Thinking about getting into road biking? Good! I’ve got a few tips for you, which I’ve gleaned from my three years being involved in the sport. I don’t race, I just ride and have fun keeping up with my super speedy girlfriends who train a lot harder than I do!
1. Buy the best bike you can afford. I give this advice to anyone thinking about entering any sport. Why? Because having good equipment enhances the experience, lest your dreams be crushed by ill-fitting, rusted out equipment or a bike that just doesn’t meet your need. I don’t mean buy the most expensive bike you can. (Gasp!) Buy the best bike you can afford. And a pump. And padded shorts. And don’t forget your helmet, dummy. And here’s a bonus protip: If the bike shop doesn’t ask you a lot of questions to help guide your purchasing decision, go somewhere else.
2. Start slow. Now that you’ve got that bike, let it take you places. Considering that just about anyone can ride five miles, you should set a goal of riding just five or eight miles on each of your first three rides. Add a couple more miles to each of the next three rides, and so on. Use your bike computer to track mileage, big spender, or just drive your car and track mileage as you scout routes. And keep those routes fairly flat if you can; avoid big hills. You’ll get to the half-century (50-mile ride) and hill grinders soon enough, Annie Londenderry.
3. Make friends with other riders. In other words, wedge your way into the cycling community. It’s not hard. Ask your local bike shops if they do outings and organized rides. Go to Meetup.com and find a group that’s meeting in a public place. Ask your friends on Facebook if any of them ride. While I love to ride solo, I never ever would have gotten into the sport if not for my friend Kristi. The year after she caught the bike bug, my friend Laura and I bought bikes (the exact same bike as it happened!) and began riding. Kristi now outpaces both of us. She’s dedicated herself to some great causes, including the MS150, and Laura is pregnant (yay babies!). If you’re nervous about being left in the dust, ask the bike shop if they have rides that practice “no drop,” which means no cyclist will be left behind.
4. Bring water even if you don’t think you’ll need it. You’ll be one sad panda if you have a breakdown on a lonely, tree-less country road and only one bar of cell phone service. Stay hydrated so you don’t wander aimlessly around the countryside in brightly colored spandex. I hear that scares people, but I can’t say for sure.
5. You’ll have good days. You’ll have bad days. You’ll still deserve a prize just for getting out there. Sometimes that prize is ice cream. Sometimes the endorphin rush will be enough. Sometimes it’s just a nap. Accept that 11 out of 10 therapists agree that getting some exercise is the best mental health care plan there is, so don’t beat yourself up when your legs feel like lead or your lungs just aren’t working. It happens. There are worse things.
In just three years, I’ve really come to love my bike time. It’s gotten a lot easier to justify that time for myself, and that commitment has paid off for me. I used to consider a 10-mile loop ride a nice bit of exercise, and indeed it is. But I’ve also set steadily steeper goals. Ride 20 miles before work one day last summer (I was about 30 minutes late! WORTH IT!). Ride 20 miles after work one day this year. (Did it earlier this month.) While I’ve ridden that same route in the past, I was pretty excited to feel the difference this year. That route – about 6,500 feet in elevation on rolling hills – felt so much easier to me than it ever had before. So, I’m no Amber Neben, but I have grown as a cyclist. And that feels really good.
Do you ride? Have you thought about getting into the sport? Why or why not?