A guide to riding a road bike (racer)
I have previously written a beginner’s guide to cycling. But I realised when chatting to a friend recently that there are details that are particular to road cycling, and also to women who take up road cycling in adulthood.
There are lots more people now cycling road bikes (racers) and taking up the sport.
This blog is for Ellen – and also for anyone who has just realised the wonderful world of cycling a “racer bike”.
Pants – to wear them or not?: Having realised that there was little comfort to be found in running tights on a road racer saddle, Ellen bought a pair of padded cycle shorts. But she wasn’t sure if people wear pants underneath.
The most common answer is: “No.” Comfort is important in cycle shorts and underwear will generally cause rubs and irritations. Cycling is a sweaty activity and most people’s pants are not well designed to cope with this.
Pants also have a nasty habit of riding up your bum so they will be very uncomfortable on a bike seat.
If you feel you have to wear pants make sure they are the Lycra sporty style with legs to create less chafing around the top of the legs. But it’s best not to bother.
I’ve heard that chamois cream is helpful: Yes, but make sure it is designed for men or women. Men and women obviously differ in their nether regions and chamois cream, such as one of the leading products made by Assos, clearly states that it’s not for women’s front bottoms.
Bike seats: My advice is to buy a bike seat to suit your gender. You will find it a lot more comfortable. I prefer a seat with a hole in the middle. Read Ladies, don’t leave home without a women’s bike seat for further information. Not everyone agrees with me but most women do swap their bike seat for something more comfortable.
Women specific bikes: After a lot of cycling and, as I’ve got older, increasing pain in my back and neck, I’m now a convert to a female-specific bike. These bikes suit my physique because I have longer legs compared to my torso and most women’s racer bikes have a shorter top tube compared to a men’s bike.
I currently have a Women’s Giant Liv Advanced Pro and it is the most comfortable road bike I’ve ever owned or ridden.
The spec of women’s road bikes is as good as the men’s versions. This once wasn’t the case, or else the choice of women’s bikes was very limited, but these days many brands do very high quality female-specific bikes.
Do I need carbon?: Carbon fibre is lovely and usually means the bike is lighter, stiffer and more responsive when riding. But when you are starting out you should look for a bike within your budget. Around £350 to £450 should get you a good second hand bike while £600 to £750 is a good place to start for a new entry-level bike. These are estimates because there are so many different prices and brands.
Bibbed or waist-high shorts?: Waist high shorts are generally cheaper and many people start out by wearing these. But once you have experienced a pair of bibbed shorts, you will never look back.
Bibbed shorts feel far more comfortable around the waist and give better coverage of back and stomach, especially on chillier days.
Look for gender specific shorts for a couple of reasons. The padding will be more specific to the female shape and also the shoulder straps will be designed to sit inside or outside your breasts.
The shoulder straps on men’s shorts can sit over their chests, so it’s less of an issue.
But what about a toilet break?: Look for bibbed shorts with zipped rear access, such as Gore Xenon 2.0 lady bib shorts or halterneck access, such as dhb Aeron halterneck bike shorts. You don’t need to take all your top layers off when going to the toilet in these shorts.
Do I need head-to-toe Lycra? You could wear the fitness tops that you usually use for running or the gym. The advantage of cycling specific tops and jerseys is that they are longer at the back for better coverage when bent over the bike.
They have longer arms, to cope with stretched out arms when cycling. They also have useful back pockets for carrying spare kit and clothing.
The same is true of waterproof and windproof outer jackets. Cycling jackets a remade for cycling but a running waterproof jacket will do fine, too.
Lycra is also really comfortable on a bike and it doesn’t need to be super tight up top.
Remember that bright outer clothing is a bonus for better visibility on roads.
What is a bottle cage?: A cage is a bottle holder. It is fitted to the bike with the two small bolts that you’ll see on the diagonal tube, connecting the top tube to the bottom bracket, the area where the pedals are. Pop a bottle of water in the cage for hydration during rides.
Should I have clip-in pedals?: These will definitely make a difference to your power output when cycling. Being clipped in will help to power you through the entire cycle of the pedal motion, forwards, down, backwards and up.
But toe-clips could be the best thing to use to start with and then, when you have some time to practice, you can move on to clip-in pedals. If you want any advice on the best types of clip-ins to try please do email me.
I seem to forget to eat: A lack of intense hunger seems common among cyclists and peculiar to this sport. However, if you don’t eat at regular intervals you could end up “hitting the wall” or “bonking”. Both of these are descriptions for what happens when you suddenly and irretrievably run out of energy.
It’s happened to me a few times because I haven’t felt the cue to eat. Now I try to eat a cereal bar or similar every 45 minutes. I also plan in a café stop on loner rides. You are burning the calories so you need to refuel.
How do I choose inner tubes?: Many brands have a wide array of inner tubes to fit a wide range of bike tyres. But it’s not that easy to choose the right tube for your tyres.
Tyres come in 650 and 700s (most common), 23mm, 25mm, 28mm, 32mm and so on. To find out your tyre size look at the sidewall of the tyre.
Then try to match this with the tubes on offer in a store.
See, for example:
So, perhaps your tyre states 700x23c. This means you need 700×20-25
If the tyre states 700×28, you’ll need 700×25-32
You’ll also need to make sure you buy tubes with the right valves. Presta are the skinny type you typically see on racer bikes, while Schrader are the fatter valves that are mostly found on mountain bikes.
In addition, if you have deep rims, perhaps on a bike with disc brakes or go-faster deep rim wheels then you’ll need the valve to be long enough to poke out the top of the rims.
To work out the ones you want, measure the height of the existing valves and check that you are buying the right inner tubes. 42mm is fine for most bikes but some might need “long” (60mm) or even longer.
What if I puncture?: It’s important that you know how to fix a puncture, otherwise you might get caught out many miles from home and you will then need a pricey taxi home (plus a driver who is happy to pick up a person and a bike).
Evans Cycles offers a useful guide to fixing a puncture on You Tube.
If it’s a back wheel you’ll like this helpful guide to taking off a back wheel. Thanks to Trek on YouTube.
Do I need any tools and stuff: It’s always useful to carry a set of Allen keys (for adjusting various bits of the bike) and at least two tyre levers, for getting the tyre off the wheel.
Two spare inner tubes is the minimum for an outing and I also take instant Super Patches, in case I run out of inner tubes.
A pump that really does properly inflate an inner tube is vital. After years of searching for a small but decent pump I swear by the Topeak Race Rocket because it really does inflate to around 90 to 100 psi.
What do you mean by psi?: This is the pressure that a tyre can be inflated to. You’ll often see the maximum pressure stated on the side all of the tyre. I usually pump up my tyres to about 100psi on smooth and dry road surfaces.
It’s well worth investing in a track pump for home use so you can see on the gauge how hard your tyres are. Note that tyres will deflate over time, even when you are not using the bike so you should check them every so often.
I have seen people with strange cartridges of air: If you don’t want to carry a pump and you are fairly rich, an inflator cartridge is a very efficient and effective way to reinflate a tyre when cycling away form home. Many cyclists use these in races for faster inflation.
Seat height: Too high and you’ll end up with “bum wiggle” and a sore butt. Too low and you will lose power from leg muscles. The best way to check the right height is to sit on the bike seat (get someone to support the bike so it is upright) and put your heel on the pedal at its lowest position. Your leg should be ever so slightly bent in this position. Get a friend to check if your hips are rotating as your cycle. If they are drop the seat a couple of millimetres.
Out-front stretch: It is not efficient, nor comfortable over long periods, to be over stretched from the hips to the hands when they are resting on the handlebars. You should also be able to reach the drops and the brakes.
Arm warmers? What on earth?: These are useful tubes of fabric that fit over the length of the arms, from under your short sleeve to your wrist. There are similar for the legs called knee warmers. In my opinion, these are some of the best items of useful kit.
When you start out on a ride or you begin to feel chilly you simply pop on the warmers. When you don’t need them they roll up into a ball the size of a pair of socks and can fit in aback pocket. Simples!
What’s this cadence thing?: Cadence is the number of revolutions you pedal in a set period. Usually this is measured over one minute. If you are riding longer distances it’s better to have a faster cadence so you are spinning easier gears than trying to push hard on big gears. Be sensible about it, so don’t over spin or over push, just cycle at a comfortable pace and use your full gear range to keep things in a comfort zone.
If you want to build muscles and speed you should train over shorter distances or on hills in a harder gear. But when you are staring out on a racer bike it’s a good idea to spin a bit more to stay in your comfort zone.
Hip bend not slouch: When you sit on the bike seat and reach over for the handlebars try to keep you back flat and your chest pushed out by making a deliberate joint bend at the wait and hips. If you slouch over you will end up with a sore back and shoulders.
Move you hands about: During longer rides it makes sense to move your hands around the handlebar ands on to the drops. It stop your body from being fixed uncomfortably in one position. Wearing gloves with gel inserts in the palms helps with road vibration too.
If there is anything else you would like to know or tell others please do message it on Facebook.