A Beginner’s Guide to Road Biking

Every year, I watch the final stage of the Tour de France and remember one of the biggest mistakes I almost made. It was 2006, and after a summer internship in France, I agreed to meet up with a college friend who was also visiting France to watch the peloton ride into Paris.

What I didn’t realize when I met him at 8 a.m. on a grey and rainy Champs Elysees was that the riders wouldn’t be arriving until late afternoon. I was cold, hungry, and annoyed as all get out. More than once, I considered abandoning my spot on the street to seek shelter in some cozy cafe. Could watching a bike race really be worth waiting hours in the drizzly cold?

Yes. Absolutely worth it. Because when the peloton rushed past us, with the whooping fanfare of the crowd cheering them on, followed by Lance Armstrong (on his seventh and final tour) cruising leisurely along beside his second and third-place competitors, my fatigue instantly disappeared. When I think back, I don’t remember the early morning, the bone-chilling weather, the numb legs or gnawing hunger or hours of boredom. I remember the exhilaration of watching history being made. I remember the inspiring commitment of the cyclists to secure that final-stage win. I remember how the entire scene — the rain, the cold, the physical discomfort, the crowd — all became part of what made that moment rewarding.

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That whole experience is kind of a metaphor for road biking as a sport. It requires commitment, endurance, and the tenacity to push through daunting conditions. From uphill climbs that set your quads on fire, to nerve-shredding battles with city traffic, to negotiating poorly maintained roads. But all of the pain and frustration evaporate like mist when you reach cruising speed through a winding country road, or fly down a smooth stretch of asphalt.

If the recent Tour de France has inspired you to give cycling a try, there’s no better time to get started than the transition of summer into fall. Here are just a few reasons to make road biking part of your fitness regimen:

Reason to Begin Road Biking

Body Awareness

Road biking is an incredibly demanding form of cardio, but unlike running, it’s easy on your joints. It builds balance and endurance, it carves muscle and builds bone density. Biking also allows for longer duration than other forms of exercise, which creates a leaner, more toned physique. Cycling creates some serious body awareness, too — after your first couple rides, you’ll feel sore shoulder muscles (from hunching over the handlebars) to tight hips and calves (from the constant motion and resistance of pedaling). If you’re the type who puts off stretching after a workout, cycling will give you the incentive you need.

Nutrition

If you have a hard time sticking to a healthy diet, biking will hold you accountable. Eating the right fuel makes all the difference between a fun, exhilarating ride and an endless death slog. It also demands that you stay well hydrated, not just during the ride but before and after.

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Learning About Where You Live

When you set out on a bike, it’s important to know where you’re riding and anticipate what you might encounter. When riding in a city, you’ll want to take full advantage of bike lanes. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with a well-maintained bike path, you’ll discover all the areas where it connects to main roads. Outside the city, look for roads with long, well-maintained straightaways where there are few stop signs, wide shoulders, and little traffic.

Staying Humble

The first few months of biking aren’t about speed or strength. They’re about getting your butt used to the saddle.

The first few months of biking aren’t about speed or strength. They’re about getting your butt used to the saddle. (You can get a head start if you’re using a trainer/bike stand at home during the winter.) Don’t try to be a hero — start with a 10-mile ride, and focus on feeling out the bike and enjoying yourself. Increase your mileage and speed gradually, with plenty of stretching in between. By the time you’ve been biking for a year, you can look forward to rides of 2-3 hours or more, plus being in amazing shape.

What Do the Experts Say?

We spoke with Sam Foos, Marketing Manager for Bontrager/Trek Bikes, to get some additional tips for upping your road bike game.

The Manual: For people who are getting on a bike for the first time (or the first time in a long time), what are some important things to know? 

Sam Foos: There are so many more options today than there used to be: styles of bike, size ranges, geometries, accessories, etc. It can be daunting, but start simple. The two things you want to look for are going to be fit and comfort. Find the bike that best fits for your body, your riding goals, your budget, and makes you the most comfortable.

TM: What are some things that a new cyclist should look for in their first bike? 

SF: Start with your goals. We always recommend starting with where and how you want to ride. What’s the terrain like? Are you going to be primarily on pavement or a dirt or crushed gravel path? Are you riding for leisure or fitness? Maybe both? Maybe you’re looking to get into mountain biking? Knowing what it is you want to do will lead you to knowing what kind of bike you’re looking for. You will want to leave a little extra room in your budget for a helmet, a daytime running light, and a few other accessories. Knowing what you want to get from cycling will help you get started.

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TM: Beyond the bike itself, what gear is absolutely essential? And what are some options that can make cycling a better workout/more fun? 

SF: First and foremost, get a new helmet. If you’ve been out of cycling for a while, chances are your helmet needs to be replaced. If you’re new to cycling, always wear a helmet.

“If you’re new to cycling, always wear a helmet.”

The next would be to get a good pair of cycling shorts. They have padding in all the places that will make riding your bike more comfortable. If you’re uncomfortable in Lycra, most athletic shorts will slide right over them. Finding the right saddle for your body will make cycling a lot more fun and enjoyable. Saddles come in many shapes and sizes, and every body is different.  Try out the saddle at the bike store, if they will let you. The last thing we recommend every rider have is a daytime running light designed to notify drivers of your presence on the road.

TM: Why is it important to maintain your bike well?

SF: The better you maintain your bike, the longer it will last and the smoother the ride will be. Tires and grips/handlebar tape are usually the first to go but both are relatively easy to maintain and affordable to replace. Keeping your chain clean and lubed will help your bike ride smoother and your chain and gears will last longer. Most shops will show you how to do all of this, but Trek’s YouTube channel also has a lot of helpful videos as well. In general, try to store your bike indoors as much as possible and give it a nice wash every once in a while. Wash it more often if you’re riding over road salt, sand, dirt, or mud.

TM: List some important safety tips for people as they’re getting started in cycling. What are common missteps and how can new cyclists avoid them? 

SF: Always wear a helmet. Every ride.

A lot of riders make the mistake of assuming that drivers can see them because they’re on the road. A new development to help create a safer environment for cyclists are Daytime running lights that help cyclists stand out more on the road and help motorists see them sooner and from farther away.

On top of that, high visibility apparel, especially on the parts of your body that are moving — your feet and legs — will help you be seen easier.

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TM: What can new cyclists look forward to, as their first weeks of cycling turn into months and years? 

SF: One thing that many people don’t expect is the amount of new friends they acquire through cycling. Cycling is a great connector and as you ride more, you’ll look for more people to ride with and opportunities in which to ride. Cycling is interesting in that the returns on investment are massive. You’ll see the world in an entirely new way. You’ll feel better about yourself and the world around you. You’ll see places and appreciate things in a way that you never would have otherwise. It has never been a better time to be a cyclist and to ride bikes, have fun, and feel good.

Best Road Biking Gear

Looking to begin or upgrade your gear collection? Here are some options to get you started.

Bontrager XXX WaveCel Road Bike Helmet
Bontrager XXX WaveCel Road Bike Helmet

With its high-performance protection, top-notch aerodynamics and unexceptionable comfort, the exclusive technology inside this helmet disrupts 30 years of industry safety standards. No wonder it’s the helmet of choice for the Trek-Segafredo men’s and women’s teams.

Velocio Aerial Dot Ultralight Jersey
road biking guide tips gear for beginners men s aerial dot ultralight jersey

Kick off your new habit with a light, breathable riding jersey that offers SPF 30+ protection and silky-soft comfort. Made from recycled ultralight stretch polyester, it is available in three colors.

Trek Santini Trek/Segafredo Riding Jersey
Trek Santini Trek/Segafredo Riding Jersey

Need some inspiration to get you motivated? This replica short sleeve jersey features the exclusive design of the Trek-Segafredo team, but with a slightly more forgiving fit than the second skin-style jersey worn by the pros.

Velocio CONCEPT Bib Short
Velocio CONCEPT Bib Short

The padding in these shorts is designed to “float” between your bum and the saddle, with fewer seams and chafe points enabling a more fluid motion while pedaling. Add in microfiber leg-gripping cuffs that keep your shorts in place and ultra-breathable compression fabric, and you’ll be sitting pretty.

Bontrager Circuit Thermal Bib Cycling Tights
Bontrager Circuit Thermal Bib Cycling Tights

If you’re riding in the early morning or during the colder months, the Profila Thermal fabric in these tights is engineered to trap and retain body heat. The mesh back and bib straps keep the sweat from giving you a chill, while the silicone ankle gripper ensures your legs stay toasty.

Bontrager Flare RT Light
Bontrager Flare RT Light

This compact and powerful USB rechargeable rear bike light is daytime visible from up to 2km away. It also features an updated USB port, which helps seal out water on rainy rides.

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