You have your bike, you have your helmet, and are ready to get out on the road. It is easy to just hop on a bicycle and pedal away. One can certainly do that, but sometimes it is good to keep certain things in mind if you are just starting out. In this article, I will provide some road cycling tips for beginners. Hopefully, the information provided will lay a solid foundation that will allow you to enjoy riding on the road, while keeping you comfortable and safe.
Gauging Your Physical Ability
People take up cycling for many reasons. One of those reasons is to improve physical fitness. Cycling is a great, rewarding, and low-impact activity to take up. Like most physical activities and sports, you don’t want to push yourself right out of the gate.
If you are just starting out cycling, especially if you are coming from a more inactive lifestyle, I suggest riding short and slow. Whether it’s just a couple blocks, or riding on a paved path, you want to start building physical endurance and confidence. Ride at a pace you are comfortable with, enjoy the surroundings, and just have fun!
The goal here is to find both a distance and pace that you feel comfortable with to lay a fitness foundation. This will be your base to work off of. How can you keep a tangible record of this information? Here, a cycling computer is your friend. They keep track of ride statistics such as distance, speed, and other types of metrics depending on model.
If you are interested in tracking your riding progression, you can input the ride stats you want to focus on into a spreadsheet. Using this data, you can track your progress and set goals. For example, you ride a couple blocks, and feel that was a good starting point. You can enter the data into a spreadsheet, and decide your goal will be to ride that same distance for x number of days, then extend the ride further after a set period of time.
This may come off as micromanaging, but tracking your rides (you can keep stats of whatever you choose), sets up tangible base data that you can work off of, and improve upon.
Don’t be Distracted!
When riding a bike on the road, you need to be aware of what else is on the road. Vehicles, runners, road signs, storm drains, fallen tree branches, chipmunks… There are plenty of obstacles and hazards that pose a threat to your safety and well-being on the road.
It’s a good habit to keep your eyes scanning the road ahead of you, instead of looking straight down where you may not notice an oncoming hazard until it is too late. By scanning what is ahead of you, it allows you time to prepare to slow down to let a critter cross, or ride around and upcoming obstacle.
When it comes to traffic, you need to have both your eyes and ears open. You may wonder why I mention having your ears open. Depending on the terrain of the route you ride, you may encounter blind spots. In those situations where you are unable to see traffic, it’s a good idea to try to listen for any vehicles coming out of the blind spots.
As such, it is a BAD idea to wear earbuds while cycling. You may see people riding wearing them. However, it is not recommended. Using your ears can very well save your life.
Don’t be distracted, but always be aware!
Want to Be Comfortable?
Cycling is not the most comfortable activity available. You’re hunched forward on the bike, hands covering hard handlebars, and you’re most likely sitting on a hard saddle. Is it possible to ride in total comfort? Probably not, but here are some tips to help make riding as comfortably as possible.
Find a good pair of cycling shorts and gloves. Cycling shorts are padded, to provide some cushion and reduce chafing when you are on the saddle. Outside a helmet, a pair of cycling shorts should be one of the first items of gear you purchase. They are available for men and women riders, and come in a range of sizes.
Like cycling shorts, gloves are also designed to provide comfort while riding. Most have gel pads in the palm to cushion your hands on the handle bars. They also provide hand protection in case of a fall. Like gloves, they can be found in various sizes, and different styles. Definitely try them on at the store to make sure they fit properly.
Sometimes you may still experience hand fatigue and pain, even with gloves. Road bikes usually have C-shaped handlebars. It is a good idea to move your hands around the bar to reduce stress, and don’t grip the bar too tightly. That only adds to hand fatigue and pain.
On a related tangent, by changing your hand position you are usually and changing your position on the bike. Hands on top of the handlebars allow you sit up more, taking off possible pressure to the back. Placing your hands on the drops of the bars (below the brakes), provides a more aerodynamic position, but the trade-off is you are bent more forward.
Always listen to your body. If your hands, or back feel fatigued or in pain, try swapping positions. If you feel your legs are tired, cut the ride short.
Sometimes while riding, you may feel that you don’t need a sip of water because either the weather is cool, or you don’t feel thirsty. However, it is important you still hydrate yourself. Ideally, you want to take a sip of water every few minutes or so, even if you feel you don’t have to.
Water bottles are the standard for hydration. However, there are hydration packs that you can use that have bladders of various capacities that can hold more liquid than standard water bottles.
Both hydration systems have their pros and cons, but the important thing to remember is to drink during the ride. This is especially important when conditions that are more strenuous on the body, such as high heat, play a factor. However, you want to make a good habit of hydration, no matter what the weather conditions are.
On Your Way!
Hopefully you’ll find some of these tips helpful if you are just starting out on your cycling journey. When you ride, you want it to be an enjoyable, safe experience. With these tips, you have an idea of some things you want to be aware of as a beginner cyclist.
Ride safe, but most important, have fun doing so!