After writing these articles, and writing my blog, and talking to people about biking and triathlons, people have definitely asked me a lot of questions about how to get started. If you’re just getting started, or you’d like to get started, this is the article for you. If not…well, too bad. There’s probably something in here for you too. Let’s get started, shall we?
First thing’s first; you have to figure out two things to start your journey. The first, and most important, is probably your starting budget. The second, which influences how you spend your budget, is your unique set of goals. These two will have a bit of interplay, to a certain extent. I’ll give some examples to try to set you down the right path.
Low Budget, Big Goals
If you have less than $500 to spend in total, I’d qualify that as a “low” budget. If you’re in this category, but you still want to put some serious miles on pavement, your best bet is to hit the local craigs list, and try to find a nice, used, road bike. The things to look out for are Shimano 105 components, light weight, racing bikes.
The downside to going this route is that it can get expensive, quick, if you have to start replacing components, or if you have to bring it to your local bike shop to get repaired. So it can be a bit risky, but there are definitely deals to be had out there.
Go this route if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty (literally), learning a bit about bike maintenance, and spending a good amount of time locating a good deal.
Low Budget, I Just Want To Ride
This one is easy. Literally pick up any bike from the LBS that is the correct size for you. If your only goal is being able to get on the road and go, any bike will suffice. And if this is your mindset, chances are you don’t really want to learn too much about bike maintenance. Buying a cheapie from the LBS will let you get to know that store, and hopefully, build a nice relationship.
Medium To Large Budget, Quality Priority
If you have anywhere near $1,500 to spend, good news. You’re in the sweet spot for bikes. At $1,500, all the big manufacturers have a shiny, perfectly awesome bike for you to buy. Usually they’re still aluminum, but often times, you can find carbon forks in this price range. If you can spend this much and you’re just starting out, there’s usually very little reason to spend any more. I have ridden a lot of bikes in this price bracket, and basically anything from Giant, Cannondale, Specialized or Raleigh will be worth the money. All of them will have similar component levels, so it’ll come down to personal preference, and what fits you best.
I want the Best
Congrats – go to a bike store, ride everything in the place until something sticks. Buy it. Be happy.
Once you’ve purchased your bike, and figured out your goals, it’s time to pick up the rest of your gear. You can use your smart phone (if you have it) to provide GPS tracking and stats, or you can purchase a dedicated watch, or a dedicated bike computer. You’ll want a helmet, bike shorts, and possibly bike jerseys (they’re handy because they wick away moisture, and have pockets in the back to help you keep all your gear together). Gloves are helpful when you’re first starting out, as you can have your hands get numb and tingly if you’re not used to the road vibration.
Let me reiterate; you are going to want bike shorts. If you’ve never ridden a road bike before, and you just straight up start out on one…your heiny is NOT going to be happy with you. Even with the padded bike shorts, the first few rides are going to be uncomfortable. Stick with it. I promise it gets better, and it really is worth the stiff seat to get more power to the pedals.
The helmet is the only other required item from that list. Make sure you get one with an adjustable fit. They’re worth the extra money, if you ever decide to drastically alter your hair style. Or, ya know, your hair falls out from chemo. Either way, it’s helpful to be able to adjust.
To Clip or Not to Clip
This is the real meat of learning to ride a road bike. More people have asked me about clipped riding than any other single topic involved in cycling. Let’s get a few things straight:
Riding clipped will drastically improve your ability to keep up a high cadence (rotations). It will make going uphill ridiculously easier. It will allow you to use your entire set of leg muscles, so that its not just your quads burning.
Riding clipped will also likely cause you to fall. A lot. Often. Repeatedly. You will probably curse my name the first few times you ride. You may want to ride fully clothed with some padding on your elbows and knees.
Did I mention that you will fall?
Honestly, though, it’s a good thing to fall. It’s a good thing to have a respect for your clips, and it’s a good thing to train yourself to avoid the silly mistakes that cause you to topple over at a red light like a demented pine tree. If you don’t fall while you’re learning, I think you just karmically set yourself up to have a real nasty accident sooner or later.
Speaking from concussed experience.
Oh, and if for some reason you have to stop on an incline, and try to start again, good luck. It is entirely less than fun while you’re clipped in.
All that being said – I will never ride another bike without clips. Except maybe a mountain bike, on mountain bike trails, that I wasn’t comfortable or familiar with. Once you’re used to them, they are that awesome.
If you’re just starting out biking, though, I would stick with normal pedals for at least the first 100 or so miles you put on the bike. Make sure you’re completely comfortable with everything on your bike, with shifting, starting, stopping, turning, etc. Only then should you add the clips.
If you’re already someone who’s ridden bikes for a long time, but just never clipped…consider it strongly. Even if you’re just riding for fun, I think they really do add a lot more enjoyment to your rides, as they will just flat out be easier, giving you more time to just sit back and enjoy.
Get Out There
So that’s basically it. Get your bike, your gear, and hit the road. Learn your local bike routes, check out your local bike trails, and get on the pavement and starting putting down the miles. If you’re training for an event, believe me, it is way more enjoyable to be putting the miles on the road, as opposed to in a gym on a stationary bike.
And above all else, enjoy the rush of wind in your face. You never know when you’ll be able to feel it next.