What Every Cycling Newbie Should Know

Jack Donohue
Those of you who are joining this sport for the first time may not be aware of many truths we veterans hold to be self evident.  So here are a few things you need to know before venturing on club rides.


  • Helmet - This is cycling 101 and the entrance requirement to join our group.  If you ride regularly you will inevitably take a spill, and you really want something between your head and the pavement.
  • Mirror - You wouldn't drive your car without a rear view mirror, same goes for cycling, you need to know what's coming up behind you as well what's in front of you.  You can get one that attaches to the handlebars, but most folks go for little ones that attach to your helmet (already found another use for that).
  • Braking - When you're riding by yourself, you can brake with reckless abandon, but when you're in a group, braking suddenly is a bad thing, since it can cause a rider behind you to touch wheels, which usually results in that rider going down.  Another use for that rear mirror, to check periodically if someone's on your wheel.
  • Cycling shorts - Sure, you can ride around in cut-off jeans and your tighty whities, but in the long run your tender tush will thank you for investing in an honest to God pair of cycling shorts with padding.
  • Footwear - nothing wrong with flat pedals and sneakers for a casual ride, but if you're trying to reach the next level, having a firm connection between your feet and the pedals is more efficient.
  • Cotton - cotton is comfortable, and will keep you warm, until you start working hard and sweating, then your hoodie will turn into a soggy mess of clammy cloth.  There are many space age fabrics these days that can wick the moisture away and keep you warm and dry.
  • Jerseys - buy one of these and you've joined the Serious Cyclist club.  The main feature of a real died in the wool bike jersey is they have pockets in the rear, which you won't have once you've given up your cutoff jeans.  There are usually three pockets, where you can stow your wallet, your cell phone, and other stuff (see below)
  • Baggage - you may want to travel light, but there are a few must have things for your bike that you need to bring along, such as spare tube, tire irons, hex wrenches.  In days of old everyone carried a pump attached to the bike but CO2 cartridges have mostly replaced them.  If you go the CO2 route, better practice beforehand so in the heat of the moment you'll know how to use them.  Otherwise you'll find yourself with a flat and an empty CO2 cartridge.  As far as how to carry these fine tools, there are several options.  You could cram it all into your jersey pocket.  Aha, we found a use for that third pocket.  The other approach is to get a bag that attaches to the bike.  These come in all sizes and shapes.  In days of old, handlebar bags were in vogue.  These attached as you might suspect to your handlebars.  There were looked at askance by some because if you crammed a lot of stuff in there, it would affect bike handling.  The next best thing is a seat bag that attaches to your seat (no surprises here)  If you get a big one, you can stuff in your tools, lunch, extra clothing, etc
  • Extra clothing - Now that you have that fine bag, you really want to bring an extra layer in case the weather changes for the worse.  A light wind shell is very effective in keeping you warm should it, God forbid, start raining, or if the temperature suddenly plummets.
  • Layering - You want to be able to adjust your gear as you warm up.  In the winter, if you're warm at the start, you will be roasting down the road.  So you want to wear many thin layers that you can put on or take off easily as your body warms or the outside temperature changes.  If you start out wearing a down parka, you'll be warm at the start but you don't have many options once your body is pumping out calories.
  • Tires – Bikes, unlike cars, need their tires pumped up frequently, lest you run the risk of the dreaded pinch flat, which happens when tire pressure is low and you hit a bump and squeeze the tube into the rim causing a flat.  Good practice is to top up the tires at least once a week.

Jack Donohue is webmaster and has held numerous volunteer positions with the club.