So after my ‘wealth’ of experience gained over my 15 week road bicycling career, I have learned a huge amount, seriously. Some things you just learn (like you are going to need to carry fluids with you once you are riding for more than about an hour’s duration) out of necessity, others you learn by asking (like I had a terrible clicking noise one day, and found I could make it go away by adjusting the tension on the gear wire, or whatever it is called), and others you learn because you just have to (how to change an inner tube when you get a puncture).
You also learn a lot by reading stuff in cycling magazines or cycling forums. And cycling, like anything else, is full of its own buzzwords and jargon. I had no idea when I started what a crit was, or a granny ring, or a cassette. I didn’t for that matter know what SPD stood for, or crank, or compact, or what nipples were (and the latter might not be what you think they are:)).
Of course, like anything, cycling is so much more enjoyable when you actually know what you are doing, and also why you are doing it in a certain way. Some things are also however entirely counter-intuitive at first. An example of this is putting your saddle up so high as to be where your foot, when your leg is fully extended, just reaches the pedal. This seemed like way way too high for me at first, but when I learned that my legs got tired way quicker by not doing so, I found that literally a few millimetres (either way) can make a substantial difference over a lengthy ride.
Another example of something that is counter-intuitive is not wearing underwear. I mean, why, when you don’t know these things, would you even think of going out in your lycra shorts (some might say why wear lycra shorts at all of course:)) without underwear on? And who is supposed to tell you not to? Do you go and google “should I wear underpants when I cycle?” – would you even think to? I didn’t, of course, but I ultimately learned the answer. In fact if you do put the above into google, then one of the first answers that comes up is the following (copied from http://www.bikeforums.net):
“….Should one wear underwear under one’s bicycle shorts?
In a word: no.
In a lot more words: no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!
Am I making myself clear?
Bicycle shorts are designed to be worn next to the skin. Underwear under bike shorts is unhygenic, unsightly and unsafe. Wearing underwear under padded lycra shorts is like riding with your shorts full of ground glass. It is a one way ticket to chafesville. Don’t do it!
Remember the Underwear manifesto: No underwear under bike shorts for any reason ever. No Excuses.
Got it? Good……”
So that is that one cleared up then!
As for other Do’s and Don’ts, well here are a few of them that I have picked up, in no particular order, as they say:
- Have your bike in good road order before you ride, and primarily check your tyre pressures every time you go out. The difference between 80 psi and 100 psi is massive, believe me.
- Take fluids with you, whether in a Camelback or bottles – you will need them. You can always stop at a shop somewhere but that doesn’t help you if you are gasping and are out in the country. In fact you should never get to being thirsty on your bike at all, always drink enough first to stop it happening.
- Wear a helmet. Always. Even for a five minute jaunt. It could save your life, need I say more?
- Wear bright coloured clothing. As a previously less considerate car driver than I am today, it is sometimes not as easy to see cyclists as it should be, particularly if they wear dark clothing. Don’t worry about looking like the sugar plum fairy, just “be safe and be seen”.
- Carry some basic maintenance things with you, like tyre levers, a spare inner tube or two, a pump, and a mini-tool. If you are 30 miles from home and have a problem, what are you going to do otherwise?
- Wear cycling shorts (without underwear:)) that are comfortable over long distances. Bib-shorts are best (in my opinion), but use chamois cream/nappy cream/Vaseline, and also watch out for where the straps come down over your nipples.
- Wear (sun)glasses of some description. They’ll protect you from bugs and other debris, as well as from the wind at speed.
- Concentrate, particularly when it is wet. Sounds obvious, but lack of concentration already cost me a fall and some blood (which should have been a lot worse). You need to have your wits about you at all times – remember that you will come off second best in any collision, and many road users are just not either used to, or happy about, bikes in general.
- Acknowledge other bike riders. When you ride on your own as I do, you pass a lot of other bikes too, and they are a nice friendly bunch. A simple wave or smile or nod can brighten your day a lot.
- Keep your mouth shut! I have so far had at least one bee in my mouth (thankfully it panicked more than I did and got out as quickly as it appeared), and particularly going downhill, a mouthful of something which is alive is at the very best going to be a horrible and awful-tasting distraction.
- Observe the rules of the road. It is very tempting to jump red lights etc., but the best you will do here is to piss off car drivers who can make things uncomfortable for you.
- Give clear hand signals. Car drivers need as much chance as possible to see you – give them every chance you can.
Pretty much the exact opposite of all of the above. I have really learned more than anything just how vulnerable I am as a cyclist on most British roads. A simple thing like a pothole (without being over dramatic about it) could kill you if you didn’t spot it and were going too fast. Other road users are generally not used to bikes, and there are seemingly so many more bikes on the roads than there used to be, and you are really really vulnerable out there. So my main “don’t”, above all, is to say “Don’t ever forget to be as safe as you can”.
Cycling is a fantastic sport/pastime/hobby. You get fit, you meet nice people, you see so much more of the countryside than you would in either a car or walking. I totally and absolutely get a huge amount of pleasure out of it, and I understand now the buzz that drives so many other people to spend a lot of their hard-earned money on it. It is an incredibly, well, ‘passionate’ thing to get involved in. Long long may that passion continue for me.