7 Things About Road Cycling I Wish I Knew When I Started

7 Things About Road Cycling I Wish I Knew When I Started

When you’re ready to make the jump into road cycling, you may think – this can’t be that tough, it’s just like riding a bike.

Getting started is actually quite easy, but there are some things which you’ll be better off knowing sooner rather than later.

Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way, sometimes the hard way.


#7   The bike is only a fraction of the total cost.

You’ve decided to take the plunge, and drop 1 or 2 grand on a sweet new ride.  Time to hit the road, right?

Not so fast.  You’ll need to get a bunch of other stuff, to really make the ride all that it can be.

Assuming your purchasing nature (whether indulgent or frugal) is reflected in both your bike purchase and the rest of your outfitting choices, then I estimate that the bike itself will be approximately 2/3 of the total cost of getting geared up.

Of course, bikes, clothing, gear, and accessories all come in a wide range of quality and price, so my estimate is just to provide some directional guidance.

And this estimate is just for the ‘gotta-have’ list below.  You could go crazy on the ‘nice-to-have’ list.

  • The gotta-haves:
    • Safety:  helmet, glasses, flashing red/white lights.
    • Gearpedals, shoes, water bottles and cages, saddle bag, portable pump, spare tubes.
    • Clothes:  shorts, jersey, gloves, socks.
    • Maintenance:  floor pump, tire levers, lube, cleaning supplies.
  • The nice-to-haves:
    • Tech:  bike computer / GPS watch, heart rate monitor, GoPro.
    • More clothes:  2 or 3 of all the gotta-haves above.
    • Even more clothes:  clothing for cool and/or cold and/or wet riding.
    • Maintenance:  bike stand, bike multi-tool, chain cleaner tool.
    • Gear:  indoor trainer.

#6   Where the hell are the shifters?

Way back when, a friend-of-a-friend generously loaned me a road bike, for a long charity ride I had decided to participate in:  The Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Up until that point, I had been riding exclusively on a trail bike (and loving it).  I hadn’t been on a ‘road’ bike since I was back in university.

So, this friend-of-a-friend got quite a chuckle, when he dropped the bike off, and watched me go for a spin down the street – completely clueless on how to shift.  (I’m sure his decision to leave the bike in a big gear was totally by accident…)

After a while, he let me in on the secret.  While his bike was outfitted with Shimano gear, all of the big-component-dogs (Shimano, SRA, Campagnolo) tuck their gear shifts into / behind the brake levers.

Shifters - road cycling

Shifters on my Shimano-equipped Cervélo.

  • Right-hand shifters always control the rear derailleur:
    • In the photo below, to go ‘down’ a gear (i.e. easier), push in sideways-left on the outer silver brake lever (the inner black lever will move along with it).
    • To go ‘up’ a gear (i.e. harder), push in sideways-left on just the inner black lever.
  • Left hand shifters always control the front derailleur:
    • To go ‘up’ the chainring (i.e. harder), push in sideways-right on the outer silver brake lever.
    • To go ‘down’ the chainring (i.e. easier), push in sideways-right on the inner black lever.

#5   Clipless pedals aren’t really clipless…

What do you mean?  How can I be clipped into clipless pedals?

The term ‘clipless’ is just one of many described in my post 21 Slightly Odd Cycling Terms.

The short story is that the term ‘clipless’ evolved in order to distinguish a new style of pedal from previous styles.  From the 1890s to the early 1980s, standard pedals were of the flat, platform variety, with more serious riders and racers adding toe clips /  toe straps.

In the 1980s, various manufacturers (most notably French company Look) began designing pedals without toe clips.  These ‘clipless’ pedals soon took over the professional tier of the sport.  The 1987 winner of the Tour de France was the last to do so with toe clips.

For a full description of clipless and other types of pedals, check out my post Clipless Pedals Explained.


#4   There are actually 2 types of inflator valves.

There I was, excited to have pulled my brand-new road bike out of the back of the truck, ready to hop up on it and go for a test ride.  Just need to quickly check the tire pressure – wait, what?  How come my floor pump doesn’t fit on the new valves?

The valves between my old mountain bike and my new road bike were different, who knew?  I quickly did some research and discovered that bike tires come in 2 different styles of valves:

Schrader valves are the wider ones, around ¼” across. They look like the valves found on automobile tires.  Schrader valves can usually be found on older or less expensive bikes.

Schrader valve.

Presta valves are the current standard for bicycle tires. They are narrower, and their design allows them to more reliably hold the high air pressures required with road bikes.

Presta valve.

Fortunately, you can also find adapters at most bike shops, which convert Presta valves into Schrader valves, saving the expense of upgrading your pump.  Just remember to get a couple of adapters, since they are small and have a habit of going missing…

Schrader to Presta adapter.


#3   You can eat, a lot, before you ride.

Cycling is not like running.  Cycling is not like swimming.  I have done both, and found that I could not eat too much before, or too close to, my workouts.

Cycling is different.  Eat away.  Fuel up.  Don’t learn like I did:  starving myself for a multi-hour ride, getting stupid-hungry (and even a little light-headed) by the end of the ride.

Eat before your ride, eat during your ride, and eat right after your ride.

Of course, everything needs perspective:  your proper diet and caloric intake depends on a lot of factors, which I won’t cover here.  The simple message is that riding on a full stomach is much better than riding on an empty one.


#2   Your feet can get really, really cold.

Even on days when the sun is shining, the wind is low, and temperatures are hovering around cool-but-pleasant, your feet can get really cold.

That’s because most cycling shoes are designed to be lightweight, thin, and to allow your feet to breathe (and stay dry) on very hot days.

The solution is to wear booties over your cycling shoes.  You may also hear them called ‘overshoes’ or ‘shoe covers’, but say ‘booties’ in the cycling community, and everyone will know what you’re talking about.  Invest in a pair of booties if you plan to do any cool-weather riding.

‘Warm, waterproof, windproof’ booties from Garneau.

Bonus tip:  Don’t cinch your cycling shoes up too tight.  This can cause poor circulation, which means your feet will have even a harder time keeping themselves warm naturally.


#1   Underwear is not required…

… and in fact, is discouraged.  I’m a bit embarrassed about how long it took me to realize this unwritten ‘rule’ about road cycling.  For too long, I thought that bunched-up gotchies, that were, well, a little soggy by ride’s end, were just part of the cycling experience.  But after I tried going commando just once, I’ve never looked back.

Moisture management:  You see, the fabric of cycling shorts is designed to wick sweat away from your skin.  Put another layer of cotton or polyester in-between, and you lose that benefit.

Reduced chafing:  Minimizing the layers of fabric between your skin and your bike helps to prevent chafing.  And cycling shorts are generally designed to have minimal seams in the most sensitive areas.

Padding:  You may think that any extra material underneath your shorts will provide some additional padding for your tender regions.  But not to worry, cycling shorts all come with a built-in chamois pad, usually made with an anti-bacterial material.  If you think your chamois is not providing you with the buffer you want, it’s probably time to invest in new shorts.

Gender inclusive:  And before you ask, this rule applies to both, any, and all genders.


Any other lessons you’d like to share?  Drop a comment in the box below.

Keep reading, keep riding!

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