This post is going to be controversial and I’ve got ten chances to piss you off in the next few minutes. This is not my intention. Nor is it my intention to suggest that any seasoned cyclist change their ways to suit “society”, me, or some set of rules. Heavens to Murgatroid, I’d never suggest that! I know I’m looking at some pretty ugly odds… In fact, some people are simply so set in their ways, they actually make flouting these suggestions cool. It also helps if you’re fast enough to hammer everyone else in the group who would give you $#!+. Just sayin’. So be you and be proud… Please, just give this a read and some consideration.
The intent of this post is quite simple: I made most of these mistakes early on, so I know what I’m talking about here, and I’m trying to pass on my experience that it might help you, oh friendly cyclist, not make the same mistakes. I had to read a lot of posts like this one so I could learn how to fit in… While the main goal is always “just ride”, we all want to look cool when we do, lest we end up with a photo on the internet of us cruising down the road, head high, with our helmet on backwards. I’m simply trying to help people find the short path to feeling awesome about themselves on their bike, rather than going the hard, long way like I did. In the end, if you just do the stuff listed below, it’s going to be cheaper for you in the long run. Trust me.
- The plastic spoke protector immediately behind your cassette is still on the bike after you bought it. This is the surest sign of a noob. That plastic disc behind the cassette gets dirty, can’t be easily cleaned and is virtually useless if you know how to maintain your bike. My bike cannot over-shift the cassette into the spokes because I have the rear derailleur set up properly. That little plastic do-dad needs to come off. Immediately if not sooner.
- The lock nut and plastic cap for your presta valves. There actually is an installation use for the little threaded, knurled lock nut that comes with every new inner tube. In deeper sectioned rims, it can be used to hold the valve stem up until there’s enough pressure in the tube that the stem will stay where it’s supposed to. Of course, this also means you bought the wrong length stem if you need the nut. So you’re hit that way too… The plastic cap is only there for shipping and storage. Open up a new tube. See how the tube wraps around the stem? Well that little threaded part you loosen to add air to the tire will wear a hole in the tube over time if it isn’t capped. Once the tire is installed, the cap is utterly useless and will serve no purpose. Take it off. Seriously. The fact that you think it’s of use and therefore should be on the stem, just because it was in the box, says a lot about you to every new person you’ll meet.
- Reflectors. Now, far be it from me to suggest anything illegal or dangerous, but if you have cycling shoes and wear cycling clothing, everything has reflective elements on it. Also, if we’re riding in the dark, we have these awesome new, rechargeable lights that work a hell of a lot better that reflectors. Lights are cool. Reflectors, not so much. I opt for the reflective surfaces on my clothing and shoes and bright, awesome, rechargeable lights. You do what you prefer here, but if you’re not riding in the dark, why would you need a reflector in the first place?
- Underwear beneath the cycling shorts. Thank God, I’ve never actually done this… I did, however, see a guy at one of our club rides with his tighty-whities sticking out of his cycling shorts and over his cotton tee-shirt. Dude must have chafed nine ways to Sunday on that club ride. Don’t be that guy. I have no advice for women on this topic. Sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do. I get it. Some things in life just ain’t fair. UPDATE: a commenter who goes by Zebedee mentioned that he did indeed wear underwear underneath his shorts for an added layer of protection between his cheap shorts and his nether regions. This is understandable, though I recommend compression shorts, they work better (and they’re not cotton). Cheap shorts are the bane of distance cycling. They are the cause for some pretty drastic measures.
- Too many spacers above the stem. I went for a year with too many spacers above my stem because I wanted to lower the bar as I grew more comfortable with an aggressive position on the bike… It’s what they call “slam the stem”. I ended up leaving 15 mm worth of spacers on top of the stem until I was certain I had the bar where I wanted it, then I had it properly cut down. Now, some purists will say that you shouldn’t have any spacers above the stem. While I understand the desire for cleanliness of lines, having a little bit of material above a full carbon fiber fork is advisable so pressure is equally distributed when you clamp down the stem. I go with mechanic recommendations here.
- Wearing your helmet too high on your head – too much forehead. From the bridge of your nose, place your pointing finger and middle finger together. Set your middle finger on the bridge of your nose… Your helmet should touch your pointer finger. Any higher than that and you’re showing too much forehead. Nothing says noob like too much forehead.
- Mountain bike pedals on your road bike. I did this one too. I had one pair of shoes and I couldn’t afford a second. Once I could, I went to road pedals and shoes for the road bike and mountain on the mountain bike. Road shoes and pedals make enough of a difference that they matter. In all fairness, this one’s a little nitpicky and can easily be gotten away with by pulling the last ten miles in a century for the group. I pulled for 17 of 20 miles on one of the hottest centuries we’ve ever done as a group and nobody ever gave me guff for my shortcomings. Busting your ass for the good of the group is endearing that way.
- Wire/metal water bottle cages. Just don’t do it. They won’t hold your water bottles as good as the plastic or carbon fiber one’s will… Aluminum tends to be a little bit bendy and if you hit a decent bump, your bottles will eventually go flying. Now, they don’t have to be the carbon fiber beauties you see on my bike, the plastic one’s work just great. I’d skip the wire one’s on the road bike though. UPDATE: The Tempo Cyclist commented that titanium cages on a titanium frame should be an exception to the rule. I agree. I should have clarified “aluminum”, “alloy” and “stainless steel” in this one – though one could argue for naked stainless on a stainless frame too. Titanium cages are just as light and strong as carbon fiber. Oh, they’re just as expensive too, so be aware…
- Wearing dull/drab colors. Bright colors are cool. Reds, bright blues, oranges, greens and even hi-viz yellow… We want to be seen. Period, end of lecture.
- A dirty/squeaky drivetrain or bike. A dirty drivetrain is another sure sign you’re a noob. Once you realize how expensive that stuff is to replace, and how quickly dirt and grime degrade everything, anyone who puts decent miles and cares for their bike will have a fairly clean drivetrain. Bikes are cool. Clean, well kempt, awesome bikes are cooler.
BONUS LAP: The Fat, Bearded and Tattooed Cyclist came in with this one: Having the saddle slammed all the way to the top tube because the bike is too big. Truer words have never been written. If your saddle is much lower than this:
Your bike is too small.