A Bike. You need a bike. Duh.
What? You want more information? Sure, let me share a little of what I’ve picked up on my road cycling journey. Seriously, you will need a bike, but I’d suggest that you rent one or two or three from a few local bike shops before you purchase one. You can go to Wal-Mart and get a road bike for a lot less initial cash than you would at your local bike shop (LBS) but I think that the service, advice, camaraderie, and atmosphere of a reliable local bike shop will save you a lot of money in the long run. A good LBS understands that a customer is someone who will stick around for a long time (if treated right) and they’ll spend as much time telling you what not to invest in as they will telling you what to spend your money on.
Next, you’ll want to make sure you actually want a road bike. There are cruisers, commuters, hybrids, mountain bikes, and even unicycles that work just fine for many folksand deciding to buy a road bike is a commitment to a certain type of cycling: sort of like deciding to buy golf clubs instead of baseball bats. A road cycle is designed to go fast, for long distances on relatively smooth surfaces. It’s of no use off road and less than comfortable on a commute to work. Riding with friends on cruiser bikes when you have a road bike is like riding a race horse with a bunch of plow horses; you can do it, but you’ll always be yanking on the reins.
You are going to spend about $1,000 for an entry level road bike, you might be able to find a nice used one for less, but try to get an LBS to look at it before you jump in. You’ll want a light bike, with good components (gears) and at least a decent bike fitting to get started. The fitting can make a big difference: getting your seat, handlebars and pedals set up right can make a long ride much more comfortable. Having an LBS with a good mechanic or two is a relationship worth cultivating (don’t be afraid to tip the mechanics).
Now you need a helmet, please, don’t plan to ride, ever, without a helmet on. You will fall eventually, a helmet has saved my life a few times. It’s hot here in Florida, so I found a helmet with real good airflow (Specialized Propero II) and it makes a big difference in the amount of sweat that ends up in my eyes. Speaking of sweat, you’ll want a headband or skullcap that you can wear all the way down to your eyebrows to channel your sweat away- you can really ruin a good day if your eyes are stinging.
I like to wear padded gloves, half gloves in the summer, full gloves in the colder weather, the padding really takes some of the stress off the arms by absorbing a lot of shock: your shoulders and back will get surprisingly sore when you are first putting on the miles. Speaking of padding, you’ll want some padding in your shorts but don’t overdue it. Too much material down there, especially with a more padded seat just leads to more material rubbing around and more chance of irritation. (Saddle sores are no fun). Bike saddles are slim and uncomfortable for a reason, less material means less irritation, I ride on a very hard leather Brooks saddle with a men’s cutout in the middle. Less is more when it comes to your saddle and you just get used to the hard saddle: it’s part of the deal. Your first impulse might be to buy a nice soft one: don’t do it, just get used to the pain and maybe get a cruiser bike for more leisurely rides.
Now: let’s talk about spandex. Yea, I wear it, mainly because I am on a streamlined bike with treadless tires designed to cut through the air with as little friction as possible and having the wind blow up my shorts or into my shirt will just make for a lot more work than I want to do. A plus of the tight clothing (I guess): I now have these real sharp tan lines on my arms and legs that let everyone at the beach know that I must be a cyclist (or a lunatic- right on both counts).
You’ll have to get a pair of shoes that clip into your pedals. It will take you about three short rides to get used to clipping and after a while it just becomes automatic. I’ve never had trouble unclipping when I need to, even though it is a little scary at first. Also, don’t forget a couple of water bottles, they’ll fit right into the brackets in your frames, I like the bigger ones. And an air pump, I put air in my tires before each ride.
That’s about it and unless you decide you need major upgrades, you are set for a long time. There aren’t any greens fees or other charges to go for a bike ride, so aside from the occasional new chain or flat tire, once you make your initial investments cycling is a relatively inexpensive sport. (Of course, like a lot of hobbies, you can always find something to buy!)
So, find a good LBS, get a helmet, and try a few bikes before you buy one. Then give me a call, we’ll go find a good ride!