I’m going to add to this page over time, but thought I’d kick things off with a few essentials: tyres, what to wear and a bit of group ride etiquette.
If you’re getting in to cycling now, you’ve come at the right time in terms of tyres. Things have really moved on over the past few years.
Go tubeless! I’ve been on a year of cyclocross training rides with not one puncture. I often don’t bother taking spares anymore.
Tubeless means the tyre makes an airtight seal with the rim so you don’t need an inner-tube, which is one less thing to fail (and inner tubes do fail a lot). You need to have tubeless tyres and it’s a good idea to have tubeless ready rims. There’s loads of stuff out there on how to move to a tubeless setup, so I won’t try to replicate it.
There are a huge range of treads available, I won’t go into this beyond saying that for most riding you’ll find the rolling resistance benefits of less tread on the tyre will usually outweigh the loss of traction.
Tubulars (where the tyre is glued to the rim) don’t offer any real advantages over tubeless unless you go for the super-expensive handmade cotton ones (I’ll do another post on tubulars at some point).
Go tubeless (see above)! For road riding you really must have a full tubeless system (you don’t want a hacked together setup to fail at 50mph). I still actually ride tyres and tubes, just because I’ve still got a load of wheel to wear out before I go tubeless.
My main advice for road tyres is to put comfort and durability first. You soon become unpopular on training rides if you’re a regular puncturer.
Firstly, this means replacing your tyres regularly (when you start to see a flat section round the centre of the tyre and/or there are a number of slashes from flints, etc.). This is why I buy cheaper tyres. They may be a bit heavier, but I can replace them more regularly and save money on inner tubes and buying rounds for those who’ve had to wait around for me after punctures.
Secondly, this means having wide tyres. By wide I mean 25 mm +. You can pump wide tyres up hard (depending on the tyre – check the sidewall – and your weight >100psi) and get lower rolling resistance than narrow tyres. You can run them a little softer (<90psi) and get a bit more comfort. Don’t go too low though, or you risk pinch flats (where the innertube gets pinched when the tyre gets forced against the rim – not a problem with tubeless).
There’s no harm in getting a special pair of lightweight 25mm low rolling resistance tyres for racing, or that targeted summer sportive, or Strava segment though.
What to wear
Below is a guide of what to put on/take in your pockets for a range of temperature conditions. These guidelines are assuming you’re going training on the road at a reasonable pace. If you’re going on a slow ride wear more. Likewise, if you are going to be hanging on to a group of fast riders, wear a bit less. Riding off-road you normally don’t have the wind-chill, so wear a bit less. Naturally you may feel the cold/warmth differently and when on the border of a temperature range you’ll need to make a call.
Other than the table below, my top tips for comfortable riding are:
- take a spare undervest in a plastic bag in your pocket to put on at the cafe,
- for your next helmet, get one with a removable plastic aero cover – these are the ultimate piece of wet weather gear,
- take time to stop and put on/take off your gilet when you’re getting cold/hot.
Plain kit/team kit?
Plain kit is the safest option. If you decide to join a local club, you can buy some of their kit. Wearing a local club’s kit shows you are a proper cyclist. Choose a club with nice kit! If you’re over the age of 18, wearing a big trade team’s kit singles you out as not a proper cyclists unless it is a really old team. Then it’s quite cool. The colours of an unknown continental team, with suitably obscure sponsor names are equally, if not more cool (e.g., check out www.tarteletto-isorex.be).
Cyclists can wear outrageous colours, with matching handlebar ribbon, sunglasses, etc. and get away with it. There is an uncomfortable transition between being a human clip-clopping out of the front door looking ridiculous, to being an accepted member of cycling society, where café stop chic includes the stitching on your undervest matching the colour of your socks. Just plain, dark kit with some reflective bits is fine though.
How to behave on your first group ride
Everyone will be nice to you if you commit the odd faux pas, but it doesn’t hurt to know the unwritten rules
- be late
- turn up without mudguards if it’s raining (or be very apologetic if you do)
- say how much/little training you’ve been doing
- let your front wheel get ahead of the lead rider’s front wheel until you’re at least 2/3 of the way round (unless you are taking turns into the wind in single file or you’ve ascertained there are sections where this group always goes hell for leather – still best not to go in front anyway)
- make sudden movements or brake hard
- say you’ve got the Strava KOM/QOM on this bit of road (unless you are slow enough for that to be clearly untrue)
- remember your money for the café stop
- make sure your bike is in good order – particularly the tyres
- wear an obscure continental kit, so everyone will worry you are some kind of semi-pro
- take food/energy gels in your pockets just in case you’re out longer than you planned
- take a spare undervest in a plastic bag to put on at the café stop
- point out pot holes to riders behind you
- keep looking well forward in the group, not just at the rider in front of you
- admire other peoples bikes (unless yours is clearly better, in which case you’d better keep quite)
- ignore ‘Don’t’ point 4 if you are a women on a male dominated ride and you are stronger