Learning by your mistakes is a noble pursuit but it can also be costly and frankly humiliating. Most people new to road cycling dive in head first and are immediately hit by the myriad of arcane rules both written and unwritten. I have written this blog piece so that you, dear reader, can learn from all the mistakes that I made.
Here are the things I wish I had known.
Bib Shorts – worth every penny
Buying a pair of cycling shorts is easy, right? Wrong! It is basically the single most important piece of kit you will own and is the difference between enjoyment and torture. It is one of the few areas of bike riding where you genuinely get what you pay for so don’t scrimp on these. With that piece of advice in mind you will purchase bib shorts and not the normal shorts that I started cycling in.
Bib shorts are great mostly because they don’t expose your ass when the back of them gets caught on the saddle as you accelerate away from traffic lights. The design also means that your midriff is kept a bit warmer and truthfully they just look more pro.
Triple chain Sets – an unnecessary nightmare
I am not against triple chain sets in principle and I know they are less sneered upon on the continent but I am against them from a practical point of view. I have spent countless hours trying to get the front derailleur to shift properly on my front triple. I get to the point where I am happy with it or at least to the point where I can live with it and within a few rides it is back to chain rubbing and poor shifting.
It got to the point that on my commuter bike I couldn’t shift out of the middle ring but for the terrain I was riding on this was fine.
Get a double compact chain set and save yourself so much heartache in the garage.
I love this bike but that triple has given me nothing but headaches
Bonking - It is real
Before I took up cycling I had never experienced bonking. It is horrible and unless you learn quickly how to fuel properly for long rides then you are also going to plumb the depths of bonking despair miles from home like I did.
I was undertaking my longest cycle to date at that point, 112 miles to be precise. So committed to the goal was I that I even left the pub early on the Friday night before the cycle after only for pints.
Everything was going fine until it suddenly wasn’t. With ten miles of cycling to get back home my legs simply refused to keep turning despite me asking them nicely. I got off the bike on the verge of the road. On the verge of tears.
I am more proud of those last ten miles home than of the 102 miles that went before them when I was feeling good. I had to stop basically every mile and reflect upon the meaning of life. I sang songs out loud to distract myself from the bonk.
I made it home, my ride statistics in tatters thanks to bonking, and ate pretty much everything in the kitchen. During this gluttony I pondered if that feeling was what old age might feel like, when the mind may be willing but the body is not.
That day taught me a lot about the importance of fuelling properly and always having a safety gel or two in the pocket for a long ride.
Bonking at the top of the Cairn O Mount
Winter proof your bike - Embrace the rain
If you plan to ride through the winter (and you will because like every other cyclist that went before you will become addicted) then you need to winter proof your bike and your body.
Equipping my winter bike with mudguards front and back was probably the best thing I did to make cycling in winter more comfortable. The bike was thankful that the majority of the salty road brine was kept out of its delicate parts and my bum and feet were happy to be out of the constant wheel wash. It obviously won’t keep all the water away, on account of the fact that it tends to fall from the sky or come sideways in Scotland, but it makes the whole experience more bearable. In winter, the sky may be bright blue but the roads are constantly wet so these mudguards really show their worth every day.
A good rain jacket is the difference between enjoying a winter cycle and feeling like you are being cooked in a bag of sweet, salty sweat. Upon careful consideration I would actually rather be wet and cool than somewhat dry but humidified and medium-rare.
A good rain jacket might cost you some more money but trust me when I say it will be a worthwhile investment. See also shoe covers.
It will take over your life
Once you get the bug for cycling it will rapidly become the most important thing in your life after your family but before your career. It starts small and you enjoy getting some fresh air but before you know it you are buying a more aerodynamic helmet and think nothing of watching eight hours of cycling on TV with your lovely shaved legs. None of this is necessarily a bad thing of course. You will get fitter no doubt and gain a new perspective on the place you live when out on the bike. Country lanes start to reveal themselves. New cafes appear out of nowhere.
A novel way to store a couple of bikes in our old flat! Going out for a quick spin was a bit laborious.