Whenever I hear anyone diss a cyclist for riding in lycra I know they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. And that was me not long ago. I’ve been riding bikes since I was four years old – thanks Santa – but only since about 2009 did I really discover bikes, and lycra.
I want this post to be some helpful advice to bicycle newbies since more and more of my friends are getting into bikes.
Apart from recumbent bikes which are the fastest in the world and blitzed the Tour de France in 1936 and were then banned, there are three basic types.
1. Road bikes – built for efficiency – light with narrow hard tyres and NO extra suspension to absorb (waste) energy. It’s a myth that these are more wobbly than bikes with wide tyres. Check caster angles if you are in doubt.
2. Offroad bikes – designed to take a hammering – designed so that you don’t take a hammering. They have wide soft tyres with gripping tread (these slow you down on a standard road and are dangerous), and plenty of suspension (forks, swing arms etc) which also slow you down by absorbing energy.
3. Junk in between (known as hybrids) – trying to combine the best of both and inevitably result in awful compromises. It’s in this market where newbies get most ripped off.
Decide what sort of riding you’ll be doing and get a bike designed for it. You might even decide to get two bikes.
So now you have your bike, what next? Three things (in priority order):
1. Pump your tyres to the maximum written on the tyre and check at least once a week (get separate advice on offroad tyres). A pump with an inbuilt gauge is useful. The reason for having hard tyres is heaps less rolling resistance and an amazing increase in efficiency. You will notice the difference. If you are cycling any distance get padded lycra cycling nix (pants) to absorb the bumps on the road. You might want gel pads in your cycling gloves too.
2. Use toeclips or clipless pedals. With these you are pulling up on the pedals with the biggest muscle in the body. It’s like having an extra person pedalling for you! When properly adjusted you can unclip with amazing ease with just a slight twist of your heel. It takes at least 3 months for new muscle to grow but you will notice it growing down into your knee. My knee problems disappeared when I switched to toeclips. And now I can pedal with one foot which I did while a broken foot healed. I was growing crazy with lack of exercise.
3. Lubricate your chain. Again, you would be amazed at how much efficiency you lose without a nicely lubricated chain. Each little roller in the chain should move freely when you spin it with your finger. You should be able to spin the pedal cranks backwards, let go and it should keep spinning for 3 seconds. Same applies to the pedals. Hold the crank and spin the pedal. It should spin freely for 3 seconds. If you insist on oiling your chain, rather than using graphite, use just a few drops, otherwise you’ll pick up heaps of road dust and gunk up your chain quick smart.
So what happened to me about five years ago? What’s the lycra story?
I was invited to go for a ride by a new friend. I was on a trusted bike that I could cycle on for a hundred kilometres a day no problem. He was on a fancy road bike. He was ten years older than me and, not to put too fine a point on it, overweight. Lycra, I thought.
OK I’ll go easy on him. So we set off on a popular 50 k circuit.
I easily kept up, drafting nicely behind (and there was a nice draft and much behind, hee hee) and then he invited me to take the lead. I led for a while and then he took over again. This time he upped the speed. No problem I thought, I can keep up. I drafted some more behind him. But I was beginning to struggle.
Geez, what’s going on here I wondered. How can this fat old guy be barely working up a sweat and me ten years younger and superfit. Fortunately we came to a hill soon (I’m a good hill climber) so I got a bit of a rest. Down the hill then. No problem. We reached the turn around point (25 k’s) and had a break and a yarn. I wanted a longer break but didn’t dare suggest it. Then back.
Well, it was on the trip back that he blasted me off the road. He gently upped the pace and I struggled more and more. I then realised that he had been kind to me. His normal cruising pace with his light bike, hard tyres, lycra and well lubricated chain, not to mention his toeclips was the same pace as I went pushing pretty damned hard. And his sweet innocent fat smile? No seriously, if you’re reading this I love your cheeky smile.
It was from that day that he started to educate me properly about bikes. And I was ready, finally, to be educated.