I am relatively new to cycling, at least in a serious manner. I rode bikes back in my 20s but would never have considered myself to be a cyclist. Since April of this year (2020), and the subsequent COVID-19 lock-down, I’ve gotten back into it, and this time I’m giving it a proper go.Through this process, I am learning as I progress. I started off by buying a bike without a lot of thought into the purpose of components, frame, geometry, or any of that stuff cyclists pay attention to. For the most part, it was a reasonably versatile bike that the local bike shop (LBS) had in stock that was an eyeball fit for my height. Good enough. (For those who are curious, it is a 2020 Giant Escape 3 Disc.)
As of this writing, I’ve put 450 miles on the bike and have been bitten by the cycling bug. It didn’t take me long to realize, however, that it wasn’t the type of bike I need. The stock saddle was a nightmare (for my anatomy; for some it may be wonderful), so I swapped that out for a Fly Chromoly saddle from Terry. It was a noticeable improvement, but I still have tailbone pain after rides of 15 miles or more.
This leads me to my first tip: get a professional fitting and buy the bike best suited to your body and riding style based on their advice.
I went to Bike Gallery in Portland, Oregon (their Hollywood location) and paid $175 for a professional fitting. The process takes about two hours and covers practically every detail about my body, flexibility, fitness, and riding style. As a result of that fitting, I have ordered a Trek Domane AL 5 with carbon fork and Shimano 105 group set.
When the bike arrives, the technician at Bike Gallery will adjust all aspects of the bike to fit my specific measurements. I can’t wait! Stay tuned for a review once the bike arrives.
Clipless Pedals and Shoes
In addition to getting fitted for the bike, the tech at Bike Gallery also helped me choose clipless pedals and shoes. I went with Shimano RX8 shoes and Shimano pedals. Currently, I’ve been wearing flat-soled tennis shoes to go with the flat pedals on my Giant, but will be looking forward to clipping in.
The weird thing is calling them clipless pedals even though you are clipped in. Regardless, the benefits are consistent foot placement, a stable platform when you stand up while riding, and improved efficiency with every stroke of the pedals.
Fueling the Body: Water and Food
I have learned that drinking enough fluids and staying properly fueled both before and during a ride is very important. Drink a minimum of one full bottle of water for every hour you ride at a moderate pace on relatively flat ground, double that if you maintain a faster pace, climb any hills, or if the weather demands it. Drink small amounts throughout the ride, not all at once at long intervals apart.
It is also important to stay fueled. Eat complex carbohydrates and proteins that are slower to digest before the ride, and take with you small snacks to eat along the way. These should be easier to digest for quicker energy. I take fig newtons because they travel well, don’t melt when it gets hot out, and have a good combination of carbohydrates without a lot of artificial ingredients.
Apps and Ride Tracking
There are a lot of mobile phone apps available to help you keep track of where you go and how fast you get there. I rely on the Activities app built into iOS, and have added Strava as a third-party app. These give me all the data I need to see how my fitness level is coming along.
For data gathering, I use an Apple Watch series 4 to track heart rate and other data points. This data feeds into the Activities and Strava apps. I don’t currently use a separate heart rate monitor, but that may come down the road. I also do not have a cadence or power meter on my bike. Currently I use a simple bike computer that tells me speed, distance, and time.
On my home computer, I use a website called Kamoot to plan routes. It is free, although there are paid options. It is fantastic for mapping and determining relative difficulty of routes. These calculations factor in traffic volume, road conditions, shoulder width or designated bike lanes, and elevation gains.
There are a few simple tools and supplies you’ll need to maintain and enjoy your bike both now and in the future. Don’t be intimidated by the thought of bike maintenance; it’s easy and actually kind of fun. Keeping your bike in good shape not only makes it last longer (thus improving resale value when you upgrade), it makes the bike perform better which makes you perform better.
Your tires and chain probably need the most attention. Your tires need to be properly inflated based on their size and your body weight, so this requires an accurate air pressure gauge that can measure PSI (pounds per square inch) up to 160, and a pair of air pumps; one is compact and goes with you on the bike and the other is a floor model that you keep at home. Use your gauge to check your tire pressures at least every other ride.
You need a small bag of some kind that straps to your bike, either under the seat or attached elsewhere on the frame. In this bag you will carry a spare tube (or two), a pair of tire removal tools/levers, and a multi-tool with bits that fit all the main components of your bike.
I went with a Blackburn Local Ride kit, including multi-tool, bag, pump, and tire irons.
I recommend carrying a compact air pump to inflate tires while on rides, rather than the CO2 cartridge repair kits. Cartridges can run out but an air pump will keep working as long as your muscles hold out.
The floor model air pump you have at home should have a built-in pressure gauge and be able to reach pressures of 160 PSI or higher. I use a Bontrager Charger floor pump and have been very happy with it.
Your chain needs almost as much attention as your tires. Keep it clean and lubricated and it will serve you well.
I suspend my bike on the Hollywood hitch-style bike rack I put on the back of my car. This holds the bike above the ground at a decent height, and lets me rotate the pedals forward and back unrestricted. On the ground underneath, I lay a large sheet of cardboard to catch oil drips.
I use a large spray can of WD-40 to thoroughly wet the chain and sprockets, working the pedals forward and back and even shifting gears. I wipe this down with a box of paper shop towels. This cleans road grime, dust and dirt from the chain. Once the chain has been wiped off, I allow any remaining WD-40 to evaporate away. (Don’t use WD-40 as a primary lubricant.)
The next step is to apply a chain lubricant. There are many available, so I don’t have any specific recommendations. As far as frequency, though, I recommend cleaning and lubricating your chain after riding in the rain or on dusty trails, or every 150-200 miles, whichever comes first.
Learn To Fix Flat Tires
One final piece of advice I have is to learn how to repair a flat tire using just the tools and supplies (spare tube) you carry on your bike. It’s not a difficult process (there are plenty of YouTube videos showing you how) but it’s a good idea to practice once at home so you are familiar with what needs to be done when a flat occurs out on the roadside or trail.
I suggest you practice once for your front wheel and once for your rear wheel, as the process of removing those wheels from your particular bike are a little different.