Road Cycling Tips for Those Starting Out

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.

Stay Hydrated!

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!

Something to Consider – What Are the Different Types of Bicycles?

So far, I have provided some information on cycling helmets, accessories, and tips for those who are new to cycling. I would be remiss if I didn’t go over the most important decision one makes when they decide to be more serious about cycling – that would be the bike itself!

What are the different types of bicycles available? Which one should you purchase? Before you purchase a bicycle, it is a good idea to put some thought into what kind of riding you are looking to do, what your goals are, and what price range fits with your budget.  There are various types of bicycles available to fit nearly all styles of riding.

When the Road Calls to You

One of the most common bikes you’ll see people riding are what as known as road bikes. They are usually lightweight, with drop handle bars (they appear to curve down forming a C-shape), and have thin tires. These bikes are designed to be ridden on the road, with speed in mind.

Originally, the frames of road bikes were made of steel. These days, in addition to steel, frames are made of aluminum, carbon fiber, or even titanium.

Within the road bike realm, there are different variants of the tried-and-true machine on two wheels.  Here are a couple examples you may see at your local bicycle shop.

  • Gravel Bikes. These have sprung up within the past few years. The frame geometry differs slightly from a usual road bike, providing more comfort for the rider (not being as far bent over). They also have slightly wider tires to help with light off-road riding.
  • TT (Time Trial) Bikes. These bikes are built with pure speed in mind, and you’ll most likely see them being ridden during time trial races or triathlons. The frames have an appearance of being flat, and are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible.  Even the handle bars are designed in a way that positions the body for aerodynamic efficiency. More than likely you won’t be riding these starting out.

What if I’d Rather Ride in the Woods?

There are valid reasons why road cycling may not be attractive to people. Perhaps you live in an area with dense vehicular traffic. Maybe the local roads always seem littered with potholes and other obstacles. Or, you want to explore forest trails, but want to cover more ground than hiking.

If you have those concerns, or just prefer being in the woods, a mountain bike would be a great choice. They are designed to handle obstacles you may encounter on the trail such as rocks, tree roots, or thick patches of dirt.

Mountain bikes have flat handle bars, and a slightly different frame geometry than road bikes. The frames are made, like road bikes, of steel, aluminum, titanium or carbon fiber. They have more weight than road bikes, and have wider, knobby tires.  These tires helps provide traction.

Listed below are some different mountain bike types available:

  • Full-Suspension. Many mountain bikes available have suspension forks integrated into the frame. A full-suspension bike contains both a front suspension fork and a rear suspension system. The benefit of this type of bike is it allows you to cover more difficult terrain without your body taking the brunt of the punishment.
  • Hardtail. This type of bike has a front suspension fork, but does not have a rear suspension system. These bikes are good for trails that are smoother/have fewer obstacles, and are decent even for road riding over shorter distances.
  • Rigid Bike. This type of bike has no suspension at all. That means your body will take more the absorption of riding over obstacles. However, my first mountain bike was a rigid, and I found it to be slightly lighter, and handle just as well as my hardtail.
  • Fat Bike. These type of bikes have become popular over the past few years. They are called fat bikes because they have tires which are wider than a standard mountain bike.  These bikes can handle almost anything, including snow.

Just Want to go Casual

Say you don’t want to spend hours out on the road, or navigate rocks, and you just want a bike you can ride around town. An urban bike may just be what you are looking for. These bikes lack the bells and whistles of more tradition road bikes, and don’t have as many gears to shift through. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be useful!

Frames of urban bikes are usually either steel or aluminum. They have wider tires than road bikes, and are designed for both going on the road, and light off-roading (dirt paths for example). Some have fenders over the tires, and may include front racks or pannier baskets to store things.

Prices for these types of bikes generally run lower than road and mountain bikes. If you’re looking for an economical bike that will allow you to safely commute within town, an urban bike may be something to consider.

Cost Considerations and Your Budget

While I am a firm advocate that cycling can be taken up without obliterating your budget, purchasing a bike will be the most expensive cost you’ll take on when you start.

Bicycles fit into a wide range of pricing. High-performance ones can cost thousands of dollars. This is due to better materials and components. However, there are entry-level bicycles that cost less than $1000 (understandable if that still seems expensive) that can perform and serve you well for many years.

More than likely you’ll be spending some hard-earned money on a bicycle. As such, do as much homework as possible before making a purchase. You want to be happy with your bike, for there is a good chance you’ll still be riding it well years after you purchased it.

Find the Type of Bike that Suits You!

In answer to the question of “What Are the Different Types of Bicycles Available?”, you can now get the idea that there is plenty, and you are bound to find one that is right for you. This article provides a glimpse of just some types out there.  Two key factors at the start that should play into your decision are the type of riding you are looking to do, and what you can afford. Don’t purchase a bike based of how it looks, or brand.

It is very important to do some homework before making a purchase. You can search online, or go to your local bike shop and talk to a salesperson. They can provide suggestions based off information that you give them.

The good thing about cycling is if you are just starting out, you’re not limited to the bike you start out with. Over the years, you may find you want to upgrade to a bike that’s lighter, a bike that better fits your riding style, or you may decide to switch to mountain biking from road. You’re not locked in, but if you are just starting out, definitely seek out a bike that you feel fits you the best for that stage of your journey.

Have fun out there!

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