We at Isis Athletics have great respect for our fellow cyclists at Grab My Wheel, a non-profit company that raises money for cancer research and patient/survivor services. Grab My Wheel hosts le Tour de Femme in Cary, North Carolina each October. During the summer months leading up to the ride, each Wednesday night they host a group ride. Isis Athletics members join the ride as there is a group for every skill level from the absolute beginner to the advanced competitive cyclist. As Isis Athletics founder, I lead the fast group each Wednesday night. I was asked by the team at le Tour de Femme to put together a list of things beginner cyclists should know. The task gave me great pleasure as once again it reminded me of where I started and what it took to gain confidence and skill on the bike. This article can be found on the along with other information about the annual Ride and the Wednesday night Ladies’ Night Ride. Grab your gear and come out and join us. Please feel free to share this with anyone you know who might be new to cycling or toying with the idea of getting out on the roads!
Welcome to the world of cycling! The following are the top ten things we believe a beginner cyclist should know as he or she takes up the sport. We hope you find in it the joy, friendships and health benefits we all have. As those of us with more miles under our belts do remember how it was when we started, you will find that cyclists are a helpful bunch; if you ever have any questions, just feel free to ask someone around you! Happy riding!
Top Ten Things Beginner Cyclists Should Know
- Cycling is fun! With all of the gadgetry and accoutrements, the concept of riding the bike can seem daunting, but remember it should be (and is) fun! An excellent way to get a workout in while being social, putting very little stress on your joints, cycling is an enjoyable way to stay healthy and active. Find a group that supports beginners and look for “No Drop” rides – this means riders do not get left by the group. In an environment of encouragement and joviality, you will soon find yourself looking forward to each outing on your bike!
- A properly attired bottom makes for a happy rider! Riding on a bicycle is much more comfortable if you are properly attired. First and foremost, you will want to protect your “soft tissue” areas with a comfortable pair of biking shorts. The chamois is the part of the shorts that is padded and it should feel comfortable, non-chafing, and yes, it will feel like a diaper the first few times. Do not worry, you will quickly get used to the feeling and come to respect the comfort it provides. An important note, these shorts are designed specifically to be worn without underwear. The chamois is designed to eliminate seams from causing irritation; go without undergarments and remember to wash your shorts between each wear.
- Head and eye protection is essential. Helmets are (sometimes)r equired by law when riding a bike on any public street and always recommended. Be sure to get a helmet that fits properly; a good bike shop should be able to help you with fit, ensuring that the helmet covers your head properly and stays put in the right position. To keep bugs, debris and other flying objects, as well as harmful UV rays from invading your eyes, invest in a good pair of sunglasses. For cloudy days or evening rides, a set of more clear lenses is also a good idea.
- Bring the necessities. A cell phone and water (and/or an electrolyte drink) are the bare minimums. For rides longer than an hour, some sort of nourishment like a granola bar or an energy gel is advisable. To be super-prepared, pack a saddle bag with an extra tire tube, pump or CO2 cartridge and a set of tire levers for the flat tire that will inevitably happen. Learning to change tires is a future lesson; if you have one before you learn, be sure to ask for help! Cyclists are always ready to help one another in such a situation.
- Perform a pre-ride bike check each time out. Ensure that brakes are tightened down, that each tire spins without rubbing the brake pads, air pressure in your tires is correct (look on the sidewalls of your tires for the proper PSI), the chain is moving smoothly through each of the deralliuers, chain ring, and cassette and that your brakes are functioning correctly.
- Group riding requires communication. Be sure to call out any obstacles you encounter on the road to warn riders behind you. For instance, if you see a patch of gravel that you will want to avoid, call out “gravel” and point to it. Potholes, railroad tracks, cars to the left, right or rear of you should all be communicated loudly to the group. If you are near the rear, remember that backseat driving is actually pertinent and helpful in group cycling. The leader is the “train engineer” and is responsible for the group travelling behind her, therefore, she will need to know if there are cars behind the group (“car back” is the call out) or if a car is passing (“passing”) as well as any problems that are incurred by riders within the group. Because the responsibility of leading the group falls to the person in the front of the line, they must constantly be focused ahead and depend upon the riders to keep the lines of communication flowing forward.
- Hand signals. Along with calling out information to other cyclists, drivers around you need to know what to expect. Turn signals help both riders and drivers alike. For all hand signals, the correct method uses the left hand. For a left hand turn, hold your left arm out straight to the left, with your hand flat and your thumb pointing left. For a right turn, hold your left arm up at a 90 degree angle with your thumb pointing towards the right. To slow or stop, hold your hand down either at a 90 degree angle or at the small of your back with your palm turned out towards the rider/driver behind you. Any time you slow or come to a stop, it is essentially to call out “slowing” or “stopping” to avoid having a pile-up of cyclists!
- Braking – don’t use an “iron grip”. Obviously, braking and slowing are a neccessity, however, there are correct ways to use these tools. The first thing to know is that the left brake handle controls the brakes on your front wheel and the right controls the brakes on the rear wheel. Most of the time, you will want to only use your rear brake, and you will want to do so in a pumping action. Think of the brakes like you do the ones on your car – you do not want to lock them up or overheat them, so pumping rather than holding steady is the smart way to brake. Practice will help to transform from a stuttering action to a fluid one. Use your front brake for quick braking and always in conjunction with your rear brake! Slamming on your front brake alone can send you flying over your handlebars; something to be avoided!
- Form and cadence matter. Holding your upper body in good form will keep you comfortable and relaxed on the bike. Think of posture as your mother taught you – shoulders back (this allows your lungs to expand and breathe more deeply) and a straight spine do wonders for riding comfort and endurance. Keep your arms relaxed. If your upper body form is correct, you should be able to hold your handlebars lightly, with loose elbows and arms; let your torso control your upper body. To keep your legs from tiring too quickly, try to keep your cadence between 80 and 100 repetitions per minute. To determine your cadence, count the number of times your right knee comes up in 10 seconds and multiply by six.
- Shift, shift, shift! Correct cadence and general enjoyment of cycling require constant shifting of your gears. Know which levers increase the pressure on your pedals through each revolution and which lessen the pressure. It’s a good idea to have someone point out to you what constitutes “high” gears and what are “low” ones, but just knowing the pressure differences created by the levers is a good enough starting point. By practicing with shifting, you will be better able to pedal at the correct cadence. This takes practice, but in the end, your legs will thank you. In the beginning, it may feel as if you should only be using your quadriceps (the big muscle on the tops of your thighs), however, you should in fact be using your hamstrings, calves and especially your gluteus maximus (aka the butt) as well. Pedaling your foot all the way through the circular motion uses each of these muscle groups and thereby distributes the workload, allowing for a longer, more enjoyable ride as well as a total lower body workout. For the maximum effectiveness in this skill, pedal straps, at the least, will help. Better yet are “clipless” pedal and cleat systems. The benefits obtained from having each movement of your foot propel you forward far outweigh the time you will spend becoming adjusted to using them. But that really is the topic for another article…
Riding a bike is a fantastic way to stay healthy, get fit and be social in the process! Because of its low impact on joints, virtually everyone can enjoy the sport of cycling and it can be a lifelong activity. Keep in mind that every person you see pedaling around started with that very first time out; we were not born with our feet clipped into the pedals and the ability to climb hills at 20 miles per hour!! We remember how foreign each of the concepts of cycling felt at first and want to assure you that with a little open-mindedness and perseverance you can easily master the basic skills necessary for countless enjoyable experiences on your bike.
All cyclists should also be aware of the Rules of the Road. For the North Carolina Laws, please be sure to familiarize yourself with: http://www.ncdot.org/transit/bicycle/laws/resources/lawsguidebook.html produced by the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University for the North Carolina Department of Transportation Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation.