There are many decisions that go into riding a bicycle. Here are a few. But be your own guide, consult your doctor, etc. I am not receiving any payments from any products listed, but if those companies want to chip in I’ll be glad to hear from them. Choose wisely, young or old Padawan.
Food & Drink
- Before a ride: Most advice will tell you to eat carbs, and that’s not wrong. Some say carbo-load the night before a big ride, but that’s more for pro racers. I think a balanced diet is good enough for most non-professionals. Obviously the morning of you don’t want something too heavy. One rider I know swears off dairy pre-ride. The rule of thumb is don’t change it up too radically. Eat what your stomach is used to. Too little, you’ll bonk. Too much, you’ll barf.
- During: There are countless products for this, from snack bars to gels, chews, etc. Find something you like that travels well. Or make your own. I like Oatmega bars with 5g of sugar, local company to Austin, Texas and they use grass-fed whey, plus they’re cheap.
- After: Common advice is to eat (or drink) a bunch of protein after a ride. I do this, often with a mix or a bar like Think, but that’s not all you need. Fat, carbs, micronutrients, are all important for recovery. Again, go with what your body can handle and don’t over- or under-do it.
- Liquids: Of course this is key. Mostly I drink plain water. But for longer rides or in the summer I take a second bottle and add a hydration tab, like Nuun. How much is up to you, but it’s usually more than you think you need. I like the rule of thumb that if you aren’t urinating every hour while on the bike, and it’s too yellow, you’re under-hydrating. Many bike riders love a cold beer, but I find the idea of dehydrating myself not attractive. If you have one, drink plenty of water.
Clothes & Accessories
- Pants: Clearly you need comfortable bike shorts in the summer, long pants in the winter, and rain gear as needed. A good pair of padded stretchy pants will go a long way toward making you comfortable. Once I made the switch to Lycra I didn’t go back, except that I ride enough I’m able to go about 20 miles with just street clothes. Bib shorts are a nice upgrade if you can afford them. You may feel ridiculous wearing form fitting clothes, especially if you’re a fathlete like me, and there are options like layered mountain bike shorts, padded underwear or wearing regular shorts over Lycra. Comfort is more important than looks, trust me.
- Anti-Chafing Cream: For longer rides this is vital for reducing chafing. Chamois Butt’r which has sheep lanolin (sorry, vegans) really works to keep the friction down, down there.
- Jersey: You don’t need a fancy top. For wicking moisture and providing visibility, a decent bike jersey is worth the cost. Plus they can be fun, serious, or just a way to identify with a favorite team. Again if it’s raining or cold you’ll need layers and protection.
- Shoes, Gloves & Helmet: Comfortable bike shoes with clip-ins are de riguer for me nowadays. When I started, I only used flat-bottomed shoes. For some the latter two are optional, but not for me. A fall could mean skinning your hand if not protected. And worse for your head without a shell over your cranium just makes sense.
Route, Speed & Hills
Where you go and how fast are incredibly important decisions. This is subjective and depends on many factors:
- How you’re feeling: Did you sleep enough? Are your muscles sore? Any niggling injuries or issues like a saddle sore? Did you eat and drink enough? Are you stressed, pissed, sad, happy, relaxed? If you’re off your game even a bit, that will probably show up in your cycling. Adjust accordingly. I’m frequently tired from daily riding, but since I don’t care (much) about how fast I go, I keep riding.
- Goals: If your goal is to go fast and get off the bike as soon as possible, then by all means do that. For me, it’s mileage, so if I’m short one day I’ll try to make it up the next. Gauging your objectives with what your body is capable of is key at all levels. Be realistic, but not outrageous. An old yoga teacher used to say to strive for “sweet discomfort,” not too easy, and not painful. If you just want to go for a joy or recovery ride, that’s cool. You’re in the rider’s seat.
- Where you bike: This varies widely based on where you live, what kind of bike you have and like to do. Gravel, mountain, road, racing, commuting, stationary/home trainer… there are lots of options. Whichever ones you do are tailored to your environment. If you’re new to biking or exploring an area, it’s prudent to choose your path carefully. Google Maps has a biking feature showing bike friendly routes. Ask others, and be prepared for evasive maneuvers if you’re caught in an unsafe situation, be it traffic, debris, construction, or what have you.
- Safety: Always check your bike before riding. ABC Quick Check is the acronym for Air, Brakes, Chain & Cassette, Quick Release, and Check the bike by riding a few pedal strokes. While riding, constantly scan for oncoming traffic in all directions. If you don’t have a rear view mirror, learning to look back over your shoulder without veering into traffic is a key skill. Anticipating what cars might do and being predictable and legal in what you do will help keep you riding.
These are just some of the factors that go into the seemingly simple act of bicycling. Choose wisely!
What are some of the choices you’ve made as a bike rider?
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