Cycling Questions You Are Too Afraid to Ask

December 1, 2015

Come on, admit it. You had at least one of these questions when you first got into cycling. Much of this post is tongue in cheek but it actually does answer a large number of questions that many new cyclists have and are just too embarrassed to ask. Let me know in the comments if there are any I left out. You can always put your name down as “Anonymous”.

Q:What should I wear?
A: Aside from a helmet we really don’t have any sort of dress code. 96% of us wear cycling shorts and a cycling jersey, but spandex is optional. Dress appropriately for the weather. It’s best to avoid loose pant legs and shoe laces. They tend to get caught up in your chainring.

Q: Am I supposed to wear underwear under my cycling shorts?
A: No. Cycling shorts are designed to be worn skin to chamois.

Q: What’s a chamois?
A:It’s actually pronounced “shammy”. It’s the pad sewn into cycling shorts.

One of many chamois designs

Q:Should I use chamois cream? Do I put it on my chamois or skin?
A: These are highly personal choices. There really are no wrong answers. Experiment and figure out what works best for you. Just don’t accidentally mix up your chamois cream with your energy gel.

Q: What’s up with bib shorts?
A: Bib shorts are essentially cycling shorts with suspenders built in. Sorta. They offer two major advantages over regular shorts. First, they help keep your chamois in place better. Second, they eliminate the elastic waistband which can get irritating after an hour or so when hunched over in a more aggressive riding position. Bibs are more expensive than shorts and fit can be a little trickier depending on your body proportions. Bathroom breaks take a little more wardrobe re-arranging as well.

Q: What’s the big deal about cycling specific clothing? Can’t I ride in general workout clothes?
A: Cycling clothing is designed specifically with the body mechanics of riding a bike. It is designed to be close fitting so when you are going 15+ mph your t-shirt isn’t flapping around and so your gym shorts don’t catch the breeze and ride up. There are other little details that beginning riders may not notice right away and experienced cyclists take for granted. For example, a cycling jersey is cut shorter in front at the bottom because when you are leaned over on a bike you don’t need the extra material. It’s also cut a little longer in the back where you do need it. The sleeves are oriented for your arms to be extended out to your handlebars. Likewise, a long sleeve jersey has slightly longer sleeves. Pockets are on the back of a jersey so you aren’t forced to carry things near your hips which are constantly moving as you pedal. If you are trying on cycling clothing for the first time at the store, it will probably feel very awkward when you are standing or sitting up straight. However, once you get into a riding position, it will all makes sense.

Q: Do I need to match my shoes to my bike to my helmet to my bar tape to my saddle to my gloves to my socks to my jersey?
A: Only if you are vain and have a lot of money.

Q: Should I shave my legs?
razor? shave?A: This is also a highly personal choice. Most female club members shave. Most male club members don’t. It’s totally up to you.

Q: Won’t shaving my legs make me faster?
A: No.

Q: But what about the aerodynamic drag of…
A: No, it won’t make you any faster.

Q: What kind of bike do I need?
A: On road rides 99% of us show up on a road bike (with drop bars). A few members ride commuter bikes (road bike with a flat bar). You can ride whatever you’d like but we need you to maintain about a 15 mph pace on the flats if you want to stay with the group. One time a member showed up with a cargo basket bike and dropped all of us. Keep in mind, he also averages something like 300-400 miles a week.
On Dirty Thursdays, we ride on dirt trails and singletrack. A mountain bike is appropriate for these rides. And no, you don’t need full suspension.

Road bike with drop bars

Q: Do I need clipless pedals?
A: No. 99% of us use them though. A few members use toe clip pedals. If you are new to clipless pedals, please practice clipping in and clipping out of them until you’ve mastered it before showing up to ride with us. We’re not being snobby and we usually are happy to help you build your skills. It’s a safety concern for you and the riders around you. Tip: Practice on grass and adjust your pedals/cleats to the lowest setting.

Q: Do I need to wear a helmet?
A: On club rides, yes.

Q: Can I wear headphones while riding?
A: On club rides, no. Besides, half of the reasons Boulder Cycling Club members ride with the club is to socialize. Mostly, it’s a safety issue. Headphones make communication between other riders much more difficult. It is also much more difficult to hear cars approaching from behind.

Q: Can I use my aero bars?
A: Only if you are more than 66 feet behind another rider at 15mph or less. That’s about 12 bike lengths. Again, it’s a safety issue.

Q: Why 66 feet?
A: Let’s do the math. 15 mph is 22 ft per second. Reaction time to move from aero bars to brakes is about 3 seconds. In that 3 seconds you’ll have traveled 66 feet.

Q: How much food/water should I bring?
A: This depends on the length of the ride, the intensity of the ride, and the weather. As a rule of thumb, start with at least 20 oz of water and 100 calories per hour of riding.

Q: Do I need to buy food/drink if I want to socialize after a ride?
A: Nope. We schedule many of our rides around breweries and a number of us will enjoy a beer after the ride. Many of them generously sponsor and support the club so we thank them with patronage. If you don’t drink or simply don’t want to spend money, that’s totally fine. There will be no pressure on you to do so. It’s unlikely anyone would even notice. If you do want to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, prepare to be carded and please be responsible about it.

Q: Should I ride or drive to the ride?
A: Up to you. Most meeting spots have ample parking. If you ride to an evening ride, bring your lights and possibly an extra layer for the ride home.

Q: Do I need to know how to fix a flat tire to ride with the club?
A: You really should learn how, but someone will be happy to give you a hand if you need help. At the absolute minimum, you need to bring a spare tube and a CO2 cartridge. It’s a good idea to be self sufficient, but it’s likely someone will have tire levers, a pump and a multi-tool. It’s not too difficult to change a tire. Stop by any of the great bike shops in Boulder and if they aren’t too busy they’ll show you how to do it. Or, keep an eye on our calendar for the next repair clinic.

Q: Who are some other famous cyclists besides Lance Armstrong that I should know about?
A: Let’s cover a few pros that get coverage during the Tour de France, like Cadel Evans. He’s from Australia and won it in 2011. Let’s not forget Alberto Contador from Spain. He won in 2007 in one of the closest top 3 finishes in history. Then he won it again in 2009 after some drama with Lance Armstrong. Then there’s Andy Schleck. He’s from Luxembourg and he’s come really close to winning the Tour de France the last 5 years. There was major drama between him and Contador in the 2010 tour. Contador ended up winning that year as well largely due to that drama.

This post has been re-published from April 2012