This year we’ve seen two first time winners of both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, even more exciting was the fact that the riders were from countries who have never had a rider win a Grand Tour before. The recent wins have taken the media by storm, and the recent attention is likely to be making some people consider hopping on a bike themselves.
Looking on the internet or in bike shops can be intimidating to say the least, with thousands of different products out there you can end up putting off even getting started.
I know when I first started cycling I had so many questions and sometimes I felt so overwhelmed I just ended up purchasing items that were completely inappropriate. So hopefully this post will help you get started with your new hobby, because I promise you, once you get on the bike for the first time, you won’t want to get off.
Of course the first thing to do is to buy a bike. Getting the right bike for you is an entire blog post on its own and can be a massive minefield. My advice, speak to someone who knows about bikes, the different styles available and the components they come with. Getting the fit right is most important, because an ill fitting bike just makes a ride a miserable experience.
But let’s just say you have found the perfect bike and you are ready to get out, what are the most important items to purchase to make it a pleasurable experience? I have put together a list of essential items for a good bike ride.
Hydration: What you drink will depend not only on personal taste but the length and type of ride you are doing. Some of my fellow riders insist that all you need is a bit of water no matter how long the ride, I feel very different about this. If you are only going out for an easy ride then water is sufficient, but when you are going out for hours at a time or training hard for an event, I would suggest something a bit more. Generally I use an electrolyte drink (electrolytes help to rehydrate quicker by replacing the salt lost when sweating) without carbohydrates and sugar for shorter rides. Something like Nuun, High 5 Zero or Nectar Hydro are perfect as they come in dissolvable tablets you can drop straight into your bottle of water. For longer rides it is important to replace calories and electrolytes, drinks with carbohydrates will act as a food source to keep energy levels up during the day. Try something like High 5 isotonic or 4:1 or Science in Sport Go Energy. The best thing to do is to try some different items and do a bit of research on the importance of nutrition during exercise. Science in Sport, ZipVit, and High 5 all offer inexpensive trial packs that give you advice and the ability to try their different products without it costing a fortune.
Buy a decent waterproof: Getting caught out in a small shower is one thing, riding in torrential rain is another, but there is nothing worse than having a cheap waterproof that either leaks or does not allow you to breath. There are plenty on the market but it’s likely best to start with one that packs down small enough to fit in your pocket.
Learn the basics of bike maintenance: There is no point of riding a bike if you don’t know how to change a tyre or when to oil a chain, stranded on the side of the road is frustrating enough, and fumbling with an inner tube can change the quietest person into a fowl mouth baboon in an instant. Check out your area to see if there are any basic courses available or try a bike maintenance guide.
Bring spares: While recently riding the Coast to Coast of England, one of the riders broke her chain. All four of us on the ride did not have the appropriate tools to mend it and we were 40 miles away from the hostel. If it wasn’t for a friend that lived nearby it would have been a long, miserable walk. You should have a saddle bag with a spare inner tube, patch kit, multi-tool that has a chain tool, a quick link (link for your chain that snaps on to mend if it breaks) a small tyre pump and even some spare change can come in useful.
Clip in: Although it’s not necessary to have cycling shoes, I really feel that when you use cycling shoes and clipless pedals, it becomes much easier to pedal properly, giving you more strength when cycling up hill and the ability to put in more power on the flats. You can start with something like Shimano SPDs (generally used by mountain bikers and for touring) as they are a bit easier to clip in and out of. Practicing on a bit of grass or in the house clipping in and out is essential before going out in traffic and be prepared to join the many of us who have forgotten to unclip and ended up falling sideways in front of cars or people. I actually still manage to do so today.
Be visible: A good set of bike lights, front and rear are a necessity for low light conditions, get one that has a pulse setting so when you are in areas where there are street lights you can use it as a warning to cars that you are there. I use my rear light often, even in the summer if it’s raining or a bit overcast and I always have a small Cateye SL-LD110 Front and Rear LED Loop Cycle Lightset with me as it is easy to attach to the bars and seat post or loop through a jacket or rucksack, just in case I get delayed and have to try and beat the dark home.
Cycling gloves aren’t just for the pros: Road vibrations can cause all sorts of unpleasantness but that’s not the only reason why gloves are a good idea. They will keep your hands comfortable on long rides, provide a bit of warmth when required and also offer a bit of protection if you are involved in a crash. Fingerless gloves are great for summer riding and when it gets a bit cooler you can either purchase a full finger glove or alternatively use a liner you can wear underneath of your fingerless gloves. You can likely buy these in any store for a couple of pounds (or dollars). Just like most other cycling items there are various types of gloves, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a pair that have light padding on the palm and are made of light material so you don’t get to warm.
Look good: A few nice jerseys won’t go amiss in your closet. Jerseys actually do play quite an important role in cycling, firstly a t-shirt is generally baggy and tends to flap around in the wind and they are generally not long enough to cover your backside when in the riding position. A great thing about a cycling jersey is the pockets in the back, they allow you can carry items such a waterproof, phone, wallet etc without having to load your bike with panniers or large heavy saddle bags. There are plenty out there at various prices and to be honest buy what you like and what you can afford. Although there are some that offer more protection than others, for starting out, a couple of standard jerseys will be good enough.
Pad that bottom: Don’t skimp on your bum as it is the one thing that has the most amount of contact with your bike. A decent pair of padded shorts is a must, and to be honest although they are a bit pricey I wouldn’t ride without them. Bibshorts are generally much more comfortable than standard shorts as they don’t have that elastic band digging into your waist. If you’re on a budget or just not certain about how you will like wearing Lycra why not check out the PBK range, made in Italy and using excellent chamois (padding) they are extremely comfortable and perfect for any type of ride. On longer rides its best to try a good chamois crème as well. It prevents hot spots as well as stops any chaffing that may occur when riding.
Find the ultimate comfort: A good saddle is a must. Even the best pair of padded shorts will not matter if you don’t have a decent saddle, this is the hardest thing to get right and no one can really advise you on a good fit. You can get measured for a saddle at a local bike shop and some brands even offer a try before you buy scheme. Saddles are an extremely personal preference, what your friends use it not necessarily the best for you and even the most expensive ones can be seriously uncomfortable if you are not suited to them. But when you find one that allows you to spend hours in the saddle without feeling like your bottom is bruised, you will find cycling to be the most enjoyable sport you have ever taken part in.
Protect your melon: Always wear a helmet!! Ok, so I know that this is a bit controversial as some people really don’t think you need to wear one, but I really do believe this is the most important bit of cycling gear you buy. And they really aren’t as restricting and uncomfortable as you think. Besides, you really don’t have to spend a lot of money and you can still look like one of the pros. The Giro Savant is as comfortable as its top of the line helmet the Aeon and at less the half the price. In fact most helmet ranges do an affordable helmet that is equally as comfortable as their most expensive model. I can’t really stress enough that helmets really do save lives, and if you don’t believe me just ask someone who has had a crash with the curb, I’m pretty certain they will tell you the same.
There are plenty of other items you may require as you continue to get out on the bike, and not everything I have mentioned is required immediately, don’t skimp on your spending if you don’t have to, take care of your bike and your kit, and then just buy more as you can afford it.
Start off slowly, an hour long ride is reasonable and then build up from there. One of the best peices of advice I received when I started out was to start with a 10 mile ride and then build up from there, in 5 mile increments. Pick a route that you are comfortable with and is not too busy with traffic. Local cycling clubs can be good but they also tend to be more for those with a bit of riding experience. Alternatively invite some friends along, I love my Saturday morning rides with my mates, we always ensure we plan on rides based on every rider’s ability and stopping for cake and coffee half way is a must.
Although starting out in cycling can be challenging it can also be quite a pleasurable experience, as long as you don’t allow yourself to lose site of the reason why you decided to start out in the first place. And remember that there is help. Here at PBK we have both men and women who are able to answer your questions. By email or telephone we can try and help you find exactly what you need. Alternatively you can just try it out for yourself and learn as you go. Whatever you do, just make sure you ride safe, often and enjoy!