The first ride: blazing a trail…of humility.

During my pre-purchase research of road-biking, I found an outrageous amount of advice for the new biker. There were forums full of experience, with great folks willing to help the neophyte find the right bike for him/herself. There were websites with seemingly unlimited reviews of componentry. There is even a wonderful personal site dedicated to every technical aspect of any bicycle you can imagine.

But something was missing, and I didn’t realize it until I had finished my first on-road attempt today.

No one really prepares you for that first ride.

No one tells you how awkward you will feel when you take off.

No one tells you that “responsive” is a gross understatement of the handling on a true road bike.

Most importantly, no one tells you that it’s acceptable to look to like an idiot.

I had to learn all of this on my own. It wasn’t pleasant, suffice it to say, but I’m always looking for that silver lining. Why not turn my misery into something constructive? So I present you with the following bits of sage wisdom–read them ALL as I present them in no particular order…

1. If you have toe-clips, remove the straps. They get in the way, and make it even more awkward to rotate the pedal upright while moving.

2. If you have clipless pedals, forget clipping in the first time. Ride like you did on your first Huffy: foot on top and able to be moved without much forethought.

3. Though it may seem like common sense, avoid starting out going uphill. You may think you’ve got it under control, but don’t overestimate yourself at this stage. There will be plenty of time for showboating later.

4. A true roadbike (lightweight construction) will respond to your every twitch. The slightest shift in your center of gravity will impact your trajectory. Keeping this in mind, avoid populated roadways. Your brain may be screaming, “GO RIGHT,” but your posture may be facilitating precisely the opposite.

5. Learn how your shifters and brakes work BEFORE you take to the road. It’s very hazardous to experiment with the fundamentals when you need to be able to think on your feet (or wheels, as it were). Simply suspend your rear wheel off the ground and use one hand to pedal while the other runs through the gears.

6. Pay attention to your comfort. This is a good time to determine whether everything is set up properly for you. When I picked up my bike from the dealer, it felt perfect. During my first ride, I discovered plenty of room for improvement and I promptly adjusted the necessary components when I got home.

7. Don’t go too far. I’m speaking in the literal, not figurative, sense. While this should be perfectly obvious, you aren’t likely in nearly the physical condition you think. Biking is NOT as easy as it was when you were a kid. Stay within a mile of your house. Nothing sucks worse than a long walk. I managed to minimize my walk-time to about 50 meters out of a one mile ride.

8. Falling is a part of riding. I learned it when I first started motorcycling, and I learned it again when I got back on a bicycle. It happens (especially with toe clips and clipless pedals). Don’t worry about looking like a doofus. It’s the price you pay for learning an awesome sport.

9. Those brakes are touchy as hell, but not nearly as powerful as you might expect. They respond quickly and could easily toss you to the pavement, but they aren’t particulary effective for sudden emergency stops for a beginner. Unless you want to get the first fall out of the way on your own terms, avoid misapplication of the brakes.

10. Don’t forget the damn helmet.

More importantly than anything, don’t get discouraged. It’s not easy, it’s not like you remember it, and it’s totally fine to look like a rank amateur for a while re-learning.

Enjoy the ride and set goals for improvement. You’ve just started something that will swiftly burrow into your soul…prepare for the addiction.


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