I’ve written on this subject before, but happily for us all my errors are nearly endless and I’ve plenty to share. So why not remain in the comfort of your seat and learn from my cycling blunders? My stupid, stupid blunders. You’re welcome.
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1. Check your tyres
I don’t mean check they’re full of air rather than nails or even that they’re appropriate for what you’re riding — those are obvious. I mean check, assuming you’re still using the tyres your bike came with, that they’re really all they seem.
Original Equipment (OE) tyres look the same as aftermarket (which are the ones that get reviewed), but they can contain significant downgrades.
Case in point: I recently sliced just shy of a pound (400g) of rotating weight from my road bike with two new tyres and tubes. It’s made a huge difference, and not just in its willingness to accelerate and climb.
Responses to all inputs are so much snappier it’s like a different bike, while the sidewalls are noticeably more supple and communicative. It’s quite susceptible to sidewinds now, too. Hooray?
Turns out my 28mm Continental Ultra Sport tyres actually had steel (non-folding) beads and weighed 420g each, while the inner tubes weighed 130g each. Yes, new tyres (Conti GP 4 Seasons, 280g) and lightweight (70g) tubes cost around £70, but you try chopping that much mass of a bike in any other area without going into traumatic bill shock.
Plus, there’s no better weight to lose than rotating weight, and right at the edge of the wheel too.
What’s stupid is that I’m well aware of OE tyres limitations, but still managed not to take conscious note of the wire beads — despite having fixed a puncture on the very first ride.
I could argue that I’m used to building mountain bikes with my own parts and tyres, and not used to buying complete road bikes, but the fact is I still made assumptions I really shouldn’t have.
Pull off your tyres and tubes and weigh them, then you could be in for an easy win.
2. Don’t expect upgrades to beat saddle time
Having said that about tyres, no amount of upgrades will beat fitness, which is quite frankly annoying.
My tyre change came almost immediately before a period where my mileage seriously dropped: illness, a holiday, work, weather and laziness all played their part. And now, even though I’m enjoying a meaningfully more sprightly bike, Strava says I’m still slower than I was when the bike was heavier and I was fitter. I hate Strava.
So don’t expect to spend your way to greatness, even if your pockets are deep, because training reaches deeper. Somebody who rides more will come along and kick your arse.
On the plus side, shiny new things really help motivate you to get out and ride, so, you know, buy loads of upgrades anyway. On a completely unrelated note, did you know BikeRadar reviews upgrades? I must say my advice is not suspicious.
3. Don’t mistake the most expensive for the best
Okay, quite often the most expensive things are the best, and for really obvious reasons. I lied. And I’d do it again, I tell you [evil laugh, cape swish]. But when it comes to very personal things — contact points and clothing — the idea kind of falls apart.
I’ve recently been lucky enough to test a variety of expensive bib shorts, and I say lucky because damn, these things are attractive and stylish and make me look just great.
Along the way I discovered a Shimano pad that was almost ridiculously comfy — the best I’ve used, ever. However, while the £130 shorts the pad is sewn to fitted me like a glove, it was one of those latex gloves you see at airports just before your life gets really dark.
In fact, not one pair of these expensive bib shorts stayed comfortable, as it seems I have a relatively long torso. Either the shoulder straps were too tight or the legs were too long and wide. There seemed no size that fitted me right.
Chafing reached fire-hazard proportions. Standing in coffee shops, my squeezed-up bits became like the eyes of a gilt-framed portrait and seemed to follow you round the room.
In the end, forced into spending some of my own colossal journalists’ pay, I tried budget brand dhb’s Aeron shorts (£60) and found they fitted just fine. No, the pad isn’t as luxurious, but proper fit means the Aerons work infinitely better for me.
The same goes for grips, saddles, gloves, shoes, body armour and all the rest: cheaper ones that fit beat expensive ones that don’t, every time. If the spendy stuff suits, lucky you, but don’t just assume it will. Especially if it’s Italian.
4. Don’t underestimate your sugar intake
If you’re anything like me (commiserations), you cycle at least in part to stay fit, and constantly feel like you could be thinner.
You may also feel regularly exasperated about how much riding you have to do just to stay trim… I know I do, especially as I no longer drink (because it’s too delicious), eat pretty healthily (because my wife is a fantastic cook), never buy chocolate (because free chocolate is nicer) and only occasionally indulge in cakes (because not every grid reference on Earth has cake).
But now I’ve been forced, for reasons medically categorised as ‘tiresome beyond my capacity to feel,’ to avoid sugar entirely for some time. After two months I have discovered three things: a) there is sugar in everything, b) I have lost weight and c) life is sorrow.
Start reading labels and seriously, there’s sugar in everything, not just what you think is sweet. Mustard, for instance. A jar of pickle. A sandwich wrap. Ketchup. Breakfast cereal (even the boring kinds for grown ups). Bananas. Those earnestly healthy granola bars. Anything at all that’s low-fat…
I don’t recommend you start reading labels too, because it’ll make you want to die. But you might want to bear the quiet, cumulative effects in mind and avoid ‘problematic’ things like, say, flavour or pleasure or food (see point c).
The fact I’ve lost weight despite doing fewer miles than normal strongly implies I was actually consuming far more sugar than I knew. It’s scarily easy to underestimate.
So, am I saying cyclists should avoid cakes? God no. But I suppose all those mustard, ketchup and bran flake wraps were bad for me after all. Damn it. You might want to lay off them too.