Before you bolt out to your local bike shop and gear up after watching another exciting Tour de France, there are a few essential tips you should know as you start road cycling in Alabama. This incredibly rewarding sport can be done solo or with a group, and it’s an efficient way to explore a new area. But, like any new endeavor, getting started can be overwhelming. To help get you on the road as quickly as possible, we’ve put together 10 tips that will help you launch your new road cycling obsession.
1. Find a Shop
A bike shop is more than just a place where you’ll buy a bike. It’s a social club where you’ll commiserate with staff members and other riders, learn some tips and tricks and get insider info on great places to ride. Plus, you’ll return to the shop now and then to make small adjustments on your bike and buy new gear. For this reason, make sure you feel comfortable with the store staff, and visit as many as you can—it might turn into your new favorite place to hang out.
2. Get Fitted
Being comfortable is a must on the road. Nothing will lessen your desire to log road miles than an improperly fitted bike. While you can do research online, your best bet is to talk to the experts at the bike shop. They bring a wealth of knowledge, and some shops offer packages that range from a basic free sizing when you purchase a bike to a three-hour full-body fitting to make sure you have the right bike for your frame and goals.
3. Gear Up
There are a couple of items that, along with a properly fitted bike, will make your rides much more enjoyable. Namely, padded shorts. While seats have improved greatly over the years, nothing will grind your road time to a halt more than a sore backside. And a decent pair of padded shorts will last and keep you comfortable and on the road longer.
On the safety side, a must-have for cyclists is a helmet. Most are light and comfortable, but try out a few to make sure you get one that feels right and fits properly. Also, pick up a pair of sports glasses for those bright summer days. Glasses will also protect you from any flying road debris.
4. Know the Road Rules
Most of the road rules involve things you were taught when you first started riding a bike as a kid, plus some common sense. Riders should obey all traffic signs and signals, ride with the flow of traffic, and yield to pedestrians. While these concepts may have been ingrained in our minds, they can be forgotten or taken for granted on a long ride, so keep them top-of-mind.
Also, remember that you shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk. Plus, you should always use hand signals when turning, stay in the right side of the lane, and yield prior to moving across your lane. Remember that you have as much of a right to the road as others, but if an unsafe situation arises, take the high road, yield to that 4,000-pound bullet behind you, and complete your ride safely.
5. Learn to Fix a Flat
Along with knowing the rules of the road, it is imperative that new cyclists learn to fix a tire. Eventually, you will have a flat, and likely at the most inopportune time. But, it’s nothing to fret over if you’re prepared and you’ve already practiced fixing a flat before hitting the road.
There are numerous online guides, and your bike shop may even teach a class on it. Make sure you carry a repair kit with patches, a new inner tube, and a pump.
6. Use Proper Form
While you can delve into the nuances of proper cycling form, you should focus on three things when you’re getting started. First, keep your upper body relaxed as possible while having your head up. Second, try to keep a steady cadence of around 70 revolutions a minute by using your gears (always shift to a lower gear before hills). Third, always keep your thumbs wrapped around the handlebars.
7. Hit the Road
Don’t get analysis paralysis. You’re geared up, and the road is calling. Call a friend or two, pick your route, and have a basic plan in place. If you’re riding solo, it’s always smart to let someone know where you’re going and an estimated time you will be back.
8. Don’t Wear Headphones
It is imperative during a ride that you can quickly react if a troublesome situation arises. Wearing ear buds is certain to distract you and make it less likely that you’ll hear auto traffic, an ambulance, police siren, and anything else the road will throw at you.
9. Maintain Your Ride
You’ll avoid headaches and save money down the road if you learn and practice basic maintenance for your bike.
Clean the bike regularly with dish soap and warm water, using a sponge, old wash cloth, or a soft bristle brush. Gently rinse the bike with the hose to remove loose debris, and then apply soap, and rinse afterwards. Repeat as necessary to remove all the gunk and grime. You don’t need much water pressure, just enough to rinse everything off, and have an old towel handy for drying.
Tire pressure can make a major difference on how your bike rides, so ensure the tires are properly inflated. You can find the PSI range on the sidewall of the tires, and it’s handy if you use a floor pump with a gauge. And no one likes to hear a creaks and squeaks while riding, so clean and oil the chain regularly. This will also help prevent more costly repairs later.
10. Find a Group
No matter what part of Alabama you’re in, there is certainly a club nearby ready to welcome you and foster your enthusiasm for road cycling. Clubs like the Spring City Cycling Club in Huntsville, East Alabama Cycling Club, or even the club at your local bike shop are easily approachable, and have group rides throughout the year.
Written by Hap Pruitt for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.