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10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Cycling by Francis Cade

10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Cycling by Francis Cade


1. You Don't Need Drop Bars, But...

When I first started cycling, I was unsure about drop bars. You don’t need them, but there’s a reason why so many recreational and sports cyclists use them. They put your hands into a more neutral position. Try this: stand naturally, then lift your arms while keeping your hands relaxed. They naturally fall into the same position as drop handlebars. This can help alleviate hand, wrist, shoulder, or neck pain by providing a more ergonomic posture. Drop bars also improve weight distribution, which means less pressure on your saddle and more even distribution of weight between your hands and seat. Plus, they make you faster by reducing your frontal area, cutting through the wind more efficiently.

2. Bike Weight Isn’t Everything

It’s easy to get caught up in the obsession with bike weight, especially with all the marketing hype. However, unless your ride involves significant climbing, a few extra kilograms won't drastically affect your overall ride time. I've tested bikes around the £400 mark, weighing about 11 kg, and they handle a variety of terrains just fine. Remember, I often ride a 30 kg bike setup for cross-country trips and still enjoy it immensely. Unless you're in a situation where you need to carry your bike up multiple flights of stairs or you're racing, bike weight is not something to stress about.

3. Volume vs. Intensity

Don’t feel pressured to ride hard all the time. Volume, or the amount of time you spend riding, is more crucial than intensity if your goal is to improve. This approach helps you get accustomed to your bike, learn to fix mechanical issues, and understand how to dress for different temperatures. Discovering local loops and riding with others also comes more naturally with increased volume. If you enjoy intense rides, go for it, but remember that consistency and duration are more beneficial in the long run.

4. Support Your Local Bike Shop

Building a relationship with your local bike shop can be invaluable. Bikes can have mechanical issues, and while it's good to know basic repairs, modern bike technology like disc brakes and tubeless tires can be daunting. A good local bike shop can help with these complexities. They often provide better aftercare services than online retailers, including fitting parts and handling warranties. While local shops might be a bit more expensive, the added support and service can be worth it.

5. Upgrades: What Really Matters

When considering upgrades, focus on the components that significantly impact your ride experience. High-quality tires and appropriate gearing should be your first upgrades. Next, address contact points like the saddle, handlebars, and handlebar tape. These elements affect comfort and performance directly. Less impactful upgrades, such as group sets, ceramic bearings, and carbon finishing kits, can wait until later. Interestingly, a good pair of cycling shoes can make a more significant difference than a set of carbon wheels.

6. Affordable Bikes Are Surprisingly Good

Affordable bikes have improved tremendously. A £400 bike today can handle most cycling needs, thanks to technological advancements that have trickled down to lower-end models. These bikes come with lightweight and durable components, comfortable shifters, and puncture-resistant tires. So, if you're on a budget, rest assured that entry-level bikes are more capable than ever.

7. Always Carry Spares

Even if you’re not confident in fixing a puncture, always carry spares. A small saddlebag with a spare inner tube, a patch kit, a multi-tool with a chain breaker, and a mini pump can save your day. While CO2 inflators offer quick fixes, a mini pump is reusable. Carrying these essentials means you’re prepared for minor mechanical issues and can even help fellow cyclists in need.

8. Mastering Slow Skills

Don't overlook slow-speed skills. Practicing these can enhance your overall confidence and capability. Simple drills can teach you about weight distribution, maneuvering over obstacles, and handling your bike in tight spaces. These skills are especially useful after a winter of indoor training. Resources like the USA Cycling website offer great drill ideas, and local cycling clubs often host skill sessions.

9. Finding the Bike Price Sweet Spot

Bike prices vary widely, but how much should you spend? There's a sweet spot around £1,000 to £2,000. Up to £1,000, you transition from basic bikes to fully functional, reliable machines. Beyond this, you get lighter frames, more gears, and other enhancements, but the gains diminish. High-end features like electric gears, custom paint, and high-tech components are nice but often not necessary for most riders.

10. It Might Take Over Your Life

Cycling can become more than just a hobby; it might take over your life. You may find yourself storing your bike indoors, setting early alarms for rides, and immersing yourself in the cycling community. While this passion is rewarding, it's essential to balance it with other interests and activities. Remember, cycling is meant to be fun and enjoyable.

Embarking on your cycling journey with these insights can make a significant difference. Embrace the ride, learn as you go, and most importantly, have fun!

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