So you wanna be a cyclist…

by Arlyn on September 18, 2008

Authors note: My baby brother Andrew just bought a road bike in his quest to become a competitive triathlete.   I was about to fire off a congratulatory email with a bunch of my opinions on gear, training, etc to help him get started then thought it might be useful for others too. 

Dear Andrew-

Congrats on your new bike!  I’m sure you’re stoked and ready to get cycling.  I figured I’d try and impart any wisdom about training, gear, etc that I have to help you get ramped up faster.  So here is what I know – just remember, these are the ramblings of one guy, nothing here is true :)

Getting the right fit

The very first thing you should do with a new bike is get it fit to your specific body dimensions.  Lots of bike stores claim to do this for you, but in my experience, they are all using a flawed system.  Check out this great article on bike fit, this is something you can do by yourself.  The main variables are seat height, angle and position, stem length and height, and crank arm length.  After using this method to fit my bike (going totally against what the Trek store mechanic said) I drastically improved both my performance and comfort on my bike.

Getting a saddle

My current thinking is that your saddle choice doesn’t matter very much, as long as you’ve paid attention to your bike fit first.  I also think that harder saddles are better than softer ones cause the soft ones allow you to “sink in” and that puts pressure on your “tween” (taint?).  Oh, and don’t talk to me about chamois cream – that’s just gross.  Go au-natural and keep everything down there super clean to avoid sores from forming.

Short or bibs?

Bibs!  I love these ones, but always look for them on sale or from an outlet (we have a Pearl Izumi outlet here in San Diego.  Bibs are far superior to shorts because they fit better, support better (hold your gut in) and they keep from sliding down and showing the crack of your butt.  Here’s a trick you can play on your friends who refuse to wear bib shorts: as they pedal, pull the waistband of their shorts down and hook it underneath their saddle.  Ha – you’ve nailed them to the seat :)

The only advantage that shorts have over bibs is that you can pull them down while riding and slap your bare butt at someone in a gesture of “kiss this!”.  And yeah, that’s happened to me twice, it’s priceless.

And oh, by the way, you pee in bib shorts by pulling up one leg, not be removing the whole bib.  I learned that the hard way the first time I wore bibs trying to do a last-minute pee before my race started.

Cold weather gear

Unfortunately, you live in Southern California where you are suckered into thinking it’s warm all year.  Well, it’s not, especially at 6am when you have time to train.  I suffered for a long time until my friends all banded together and bought me cold weather gear.  I think the most critical pieces are a vest and arm warmers.  After that it’s leg warmers and long-fingered gloves.  If you’re still cold, get a full jacket and a beanie for your head.  Still cold?  Just go home.  This is the vest I have, I love it cause it’s so small and windproof which is all you are really looking for.  A vest is better than a jacket cause you can take it off more easily without stopping.

Jerseys

Get whatever you want, but please never, ever wear a replica winners jersey.  No yellow, no polka-dot, no green jerseys.  That’s considered pretty lame by most people I know (myself included).  I do have two very high-visibility yellow colored jerseys, but they are clearly not replicas of a TdF jersey, so it’s fine.  If, however, you ever do win the Maillot Jaune, then feel free to wear it where ever you like and everyone can piss off.

Bike computers

If you don’t care about data then just get a cheap-o wireless model and start recording the date of your ride, your mileage and average speed.  But I know you so what you really want is a Garmin Edge 305 with the HR monitor.  Maybe since you’re a tri-guy, you actually want the watch version of this, but either way.  They sell them all day long on eBay, just make sure you get a new one and not a refurb.  I’ve gotten a lot of training insight by tracking my stats.  One thing I’ve done that I think is really smart is to pick several portions of a ride and time myself on them.  Then I record and track my times.  I have several hills I time myself on and a few flat TT sections.  There is nothing that feels better than beating a personal record.  You want to choose sections of your ride where your time is not influenced by traffic lights or you’re not tempted to endanger yourself or others by going too fast (like riding the boardwalk or a busy park).

It’s cool, especially early on in your training, to see your times plummet.  My first-ever time climbing to Hwy 67 on Scripps Poway Parkway was 13:57.  My record is now 9:22 and I bet I could beat that today (haven’t timed it in awhile).

Shoes

Sidi makes great bike shoes.  I have these.  I suffered in a pair of Nike’s that I knew didn’t really fit for a long time.  Then I got my Sidi’s and now the world is a much better place at mile 60.

Helmets

First of all, I’m leaving the whole “Helmet law debate” alone.  I choose to wear a helmet.  From what I understand, they all crash the same (govt regulations at work here) and so I picked one that looked cool and was the right color for my bike.  Oh, I don’t believe all that vent baloney, the only time vents on a helmet come into play is when my head is freezing coming off some big mountain and I wish I didn’t have any vents.

Some riders take their helmets off when climbing on a hot day, I leave mine on.  I like the heat though.

Pumps, tubes, bags and all that crap

Please do not be one of those guys who carries 5 lbs of crap around when you ride.  You don’t need the large cycle bag and the second “Bento Box” bag on the top tube.  You paid so much for a lightweight bike, it’s just crazyness.

Get a size small seat bag and in it place a single tire spoon (you dont need three, I’ll show you sometime), a single replacement tube, a small multi-tool with a chain tool attachment (I just bought this one), one canister of CO2 and the little mini CO2 nozzle like this one (not a big giant one).  Oh, also put in a $20 bill in case you’re stranded.  As a tip, place the inner tube in one of your kids socks, keeps it compact and tight.

I am against trying to repair a punctured tube – it’s a waste of time.  I am also against bike pumps, but know that the second flat will strand you (I once got three in a single day – before I discovered good tires).  In the end, you live in L.A. and your iPhone will always get you home.  If you really want to be MacGuyver-guy, put a 2x2in piece of inner tube rubber in there in case you get a hole in your tire.

In your jersey, you will place your wallet (ID + CC at least) and your iPhone.  Place your iPhone (you have an iPhone, right?) in a plastic ziplock bag to keep from sweating all over it.  This will leave plenty of room in your jersey for all the food you need, a rain jacket, arm warmers, whatever.

That’s all you need, leave the rest at home.  I see guys pulling the craziest stuff out of their jerseys and bike bags. Fruit, sunblock, vitamins, pictures of their dog, strange…  I also see lots of tri-guys out training with these crazy looking christmas tree-like racks on the back of their seat holding all kinds of tools, spare tires (seriously!) and other heavy crap.  We make fun of guys like that, please don’t be that guy :)

Tires

My philosophy on tires is that they are the direct interface between you and the road so don’t go discount.  When you are flying down a twisty mountain road at 40+mph, you don’t want to think what consequences a blowout would have.

So, one word – Continental.  I like these, but you can save a buck or two on a lower performance model as long as you stay on brand. I get about 800 miles on the back tire before I replace it.  They have little wear dimples on them to help you know when they are worn out.  Make sure you replace them often enough, when you start getting flats, it’s a sign that your tires are worn out. 

Chain

You’ll need to replace your chain every 1,000 miles or so.  Get one of those little chain guages and keep an eye on it.  If you run your bike with an old chain, you’ll ruin your cassette and cranks.

Food

It’s my opinion that people don’t eat enough or the right things while on the bike.  I don’t think it’s a good idea to eat real food when riding.  Stuff that has to be digested takes blood and other resources away from your muscle and cardiovascular systems which slows you down.  So leave the bars, nuts, sandwiches, etc home.  I stick to gels like GU and Cliff Shot Blox which are both just maltodextrin – slightly complex sugars that help you go, but don’t burn through you like simple sugars.  I ration 1-2 per hour of cycling.  Eat a little, often.  And oh, I prefer the gels with caffeine in them.  It helps on a long day on the bike.

For my bottles, I like pure maltodextrin which I buy here.  I like this because it’s not simple sugar like Gatorade and it’s completely flavorless so I can still drink it after 6 hours on a bike.  I put between 40-80g per bottle, which is a LOT more carbs that you can cram in with Cytomax or Gatorade.  Lately, when it’s been so hot, I’ve been adding some gatorade to the mix for extra electrolytes, but I have to make sure not to make it too rich, it’ll make me pukey.

Some guys get crampy, I am lucky and never have.  They swear by some kind of salt pills or bannanas, I dunno, google it if you get crampy.

Bike Mechanics

I don’t take my bike to the bike store for repair/adjustments any more.  I used to, but it’s super expensive, a total hassle, and frankly, it was 50-50 on whether they’d do the repair correctly.  Then one day, waiting to pick up my bike, I realized that every bike mechanic I ever knew was a young kid, probably paid close to minimum wage.  How hard could it be to fix a bike?  So, I bought a cheap bike stand and went for it myself.  I’ve never looked back.  There is a TON of information about bike repair on the Internet (check this guy out!) and if you get really stuck, then take all the parts in and have the teenager fix it for $50.  You are smart enough to fix your own bike, truly.

Getting started training

If I were you, I’d focus on intensity rather than distance.  It’s my experience that going hard is better that going long at increasing your cardiovascular capabilities.  It also fits better into a busy schedule.  Pick a 1 hour ride you can do and then do it as hard as you can.  Soon, you’ll be at 45 minutes, so increase the distance.  You wanna be a bike racer, so you gotta go fast.  I see a lot of people out lollygagging on a bike, complaining that their fitness is not improving – sheesh!

Finally, your nasty, hairy legs…

Dude, shave your legs.  All competitive cyclists (and swimmers?) shave their legs, here and abroad.  If you show up to a bike race with hairy legs, you get no respect.  In fact, people will treat you like a noob.  And, those hairy monsters just look crazy driving a bike.  If you’re all freaked out about it, then start by just trimming them down using your beard trimmer.  When you do take the leap, make sure you use your beard trimmer to take all the turf off before starting with a blade.  Then you need just once a week to keep them sanitary.

Did I forget anything?  Do I have it all wrong?  If so, use the comment button and sound off.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: