I’m glad you’re here. No, really. I am.
You want to find out more information about road cycling?
Who can blame you? It’s a cracking sport, activity, thing to do. Whatever.
In this post I’ve answered a bunch of questions you might have about a road cycling.
If I’ve missed anything, let me know in the comments below.
Lay on Macduff!
What Is Road Cycling?
The clue is in the title. Cycling. On a road.
We can be a bit more specific. Whilst you can certainly ride a mountain bike or a hybrid (or a recumbent or a penny farthing) on the road, that wouldn’t strictly be ‘road cycling’. For that, you’d need to be riding a road bike.
What Features Define A Road Bike?
The most obvious visual features of a road bike tend to be the dropped handlebars and the skinny tires (or tyres, depending on your dictionary of choice).
The dropped handlebars (the ones that curl down, forwards and round from the main horizontal bar) allow you to ride with your hands in a different positions, depending on whether you’re in a low aerodynamic tuck, climbing a hill or riding easily.
Demand for ever lighter (but robust) bikes is one of the key drivers of design progress (and higher prices) at the top end of the market (with the knock on effect into the medium range bikes bought by recreational riders).
What Can I Do On A Road Bike?
Pretty much anything, if this video of Martyn Ashton riding tricks on a 10 grand Pinerallo road bike, is anything to go by.
Most road cyclists would generally prefer to stick to roads. Ideally smooth ones, free of motor vehicles, noodling merrily through the countryside. The rouleur’s heaven.
Returning swiftly to reality, cyclists use road bikes for, amongst other things:
- weekend touring (or on any day of the week that takes their fancy)
- participating in sportives, gran fondos or other organised cycling events
- commuting to work
- popping down the shops (and other day-to-day humdrum)
- indoor cycle training (on a turbo trainer – see below)
- powering the TV (just hook the bike up to a dynamo and you’re away)
That last one might not be entirely realistic. You could probably power a few light bulbs though…
How Much Does A Road Bike Cost?
Ooof. How long is a piece of brake cable?
I’m going to speak Britisher here, but the numbers broadly translate elsewhere.
You can pick up a road bike at Halfords (other quasi-cycling retailers are available) for £250.
Now I’ll be honest, I’ve never ridden a road bike in this price bracket but my experience buying children’s bikes in the equivalent category (the “below the realistic price that a reasonable quality bike can be made for” category) says there is a risk that purchasing one may be a false economy.
Your ‘time to upgrade quotient’ (another technical term – don’t worry about it) is likely to be very short on a £250 (non-second-hand) road bike. On the other hand, going for a base model from one of the established bike makers (Specialized, Trek, Cannondale, Giant) is likely to be a better investment.
True, you’re looking at spending around £500 for a Specialized Allez, but there is a strong likelihood a bike like this will serve all your road cycling needs for years. Anyway, if the cycling bug bites (and it can bite hard), you’ll be wanting to buy a new bike every year for the rest of your life. Nothing I write here can help you with that…
As an aside (that’s actually quite relevant), do look out for ‘last year’s model’ when shopping for a new bike. Large bike makers update their range every year and most changes tend to be cosmetic (essentially a new colour scheme). At the end of the year, bike shops start looking to shift this year’s bikes quickly, to make way for new stock. As a result, for the savvy bike buyer, there are bargains to be snaffled.
At the top end of the price range, production road bikes can sell for £7,000 – 8,000. These are the same bikes used by professional cycling teams, using the light-iest, strong-iest materials and not-a-little electronic bling.
Most bike makers then fill out their ranges at various price points in between t’ top und bottom, gradually upgrading the frame and adding higher quality components (wheels, gears, brakes, spokey dokies) as the prices rise.
Beyond the ‘normal’ top-of-the-range prices, you sometimes see the odd bike maker (often a luxury car maker, strangely) decide to make a few limited edition bikes, with an esoteric design choice here or there, and slap a £15 grand price tag on it. I suggest you don’t buy one of those (just in case you happen to be a squillionaire…).
Do I Need A ‘Road Bike’ For Road Cycling?
Absolutely not. I am not a cycling purist.
The most important thing is that you get out there and ride. That can be on a road bike, a mountain bike, a hybrid. You can use a penny farthing or a unicycle, if you have one to hand.
Eventually you may decide to take your riding to the next level. Perhaps you want to tackle tougher climbs or a more challenging sportive event where you need to maintain a higher average speed. That’s the time to consider investing in a road bike.
Before then, fall in love with cycling. The bike you ride is irrelevant (almost – it needs to be in safe working order!).
What Other Equipment Do I Need?
No equipment, as such. Unless you classify a helmet as equipment.
I don’t really want to get into the ‘helmet debate’ (for there is such a debate).
It is entirely up to you whether you wear a helmet. In fact, it’s important for the growth of cycling that people do have the choice: mandatory helmet wearing has been shown to reduce bike use considerably; fewer bikes on the road means lower awareness from other road users and higher risk all round.
I wear a helmet and, having done so for so long, I feel naked without one. (In fairness, this might be due to the lack of clothes). I make my children wear helmets when they ride (they think it’s normal).
Summary: you might want to buy a helmet.
Note that I’m not saying you have to wear a full lycra outfit. If you’re not ready yet for 100% lycra, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear shorts and a t-shirt, as you would for any other sport (or trousers, as long as you keep them from flapping into the gears and chain). Remember that any rain or wind will tend to make you feel colder, moving at speed on a bike, compared to, say, running or playing football in the same conditions. Add an extra layer or a waterproof.
The same goes for shoes.
If you stick with road cycling, at some point you’ll likely want some shoes that attach (or clip) to the pedals. ‘Clipless’ pedals (yes, you clip in to clipless pedals – these cyclists eh?) help to make your pedalling more efficient. When you start out, using normal flat pedals whilst wearing a pair of trainers will absolutely do the job.
Where Can I Do It?
Erm… [uncomfortable silence]. Oh, you mean where can you go road cycling? Ah…
Short answer: pretty much anywhere.
If you’re using a road bike to commute, the ‘where’ is dictated by where you are, where you need to get and the quickest/safest/most pleasant route in between.
Assuming your question was coming from more of a fitness / pleasure perspective, then you have loads of options. Quiet country roads are ideal. Even large towns and cities have greener, quieter areas that can be found after a few miles of urban riding. If you’re a central Londoner, Richmond Park is hugely popular with cyclists of both road and off-road persuasions.
I would tend to avoid busier A-roads, at least until you’re comfortable maintaining a good pace, and having the distraction of cars overtaking you regularly (and quickly).
As your fitness improves, you may start actively to seek out hills to climb (as opposed to those expletive-laden scenarios where you round a corner to find yourself faced with the steepest wall in the area – which you didn’t even know fugging existed!).
The Alps, whether French, Italian or Swiss, may lay claim to being the spiritual home of road cycling*, but there are huge numbers of places which you can travel to to experience glorious road cycling adventures (this ‘abroad’ section assumes you don’t already live in a popular cycling destination).
(* A claim that the Pyrenees, if they weren’t an inanimate rock formation, would refute. As would various other Italian mountains. And Belgium.)
As an English cyclist, I am drawn by the promise of warm weather, climbs that are longer and go higher than those available in the UK, smooth roads and great food (and drink).
That hardly reduces the list: Tuscany, the south of France, Majorca, northern Spain, the rest of Spain, Scandinavia (relaxing the temperature stipulation, if required), the Canary Islands.
And that’s just Europe.
What about Colorado (plus a ga-squillion other places in the US and Canada), Argentina, Japan, New Zealand, Australia?
I think we’re all agreed that you might, one day, be tempted to go and ride your bike (or a hire bike) abroad.
Yes, you can ride your bike inside. Not an exercise bike (though I have nothing against exercise bikes). Your bike.
All you need is a either a turbo trainer or a set of rollers. Whilst differing in exactly how they do it, both items allow you to bring your bike inside (or outside on the patio) and ride it without going anywhere.
I wouldn’t recommend either of these items for those wishing to start their road cycling journey. You fall in love with cycling as you pass through rolling hills on a blue-skied spring morning, as you fight against (and conquer) your inner demons to scale the local Alp.
You do not fall in love with road cycling by spending an hour sweating on a stationary bike, listening to a podcast whilst staring at your garage/dining room/bedroom wall.
Still, indoor training aids do have their uses when you start to get serious about improving fitness, or if you need to blow off some cycling steam and you can’t get out of the house.
Is Road Cycling Safe?
It is true that cycling, like many (most? all?) activities, carries a degree of risk. In the grand scheme of things, the risk of having an accident is very low, particularly if you ride sensibly and take the time to learn how to stay safe on the road.
The greater risk for many is that by not taking up a physical activity like cycling (other physical activities are available), you increase the risk of health issues related to lack of activity.
The biggest killer each year in the UK is heart disease. The best way to prevent heart disease is to take sufficient exercise. Riding a bike, regularly and vigorously, could be deemed ‘sufficient exercise’.
Quid pro quo. Lorum ipsum dolor. To infinitum and beyond.
I think that’s enough for now.
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