There are things you need to know about road cycling, then there are things you really need to know about road cycling… we tell you everything from what to wear to the best cream you can buy to prevent saddle sores. I kid you not…
1. Lycra really is the best thing to wear
Many newcomers to road riding are reluctant to jump into a full Lycra ensemble, due to an understandable fear of looking like a badly squeezed tube of toothpaste.
Wearing baggy shorts or tracksuit bottoms is both uncomfortable and dangerous
Just bite the bullet and do it though, because wearing baggy shorts or tracksuit bottoms instead of Lycra is going to be uncomfortable and dangerous – they can get easily caught or trapped in parts of your bike. Not to mention the fact that they’ll slow you down with all that flapping in the wind.
And just for the record: no, you don’t wear anything underneath.
2. You don’t have to ride in the gutter
There’s a natural instinct when you first start cycling to ride as close to the kerb as you can, with the intention of keeping out of harm’s way and not holding traffic up.
This is a bad idea for several reasons.
Firstly, it gives drivers the impression that it is safe to pass you in marginal or even downright dangerous traffic situations.
The edge of the road is where you’ll find the worst potholes and road debris such as broken glass
Secondly, the edge of the road is where you’ll usually find the worst potholes and road debris such as broken glass, sticks and wayward car or lorry parts.
Thirdly, you’ve got nowhere to go if you do need to take evasive action from a close pass or other emergency.
Instead, learn your primary (in the centre of the lane) and secondary road positions (roughly one metre to the left of traffic flow and at least 0.5 metres from the kerb), and use them appropriately. British Cycling has more information on this.
3. Chamois cream is worth its weight in gold
Once you’ve come to terms with wearing Lycra, and especially if you’re upping the time you are spending in the saddle, you may fall victim to the dreaded saddle sores.
These are small, local skin infections, which develop as sweat collects in your chamois pad (the pad in cycling shorts) and gets rubbed against your undercarriage by the saddle.
Chamois cream forms a lubricating barrier between skin and clothing
Sounds nasty, eh? Well fortunately the solution is at hand in the form of chamois cream (available from cycling retailers), which you apply to yourself to form a lubricating barrier between skin and clothing.
We’d still recommend not sitting around in sweaty kit after a ride, of course – and do use a fresh pair of shorts for every ride.
4. You probably don’t need to ‘slam that stem’
Right now, there’s a trend in the world of road cycling for dropping the handlebar stem as low as it will go on the fork’s steerer tube – inspired by the way pro cyclists set their bikes up so they can get their heads down out of the wind and go as fast as possible.
Unless you’ve got flexibility that would make a ballerina wince, don’t go too low straight away
But unless you’ve got flexibility that would make a ballerina wince, don’t go too low straight away. Try to strike a good balance between comfort and handling, as lower bars can improve weight distribution and therefore grip.
Be aware that your own flexibility may change over time, especially if you’re shedding the pounds as you ride.
5. Build up to it gradually
You wouldn’t run a marathon after a few 5k training runs, yet that’s exactly what some cyclists do. Restricting themselves to short training rides and then jumping straight into a big charity ride or a 100-mile epic with friends.
If you were running a marathon then we doubt you’d do a 5km or 10km jog once or twice a week before suddenly going the full distance.
While cycling is a lower-impact sport than running, it’s still possible to quickly generate overuse-related injuries, due to the repetitive movements involved.
Ride half your target distance (and altitude gain), then two-thirds
Try to ride half your target distance (and altitude gain), then two-thirds – and then maybe three-quarters, if you have time.
This should give you the opportunity to fine-tune things such as handlebar position and your saddle’s height and angle before your big day.
6. You will enjoy riding up hills… eventually
Riding hills, particularly steep and/or long ones can make new cyclists feel like their body is screaming in protest – but it’s also one of the quickest ways to get fit and hone your cycling skills.
Riding hills is one of the quickest ways to get fit
And the fitter you get, the quicker you’ll recover at the top – leaving you with a satisfied afterglow of achievement, rather than crumpled in a wheezing heap on a grass verge.
Stick with it and you’ll soon find you’re breathing easily at a pace that used to knacker you, or knocking seconds off your PB while pushing just as hard as you previously did. Whoop!