Road biking isn’t just as simple as getting out on a road bike and going for a ride. Well, it is but if you want to get the best out of your road biking, then you need to prepare and think a little. Just going for a ride can be fun but it won’t help you progress or become a better rider. You need to ride consciously at times and not just as an automaton.
Have an escape route
If you're new to road biking, it can be hard to judge your fitness. You might think you're able to go out and ride 100 miles no problem, but the reality is you might not. You might also have had a few too many short and sharp climbs and reached the point you're thinking of phoning for a taxi.
That is why if you're planning a route for your ride. Have a check on a map and see if there are some nice easy roads that will allow you to soft-pedal home. You might never need them, but the psychological boost of knowing they are there is not something to underestimate.
Learn how to use your gears
One of the jokes about riding single speed bikes was that it caused you to be in the wrong gear most of the time. The irony is that on bikes with gears most people are still in the wrong gear all the time. There is no real right and wrong answer here.
You’ll need to ride consciously. You’ll have a preferred cadence, and you’ll want to match that to your gearing. The easy system though is high gears for descending and powering along the flat. Low gears are for easing yourself up hills.
When riding up a climb, you’ll be putting pressure on your chain. Doing so makes it difficult to change gear, and it can also make it likely that you’ll shift the chain off the chainrings. It is always easier to change gear on flatter gradients so change down before the slope gets too steep. It’ll also help to make climbing that little bit easier.
Learn to fix a puncture
You want to learn how to fix a puncture before you get one. Practice getting your tire off and on at home. With practice getting your tire off gets faster and easier. That’s why the staff in your local bike shop can change tubes in record time.
It will also be easier if you put a new tube in rather than try and mend a tube beside the road. You can take the tube home and fix it there. Always make sure you have checked the tire and your wheel rim so as to remove whatever caused the puncture.
You then want to make sure you pump your tires up to the correct pressure. Not pumping tires up correctly is why many people then get multiple punctures in one day. If your tires are at the correct pressure, then you’ll be much less susceptible to punctures. Make it a weekly job to make sure you check your tire pressures. 2 minutes at home can save you 10 minutes when out on the road.
Buy a few pairs of good cycling shorts
Yes, Lycra isn’t flattering, but a couple of pairs of good cycling shorts will repay themselves very quickly. You’ll always know if you have a bad pair of shorts as you’ll have pain in your nether regions. A good pair of shorts will stop this happening.
Remember though you’ll have to break your saddle in first and this can take 200 miles of riding or so. Your shorts will lessen the discomfort at this part. I also like to break a saddle in with a few 10-mile rides, to begin the process. Never fit a new saddle or use a new bike on the day of a big ride. You’ll only be setting yourself up for pain on that day.
Photo from Leonardo Giani
If despite wearing padded shorts and only riding a short distance at first a saddle is incredibly painful. Then you have a saddle that doesn’t suit you. Don’t settle for it; go and try some new saddles. There is no quick and easy way to find saddles that work for you.
There are guides and measurement devices, don’t worry; they aren’t as invasive as you’re imagining, but they still can’t guarantee a saddle will work for you. You also don’t just want to take your friend’s advice. Everyone is different, and everyone has a different anatomy so take reviews and your friend’s advice with a pinch of salt.
Ride the road not the gutter
Riding on the road can be intimidating. You might try and get close to the sidewalk or the gutter of the road. Don’t ever do this as you’re making it harder for drivers to see you. Ride out about 1 meter. Drivers will then be able to see you and will be forced to pass you safely.
Ignore those drivers that beep or rev their engine behind you. It is hard to do, but you need to remain confident. The more confident you are, the safer you’ll be. If you’re out from the side of the road, you should also find it easier to see potholes and road issues, which brings us to.
Your shiny new GPS might look cool and be showing lots of data, but really you want to ignore that. You want to be looking down the road and not at your stem. Not only will looking down the road keep you safer but you'll also become faster.
Looking at your stem causes you to slow down as your brain can't really judge the speed your riding at when you're looking straight down. You also tend to go where you're looking. If you're always looking 100 meters down the road, you'll always go 100 meters down the road. If your looking straight down the only way you can go is straight down.