Five things I learned in the first month on my road bike

I have had my road bike for just over a month now, and after putting 200 miles on it, there are a few things I have learned. Here’s five of them:

  1. Road cyclists ride ‘em hard
    Those skinny tires are meant to be ridden at a high pressure—100psi or more. When they aren’t fully inflated they are susceptible to pinch flats, sometimes called snakebites because of the matching pair of holes you get when you ride over a rock on soft tires.

  2. When in doubt, shift
    I could have called this one “Cadence is key,” or “Ride smoother, not harder.” I read in Bicycling magazine that most cyclists should be shifting at least 20% more often than they do. The idea is to keep your cadence up (how fast you spin your pedals). Shift to a gear that allows you to pedal at about 90rpm. When I rode my mountain bike, I was more concerned with trying to muscle it out in a high gear than maintaining any pedaling cadence, and as a result I wasn’t being hitting maximum efficiency.

  3. There is more to speed than going fast
    Technique is important. Spinning smoothly at 90rpm is not easy. It’s easy to start bouncing around in the saddle, wasting energy that could be going into the pedals and increasing your speed. The key to a smooth stroke is to forget about pushing down on the pedals. Instead put the power into pulling through the bottom of the stroke, as if you were scraping mud off the bottom of your shoes. Then lift through to the top of the stroke, and extend your foot out as if you were taking a step. Let gravity assist as you come down and start the process over again.

    I practice by focussing on my left (weaker) leg, and my dominant right leg follows along. Smoothing out my stroke (and it’s far from perfect) has enabled me to hit 30+mph on a flat with no drafting. And it’s extremely helpful in climbing hills—just drop a gear (or more) and spin on up.

  4. Quick changes are a part of cycling
    Snakebites are not the only cause of flats. Sometimes you hit a small piece of glass or a thorn that blows out your tube. Either way, I’ve learned to change a flat without any tools. Make sure the tube is fully deflated, and start opposite the valve. Holding the wheel at the top with both hands close together, pinch the tire with both hands, lifting and pushing the tire/tube off the rim. If you can pop to bead out of the rim, shift your hands to the right or left of that part that is off and repeat. After getting a bit of the tire off, it will almost fall off the rest of the way.

    It’s best to carry a spare tube (for a quick change) as well as a patch kit (in case of a second flat). And a hand pump that attaches to the bike frame is a must as well. To put the new tube/tire back on the wheel, line up the valve with the inflation information on the tire (more about that below). Put the valve into its hole in the rim and reverse the process for taking the tire off. Start by getting the tube and one bead of the tire onto the rim. Then grasp the tire with your fingers behind and thumbs in front. Pinch and push the bead into the rim. It starts out fairly easy, and gets progressively harder, but keep working it until the tire is completely on the rim.

    Check all the way around on both sides of the wheel to make sure everything looks seated correctly, then inflate to about half pressure and check again. You want to look for bulges that indicate the tube has become pinched between the rim and the tire. If everything checks out, keep inflating. Keep in mind that a hand pump is only going to get you to about 85% of your recommended tire pressure, so take it easy on the way home, and use your floor pump to finish inflating as soon as you get back. And don’t forget to patch the flat tube.

    Oh, one reason for lining up the valve with the pressure information, other than looking professional, is that it allows you to match up the hole in the tube with the cause of the hole in the tire. Said cause might still be there, waiting to put a new hole in the new tube. So you want to remove it if it’s there. Simply line up the valve with the pressure info on the tire, and match the hole to its cause in the tire. Once found, remove the thorn or glass, or whatever, and make a quick check of the rest of the tire while you are at it.

  5. Clothes make the man (or woman)
    There is a reason for the skin tight clothing that cyclists wear, particularly those shorts. They do cut down on wind resistance, but the shorts are also designed to minimize the chafing that would come with pedaling at 90rpm for hours on end—spinning at that cadence for only 30 minutes is 2700 revolutions. Those shorts also contain padding at the crotch that cushions the hard saddle and wicks away moisture, further decreasing the chafing that can occur.

    The colorful jerseys are designed to be eye-catching, particularly for other motorists who need to see us coming.

    The cleats are designed to make the most efficient transfer of energy from your legs to the pedals, and allow for a continuous input of that energy through the entire stroke.

    And the gloves add padding to your hands, as well as wick away moisture, allowing you to maintain a firm grip on the handlebars in all circumstances.

    There are three points of contact with your bike: your hands, your feet and your buttocks. It makes sense to invest in appropriate apparel for those areas to make your ride is as comfortable as possible.

So there you go. Five things I’ve learned in the first 200 miles. I’m sure there will be more in the next 200…

About this post

In which Mark shares some tips on riding a road bike...

July 1, 2008 | cycling | fitness

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