There’s a reason the term “rookie mistakes” exists. Every beginner, regardless of sport, is bound to make a few mistakes at the outset. Experience takes time, but with some preparation, it’s possible to avoid some of the more common mistakes made by cyclists early on. To give you a head start, here’s a list of ten things many bikers wish they’d known before they hit the road.
1. Don’t leave the house without food and water.
Cycling uses up a lot of energy and the longer the ride, the more important it becomes to keep your body properly fueled and hydrated. Because of this, the best policy is to always leave the house with two full water bottles and two snacks. Even if you’re just planning to take a short trip, it’s always best to be prepared. You never know when inspiration will strike and you’ll be tempted to extend your ride. When that happens, you don’t want to find yourself held back by poor planning, or worse, miles from home without the fuel you need for the long ride home.
2. Learn how to change a tire.
No matter how many articles you read on the topic, you’ll never really know how to change a tire until you’re forced to do it with your own two hands. Bike shops offer free clinics that allow you hands-on practice making basic bike repairs, including how to change a tire. A fresh tube and a bike pump might already be a standard part of your emergency repair kit, but when you find yourself stranded by a puncture, with no cell phone signal and no bike shop in sight, you’ll need to know how to actually use those tools.
3. Spend the extra money to get a bike fitted.
Bike shops will often throw in a bike fitting for free or a small additional fee when you purchase your bike. If you buy your bike second-hand or from a dealer that doesn’t offer this service, it’s possible to find a shop that will allow you to bring the bike in and get it fitted for about $100-$350. It may seem like a frivolous expense, but getting your bike custom-fitted will save you from the myriad aches and pains that come with riding an ill-fitting bike, and could help you avoid more serious injury in the long run. A proper bike fit will also put you in a position to get the maximum amount of power out of it along with being as aerodynamic as possible, in short bike fit = more comfortable = faster = better.
At a minimum do a basic bike fit, do not just get on the bike and assume it right for you.
4. Feel which way the wind is blowing.
When you head out for a ride pedaling with the wind, you’ll be riding against it on the way back. A far better plan is to head out into the wind. It’s more work in the beginning, but that’s when you’re fresh and fueled and better-equipped to handle it. On the return leg, when you’re tired and sweaty, you’ll have the wind at your back gently pushing you home.
5. Always refuel.
Snacking and drinking water during a ride is important, but equally important is refueling once your ride is over. The best time to replenish your glycogen store is within the first half hour after a ride. That’s when your body is working hard to recover. Studies have show that the best snack will have a 4:1 carb to protein ratio. Refueling after a ride will help you avoid feeling worn-out from the effort of a long ride.
6. Take time off.
Spending time on the bike is a crucial part of training, but so is taking time off. Your body needs time to recover after an intense workout. Failure to give your body time to recuperate is a sure way to invite injury. Take days off between rides, and remember to incorporate stretching and cool-down routines into each ride.
7. Chafing is real.
Chafing is a common and annoying problem that many cyclists end up dealing with at one time or another. Chafing is painful and can keep you off the bike while you give yourself time to heal. There are steps you can take to avoid chafing, however, or at least minimize it. Wearing proper, well-fitting bike shorts is the most important thing you can do to avoid chafing. Also, make sure your seat is properly fitted and look into purchasing a preventative lotion.
8. Cycling gloves will save your hands.
Bicycling gloves serve a very real purpose. Aside from providing you with a better grip, they protect your hands from calluses and blisters, and also from the impact caused by falls. They also provide warmth in the winter and moisture-wicking in the summer.
9. Learn the unspoken rules of group riding before you try a group ride.
Group rides are a great way to make new friends and spend some time with people who are as passionate about riding as you are. There are specific rules riders follow during a group ride, however, which are important to ensure that everybody stays safe. Although many rules are common to all riding groups, each group has its own unique calls or nuanced guidelines, so it’s a good idea to review the group’s website before joining them out on the road. If this isn’t possible, try hanging toward the back until you get a sense of how the group works.
10. Always lock your bike. Twice.
There’s nothing worse than coming back from a bathroom break and finding an empty spot where your bike should be. Always, always lock up your bike, even if you’re just going to be away from it for a couple of minutes. Secure it to something solid, and make sure to thread the lock through the frame as well as the wheel. Bad things happen, and you can’t always avoid them. You can, however, try to be prepared. With a little bit of knowledge before hand, you can make it harder for things to take you by surprise.