. But another alternative not to be overlooked is cycling and, as evidenced by continued bike sales and more frequented roads and trails, riding a bike is becoming increasingly popular.

Most folks get started in cycling by joining a more experienced rider on a bike ride, who can help you find the right equipment, the best roads and areas to pedal, and give you tips and tricks to getting the most out of your ride. Now with social distancing, of course, we are forced to go at it alone, unable to rely on our peers for a spare inner tube, a sip of water, or their GPS to navigate back to your starting point. So, it’s time to create a Cycling 101 checklist – a guide to getting started!

I’ve broken the items down into three categories. First, equipment – which are all things you NEED to have in order to get pedaling (and continue doing so). The next category, clothing, are things you SHOULD have and why they are integral to your cycling experience. The last group are accessories, items you could theoretically go without, but will only enhance your experience and provide more safety.

A Guide to Getting Started in Cycling

The things you NEED to pedal a bike

I love to state the obvious, but there’s a reason to include this in the list. You want the bike that BEST SUITS what you’re looking to do. Want to ride in the woods with your friends? You’ll need a mountain bike. Want to ride the roads and train for longer events? A road bike is probably calling your name. Just looking to pedal around, nothing too long and nothing too technical? Check the hybrid section at your local bike shop. Regardless, seek a quality product from a bike shop (skip the department store – you won’t regret it), and if you’re unsure of what you’re looking to do, they’ll help narrow it down.

Gone are the days where helmets “aren’t cool” or “look weird”. If you’re riding a bike, protect your noggin’ and get a helmet. With luck on your side, you won’t crash and need its protection, but it’s the single most important accessory to your cycling experience and, more importantly, your safety. That same shop you picked up the bike from? Grab a shiny new helmet, too – they’ll be sure to fit it for both your head size and riding style.

Bottle Cages:
This may not be the first thing some folks NEED to get started – if you’re keeping your rides relatively short (under 30 minutes) or own a wearable hydration pack, you can get away without bottle cages. But it’s important to hydrate while your exercising (a topic for a different blog or expert), so getting these installed upon purchase is a good idea.

Unlike the wheels on your vehicle, your bike tires – specifically the innertubes inside of them – will far more frequent filling. Think about the last time you pumped up the tires in your car…have you done so this year? A common occurrence I remember from working in a bike shop is a customer coming in with a bike they have not used in awhile, looking to get it back up and running, and thinking they needed to replace tubes and tires because they were flat. While replacement was needed on some occasions, the tires were flat because they weren’t filled! Grab a floor pump, and plan to fill the tires, at a minimum, every 7-10 days (many folks fill them every ride).

Flat Repair Kit:
The last thing anyone wants to do is be stranded on the side of the road from puncturing a tube/tire and not having the equipment to fix the situation. Grab a repair kit - CO2 cartridge and adapter, tire levers, and a spare tube – PRACTICE how to change a tire, and bring it with you on your next trip out the door. There may always be an occasion where you get stuck, but a flat repair kit, 99 times out of 100, should get you back going.

The things you SHOULD have for a comfortable ride

Cycling Kit (Jersey/Shorts):
“But I’m not riding in the Tour de France, why do I need a fancy spandex kit?” Believe it or not, anyone you’ve driven by or seen riding that is wearing a cycling kit – bike jersey and padded shorts – is also not riding in the Tour de France. The jersey top, while a similar material to running tops and jerseys, is best for cycling because of storage space. Most jerseys come with 2-3 pockets to carry things like the flat repair kit (that you purchased when you bought the bike, of course), nutrition (we’ll get to that later), and your cell phone/ID/money! 

Bike Shoes and clipless pedals:
Could you have an enjoyable experience on your bike in sneakers? Sure, I suppose. And if you’re really only pedaling around the neighborhood, this investment may not be totally necessary. But if you plan to go into the woods on hit the roads for an hour or more, you’re ride quality will be enhanced by purchasing cycling shoes. These are built quite a bit stiffer than your running shoe, and are designed to have a cleat attached to them so you can clip into your bike. They are actually beneficial – you can generate more power, and pedal more efficiently, while clipped in. But be sure to practice clipping in and out – we don’t want any crashes!

Seems silly to suggest, but a common theme in running is going sockless. Unless you are racing a short course triathlon (Sprint or Olympic), wear socks. Because of the stiffness in cycling shoes, the pressure will be less forgiving on bare skin, causing discomfort and blisters. Plus, with any sweat you produce or sports drink you may spill, those shoes have quite the unpleasant odor if you choose to go sockless. Save the noses of your family or roommates and wear socks when you ride.

Darker lenses for the sunlight or clear lenses for overcast/darker rides, a pair of glasses is an important accessory to wear. Beyond allowing for more clear vision, shades protect your eyes from road debris created by passing cars or fellow cyclists, or any dirt or muck kicked up by fellow bikers in the woods. A crucial item in more ways than one, make sure you put your glasses on before you leave your house!

No, you don’t necessarily need to WEAR lights (although items like this exist). But your bike should! Even during the daylight, a good front and rear light is super helpful to have to notify riders, walkers, and motor vehicles that you exist. In a world where texting and driving unfortunately exists, the best thing you can do is make yourself as noticeable as possible while on your bike ride.

Cycling 101 - Getting Started

Items that are HELPFUL - and will enhance your experience

Saddle bag:
Do you prefer not to have all of your added weight from your flat kit and nutrition on your bike? Pick up a saddle bag – a holder that attaches behind and beneath your bike seat – and store some items in it. Not fully necessary if you don’t mind carrying items on your back, but as you start pedaling longer, you may need the added storage for extra nutrition items.

Hopefully, you’ve brought your bike into your local bike shop for service. Nevertheless, it does not hurt to have a good multitool on hand with some mini tools (allen keys, screwdriver, etc.) on it.

Road ID:
A lesser-known item, the Road ID is a bracelet you wear on your wrist that also lists your information – name, phone number, and emergency numbers – that could prove quite beneficial in the event of an emergency. If something were to happen to you on a ride, you want to know that you’re family can be contacted to come to your assistance, or to tell medical professionals about any health history.

GPS Tracking Device:
A lot of folks use a phone application to record their activities, but if you want a more accurate estimation, grab a GPS device meant specifically for cycling (Garmin, Polar, Wahoo, etc.). Not only will these prove more accurate, they will also provide more sport specific metrics like speed, heart rate, power, and training effect, that will help you track progress over time (or you can hire a good coach to assist crunching the numbers!)

I’ve referenced “nutrition” several times. No, I don’t mean you should bring a salad, sandwich or healthy snack on your ride. We are talking about sport specific nutrition, designed specifically to fuel the body while working out. Gels, chews, bars, and sports drinks are made with training in mind, so you’re fueled properly and can better sustain energy while riding.

The tricky part about diving into longer riding is gaining new tan lines. To avoid making these “Burn lines” that both feel terrible and are terrible to look at, wear your sunscreen. On a more serious note, the last thing anyone wants is to be dealt a bad hand, so-to-speak, because of too much sun exposure. Help save your skin - apply your sunscreen!

Chamois Cream:
I’ll leave this last item brief – if you want to avoid any discomfort or chaffing in underneath your bike shorts, apply chamois cream (anti-chaffing lotion for cyclists) to your body.

That’s that! With this list, you are not only equipped to ride, you’re set up for the long haul in cycling! Welcome to the cycling community, and enjoy the ride – you’ll love what you gain along the way!

Want to learn more? Download these helpful PDF guides and keep them for reference:

Cycling 101 >Click to Download PDF

Casual Bike Purchase Guide >Click to Download PDF


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