We’ve all heard the phrase “it’s just like riding a bike”, meaning even if you haven’t been on a bike since you were a kid, it comes back to you quickly, and with ease. While this is true in general, cycling is not the same as simply riding a bike. The sport has come a long way in the past few decades. The first triathlons came to the States in the early 70’s, with the first governing bodies being developed around the 90’s. For a relatively new sport, there have been a great many advancements in technology, leading to a wide variety of options and choices to make when selecting all of your gear.
I did copious amounts of research prior to my first cycling purchase, and first ride. There were still several important things I wish I had learned from the get-go. The purpose of this blog is two-fold, partly as a journal for me to reflect back on, and partly to share what I learn on my journey with others. I think experienced riders sometimes forget the little nuances and techniques that would help a newbie, as it is second nature to them.
I’ve come up with a list of 5 cycling tips for newbies, from a beginner (while it is still fresh in my mind). I wish I had learned these things before I experienced a zero-speed fall on my first ride. That is when you literally tip over with your feet locked into the pedals, with zero forward propulsion. It hurt my ego more than anything, and of course, in true “Heather” fashion, I did it right in front of an audience. lol
1. Start with your local bicycle shop (shout-out to Follett’s Mountain Sports). They are a wealth of information, and want to make this an enjoyable experience for you. After all, if you fall in love with cycling, and you are a satisfied customer, you’ll be back with your wallet for years to come. They will fit your bicycle to your body, and make any necessary adjustments. If you purchase your bike and add-on’s there, you’ll likely get a great discount as well.
2. Learn & practice pedal release. There are a number of different pedals and cycling shoes you can choose from. Some beginners opt to not use cycling shoes, and ride with their favorite tennies. I’d borrowed a friend’s cycling shoes for a spinning class before. They seemed easy enough. They practically slid into the pedals, almost as though they were magnetized. The shoes released as easy as they attached.
I selected clipless pedals for my new bike, and had my bike shop attach the cleats to my shoes. Little did I know they were adjustable. My first ride was disasterous because I didn’t have my shoes & pedals properly fitted. If I had been more patient, and allowed Travis & Steve to do their job (from the bike shop) they would have adjusted this before I busted my ass in front of an entire campground because I couldn’t release my damned feet from the pedals!
I did more research after that incident & discovered that pedals are indeed adjustable. I headed back to see Travis & Steve at my favorite bike shop. They suggested that I set my bike up next to a wall, or counter that I could hold on to while I practiced locking in and releasing out of my pedals. Duh. I have a Master’s degree, and have done post-graduate work, but I’m really not all that bright. lol
3. Avoid the duck walk. I learned from my research that walking in your cycling shoes is a no-no. For one thing, they are rigid, and not intended for walking. The second, and more important reason is because you will damage your cleats. When I set out on my infamous first ride, I had to walk the bike from my car through a gravel pathway to get to the bike path. My cleats survived, but took a massive beating from that one short unprotected walk. Now I know that they make cleat covers. Buy them. Bring a second pair of shoes if you plan to park the bike or do any amount of walking.
4. Join an online community. There are a number of online resources from blogs, to chatrooms, to youtube. As my parents told me when I was growing up, you don’t have to make every mistake yourself, you can learn some lessons from others.
5. Ride with a buddy. If you have a friend who is into cycling, ask them to give you a lesson, or to take you on a ride. I had a number of people offer, but I’m pretty stubborn. I do this with the gym also. My weight has always fluctuated. Whenever I start a new program, I have to get started at home by myself. Once I gain a little confidence, and endurance, I become emotionally strong enough to be vulnerable and put myself out there. Stupid, I know… But that’s me. 🙂
Hope my future self looks back on this fondly. Happy riding!