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The Essential Gear for Beginner Road Cyclists: What You Need to Know

As a road cyclist, you know that there's more to the sport than just hopping on your bike and taking off down the road. No, no, no. In order to fully embrace your inner Tour de France champion, you've got to have the right gear.

But what is the right gear, you ask? Well, buckle up because we're about to dive into the essential stuff every beginner road cyclist needs to know about.

First and foremost, let's talk about the most important piece of gear: the bike. Now, you may be thinking, "Duh, of course I need a bike to road cycle." But here's the thing: not just any bike will do. You need a road bike, specifically designed for, you guessed it, road cycling. If you're intending to spend 100% of your time on the road, don't try to get away with using a mountain bike or a hybrid - trust me, it won't end well. If, however, you're thinking about riding on various terrains, e.g., you have young kids and need a bike that can handle light off-road as well, then a hybrid might be more what you're after. But don't expect to be able to keep up with your pure road bike buddies when you're out with them. And you might need to watch out for #BikeEnvy as you watch them riding off into the distance on their slicker machines.

Next up, let's talk about protection. No, not the kind your mum wanted you to have in high school. We're talking about protection for those inevitable uneven roads, bumps and falls you might experience. It goes without saying that you MUST wear a helmet. It's a no-brainer. And crashing without one could leave you as a... Well... No-brainer. Myself and many of my cycling friends have been saved from much worse injuries than a couple of bruises and scratches because we had the right headgear on.

You should also get a decent pair of lights - front and back. One's that include irregular flashing modes are a must. Whether riding in dark or daylight, I always have my lights on in flashing mode. They make you stand out more to other road users. A constant beam is easier to miss if you're a driver waiting at a junction, but something flashing in an unusual pattern is a lot more noticeable.

You'll also want to invest in some padded cycling shorts to save your arse from the harsh realities of the road. Also, don't forget about your eyes! The sun can be quite blinding if it's straigh ahead. Not only that but water spray and bugs to the mush can also be unpleasant, so make sure to grab a pair of cycling glasses to shield your peepers. Bonus points if they're polarised to reduce glare. And even more convenient if they're photochromic. These are the ones that get darker or lighter depending on how strong the light is. It's easier to have these vs. the faff of having to swap lenses out of your frames depending on the weather conditions.

A good fitting pair of cycling gloves or mitts (weather dependant) are great too. Find ones that are padded on the palms as these will help soften the feedback you'll get from the road and reduce the vibrations from the handlebars to your hands, wrists, arms and shoulders etc.

Now that we've covered the necessities, let's move on to the fun stuff. Clothing, specifically. Road cycling can be a sweaty activity (no shocker there), so it's important to invest in moisture-wicking fabrics to keep you cool and comfortable on those long rides. And if you're cycling in cooler, damper weather, make sure to grab a waterproof and /or windproof jacket to keep the chill and drizzle at bay.

But it's not just about function - road cycling is also a fashion show (at least in my shallow, superficial mind, darling 😘). So go ahead and treat yourself to a snazzy cycling jersey to show off your style. If you're starting out then you probably won't want to spend 200 quid on a top-of-the-range ASSOS jersey but unfortunately it is a case of, 'you get what you pay for' when it comes to quality.

The likes of DHB (Wiggle's own brand), Morvello, Gore, POC, La Col, Band of Climbers, and Castelli all have decent entry level clobber for newbies who don't want to splash too much cash. Although watch out for sizing issues with Castelli. Either men in Italy have very strange body shapes, or Castelli haven't got a clue when it comes to average mens' sizes. I tend to go 1 - 2 sizes up whenever getting something from them.

And last but not least in our list of essentials, let's talk about accessories. Flat tyres are an unfortunate reality of road cycling, so it's always a good idea to have a few spare tubes on hand. Make sure to get the right size for your bike's wheels, and don't forget to pack tyre levers and a hand pump (and /or a CO2 cartridge) to get that tyre changed quickly.

A water bottle (or two) is a must to keep you hydrated on the road, too, and if you're someone who can't stand the thought of being disconnected from the outside world, a bike phone mount is a must to keep you connected while you ride. Just be sure to place it somewhere that is easy to see whilst not obstructing any part of your handlebars or break /gear levers.

Not as essential, but still quite important are the following items, although these are most likely going to be things you think about if /when you can see yourself being a road cyclist for the longer-term:

  • Pedals: Depending on your preference, you may want to invest in clipless or platform pedals for your road bike. Clipless pedals allow for a more efficient pedal stroke, but they do require special cycling shoes to be used. Platform pedals are a bit easier to use, but they don't provide as much power transfer. They can also hurt like a mother f.... if your foot slips and they spin round to whack you in the back of the heel.

  • Cycling shoes: If you decide to go with clipless pedals, you'll need a pair of cycling shoes to match. These shoes have a special cleat that locks into the pedals, allowing for a more efficient pedal stroke. Just make sure you know what pedals you have (e.g., SPD-SL vs. SDP) when shopping for shoes, as different pedals require different cleat types.

  • Saddle: Ah, the saddle. It's one of the most personal pieces of gear for a road cyclist. Everyone has their own preference when it comes to saddle shape and width, so it's important to try out a few different options to see what works best for you. And if you're really struggling to find a comfortable saddle, consider getting one with a cutout down the centre to alleviate pressure on sensitive areas. There's a neat trick you can do to measure the width of the saddle you need:

    1. Get a piece of tin foil that's big enough for you to sit on and cover your whole backside.

    2. Lay the foil flat on stairs tin your home that are carpeted.

    3. In nothing more than your under-crackers (pants or boxer shorts) sit on the foil and lift your knees towards your chest. Almost as if your going into a tuck somersault off a diving board.

    4. Gentle stand up and look back at the foil on the stairs. You'll notice it has two dents left by the 'sit bones' in your buttocks.

    5. Mark the centre of both these indentations. I.e., with a biro or pin prick.

    6. Measure the distance between these two marks and there you have a close estimate for the width of saddle that'll be more comfortable for you.

    7. You're welcome! ☺️

  • Bike computer: If you're the type of person who loves tracking your rides and monitoring your progress, a bike computer is a must-have. These handy little devices can track your speed, distance, and even your heart rate (if you have a compatible heart rate monitor). Some of them are fantastic for creating new routes for your to explore, too, with turn-by-turn navigation. Just make sure to mount it somewhere that's easy to see, but not in the way of your handlebars or brakes. Checkout our post about cycling tech for beginners HERE for more helpful infoand advice on these.

  • Handlebar tape: This one may seem small, but trust me, it can make a big difference in your comfort on the bike. Handlebar tape adds a bit of padding to your handlebars, making for a more comfortable grip on long rides and a thicker padding can dampen the effects of the vibrations from the road. Plus, it comes in a variety of colours, so you can add a pop of personality to your bike.

Phew, that's a lot of gear! But don't let it overwhelm you. Just take it one piece at a time and soon enough you'll be fully kitted out and ready to tackle any road cycling adventure that comes your way.

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This bite-sized beginner's guide doesn't take itself too seriously and, whilst written in an amusing way, includes excellent advice that provides everything you need to know, to get the most enjoyment out of your new road cycling hobby from day one.

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