What You Need to Know about Road Cycling to Enter into the Sport, whether You want to fit in… Or not.
Okay, there are two competing ways of looking at this. There’s the kumbaya way, where we’re all just happy cyclists who are out having fun and riding our road bikes, and nothing matters…. The cycling clothes you wear, the helmet you don, tee-shirt or jersey, shaved legs or hairy, let’s all just hold hands and be happy cyclists! Right?
I do subscribe to that way of thinking, too, at least partially. What matters is that we’re happy and we ride within our means (financially as well as capability), with a smile on our face. As that goes, damn “the rules”. Ride hard! Woohoo!
Now that’s well and good for a f***in’ Hallmark card but real life tends to be a little more… erm…. real.
Most people, while they want to feel good about themselves, there’s a flip-side to the coin; We also don’t want to feel self-conscious and out of place. This where real life enters into the mix and makes the dough a little sticky. If I’m anything, I’m a realist. I don’t believe in sticking my head in the sand, hoping the world will be a real-life musical because it isn’t. Ever. I also believe that saying and writing that road cyclists shouldn’t have to wear padded Lycra cycling shorts, while nice and lovely, is detrimental to noobs, because unless you want to explore riding a bike as an expensive form of self-flagellation, well you’re going to need a few things, no?
Here you have a woman who just wants to be a cyclist like her friend and she reads a kumbaya article about how all in cycling is Zen and we’re all a group of touchy-feely friendly people who wear anything we like and just push the pedals and enjoy each other’s company. There is no judging here, it’s all peace, love and spokes… So she shows up in a pair of coolots, some knee-high socks, a Dory tee-shirt and her matching Finding Nemo©®™ cycling helmet with a smile on her face – only to see 40 hard-legged road cyclists with skin-tight kits that match their bikes, aero helmets, and glistening guns.
How awesome is she going to feel waiting for the ride to start? Panicked, that’s how. She’ll want to throw her bike in the car and leave… Why would we want to do that to somebody?! That’s bordering on cruel and unusual punishment when you really sit down and think about it. If you want the picture of the out-of-place guy, you’ll have the tighty-whities hanging out of the cycling shorts, cotton tee-shirt half-tucked in, $15 Kmart cycling helmet riding a steel bike from 1985 fitted with down tube shifters that squeaks every time the crank goes around. I’ve met that guy, too.
Road cycling is a persnickety form of cycling. We ride fast bikes and wear fast clothes – even when we aren’t all that fast and need more practice pushing away from the table than pushing the pedals. In many cases our clothing matches our bikes, as do our cycling helmets, shoes, sunglasses and just about everything else (see above)… We wear these things because A) They look awesome, but also B) Because they make the ride comfortable. Riding any of my road bikes would be torturous without padded cycling shorts that fit well. Also, it would be considerably harder to keep up with my friends if I were riding in a baggy tee-shirt rather than a form-fitting jersey.
Let’s talk about the guns… The only reason I shave my legs is because doing so makes the guns look awesome.
That’s a period at the end of that last sentence. I don’t even care that it’s vastly more aerodynamic. Shaved legs look better on a bike. You don’t have to like it, but that doesn’t change that it’s a fact. This is the one area that any noob can safely choose to ignore, though. You won’t be ostracized for choosing to leave your legs hairy (though a trimming every other week with clippers goes a long way to keeping the guns tidy) – and you’d better be able to hammer out some hard miles.
In other words, we don’t wear any of that shit to make you feel bad or inadequate. We wear all of that crap because it’s quite necessary, especially when you ride faster than average (20+ mph for an average) and spend more than four hours on your bike at a crack. 20-30 minutes? No worries, but try cranking out a century wearing a tee-shirt, shorts and your underwear. The word “chafed” doesn’t do justice to the hell you’re in for when you step into the shower after the ride.
There are, however, ways to play around the edges. When I got into cycling I didn’t have much in the way of disposable income. I bought a used race bike from the local shop for $750 and fixed it up (meaning I cleaned it up real nice). I wore cheap shorts because that was all I could afford. I had mountain bike shoes and pedals for both my mountain and road bike because I couldn’t afford road and mountain shoes and pedals… same with my helmet. I still felt a little out of place with all of those folks out there with their $8,000 super-bikes and their new Castelli kit, but I hung in there and I bought a new piece of kit every now and again, when it could be afforded – and I never went high-end if I couldn’t absolutely afford it. I looked for sales at my local shop and pinched pennies at Nashbar if I needed something and money was tight. Little by little, I got to a point where I could not only ride fast enough to fit in, I accumulated the wardrobe as well – then I had to turn around and do the same for my wife. The most important part was learning to ride well, though. The rest of the junk is superficial.
The main point is this, my friends: Any noob cyclist can choose to feel like they don’t fit in. There are so many ways to feel uncomfortable out there I wouldn’t bother trying to list them. In the end, what fits us in is how we ride. If we ride strong and confident, a lot of the glitzy shit doesn’t matter. That’s what’s really not important; the glitzy stuff… You do need some cycling shorts if you’re going to be a roadie – it just is what it is. You don’t, however, need a $300 pair of Rapha bibshorts.
If after you’ve put in your saddle time, gotten your kit sorted, and become a solid cyclist, you still feel uncomfortable because you don’t have the expensive, glitzy shit, go see a shrink ’cause you ain’t right. You’re not supposed to compare your insides to someone else’s outside… and if you don’t know what that means, ask the shrink. Ride hard and hold your head up. Riding well is all your friends will really care about anyway.