If only I had known how to save my butt!
5 beginner road cycling lessons I had to learn the hard way.
This week I completed my first ever 60km ride on my road bike. While my butt was sore from from being in the saddle for a few hours (2 hours and 48 mins to be exact), it was nowhere near the level of pain I experienced after I went on my first few one-hour rides. Come with me on a quick journey of the many lessons I learned by experiencing road cycling as a first timer.
There is one fundamental lesson before we get started for any beginner, anywhere: Ask questions. A lot. If it wasn’t for my friend Ed McNally who helped me choose the bike and then walked me through it all, I do not think I would ever have started. Everything I write is likely incredibly, mind-bogglingly obvious. I am not ashamed to admit that, apparently, I cannot master the incredibly, mind-bogglingly obvious.
Lesson #1: Save your butt. Get cycling shorts.
To be fair, the bike shop owner (Graham at Frontenac Cycle in Kingston, Ontario) and my friend Ed, both mentioned the shorts. What was obvious to them and was not obvious to me: cycling shorts are padded — if you only had seen my face when I found this factoid out. My first three trips on the bike, I was seriously concerned about how anyone expected my butt to get so calloused the discomfort would be numb. Getting those shorts was like discovering nirvana. Here’s a link to Outdoor Gear Labs Reviews.
Lesson #2: Get a proper bike pump. And use it.
Now this really is mind-bogglingly obvious. I hadn’t cycled since I was 10 years old and here I was several decades later. Car tires after all don’t need to be pumped too often. Apparently road bikes do. I now pump my bike before every ride and I am consistently surprised at how much pressure is lost during a ride. This also took me about 3 rides.
Lesson #3: Learn how to re-attach your chain.
I know there are great YouTube videos on all this, but I tend to learn from doing and watching and asking questions (“Really? I hadn’t guessed…” cries the reader). Having a friend show me how the chain detaches and then can be re-attached was wonderful. My very first, third and every few rides since, my chain has fallen off the gears. Now, this, maybe because I am still learning and practicing how to change gears properly. For that, as this article suggests, practice does make perfect.
Lesson #4: The gears… how the heck do I change them
Now, this… this I truly felt like a dumb-ass. I bought the bike, Graham fit it for me and off I went. I was one block down when I braked (yes I did know how those worked) and walked the bike back. “Umm, Graham, how do I change my gears?” I asked sheepishly. The answer, my friends, is that your gear handles go sideways, left side for big cog and small cog and the right for the intermediate steps in each. “Ah right, of course” I said… realizing pretty quick that I was completely out of my depth… Little did my butt know how much at that time…
Lesson #5: Get cycling gloves.
Kind of similar to the butt chafing was the eventual hand chafing. Another cycling friend, Albert, suggested cycling gloves and now I won’t leave home without them. They definitely help with comfort during a ride. Plus, as Kaj has noted, if you fall, you’d rather waste your gloves than your palms.
Learning the hard way
You might note, lots of these lessons I learned had to do with accessorizing. My assumption, and a silly one, was that with a bike it was “off you go, how complicated could two wheels a few gears and brakes be?”
In the end, just like owning a car or getting a computer, it wasn’t about buying something and turning on the ignition or power button. There are fundamentals that I needed to understand and learn:
- how to sit
- what part of my foot to pedal with (the front, if you are curious)
- how to gear up and down before a hill
- how to lean into the wind when flying downhill
- avoiding gravel and punctures
For such a long time, I had simply been content to do the sports I was knowledgeable about rather than exploring and learning something new. These days, every ride I see something fascinating or learn something interesting. On this past weekend’s ride to Gananoque, I was surprised by the number of dead birds on the side of the road. The mind queries, did they hit cars? Captured by squirrels? Chased by Aliens? I suspect I will never know.
Tomorrow, I add something else to the bike that will likely push me all the way back to square one. I will add clip in pedals and cycling cleats. Ed swears it will change my cycling. I’m anticipating falling. Lots.
What are the lessons you learned? Any great resources that can help another person go from zero to a bike nerd?