5 tips for getting started road cycling and how to improve your confidence
This week last year I completed my first major road cycling event, the Loch Ness Etape and had an amazing experience. Having been totally daunted at the prospect beforehand I was over the moon that I completed it. I had cycled 106 km (66 miles) which was my furthest ever in one go and I still had energy to burn in the final few kilometres. I had always secretly wanted to own a road bike and cover more ground than I could on my mountain bike to get to see more amazing places. I am quite competitive, and I wanted to challenge myself with something new. But I was scared! Scared of falling off, scared of dogs, scared of traffic, scared of clip-less pedals, scared of skinny tyres, scared of drop handle-bars and scared of not being able to keep up. However, having recovered from a state of chronic fatigue (after experiencing burnout) I had managed to get my health and energy levels back to levels that I had not experienced for several years. I thought this was the time to do it and I that if I could get a road bike and join my local cycle club it would help me both mentally and physically. So I set off to buy a road bike to get started road cycling and conquer my confidence issues.
Getting Started Road Cycling
Six months ago I started my research about how to start road cycling by looking online, searching Facebook forums, asking friends for advice. Luckily, I know quite a few serious road cyclists who are more than happy to share their experience. I knew that part of the solution was getting the right bike kit but also conquering my own fears would be another aspect. At the same time as finding out about what bike to buy, how wide my tyres should be and what pedals to start out with I joined by local cycle club, the North Argyll Cycle Club, which was by far the best decision I made. Friendship and camaraderie help in any situation as you are never on your own and club members are great at helping you get started and keeping you company when you need a bit of confidence. I found that getting started road cycling and improving my confidence was easier than I thought. As I gained my new knowledge, I realised that there were probably a few key tips that would be useful for anyone else thinking about starting road cycling. Eventually I have got round to sharing my own top 5 tips for getting started.
How to get started road cycling? Here are my top 5 tips and I'll explain why I've chosen them. These are some of the solutions that worked for me and perhaps some of them will help you too. I have chosen the top 5 that really resonated with me when I reflected on the past 18 months since I took up the sport.
- Tip 1 - Take Time Choosing What Bike Is Best For You
- Tip 2 - Go Try The Bikes out
- Tip 3 - Good Gripping Tyres
- Tip 4 - Choose Your Pedal Solution
- Tip 5- Join Your Local Bike Club
"the dread of skinny tyres"
Tip1: Take time choosing what bike is best for you. Here is what I did. I listened to advice from my cycling friends and came up with a couple of bikes that I wanted to try out. I thought seriously about what had been holding me back, in particular the dread of skinny tyres and clip on pedals. I also considered what I was going to use the bike for. I thought I would probably use it twice a week, once on a club night and once at the weekend. Although I did plan to ride some events, I wasn't aiming to be ultra-competitive, but I wanted something comfortable enough to spend several hours on and was aware that bike geometry and a good fit can make a difference. I decided to look at cross-bikes/gravel bikes as coming from a mountain bike background I thought I might cycle on forest tracks and a gravel bike might be a compromise to help me get over my fears.
"drop handle-bars was another totally scary experience"
Tip 2: Go and try the bikes out. I went over to the Edinburgh Cycling Co-operative who had a couple of bikes in stock that I was particularly keen on. I took them out and cycled them around the local area. It was helpful that there was a good off-road path to cycle on as I feared being wobbly on the road. I tried out the drop handle bars which was another totally scary experience and I managed it albeit swapping back from drop to top was difficult. The good news was that I could stay upright on skinnier tyres that I was used to. The staff were really helpful checking the sizing and bike fit to make sure that I made a good choice.
"I really did not want to fall off"
Tip 3: Good gripping tyres. Make sure to invest in tyres with a good grip. I went for a bike that was set up for gravel, so it had wider tyres with a good tread on them and that just oozed confidence for me. I really did not want to fall off and was worried about wet and slippery conditions. I really did not want to have any more head injuries as in the past I have had concussion skiing and had a few bike accidents including one where I badly broken my cycle helmet.
"tackle one thing at a time"
Tip 4: Choose Your Pedal Solution. Remember you can always start without special pedals and shoes if you want to. For a start it can be cheaper and it is easy to swap over to them later. If you are worried about getting stuck with your feet on the bike when you come to a stop and picture yourself falling over (like I did), then I suggest you get on the bike first with a flat pedal and boost your confidence by tackling one thing at a time. I started with toe clips as I was used to using them and I did not want to be worrying about falling off to start with. I'm still to progress onto clip-less pedals but I'm thinking about the change as I want to improve my speed and they do help as you generate power not only when you push down but also when you pull up as well.
"I got to know people at the same time as getting fitter"
Tip 5: Join your local bike club. I cannot recommend this more and it probably should have been tip number one. Your local bike club can provide loads of positives. Not only meeting like minded people but having people to ask for advice on technical problems such as how to fix a derailleur or a puncture as well as getting out on group rides. When I joined my local club the North Argyll Cycle Club, they had just started an indoor winter social spin class which I went a long to. It was great fun and I got to know people at the same time as getting fitter. That year they started a new social ride on a Tuesday night which was a type of no-drop ride as at key points everyone waits until the group has reformed. We are lucky that we have access to the Sustrans cycle pathway as well as some quiet single track roads that make it safe cycling. Cycling in this group gave me the confidence if we met a dog (yes, I have been attacked twice on my bike) or if I had a puncture or if I could not keep up!
So getting started road cycling and gaining confidence proved to be easier than I thought. I signed up to the Loch Ness Etape when I first bought my bike. I think it was November and I had six months to get fit enough and confident enough to complete the Etape at the end of April. As I was not as fast as other Club members who signed up for the Etape I would have to cycle on my own (or so I thought). Through the club I made friends who helped me by coming on some longer rides with me, so I had done a ride that was over 90km before the big day which again helped my confidence. On the day it was pretty nerve wracking getting up at 5.30am and lining up with thousands of other cyclists. But even at the start people were chatting to me, offering to ride with me, giving me tips on how to stagger the ride and which sections were tricky.
I set off on the closed road going south down the west side of Loch Ness. What a privilege to cycle this stretch of road with no traffic and only other cyclists after having driven it a lot and always wished it was safe enough to venture onto with a bike. It was a cold but stunning day with amazing views over the loch and hills and I was glad I had a warm gillet and gloves on. I made it down to Invermoriston much fast than I had thought I would and knew the next part of the route had the main climb and King of the Mountain section in it. The pace slowed but still people were chatting to me and asking about my bike and how I liked it. No one spoke as we all puffed our way up towards the top of the steep slopes, some people were walking by now, I had a sense of achievement managing to cycle it all. Over the first hill there was a lovely reprieve going around Loch Tarff which looked magic in the still early light and I could see cyclists stretched out in a long line in front. Then up over the last hill to the top of General Wade’s Military Road and the sound of bagpipes signalling we had made it. After a quick stop for refreshments it was all downhill now. It was an amazing feeling flying down the hill knowing I was going to complete it in a faster time than I thought possible. Down to Foyers through a lovely bit of forestry and then along the loch side which was just lots of small undulations and dappled sunshine through the trees until Dores. Now I knew I was on the home straight and motivated to up my speed. As we came into Inverness people started cheering and as I came across the bridge and down the home straight it was an amazing feeling. I had done it. My family were there to give me a massive hug. I felt quite emotional as I had not only conquered my fitness but also my confidence. For me it was quite a big achievement.
So getting started road biking was not as hard as I thought it might be and completing the Loch Ness Etape was such a buzz that it has increased my desire to do more adventurous cycling. I should have been completing it again last weekend but unfortunately it has been postponed until later in the year due to Covid-19. I hope you can use my 5 top tips to get you started on your road cycling journey and help conquer your own fears. Think what kind of bike you need, test it out before you buy, get gripping tyres, use the pedals that suit you and join your local cycle club. If you are like me it will take you places that you always dreamed of. I am seriously planning my next new cycling adventure.
Thank you for reading this.
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