Rubber Side Down: Help Me Help You

Tom Cruise and I want to help you become a better cyclist. Help me help you.

Have you ever wondered why we cyclists do some of the odd and obscure things we do? Whether we ride to maintain fitness, to compete, to spend some quality saddle time with a regular group or even to find some much needed solitude, we all have our reasons for riding mile after mile for hours on end. We all love the rush of being on two wheels, conquering harsh elements and undulating terrain, and covering great distances under our own strength. But why do cyclists care so much about perfectly color coordinated bikes and kits? Why do we spend so much time hand picking every component and making sure each adjustment is impeccably precise? Why are our bicycles and bodies constantly on display, awaiting the praise or, more likely, the taunts and jabs of our peers? Honestly, this is borderline neurotic behavior so why do we care? Why should we care? 

One word: Tradition.

Bicycle racing has been around since 1868, almost as long as the bicycle itself. For over one hundred and forty years, cycling culture has continued to evolve and we, as cyclists, are part of this living heritage. We pay homage to the greats of our sport by respecting the bike and respecting ourselves as riders. And how do we enforce this age-old tradition and culture? Primarily, we point and laugh at each other whenever possible.

Occasionally we gaze lustfully at our buddy’s new bike and/or gear and complement their attention to detail (See Art’s Cyclery Bike Checks), but most of the time we find something that they did “wrong” and never let them live it down. You have to understand that the ridicule never stops between cyclists. Even the men who define what it means to be pro razz each other on occasion for not being pro. It’s part of the fun.

I want to help you stay on the trigger side of this amusing game but you have to help me. You need to stop putting your dang helmets on backwards for starters because if you do that, you’re beyond my help. I want to share a few of my own mistakes and misfortunes that provoked the swift tongues of my riding buddies as well as some other important lessons and PRO TIPS that might save you a pointed finger or two.

But first, this guy.

This poor fellow has obviously never ridden with other cyclists.

  1. Your shiny new road helmet really only works if you wear it correctly. When in doubt, helmet retention straps go on the back of your head.
  2. Fear the dreaded rookie or CAT 5 marks. Keep your right calf away from your big chainring.

    Apparently neither leg is safe for some.

  3. PRO TIP: Wear your sunglasses on the outside of your helmet straps. This is so the throngs of adoring fans screaming your name can read your sponsor’s name.
  4. White bibs are very euro but can be very see-through. I learned this the hard way. Maybe opt for some black bib shorts instead.
  5. Get a torque wrench, use the torque wrench. It is heart-wrenching (pun intended) watching someone crack a new carbon component because, “Don’t worry man, I do it by feel.” It’s also very dangerous if your bars or saddle shift in the middle of a ride because they were not tightened correctly.
  6. Bring your own nutrition and bring enough of it. Don’t slow everyone else down when you bonk because you couldn’t bear the extra weight of a couple Clif Bars.
  7. PRO TIP: Shave your legs. It’s more aerodynamic, it makes it easier to massage your calves and the CAT 5 marks show up better.
  8. Getting dropped is part of the game. Nice friends might wait for you but the weekly hammer ride won’t. Just take the time to relax, soft pedal those Jell-O legs home and dig deeper next week.
  9. Learn how to drink while riding and get water bottle cages you can use safely and easily. Dropped water bottles make rides interesting but they are not that fun to dodge.
  10. Don’t go on a road ride with a CamelBak.
  11. PRO TIP: Wear cycling socks with at least a 3″ rise. No tube socks, no ankle socks and no going without socks. It’s just not right.
  12. The worst mistake you can make is not admitting you are new to the sport. Cyclists can be harsh but they love their sport and deep down, they want you to learn to love it too. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and always err on the side of safety if you are uncomfortable. The Art’s Cyclery learning center is a great place to pick up some new skills.

Although it is an amazing part of our sport and many individuals take it very seriously, never, under any circumstances, let “tradition” come in between you and riding your bike. At the end of the day, all that matters is that you have a good time on two wheels. And preferably those wheels stay firmly planted on the ground… at least most of the time.

Rubber Side Down is a weekly column dedicated to the fledgling cyclist in all of us. Art’s Cyclery Web Content Editor Jerald Westendorf is not a professional cyclist, and doesn’t try to masquerade as one either, but he does love to ride bikes. Whether you are clipping in for the first time or counting down the days until your first race, read on, learn from his mistakes, and keep the rubber side down.