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Road cycling for beginners: how to follow the latest trend.

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Hello, sunshine! Long time no see! With the current situation (please do not pronounce the P-word) I have lost my interest in planning trips and getaways. Therefore,  I wasn’t really in the mood for blogging about an upcoming trip, since it is improbable that we will be able to travel at least until 2021. Since it was clear that our cruise and our Disney trip couldn’t happen this year, my husband had the most brilliant idea: let’s begin a new activity, road cycling! 

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Before anything else, you need to know that my dad removed the little wheels on my bike when I was like… ten maybe? And I haven’t ridden a bike much between 10 and 18 years old.  I might have ridden a big total of 10 km during those eight years and my cycling career abruptly when I felt, bruising palms and knee AND ruining a pair of jeans.  To be honest, the body part that was most bruised was my pride, which is the most sensitive part of my body. 

As a result, you might understand I wasn’t thrilled about my husband’s idea, to begin road cycling after fifteen years off the bike… I tried to find resources for road cycling for beginners but was disappointed with what I could find.

*links are provided as example, not affiliated.

Road cycling for beginners: the first step

If you haven’t ridden a bike for a long time, like me, you are unlikely even to possess a bike. First thing would be to get one right? In Quebec, with the current situation, all stores were ripped off, so if you plan to get a new one, it might be a challenge.  I won’t talk you into getting a super fancy carbon road bike with disc brakes and electronic derailleur.  This post is mainly written for beginners, who might have certain fears, who might not be confident about whether or not they will enjoy the activity. Therefore, it is counter-intuitive to spend over 5k$ for something you might end up selling on eBay.

Firstly, let’s determine how confident you are on a bike.  Were you a cycling aficionado younger? Did you add mileage every year? If so, why did you stop? Is comfort an issue (more on that later) Are you interested in riding in the woods next to your place?  All these questions will determine which type of bike you should get.

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Back in the days, when we were younger, your parents would purchase a 21 speeds mountain bike at Wal-Mart (or Canadian Tires for my Canadians peeps), and you would be the king of the street! Nowadays, cycling has become an entire world, and it requires a certain level of expertise to navigate within the technologies.

Cruiser bike with straw basket in front
cruiser bike

Purchasing your first bike

If, like me, you fear traffic, discomfort, falling, your shadow and what not… I suggest that you get something with wider tyres and a very upright position. Being upright is often synonym of greater comfort, and you have a better view of traffic. The bike I purchased back in May was a vintage-looking bike, also known as a cruiser, large beefy tyres, wide cushioned saddle, the road cycling beginner’s perfect choice!  If the cruiser is not your thing, look for something called hybrid or fitness bike, the position is somewhere between a mountain bike and a cruiser and will offer you great comfort.

On the other hand, if you are slightly more advanced (able to ride a bike right off the bath), you might want to go for a fancier road bike.  Now, be aware that the smaller the tire, the harder every bump will feel.  Plus, road bikes tyres are typically harder than hybrid bikes, 110 psi vs 60, which will also contribute to a more bumpy feeling. 

One white bike and one black bike in the wood near a river.
Cycling is a great way to explore new places

As a result, if you are not concerned with bike aerodynamics and high speed, a gravel bike might be the perfect choice for you.  Gravel bikes tyres will typically range from 32 to 40mm, which will allow you to ride not only on tarmac but also on gravel/trail roads. Two months after purchasing my cruiser bike, I bought a used gravel bike with 32 mm tyres. I think I might change for 38mm in the near future, but it was an excellent way to be introduced to road cycling, without spending a fortune.

Road cycling for beginners: getting on the bike

If you haven’t ridden a bike for a long time, it’s advisable to begin in a quiet area.  Maybe your neighbourhood has a meagre traffic amount.  You might live near a large park, which will offer you smooth grass if you happen to fall on your firsts attempts.  In any case, stay away from highly popular bike paths and high traffic areas.  Master a few skills before you venture out.

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Skills to master

Going into a straight line

It might seem obvious and very trivial, but it’s actually essential, and it’s not something that comes naturally. To practice this skill, move very slowly and focus on maintaining a straight line.  The best way to exercise is to find a low traffic area with defined lines on the road.  Use the white line on the side of the road and try to follow the line. Beware though; road paint decreases the tyres grip, therefore, make sure the surface is dried when practising this skill. Also, take the line on the SIDE, not in the middle (security issue, you know…)

Road bike leaning on a ramp next to Rideau Canal in sunshine
Riding a bike allows you to discover the city

Turning

Another skill that might seem so obvious it doesn’t need to be mentioned, you would be surprised how tough some bikes are to manoeuver. My cruiser bike is almost impossible to manoeuver in closed corners.  It is advisable to gain control beforehand, in the situation you need to avoid a sudden obstacle in front of you.

Riding with one hand

Now, I am not gonna lie to you; I haven’t mastered this skill quite right yet.  I need all my focus on every muscle of my body any time I need to remove one hand from the handlebar.  However, it is a crucial skill to master to signal your next moves to cars or other cyclists nearby.

Pro cyclists will tell you that you need to master this skill so you can drink on the bike. In my opinion, you can always stop to drink, but I understand that this habit might be frowned upon during the Tour de France. However, if you begin with road cycling, it’s perfectly fine to plan refuelling stops.

Essentials for road cycling

Helmet

Now, you might think: I have a bike, isn’t all the essential thing to have?  I’ve got news for you, no, it’s not.  Although a helmet might not be mandatory, like here in Canada, I strongly recommend it if you value your brain.  A helmet might be the turning point between a deadly accident and a broken arm. Make sure you purchase one a the same time you purchase your bike and get a proper fit.

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Flat repair kit

As soon as you start adding mileage and riding further from your place, you should consider bringing tools to help you in case of a flat.  At the very least, your kit should contain a pair of tyre levers, a tube repair kit (patches). I also like to bring a tube as well, so I don’t have to fiddle on the side of the road with a patch and my pierce tube, I can just replace the tube and deal with the broken one later on.

Finally, you must bring something to inflate your tyre. Some people like the CO2 cartridges as they are small and fast to act.  However, these devices are finicky, and you need to have some ability to use it.  If you carry a single cartridge and fail to inflate your tyre properly, you are kind of screwed. On the other hand, a mini-pump requires a bit more patience, but is always working.

Nice  to have

A multi-tool for on the fly adjustment is a nice to have. It will also help to tighten any bolt that might come loose from the road vibration.  I also like to carry individual makeup removal wipes. They get handy to wipe off sweat before lunch if we happen to picnic somewhere where access to water is limited. Remember, if your wheels are not using some kind of quick-release device, you must carry a key to remove the wheel in case of a flat.  It will likely be a 15mm key.

Road cycling for beginners: adding mileage

I hope you feel confident about adding this activity now and for travels to come. Not only this activity is likely to increase your overall health, but it’s also a good way to discover old and new places. You get closer than you can get by car, and you can explore further than you can by walking. Road cycling is accessible to beginners, you only need to know where to start. Plus, the beer or wine afterwards is so rewarding! Have a drink, stay for a while!

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