Getting started in cycling? Here’s what I really, really wish I had known when I got started—maybe then I wouldn’t have spent the first 2 years riding in my gym shorts instead of finding comfortable bibs! If you’re not new to cycling, some of these may seem a little ‘duh,’ but a) that’s why they’re my Top 5, because they’re the most basic and important and b) we all need these reminders sometime. I’ll tackle other topics weekly, from base training and endurance riding to trail running—let me know if you have a topic you’d love to see my favorite tips and pieces of advice on! (You can see all the tips here, including the most recent one on nutrition.)
Spend the time finding the right saddle and fit
You don’t necessarily need a professional bike fit for this, but you should never just hop on a bike and assume that the fit is dialed in. Think about being able to just about fully extend your leg (without pointing your toes!) when the pedal is at the lowest point. (Most women tend to ride with their saddles way too low and this smashes your nether regions!) And don’t be afraid to try different saddles until you find the one that’s comfortable FOR YOU (not for anyone else). Riding shouldn’t hurt!
Need to learn more, or figure out how to deal with some awkward comfort issues? Check out Saddle, Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy!
Don’t be afraid of being a beginner
I just featured Rally UHC rider Heidi Franz on the Shred-Girls.com site talking about being a beginner and I loved it so much that it earned a spot here too: “To get started, from my experience, it’s just about having the right mentors to help you get over tough hurdles. It’s not embarrassing to be nervous about tackling something new! Being inexperienced is NOT a bad thing—you’re always going to be in that newbie stage at some point with any activity. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.”
Build slow + steady
Like most things in life, cycling was something I tried to rush into. It may be billed as a low impact activity by physical therapists, but when you’re trying to put in big miles on the road, shred trails on a mountain bike for the first time, or hop into a cyclocross race, it is NOT really that low impact. There are tons of free training plans out there (and I’ll plug Smart Athlete Coaching for great pre-made and custom plans) that can help you avoid going too hard, too long, too soon.
Fuel Your Ride
Not just because I wrote a book on it. I learned after coaching a few camps that eating and drinking enough while riding makes a huge difference… but the only reason I learned was because I knew when I was coaching, bonking wasn’t an option. Don’t wait until that point, start eating and drinking enough NOW. Nutrition needs vary from rider to rider, but around 200-400 calories per hour + a big water bottle is a rough starting point. And what works for someone else, like a certain type of gel, may not work for you. Experiment on casual rides, not in races!
Want more info? Check out my actual book, Fuel Your Ride!
Create a capsule wardrobe of the right pieces
You don’t need a huge cycling wardrobe: You need a cycling wardrobe where everything fits well. I tell people constantly, spend $180 on 1 pair of great bib shorts that feel awesome versus spending $60 on three crappy pairs of shorts. My key pieces:
- shoes (I use MTB shoes for road, cx and mtb… even when I race!)
- 2 pairs of bib shorts
- 2-3 short sleeve jerseys (you can go cheap on these, just make sure they fit well and feel comfortable. And I really recommend full-zip vs half)
- leg and arm-warmers
- medium gloves
- cold-weather gloves
- 2 pairs cycling socks
- rain coat (preferably one that can fit in a jersey pocket)
- optional: long sleeve jerseys are fantastic for shoulder seasons and look hella chic
- optional: a good merino wool baselayer is great in winter conditions, but you can honestly just do a jersey + armwarmers + vest + raincoat for almost any conditions