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Home » Cycling » The Definitive Post:  How to Spot a Noob Cyclist’s Bike;  Conversely, How to not Look Like a Noob. 

The Definitive Post:  How to Spot a Noob Cyclist’s Bike;  Conversely, How to not Look Like a Noob. 


November 2017

It’s dark out, quarter past seven, and raining.  It’s been raining all day.  A sure sign the season is coming to a close – and a perfectly good day to write this post.

Let’s jump right in – How to spot a noob cyclist’s bike:

Your rear wheel spoke protector.  You need it because you don’t know how to keep your rear derailleur perfectly tuned.  I don’t need one because I do.  The single easiest way to spot a noob is that they’ve still got the spoke protector on their bike….  The bear is that you can’t remove it unless you know what you’re doing when it comes to tuning a rear derailleur – and I’m not giving that up for obvious reasons;  You’re liable for your own butt, in other words.  You also need a couple of special tools to remove the cassette so you can get the thing off in one piece in the first place…

Reflectors.  I know, they’re required by law.  Call me a rebel.  No self-respecting badass has reflectors on their race bike – even if the law requires the bike come with them.  My bikes did come with four each – they were taken off the bike before my first ride.  Seriously.  Also, you don’t need reflectors if you don’t ride near dusk or sunrise anyway.

Your bar tape says more about your ability to ride than you would like – and don’t worry, we all suck at the skill of wrapping at first.  Keep trying.

Notice how the wrap goes the opposite way to the center of the bar on each side?  You’ll also notice the tight wrap, no gaps, no loose coils.  If at first you do not succeed, try and try again (that photo was taken shortly after I installed the leather bar tape – once it had a few weeks to set up, I straightened out the bar end plugs).

A dirty drivetrain; there’s a difference between dirty/grimy and well lubed.  The latter is okay, the former, not.

Your hoods aren’t lined up and square.  This one will lead to neck and shoulder pain, not just a raised eyebrow from a friend:

A dirty bike will betray a noob cyclist every time.  When you get back from riding in gnarly weather:


Clean it up before you ride again.  It should look like this before your next ride (UK cyclists are excluded here.  If you had to ride in that much rain, you’d let your bike go from time to time too):

Simple as that.  I clean my bikes once a week, whether they need it or not.

Shifting!  This one doesn’t need a photo.  If you push your shifter lever to change the gear and the chain clicks several times before it shifts, others will notice.  It normally takes between two and 30 seconds to fix this… If you know what you’re doing. It takes two minutes to three hours if you don’t.  How do I know it can take three freaking hours?  That’s what it took me the first time I tried.  Now, if you shift weakly, this can also cause the same skip.  You have to know the difference between a weak shift and a need to index your rear derailleur.

A wobble in your wheel.  I am a seasoned, well-versed, fashion conscious, mechanically inclined cyclist.  I suck at truing a wheel.  Most noobs think you tighten spokes to pull the rim back into true.  This is not the way to go, as you’ll pull the wheel out of round.  You have to tighten some and loosen others.  So, to get around this, I take my wheels in to get them trued if I see a wobble.  I check them regularly.  Whether you have the wherewithal or not, wobbly wheels are a noob’s dead giveaway.  Things happen, of course, but you don’t want wobbly wheels.  Again, I’d provide a photo, but I don’t have wobbly wheels.  Sorry.


A dry bike.  A dry bike is a squeaky bike.  A squeaky bike should be annoying as hell to you.  If it isn’t, make it so.  A dry bike, one that hasn’t seen a lube bottle since some time last season, makes very distinctive noises that are very easy to pick up in a group.  They’re squeaky.  Bikes that are lubed regularly, are whisper quiet.  Lube regularly the following (not including the chain which should be every 250-400 miles):  Rear derailleur, front derailleur (at the pivot points), the brake caliper pivot points.  Once or twice a year, take the crank apart and lube it (clean it first, obviously), and do the headset once a year (more if you ride in a lot of rain).  Lube the wheels once a season, including the cassette body (or as needed).

Now, this can be a lot of work, especially when you’ve got a lot of bikes to maintain (I have, including my wife and kids, more than eleven to take care of).  This is what the off-season is for.  Change the cables, take apart the headset and cranks to clean them and lube them…  Do a couple of bikes a weekend while the snow is flying (if you live in a climate that gets snow, or use a rain day).  After a while, you’ll become efficient at the tasks and they’ll go a lot faster.  Of course, every once in a while, you’re going to run into that front derailleur cable that takes a half-hour to change and index.  It happens.

Take care of your bikes and they absolutely will take care of you.  The easiest way to spot a noob is to look at their bike.  This has been a public service announcement from Fit Recovery.



  1. theandyclark says:

    You know quite about about maintenance. How did you learn this? I’m particularly interested in knowing more about deraulier tuning – it’s something I do not do well.

    Food article!

  2. The Omil says:

    Spot on (and I speak as a man with a buckled front wheel).
    I think that with cycling (and skiing), you should also try to look casual and better than your kit would suggest. A good cyclist on a basic Defy looks better than a poor one on a TCR Advanced.
    Otherwise it’s a potential case of ‘all the gear …. no idea’.

  3. Brent says:

    One minor detail on removing the spoke protector in the rear wheel: the last two bikes I’ve bought new had plastic ones. I just grabbed a pair of diagonal cutters (electrical tools) and snipped away, reaching through the spokes from the non-drive side of the wheel. Took a minute or two but I cut it into halves which fell away from the wheel. Not like I was saving the thing to reinstall later if I sold the bike, so I didn’t mind destroying it to get it off. None of the pain you described.

    If you have a bike that for some reason has a metal spoke protector, the diagonal cutters are designed to cut through wire, so they’ll slice through a metal spoke protector as easily as they will go through plastic.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Ah, but then you risk nicking a spoke if you’re not careful. I used a pair of snips on my backup mountain bike because the cassette took a special nut that I didn’t have. That said, removing the cassette is vastly faster with the proper tools, and it’s safer for the bike.

      Good point, though Brent. Points for ingenuity and a degree of git ‘er done.

  4. MJ Ray says:

    Heh. Snow days and rain days are still riding days in England else I’d be hibernating most of the winter! Also, even the utility is a bit cold for doing much maintenance work this time of year and I don’t want to groddy up the carpet. It’s bare essentials only until the spring comes!

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