Getting Started

Joining a cycling club should be as easy as, well, riding a bike. And it is.

However if you are planning to ride a bike for a decent period of time, or for a decent distance, or in less-than-perfect weather, there are a number of things to consider. As with any passtime you can spend a fortune on top-end kit, but you certainly don't need to. A modest investment in good gear early on will mean you enjoy rides a lot more, go further, faster and more comfortably.

There are a myriad of things to consider, so we've broken them down into groups, sprinkled them with our experience and set them to bake slowly in the oven of time.

Your Bike

You need one of these.

The best sort of bike for riding on the road is a road bike, not a 'mountain bike'. You don't need heavy suspension that saps your energy, and you certainly don't need 'knobbly' tyres that likewise slow you down and weigh lots. A good road or touring bike, with larger '28c' tyres (fatter than traditional skinny racing tyres) and mudguard tyre clearance, 'drop' handlebars and either a 'compact' or 'triple' chainring is a great investment. You want a bike with low-enough gears to ride up the local hills - if you aren't sure just ask, club members can offer loads of advice on how to get the right type of bike. A bike with 'high' gears can usually be modified to give lower gears for hillclimbing, and if buying new from a shop, will often be swapped for free.

This article here is an excellent summary of what to look for in a road bike.


Shop or internet?

Buying a bike from a local shop means you get to test-ride it, and get the support locally if anything goes wrong. You will pay a premium for this over an online bikeshop or a second hand bike from eBay, which also carries the risk of the bike being faulty in some way which could be expensive and even dangerous if you don't know what to look out for. Buying from eBay is probably best left to people who know what to look out for, and buyer beware. Some shops like Halfords or Decathlon offer good beginner road bikes at very low prices - around the £300-£400 mark. Frequently local dedicated bikeshops will have clearance / end of line stock that are discounted at close to the prices the big chain shops sell at, and if you are purchasing accessories or clothes as well you should be able to get a discount on the lot. If you are on a strict budget shop around, if you want the confidence and support of a local shop and can afford it then that's a good option.


Bike fit: Just like shoes, if your bike doesn't fit you, you will never be comfortable. Reputable shops will help find the exact fit of bike for you, so take your time and ask for test rides before committing to a purchase. A good shop will always arrange this. Another option is to get a 'bike fit' done - these cost around £100-£150 and take a few hours at a nearby shop or clinic. A bike fit removes all the guesswork, leaving you with a set of measurements for your perfect bike that you can then factor in when looking at different models and makes. Just ask if you have any questions about a bike fit and where to get one. One highly-regarded bike fit company is Retul - they have several clinics nearby to Whitchurch. Other shops offer the Specialised 'Bike=Fit' service, which is also very good. Currently Behind The Bike Shed in Andover also have one of the UK's only qualified female bike fitters.

An important consideration is tyre size. The best all-round tyre size for club rides in Hampshire is what's called '28c' - it's a bit fatter than a normal 23c 'racing bike' tyre, which means you don't need to pump it up so hard, which means it's a lot more comfortable on your hands and bum. Also being slightly softer, the tyre actually rolls along better, needs less energy to pedal and is less likely to suffer a puncture. The preferred TVCC tyre is the 'Continental Gatorskin 28c' - these are very good quality German tyres that have extra puncture resistance,  essential for Hampshire's flinty roads. Other brands are available, however in our experience the Gatorskin is the best one to go for, bang for buck.

Don't buy a bike that cannot fit a 28c tyre due to the frame being built just for skinny 23c tyres. Many bike manufacturers are now building bikes that fit 28c tyres, recognising the demand for larger, more comfortable tyres. Here's an excellent guide on how hard you need to pump up your tyres, including the science behind it.

Mudguards are essential club riding accessories in autumn/winter/spring - no-one wants to ride behind a bike getting a faceful of muddy spray, and you don't want to be covered in filth either. Again, purchasing a bike with enough clearance to fit mudguards is key. The SKS Raceblade Long is an excellent removable mudguard that will fit almost any bike - even ones without 'mudguard mounts'. Again, having tried many different brands and models, this is the one to go for.

Pedals: 'normal' bike pedals are OK to begin with, but quickly you'll want the benefits of a 'clipless' pedal such as the Shimano SPD type. These work with special cycling shoes to clip your foot to the pedal. This means you can pedal on the upstroke as well as pushing down, which means you can use more leg muscles. This is very good for hill climbing, especially when standing up out of the saddle to push hard. The Shimano PD-A530 is a great option as you can ride in either cleats or normal shoes. A 'double-sided' SPD pedal is also a good option as there's no need to flick the pedal the right way up to clip in. There are also 'road specific' high-performance pedal/shoe combinations, but these can be hard to learn and are definitely hard to walk in, so for most people the standard SPD pedal and shoe is fine.


Accessories

Pump: Lezyne Road Drive Mini. The best option right now and not expensive at around £20-25. A key benefit is the short flexible hose to connect to the valve, which makes pumping easier and less likely to damage the valve (just like on old-fashioned 10-speed bike pumps). Also consider buying a floor pump - you need to pump your tyres up before every ride as air naturally leaks through the tubes, and a quality floor pump with a pressure gauge and an easy-to-use head is a godsend. £25 will do the trick. 

You'll also want a micro-tool with a chain breaker: The Lezyne V10 will do you.

Plus a few spare tubes that are the right size for your bike - again Continental are a great brand to get. Make sure you use 'Presta' valve tubes, not 'Scrader' or car valve tubes. It is almost certain your road bike rims will only fit the narrower Presta valves.

Tyre levers: the Tacx set of three are a best-buy at £3, and we haven't broken any of them yet.

Because you won't carry more than one spare tube but might puncture twice or more, get a box of these for puncture backup in your saddlebag: Here's a great summary of the stick-on patch Vs. the traditional glue-on patch conundrum.

Grab one of these saddle bags to put a spare tube, tool, a few patches and two tyre levers in. A large saddle bag will just rattle and make you take more stuff than you actually need on a ride.

Water bottles - 2 x 750ml bottles, plus an extra waterbottle cage if needed.

High-quality rear flashing light - the Cateye 610 is universally admired.

Front light - TVCC uses and recommends these £18 beauties from eBay: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/CREE-XML-XM-L-T6-1800-LM-LED-Cycling-Bike-Bicycle-Head-Light-HeadLamp-HeadLight-/140744146377?pt=UK_SportGoods_CyclAcces_RL&hash=item20c5013dc9 - four of us have these now. If that eBay seller is out of stock, just ask, we can point you to another one. Many eBay sellers sell basically the same thing. The LED lighting revolution means you can now get performance for £18 that only a few years ago was more likely to cost £180.


Clothes

Helmets - mixed bag here - different heads fit differently. Have a look at the reviews, prices and features. There is nothing that says a £250 helmet is any better than a £50 one. Bear in mind that come winter, you'll want to be able to ride with a cycling cap or 'Buff' (see below) under it.

Shoes: When buying shoes, factor in that during winter you will want to wear two layers of socks to keep your feet warm - ideally both wool, or wool/synthetic. Cotton socks are next to useless in either winter or summer. Most shoes these days will fit both the 3-hole 'road' and two-hole 'SPD' cleats.

Buff:  a very versatile bit of kit - worn as a neck warmer when cool, or over the head like a balaclava when very cold to keep ears/neck/head warm

Bike shorts: You will need some of these. Definitely. You can go for lycra close-fitting ones or baggier-style more 'modest' ones - whichever you choose, seek advice, read reviews and make sure they are comfortable and don't chafe. for winter, consider long tights (without a pad) that can be worn over normal bikeshorts for extra warmth. Polypropylene leggings work quite well and are cheap. Good shorts can be had for around £50.

Other things highly recommended for year-round riding:

Waterproof lightweight jacket where the arms still fit when leaning forward. Hood optional, not necessary. A snug fit around the neck and cuffs will keep draughts and water out, within reason. Ventilation is critical to stop a buildup of sweat inside that will then cool you down too much. £70-100 will get you a high-quality jacket that will last a decade or longer.

Good gloves, preferably full-finger for year-round use and definitely padded. For riding in temperatures close to freezing more advanced gloves are needed, usually with thin woollen or fleece liners if you feel the cold. Ask a club member for advice on what they use. The Sealskinz gloves and waterproof socks are highly regarded.

Woollen socks, two thin pairs as opposed to one thick pair (bear in mind when ordering shoes). Even dress wool socks are good. Cotton is useless.

Glasses - No need to spend more than £10 a pair, get some lightweight, non-slip sport ones that cover your eyes sufficient to keep bugs out. Buy some clear ones for night riding, and tinted ones for daytime. Frequently shops like Lidl and Aldi stock good-quality cycling glasses for just a few pounds.

Long-sleeved riding jersey - again one that fits you when on the bike. In summer synthetic fabrics are good at wicking sweat away from your body, in winter Merino-based fabrics keep you warmer. Get a jersey with a few pockets to carry your pump, phone, some food etc. £20-30 is quite adequate.

Neoprene overshoes: You ***will*** need these £20 puppies come autumn and it is impossible to ride in winter without them - freezing, wet feet will ruin your ride.


Where to buy

Obviously it's good to support your Local Bike Shop (LBS). However they might not always stock what you need, or might be at a price point you cannot afford. Like everything else these days there are online alternatives which involve additional hassles like delay, postage, collecting the parcel, returns if it doesn't fit/work etc. Building a good rapport with a local shop is worthwhile, and if they don't stock a particular item you can always go online to get it. Ask other people on rides for advice on using local shops vs online - there's a wealth of experience in the club. Occasionally discount retailers like Lidl and Aldi stock cycling accessories and clothes - these can be excellent value, and the Club usually sends out an email alerting members of an impending sale and what's good to get.


Do I *really* need all this stuff?

The short answer is: no - if you don't want to ride far, and only in good weather, then normal clothes are fine. Carry a mobile, and if you break down just call a friend/spouse.

The long answer is: yes, if you want to be comfortable, dry, not stranded by the roadside, if you want to ride all year-round in all weathers, and have a good time doing it.

If you budget £300-£400 for a beginner road bike, purchased off eBay or through a shop, and another £300-£400 for everything else you'll need listed above, you won't go far wrong. That level of bike and gear will last you tens of thousands of miles and quite a few years before needing replacing, by which time you'll have a lot of experience to draw on when deciding to upgrade.

Is cycling an 'expensive' activity? The initial set-up cost can be pricey and you don't get much change from £600-800, but once you have good kit the price-per-hour for the fun and fitness cycling can deliver is much less than other activities. Even if you ride large distances the maintenance costs are minimal - maybe £50 per 5,000 miles. Spending £1000 over a decade for free fun & fitness? That's £100 a year. Or 27p per day.

Can you afford not to? On yer bike!


Now see Your First Ride...

Subpages (1): Your First Ride
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