At first blush, cycling presents itself as such a simple diversion. What could be more restful than a spin through a bucolic landscape, stopping to smell the flowers, pausing to take in the view, and keeping your heart rate below 100 beats per minute. What indeed, except that’s not what cycling, for us, is all about. Sure, enjoying the view and reveling in being outside are crucial aspects of cycling’s allure, but the point is to get fit enough to see more landscapes; ride roads far away from your house, and see how long you can keep your heart rate maxed out. Cycling only gets better as your fitness improves, which requires time on the bike, and it’s a whole lot easier to spend time on the bike if you are comfortable, safe, and efficient.
For whatever reason, folks new to cycling often view particular bits of gear as either intimidating, unstylish, or a waste of cash, and some of it definitely is all of that. There are however, several items that beginners always shy away from, but experienced cyclists swear by. There is no reason why one shouldn’t jump in and begin reaping the benefits of these immediately. If you do, your cycling experience will be enhanced from the get go, meaning more time on the bike, more confidence, and more fitness. You’ll get so good so fast, there will be plenty of room in your brain to focus on that charming old farmhouse while still cranking up the hill next to it, breathing hard and feeling great.
Here are five items (plus a bonus) that we believe every new cyclist should embrace immediately.
Clipless Pedals—Yes, they are intimidating, but clipless pedals are safer, much more efficient, and offer superior comfort compared to flat platform pedals. Don’t be afraid, simply take the (short) time to learn how to use them, and clipless pedals will soon feel like an extension of your feet. This article, originally posted by Zoe, offers some great motivation for learning the clip-in/clip-out procedure. Jerald outlines said procedure here, leaving no excuse for you not to jump right in and get the most out of your cycling experience immediately.
While eventually you will want road-specific pedals for a road bike, starting out with a set of two-sided mountain pedals will shorten your learning curve. I recommend Look Keo Easy pedals for beginner roadies, or Shimano PD-M520 pedals if you want to go the two-sided route.
Bibs—Many beginning, and some experienced, cyclists have an aversion to bibs, classifying them as “goofy” or “uncool,” or that they imply a lack of masculinity (for males who are concerned about such things). This is patently ridiculous. First of all, no one will even know, as your jersey goes over the bib shoulder straps; the idea is not to go Borat shoulder thong. Women do have a more legitimate reason to question the efficacy of bibs, related to one of the body’s homeostatic endeavors. Even still, almost all hardcore women cyclists agree that the benefits of wearing bibs outweigh the inconvenience of scheduling rest stops where trees or shrubs are abundant.
What it comes down to is this: bibs are much more comfortable than shorts. Everywhere. There’s no waistband to dig into your abdomen, front or rear. In fact, bibs support any belly you may have, and provide coverage against the threat of jersey ride-up. Bibs’ most important feature though, is chamois retention. Those shoulder straps (which are quite comfortable, not even noticeable after a few minutes of riding) prevent the shorts from sliding down, thus keeping your chamois exactly where it should be, under your butt. Shorts (non-bibs) tend to slip a little as you ride, and of course, the chamois slips with them. Unless you enjoy chafed thighs, riding with a bunched-up chamois, and walking like a cowboy for a few days after every ride, do yourself a favor and get a pair of bibs. Castelli’s Evoluzione bibs are an incredible deal, get a pair while you can.
Arm Warmers/Knee Warmers—To the uninitiated, the usefulness of leg sleeves and a shirt without a torso might seem a bit questionable, but you should absolutely own a pair of knee and arm warmers. Arm warmers turn your jersey halfway into a jacket, and are much cheaper. Add a base layer and you’ve just gained the warmth of a thermal jersey without the bulk, plus 100% more versatility. Don’t suffer through a ride with goose bumps, losing heat and wasting energy to keep warm. Simply slide a pair of arm warmers over your guns and spin in comfort. Arm sleeves cover from your wrist to just below your shoulder, and go underneath jersey sleeves.
Knee warmers not only add a layer of warmth on cool days, they help keep you knees healthy as well. According to an old coach’s rule, anytime the ambient air temperature is under 65 degrees F, it’s time to break out the knee warmers. You see, keeping the knee warm keeps it happy. Inflammation and pain are reduced, and the inherent compression of lycra helps to reduce perceived fatigue. Knee warmers cover from the upper calf to the mid thigh, and tuck underneath shorts. Check out our wide selection of arm, knee, and leg warmers.
Don’t forget, if you get too warm, you can easily remove and tuck your warmers into your rear jersey pockets. Eventually you’ll be able to do this without getting off the bike!
Nutrition Products—If you’ve read any of my previous posts about nutrition, you’ll know I freely admit that prepackaged nutrition products are not any better than real food. They are however, quite a bit more convenient, both in their ease of storage and preparation, plus their rapid absorption by the body to quickly provide fuel for your muscles. It’s much easier to throw a few gels and a bar or two in your jersey pocket and be ready to go for four hours in the saddle, rather than planning, preparing, and storing sandwiches, fruit, or whatever your choice of edibles happens to be. If you have an easy-to-access fuel source, you’ll use it, and that is what will keep you riding strongly throughout your ride. Don’t shy away from gels and bars, consider them a tool just as you would a faster tire or more aerodynamic helmet. Which brings us to…
Helmet— Yes, it seems rather silly to even bring this up in our modern age, but I’m always surprised by the number of cyclists I see riding without cranial protection. I have no wish to debate the actual effectiveness of helmets, there are plenty of message boards of endless length filled with scenarios where helmets will save your life, won’t save your life, help a little, help a lot, or even kill you themselves. My research—granted, all based on anecdotal evidence of cyclists bringing their crushed and cracked helmets into the shop with a harrowing tale to tell, but they are able to tell it—has led me to the conclusion that if you are riding a bike, you should be wearing a helmet.
Bonus: Replacement Tube and the Knowledge to Install it—Keep a spare tube or two in your kit along with a patch kit, in case you flat your spares. We’ve made videos detailing how to change a tube for road, and mountain, so I won’t go into it here. Just be sure to watch these videos and practice at home a couple times before you get out there and are tested in the field.
Purchasing a bike is a big deal, so don’t feel you have to buy all of this stuff at the same time (except the helmet). You should start using clipless pedals as soon as possible, and one or two rides in sub-par shorts will be all it takes to convince you to order up a pair of bibs, pronto. Also, learn how to change a tube before you ride alone, and… and… On second thought, you better leave the bike shop or fill your Art’s Cyclery shopping cart with all of this kit at once. Your cycling career will thank you.