Roadies are always looking for ways to get better, faster, and stronger on the bike. We’re also looking for ways to improve our ride, have more fun, and stay safe so we can get on the road again. Check out these 12 road cycling tips before you kit up for your next ride.
1. Do a bike check before every ride
Nobody wants to get 20 miles down the road and have a mechanical. And while sometimes, the unavoidable issue happens, and you have to Uber your way home, there are plenty of mechanicals that can be avoided with a few simple pre-ride checks. Do these before every ride so you can ride safely and without problems that could leave you stranded alongside the road.
- Check your headset. If your headtube is loose, you’ll start to notice it on your descents when the handlebars begin to quiver uncontrollably. You might also notice your bike feels extra twitchy when you get up out of the saddle. Riding with a loose headset can set you up for the death wobble – when road vibrations make your bike shake out of control. It’s scary, dangerous, and pretty much preventable.
Check your headset before you head out on your ride. Standing next to the bike, grab your left brake lever and squeeze it. Grasp the headset and shake it, making sure there isn’t any wobble going on. If there is, tighten it up before you leave. If you aren’t sure how to fix it, a short stop at your local bike shop should get you back on the road fast.
- Tires. Give your tires a quick spin while feeling along the tread. Look for signs of wear, leaks, pieces of glass, or nails. Look for anything that could cause your tire to split or puncture while you’re riding.
- Tire pressure. Tire pressure is pretty individualized depending on your weight and the type of tires you run. But you can always look on the side of your tire for a range – you should be in good shape if you stay within that pressure range. Check it before every ride because tires can lose air just sitting around for a couple of days.
- Brakes. Check your brakes and make sure they are working and the pads aren’t worn down. Listen for any brake rub.
- Are Your Skewers Tight? Double-check to make sure your skewers or maxles haven’t come loose. Ensure they are tight enough to keep your tire on but don’t crank them down so hard that you break the metal over time.
2. Carry tools and know how to use them
You don’t need to carry an entire toolbox on your next ride, but you should be prepared for some essential repairs or adjustments. Ideally, you’ll always have a spare tube, tire levels, and a patch kit because a flat tire is one of the most common problems you’ll face.
But don’t forget to pack a cycling-specific multi-tool along with your spare tube. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It just has to fit the hex bolts on your bike. You never know when you might have to adjust your seat, tighten your bars, or fix something after you’ve taken a tumble.
It’s a good idea to wrap your tube and your tools separately before putting them in your saddlebag. The road’s vibrations can cause rubbing, which could put a hole in your spare tube over time.
If you don’t know how to do basic repairs, many local bike shops offer clinics periodically to teach you. You can learn how to fix a flat, clean your chain, and maintain your bike. They’ll help you know what tools to carry in your saddlebag, too.
If you have the tools but don’t know how to use them, carry them along anyway. If you’re stranded alongside the road, a friendly fellow cyclist passing by might just have the knowledge to help, especially if you’ve got the right stuff on hand.
3. Dress for the weather
Check the weather before you head out for your ride, and make sure you are dressed for it. Overheating can make you fatigue too soon, but being cold can make you miserable. Being cold and wet can cause hypothermia, so always be prepared.
Aa jersey and cycling shorts should be just fine for warm days, although a lightweight base layer can help wick away sweat. If there is wind, rain, or cold, you’ll want to wear layers that you can easily shed or put on to keep your temperature just right.
Merino wool is an excellent choice to keep in your cycling arsenal. It’s one of the few textiles that can keep you warm even if it is wet. It also helps wick away sweat and moisture while regulating body heat. You’ll find both summer and winter base layers made from merino blends, and they are worth the investment.
You might also want a windbreaker, a wind vest, wool socks, and a cycling cap for various types of weather. You might also want to invest in storm jackets, a Gabba, or other weather specific gear if you’re going to ride outside when the weather isn’t balmy.
4. Protect your noggin
Concussions are a real and serious issue. One way to try and avoid a head injury or head trauma is by investing in a high-quality helmet and wear it every time you ride. Don’t be afraid to invest a little bit extra in a helmet – you’ll be thankful for it if you ever crash and it might just save your life.
MIPS technology – also known as Multi-direction Impact Protection System, absorbs more of the impact from rotational forces that might otherwise injure your brain. Most of the big-name helmet manufacturers have helmets using MIPS technology. Keep in mind that while all helmets in the United States have to conform to the Consumer Products Safety Commission guidelines, you’ll find that Virginia Tech has more intensive safety ratings to show you which helmets protect your noggin.
5. Improve your skills
Your skills can never be too good! Routinely brush up on your skills so you can always be in top form when it comes to safety and speed. Even the most seasoned wheelman or wheel lady can stand a refresher now and then. Try some of these skills and drills:
- Cornering. It’s easy to get dropped if your cornering isn’t up to snuff, so take some time to work on this skill. Practice figure eights in an empty parking lot, ensuring your outside foot is down, and the weight is on your inside hand. Start slowly and gradually pick up speed until you can do it without thinking. Avoid braking in the middle of a turn – instead, it is safer to scrub your speed before you begin the turn.
- Descend in the drops. Lazy riders and fearful riders have the same issue – they want to stay on the hoods to reach the brakes easily. But you’ll descend faster and more safely if you can ride easily in the drops. The drops give you better weight distribution to make riding downhill that much better and safer.
- Balance. Balance is critical on a bike—practice riding as slowly as possible to learn to keep your balance. Learning to track stand can make stopping for stop signs and traffic lights that much easier if you can do it safely.
- Bunny hop. Although this is a pretty advanced skill, it can help on the road if you suddenly come upon road debris or other obstacles that you can’t go around. Practice bunny hopping in a soft grassy area where you won’t get hurt.
6. Learn group ride etiquette
Group rides are fun, social, and challenging. But they can be dangerous, too, if someone isn’t following group etiquette. A good beginner group ride will teach you how to ride well with others or learn from a few close friends. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Drafting. Drafting means you’re following the person in front of you close enough that they shelter you from the wind resistance and reduce drag on you and your bike. Slipstreaming or drafting means you can go faster with less effort! But you need to do it safely. Don’t stare directly at the wheel in front of you; look ahead instead. Maintain the proper distance, so you don’t accidentally touch wheels and don’t ever overlap wheels.
- Point out road problems. The person behind you can’t see what’s coming up, so make sure you tell them what’s going on. Point out potholes, rocks, road debris, and grates, so they don’t have an accident. If you slow down or are coming to a stop sign, tell them!
- Don’t brake hard in a paceline. If you do, you’ll likely cause a pileup. Try to use other techniques to slow your speed when necessary, such as soft-pedaling or lightly feathering the brake. If you absolutely have to use your brakes, call it out, so you don’t surprise the rider behind you.
- Be predictable. Group riding is not the time for crazy stunts, showing off, or being crazy. Be predictable, so everyone knows what you will do and when.
- Don’t speed up when it’s your turn to take a pull. Generally, in a group ride, folks will take turns riding in the front and ‘pulling.’ It takes more energy to be in the front of the ride because you’re taking the brunt of the wind. Resist the urge to speed up or ride harder – just keep the same steady pace when it is your turn to lead.
- Be on time. Don’t be late for group rides. Get there early and be prepared so everyone can roll out at the expected time.
7. Pack enough snacks
Most of us have learned the hard way and bonked once or twice because we didn’t fuel our rides well. Your jersey pockets are there to hold your snacks (and other necessary items). Ensure you bring enough snacks and water along, or make sure your route has places to stop and refuel.
Depending on your physiology, you may need to eat every half hour on the bike and be sure to drink a bottle of water for each hour of hard effort. Pack easy to eat, easy to carry snacks.
- Cliff Bars
- Gatorade Chews
- Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
- Homemade Rice Cakes
8. Don’t forget the eye gear
Poets may say that eyes are the windows to the soul, but without them, you can’t really ride a bike! So make sure you protect your eyes while you’re riding. A bug in the eye at 20 MPH does not feel good, and you want to avoid severe injuries from gravel or road debris that might get flung at you when you’re riding.
You can find suitable eye gear for every situation and price point, so don’t be afraid to shop around and find just the right thing. If you’re very frugal, you can stick with a pair of inexpensive safety goggles from your local hardware store. But if you want to look totally pro, you might try a pair of cycling-specific glasses.
Cycling glasses come in a variety of lens colors and frame shapes to suit your needs. For style ideas, check out what the pros are wearing in stage races. You can find cycling glasses with polarized lenses to block out glare, reactive lenses that automatically adjust to the amount of sunlight, clear, and colors. Just make sure you protect your eyes on every ride.
9. Perfect your cadence
Other cycling disciplines don’t rely on cadence as heavily as road cycling. An optimum bike cadence will help you ride faster, longer, and with less fatigue. A higher cadence will rely more on your cardiovascular system, while a lower cadence will require more power from your legs. (Source) If you spend too much time grinding at a low cadence, you’ll likely fatigue more quickly.
An ideal cadence falls somewhere between 90 and 100 RPMs per minute. (Source) However, a very muscular rider might prefer a slightly lower cadence, while a rider with a great VO2 max might prefer a higher cadence. It’s very personal, and you have to find what fits your riding ability. If you’re grinding up hills, you might find your cadence naturally drops a bit, as well, and if you’re riding up out of the saddle, it will be even lower still.
Road bikes have many gears that are close together to help you fine-tune your cadence over the terrain. You don’t have to be a gear whiz to understand how to shift, though. If the gear you are in feels too hard to keep your cadence at a quick pace, then simply shift to an easier one. If your cadence is spinning out of control, then drop to a harder gear so you can keep pedaling in a comfortable range.
10. Protect your paint job
Your bike came with a pretty paint job, and you want to keep it looking nice and new. Unfortunately, accessories that you put on your bicycle can wear away the paint and leave the frame exposed. There are a few ways to prevent this.
Helicopter tape. You can purchase this sticky stuff on Amazon. Put it on your frame anywhere you would put a fastener for an accessory. For example, you could wrap it around your seat post where the Velcro strap from your saddlebag goes. The tape will protect your paint job and frame from wear and tear from the strap.
If you don’t want to put out the cash for helicopter tape, you can also use a piece of an old tire tube. If you’ve got an old tube laying around that’s beyond repair; it’ll work great. Just cut off a little piece and wrap it around your tube before adding the accessory. You can secure it with a bit of electrical tape if you like. Pieces of old tube work especially well underneath the elastic bands used to keep lights attached to your bike frame.
If all else fails, a little piece of painter’s tape will work in a pinch, too.
11. Make a plan
While it can be fun to set out with no expectations and explore the neighborhood, it’s also a good idea to make a plan and stick to it. Planning a route will help you know what to expect on your ride, help you know how much you can handle, and gives you an idea of when you’ll return so your loved ones will know when to expect you back.
You can use Strava, Ride with GPS, or even Kamoot to find great local routes. You can adjust your route based on elevation, traffic, construction, and coffee stops or simply follow someone else’s route that they’ve shared. Upload directions to your bike computer or smart phone so you don’t get lost.
You can base new rides off of routes you’ve successfully accomplished in the past, so you don’t overdo it and get stranded because you’re too tired to pedal back home.
12. Get adequate recovery
Recovery days are just as important as riding days, even if it doesn’t feel like it. I always feel lazy and sluggish, and unhappy on the days I don’t ride my bike. But recovery days are days when your body makes adaptations to the work that you did on the bike. It needs to repair the ‘damage’ so you can be stronger and fitter.
You don’t have to sit around and do nothing on rest days, though. Yoga is excellent for recovery, as are easy walks or hikes, or even a short and slow recovery ride. The idea is not to tax your central nervous system or your heart so you can be rested.
Don’t underestimate the mental aspects of recovery, too, so you can avoid bike burnout.
Signs that you aren’t getting enough recovery are an elevated resting heart rate, fatigue, and a lack of motivation. Make sure you get plenty of rest and good nutrition!