How (Not) to Become a Cyclist

(Photo credit: genuinebyjtyler.com)

In or about 2006 or 2007 my baby bro, who was in his twenties at that point, had become interested in cycling—real cycling, the kind with crazy spandex uniforms that often incorporate stripes or polka-dots, with sewn in pockets to carry high calorie gel packs and high calorie food bars that don’t taste or look like anything resembling food, and clip-on shoes and guys named Alberto, and Paolo, and Ivan, and Stephen (pronounced ‘Steh-fin’), who ride bikes with tiny tiny seats for their not so tiny bottoms. He had been given a state-of-the-art road bike by our uncle, who used to race competitively. Certainly, this “gift” played no small part in my brother’s newly blossoming obsession. It was a Trek, and was the kind of bike you might remember from the film Breaking Away starring Dennis Christopher and Dennis Quaid. It was state-of-the-art, right after humans congratulated each other on how much easier the invention of fire was going to make their lives. The kind of state of the art that stone tools are to iron: the kind of state of the art where the shifters are on the down tube rather than on the handlebars: the kind of state of the art where despite any of your best attempts to obtain any degree of aerodynamics, your 250 pound big bro can easily squeak by you downhill, fully erect and stretching stretching into the wind.  You know, state-of-the-art.

If you didn’t already guess, I was the 250 pound big bro, and I’m gonna teach you everything you need to know to cycle like the pros.

First, you’ve got to be motivated. In part, my brother was part of that motivation. He was so dedicated and driven that it was almost impossible not for some of that to rub off on anyone who was around him. Also, we started watching the Tour de France. I mean, have you ever heard Phil Liggett call a race? “He’s climbing like a man possessed!” “Unbelievable! He can’t be stopped! You have to wonder when the elastic is going to snap.” Or, “Attack after attack up Mont Vontoux; how many bullets does he have in this gun?” Liggett’s the king. So, to keep up your motivation, find a cyclist or cyclists, or even a team, such as Team Sky, to idolize and then plaster your walls with every poster you can find of them. Then, learn and memorize all the racing terminology you are able, such as peloton, echelon and maillot jaune, so that you can sound intelligent, sophisticated and knowledgeable as you adroitly steer any conversation to your very narrow island of wisdom. Also, don’t forget to talk about your favorite cyclist constantly, call them by their first name, and never miss an opportunity to remind anyone who’ll listen abput that time your dude lost, and how that was fucking bullshit. For instance, during the 2010 Tour Alberto Contador continued to attack Andy Schleck on the Port de Bales despite the fact that he was having mecahnical issues.  Fucking bullshit. That was unsportsman-like. Contador robbed Andy of a Tour championship by cheating. Remember: if your guy doesn’t win, 1% of the time another rider was probably better than them. The other 99%? Fucking bullshit. Someone cheated. Only once you’ve mastered these developmental stages should you consider spending serious money on a bike.

Okay, cycling is obviously your route to physical health. Personally, I’d been in and out of shape, though mostly out, for the better part of the previous five years or so, and, along with my brother, I too decided that cycling would be a great way for me to get back in the groove. But I didn’t have a bike. So what to do? Ebay? Craigslist? Used? Pah, don’t be ridiculous. Straight to the cycle shop to buy a moderately priced high performance asphalt devouring machine. You’ll want to buy the most expensive bike you can afford your first time out. But try not to break the bank. You want to look and feel good, but you’re not an idiot. So long as you can justify the money because you’re totally going to stick to it this time, not like those other decisions: school, guitar lessons, piano class (that you took in school), traveling the world—as you sit there writing a motivational essay in your dining room at 5am, drinking coffee, in your underwear, with the remnants of the cinnamon raisin toast you had for breakfast lingering in your beard, thinking about what kind of omelette you’re about to make for second breakfast: spinach and onion with Feta and Cheddah, because they go betta’ togedda’.

Now, spending any appreciable amount of money on anything shouldn’t be undertaken lightly, spontaneously, or without some degree of forethought; and you’ll want to do your homework when making a sizeable investment, or at least have someone knowledgeable to help you when getting sized for a bike. If you’re not an expert like me, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Any reputable bike shop will have a helpful and informed staff at the ready to assist you in your purchase. If you’re lucky, there will also be some avid cycling enthusiasts lingering about, who may gather round you in a show of support, cheering you on like road-side fans: “lift your leg higher”, “try putting more air in the tires first”, “tilt the bike sideways and swing your leg over it”, “try standing over the bar first and then plopping on the seat”, “maybe if you lay down and then roll onto the seat”, “bring out the hoist”. They will be genuinely concerned; you’ll really feel the warmth in the room.

In addition to a high quality machine, any cyclist will tell you that appropriate gear is a must. After all, you can’t ride a real road bike in cargo shorts or joggers. Oh no. You have to have a team outfit; and while you may think they look silly at first, you’ll be thankful for that giant pad on your butt after your first long ride. But which colors? Should you go red and white? Ugh, too revealing, and you’re nothing if not modest. Blue and yellow stripes? Gah, stripes don’t flatter your figure. Polka dots? Uhhhhh, no. Too “circus-tenty”—I’m pretty sure that’s a real word. If you’re a fluffy dude or a curvy gal, you might choose to eschew the top altogether. Have you ever desperately tried to grasp, tightly, a water wiggly in both hands? Yeah, you’ll want to avoid that look. As for the shorts, better go with black. Always safe.

Several other pieces of gear are a necessity, but not all. Helmets and gloves are definitely a must. The helmet for obvious reasons: it’s how the present author stays so smart. And gloves. Gotta’ have a pair of gloves to ride. First, a pair of cycling gloves cushions your palms against the weight of your body pushing down on the frame. Second, they look cool. Third, when you reach the kind of downhill speeds where cycling becomes dangerous, speeds approaching twenty miles an hour, the risk and degree of injury heighten with a fall. The padded gloves prevent you from tearing the flesh from your hands should you go ass over elbows onto the pavement, because you were flying, doing like twenty, downhill, and hit that stupid parked car. I mean, like, hypothetically. So gloves are a must. You might see a lot of cyclists wearing cleats as well. The kind that clip into the pedal. However, the kinds of bikes that come with those kinds of pedals and require that kind of shoe are expensive; and while it’s true you can upgrade them yourself, buying a cheaper bike and then adding pricier, higher quality parts after, the cleats are not an absolute necessity. Besides, you might need to jump off really quickly if you see a hot dog or ice cream stand along the way, and cleats just impede your ability to provide yourself with the necessary sustenance to go on longer rides.

Well, you should be proud of yourself. You’ve made it through the ordeal of purchasing a lean, mean, asphalt devouring machine, and you’re all geared up and ready to go. Only two items left: choosing a route, and planning appropriately.

When choosing a route to ride, whether with a friend or flying solo, you’ll want to choose a country ride. Country scenery is arguably much more aesthetically pleasing than a city-scape, and there tend to be fewer obstacles to avoid—like parked cars. However, you’ll want to be careful not to plan too country of a route. And take a map. Especially if you’ve just moved to a new town. You may think you’ll remember every side road and country lane you’ve turned down, but you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you have to call someone for a ride because you have no idea where you are and/or are pooped: I’ll address ways to keep up your energy on long rides in the next paragraph. You definitely don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you’re saying to yourself, “I had no idea ten miles was that far”, and then calling your wife to come get you because you can’t make it back. I mean, worst case scenario, right? Which brings me to the final point.

Bring enough water and food to get you through the ride. In most cases, two to four water bottles is usually enough for even the longest rides, say, seven to ten miles (or even more), and you’ll want to avoid bringing a backpack on short rides. What you’re looking for in a snack or nutritional supplement is ceap, quick energy, nothing too complex because your body will need to use that energy as quickly as possible. Therefore, simple sugars and carbs are best. So, leave the fruits and veggies at home. You might consider fruit snacks, cheese puffs, chocolate bars such as Snickers or Butterfingers, Pop-tarts, or any other items that can be squashed or crunched to provide maximum energy in a minimum space, such as a shirt or vest pocket. Now, I’ve mentioned that two to four water bottles is the norm. However, most bikes only have room for two, perhaps three water bottles. So, where do you put the extras? Instead of a lycra or spandex cycling shirt, which you’ve decided to forego for, ergonometric considerations, you should consider a fishing vest as a viable alternative. Actually, the fishing vest has several advantages. The first is that the vest is loose fitting and can be quickly unzipped should you begin to overheat or sweat profusely; this has the additional benefit of showing off that Summer bod you’ve been sculpting to passersby. Secondly, there’s nothing worse than clothing that clings to you when you’re sweating, and the loose fitting nature of the fishing vest is ideal in that it hangs off of your body. Thirdly, have you ever seen the pockets on those things? The breast pockets are literally the perfect size for stuffing a PB&J into, or if you’re a health nut, perhaps a ham and turkey with baby Swiss, Dijon mustard and micro-greens on rye. You couldn’t design a better riding accoutrement. Lower pockets are ideal for carrying chocolate milk, juice boxes (They. Fit. Perfectly.) or extra water bottles. But Mountain Buddha, you may ask, what about all that extra weight you’re bringing on the ride? First, don’t be a gram weenie. Second, aren’t you glad you spent all that money on a bike that weighs no more than your morning mug full of Scotch.

Happy riding everyone. And #getoutthere

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