New to Cycling? Here’s Our Guide to Getting Started
When I was new to cycling, I was fortunate enough to have someone guide me through all the things I needed to know. In order to pay it forward, think of this article as “Things we wish we knew when we got started”. This article is the first of three, and each will allow readers to find the sections that might help them the most.
- It’s Not About the Bike (Who am I kidding, of course it’s about the bike)
- Gear: This styrofoam helmet costs how much? (coming soon)
- Etiquette & Riding: Explain this half-wheeling thing to me again (coming soon)
It’s Not About the Bike (Who am I kidding, of course it’s about the bike)
There’s a serious financial bump for anyone who gets started in road cycling, but don’t let ridiculous bike magazine reviews of $7000 uber bikes (that somehow only get a 7 out of 10) scare you off. For most beginning riders, a budget of about $1500+/- (for bike and gear) is a reasonable start. If that’s your budget, this article is for you. In this price range, most frames are going to be made out of aluminum. Aluminum is probably the most common frame material available, and it was traditionally known as light, inexpensive, and so stiff your teeth would chatter out of your head on rough tarmac.
Fortunately, bike companies (like Cannondale) have made huge strides in improving the ride quality of aluminum bikes, while keeping the frame stiff. Why is stiffness important? It’s all about power transfer – you want all your energy going into forward motion, not flexy frames or components. Carbon bikes are also starting to trickle down towards the $1500 price point as technology improves. Carbon frames have the ability to be manufactured with the best of both worlds when it comes to stiffness and comfort. (As I have mentioned before, I am cheap..so the thought of crashing and wrecking my carbon bike is terrifying to me. That’s why I am still a big believer in aluminum, while I know carbon has come a long long way and the odds of thrashing your bike are slim, the paranoia still exists…something to think about - Nick)
Steel is another popular frame material but is typically found on higher-priced bikes. Before aluminum enjoyed a surge in popularity, it was the most common frame material but now is mostly reserved for high-end classic style/look bikes. I haven’t personally used a steel bike but they are revered by long-time cyclists who appreciate retro style. Titanium is similar in cost and shares a similar perception amongst riders.
Sizing & Fit:
Bike frames are no different than shoes or clothing when it comes to sizing: Every brand is different. For instance, Ridley (a belgian manufacturer) is known to size their frames pretty big. A medium Ridley might equate to a large or extra large in another brand. This is why I recommend that new riders buy a bike in a shop who can help you get fitted properly – A good fit is the single most important thing you need when it comes to buying a bike.
If you’re not comfortable, a $10,000 race bike isn’t going to do you any good. A reputable bike shop will help you with proper sizing – they may even have a configurable fit bike that will help them settle your position before you ever get on the road. The reality is that some brands may just not fit you well, so take advantage of multiple brands and do lots of test rides! Road bikes now branch out into different styles, from low-slung race-fit bikes with more aggressive positions to ‘comfort bikes’ that have an upright position so it’s worth exploring which style suits you. As you get started, try out some core exercises as a way to help your body stay strong while you learn to ride in a position your body isn’t used to. (Fit is everything. Fit is also dynamic and can change from year to year, if you don’t have money to get a pro fit, check out competitive cyclists fit calculator - Nick)
Componentry consists of the mechanisms that shift, transfer power, and slow a bike down: Shifters, crankset, chain, front & rear derailleurs, brakes and cabling. You might hear the terms ‘group’, ‘gruppo’ (cyclists love to sneak italian slang into every day lingo) or ‘groupset’ – these are just another way of defining componentry. There are 3 major manufacturers for componentry: Shimano (Japan), Sram (USA) and Campagnolo (Italy).
This is where I should explain product lines: Each manufacturer makes multiple levels of components that start off with low cost and high weight, and rise to dizzying prices while shedding significant weight and gaining in functionality or ergonomics. It takes a while to get so many component lines straight, as there are comparable groupsets across manufacturers.
Here’s my take on groupset companies: Shimano makes a great groupset. Their components feel nearly surgical in nature with just a small, precise shifter movement to change gears. If you’re looking at Shimano-equipped bikes, Sora is okay, functional, but not great. Tiagra is the minimum level groupset I would recommend (although I find their inner shift levers a bit small), but anyone who can make the stretch to 105 should do it. This is probably Shimano’s best groupset in terms of performance to cost ratio. Ultegra and Dura-ace are excellent, but bikes with that level of groupset start at a high price point.
Campagnolo is loved by many people, but they have almost no market share in the US, and it’s extremely rare to see their groups here on pre-assembled bikes.
If you’re looking at Sram-equipped bikes, it’s my opinion that you can’t go wrong with any group they make. Shimano groups like Sora are made to a certain price point, which might help get a $800 bike on the street, but there are a lot of compromises along the way. Sram groups, even starting at their lowest group (Apex) offer an impressive performance & weight-to-cost ratio. Their shifting is chunky and direct in comparison to Shimano. Sram really pursued the cyclocross market and the direct, mechanical feel of their parts makes Sram an excellent option for mud-covered ‘cross racers. On the road, their parts are equally durable – I have used both Apex and Rival and would recommend them to any rider. I sprung for a Sram Red crankset on one bike I own and was blown away by how well it performed. (I know it’s all personal preference, but I am a SRAM man. I love the ergo levers and the feel of the shifts. Bottom line: These are just suggestions, try it and buy what you like – Nick)
*A sidenote: Cranksets & brakes are an area where most bike companies skimp to save money. Chances are (if you’re buying a $1500 bike) the crankset and brakes are a low-end replacement piece from a company like FSA or Tektro. These companies make respectable parts, but manufacturers often substitute cranksets like the FSA Gossamer to maximize their profit margins on entry level bikes.
All the other parts:
Cyclists have a lingo all their own, and one term you’ll hear eventually is ‘cockpit’. A bike’s ‘cockpit’ is essentially the seat, stem, and handlebars (maybe the seatpost too). On entry level bikes, these are often house-brand parts that will do the job just fine. Seats are typically referred to as ‘saddles’ and have very little padding in them. Nowadays, bike shorts have the majority of the padding. You absolutely WILL experience some soreness in the tuckus area as you start riding. Eventually you’ll get an iron butt like the rest of us, however if the pain continues it may be time to look into a new saddle. Some shops have a seat which can analyze your posterior and see where your sit bones lie – in turn, this will help you find a saddle that works best for you.
Finally…wheels. There’s a growing trend in the road cycling industry for even high-end bikes to be equipped with just so-so wheels as manufacturers assume that the wheels will be the first upgrade. Most entry level bikes have a ho-hum set of wheels in the 1800-2000 gram weight range that are oriented to durability first and performance second. Don’t obsess about wheels as a beginner, but know that eventually, a wheel upgrade is something you’ll want to consider. I went from a set of (respectable) 1750 gram Easton wheels to a set of carbon 1450 gram aero wheels, and the difference was immediately noticeable. (What beer or wine adds to a meal, wheels add to your bike. If you have any cash to upgrade, get a solid wheel set. There are deals out there, but do your research and buy what’s best for you – Nick)
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I’ll be following up with articles on gear (here’s the gear article) and etiquette soon. If this article helped you out, or you have questions/comments, please leave them below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or +1 us on Google Plus – thanks!
- New to Cycling - Cyclocross bike vs Road Bike Part 1 | Not Quite BelgianNot Quite Belgian
- New to Cycling? Getting Started Part 2 - Gear | Not Quite BelgianNot Quite Belgian