Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Learning the Cycling Basics

It was my first official ride of triathlon training, and Mark and I were zipping down the greenway.

16.8 ... 17 ... 17.4 mph.

The computer on my bike was recording speeds that I wasn't used to seeing, especially as I was used to my heavier hybrid. It was fun. It felt great. "It's like flying," I told Mark.

"You're in a low gear," he replied. "That's why."

"I don't understand. What does that mean?"

"You're in a low gear," he said. "You should be in a higher gear for training."


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Riding a bike seems so easy. You get on, you pedal. You feel the wind in your hair and the ground beneath you. You press the brakes to stop and get off the seat to power up a hill.

But, allow me to let you in on a secret: Cycling is a complicated sport as the bicycle is an expensive piece of equipment with lots of moving parts. With lots of pieces and lots of money required, there's a lot to know - especially if you are doing it for more than leisure.

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Thankfully - and I mean that with all sincerity - I was given the opportunity to review "The Bicycling Big Book of Cycling for Beginners: Everything a new cyclist needs to know to gear up and start riding." I might have logged a few miles on a banana seat with my bunny Jenny in the basket but I am definitely a beginner to the sport.

The book was published by Bicycling Magazine, sister magazine of Runner's World - both of which are by Rodale. It's similar to the "Big Book of Running for Beginners" [reviewed HERE] but I found the cycling book to be a lot less "duh" and a whole lot more "oh, now I understand." It includes information about the parts of the bike; how to ride for recreation, fitness and racing; gears and when to use them and why; the differences between bike prices; maintenance (including changing tires and lubrication = love); safety; and cadence.

I seriously had a light bulb moment when I read the section about the chain rings and when to switch gears. For the entire time I've been riding a bike, or at least 10 speed, I changed gears until riding felt comfortable. I didn't know whether I was moving up or down, sideways or backwards. Now, I understand that the bigger chain rings allow for more power and are used to gain momentum on downhills and flats. The smaller chain rings require, usually, a higher cadence and are better on uphills. But, be careful. You don't always want to use the big ring because riders like to fall into a cadence of 60 to 80 rpm where as 90 to 110 rpm is preferable for fitness and competitive riding.

So, Mark, now I understand.

Other takeaways:

Helmets. It's imperative to have good head protection, and sun and age damage the effectiveness of a helmet. Riders should replace them every 2 to 3 years. So ... I should upgrade from Mark's hand-me-down I've been wearing for six years.

Gloves. Cycling handwear isn't just about looking cool to other cyclists. And, it's not just about stopping that numbing feeling after a long ride. Gloves are just as much about safety as anything else. If, God forbid you fall, they help protect the hands as it's our natural inclination to stop ourselves with our palms.

Speed racer. I have ridiculous anxiety about speeding down a hill. It just feels, well, scary. However, it's better to push the fear aside and not ride the brakes. It's actually safer.

Emergency stopping. I have not been in this situation and, as I do not clip in (not yet), it's less of an issue. But, if you have to stop quickly, the book suggests pushing your weight back to help keep your traction and keep you from going over the handlebars.

Pedaling. How you pedal makes a big difference in the effectiveness and efficiency of the workout. If you can, clipless pedals are the way to go.

$$$. I like to joke that running is expensive with the $100 shoes and $50 race entries and the $80 gotta-have compression tights but cycling really is pricey. The cheapest road bikes are $700 - without the upgrades and add-ons, such as the most basic of bottle cages. The less you spend on the bike, the more one can expect to spend on the upgrades especially as the bike ages.

While this might be old news for some, I really found the book to be helpful. The information was detailed without being overly so, and it was written in a straight-forward, easy to understand manner. My only complaint - and it was the same one with the "Big Book of Running for Beginners" - is the inclusion of weight loss information. I'd rather it be just about the sport.


  1. I just could not get into it with my road bike. We just didn't mesh. I was scared to take it out in the country alone. So I sold it because Mike was giving me grief about buying such an expensive bike and having it sit in the garage where it barely ever got moved. Now my foot is donzo and I am wishing I had kept it. Life's a bitch.

    1. Feet are dumb. I hope yours gets better soon!

      I've considered selling my hybrid but I know I'll regret it. It's good for toting the trailer with requisite toddler.

  2. You're so right- there is a lot to learn about bikes! I did one triathlon and was lucky to borrow a friend's bike and equipment... I'm not sure I'm ready to completely dive in but I do love spinning!

  3. Oh gosh. I so need this book. I thought bikers wearing gloves were wusses. Never even thought about the safety aspect. I have no clue about shifting. I make it easier when I go up hills, harder other times. I don't think I change rings. Like ever.

    1. It's how I am/was about shifting. I just did what felt good.

  4. I am loving your introduction to the start of your bike love! I appreciated this post and have actually just added the book to my Amazon cart. I had my very first flat tire last week and it was a bit traumatic!

    1. I am in definite love but I have so much to learn!

      I have yet to attempt tire changing. I am shameful and just coerce Mark into doing it. I sort of know what to do but not really.

  5. So awesome!! I can't wait to see what else you learn!! Cycling really is no joke and it is expensive! I just had a tune up for my "big" race and it was ludicrous! I am telling you just beward of tris! Expensive with a capital E!!
    In all seriousness glad you got something out of the book! You will like cycling more once you kind of get it down!! :) I also didn't like going downhill when I started but I love it and embrace it now!!!
    Also learn how to change a flat! ASAP!

  6. I'm in my second season of tri's, and I'm going to pick up this book. There is SO much information to learn about cycling. And running is soooooo cheap and easy compared to cycling. But I'm loving it.