So You Want to Be a Cyclist? Part I: Choosing Your Equipment

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A Note from Fatty: Congrats to my friends at Twin Six for having their clothing — jersey, shorts, and socks! — featured on the cover of this month’s Bicycling magazine. Click the image to see a larger view.

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So You Want to Be a Cyclist?

It’s always such a pleasure when I get linked to by some non-cycling site like The Bloggies. I assume — quite rightly, I am certain — that you are here because you are very interested in becoming a cyclist, and would like me to tell you everything you need to know about what you need to do to join the ranks of this fast-growing sport.

Well, you’ve come to the right place!

As a well-known and much-beloved ambassador of cycling culture, it will be my honor to give you a whirlwind tour of the different kinds of cycling, the equipment you will need to purchase, and what you will need to do to get maximum enjoyment from your new hobby.

Let’s begin, shall we?

A Few Necessary Things

One of the really great things about cycling is how inexpensive it is. However, there are a few things you’ll find absolutely essential to enjoying the sport.

A Bike
Obviously, you’ll need a bike. This almost goes without saying, right? You can’t be a cyclist without a bicycle. And you can get a reasonably good bicycle for around $500. This is, in fact, an excellent amount of money to plan on spending on your bicycle…if you want to draw the scorn and derision of every other cyclist you ever meet.

That would be just awful.

And the fact is, if you spend just $500 on that bike, you’re going to find that you want to trade it in on a much nicer bike within a few months anyway.

So, you’d better plan on budgeting around $2500 for that bike.

Also, I was kind of misleading you a little bit when I talked about your “bike” in the singular sense. You can’t have just one bike; that would severely limit the grand experience that cycling has to offer. You’ve got to have your main road bike (I know I said $2500 earlier, but $3500 will get you one you really like), your rain bike ($750), your fixie ($1666), your cross-country mountain bike ($2750), your freeride / downhill bike ($3800 each if you’re going to do it right), your cyclocross bike ($1500), your singlespeed ($1200), and your recumbent ($1900, plus $75 for a good-quality beard trimmer).

That’s about $18,966, because I was just kidding about the recumbent.

A Helmet
The bike’s just the beginning of the story, though. You’ll also need a helmet, because — even though as a cyclist you are otherwise completely unprotected — safety has got to be your first concern.

Now, some people will tell you that a helmet is a good place to save money, since even the cheapest helmets must pass the same tests before they go on the market. But those people haven’t told you about the “Do you look like a brain surgery patient on the way back to the hockey rink” test.

No, if you want to be a real cyclist, you need to get yourself a nice-looking helmet. There’s an easy pair of criteria to help you discern whether a helmet looks nice:

  1. The helmet has at least 20 vents. More is better. Ideally, in fact, there should be enough vents that you have a difficult time believing that the helmet will actually protect you at all in a crash.
  2. The helmet costs at least $100.

Shoes
If you are a man, you likely have never spent more than $75 on shoes before. Those days are over, my friend. To be a real cyclist, you need cycling-specific shoes. This may seem odd, since — unlike in most sports, where your shoes actually touch the ground — your shoes do nothing but get between your feet and the pedal.

You’ll be pleased to know, then, that cycling shoes are in fact the most special-purpose footwear you will ever own. These shoes, combined with special pedals, actually lock you to your bike, making it so you theoretically can pull up on the pedals as well as push down on them.

In reality, of course, their main purpose is to entertain your fellow cyclists when you fall down at a stoplight, hopelessly tangled with and pinned down by your bicycle.

Anyway.

Cycling shoes have stiff, inflexible soles, giving you extra power when you pedal, as well as — when combined with the hardware that locks you to your pedals — making you look ridiculous when you walk.

Important safety tip: Do not walk on concrete, asphalt, or tile when wearing cycling shoes, because you are likely to slip and fall. Do not walk on grass or dirt, because you are likely to jam up the inner workings of your cleats. Do not walk on hardwood floors, because you are likely to be killed by your significant other.

And how much do these very useful shoes cost? Anywhere from $150 – $500. A bargain!

Oh, and you’re going to want different sets for your road and mountain bikes.

Clothes

You might assume that you should be able to wear any clothes when riding a bike, and you would be right! However, you would also notice that your normal natural fiber clothes start to chafe a bit after you’ve ridden for an hour or so.

And they start to get soaked with sweat.

And they billow in the wind something awful.

Which is why you need to buy extremely bright, form-fitting polyester and lycra clothing, including:

  • Bike jerseys: Bike jerseys are designed to fit you very comfortably, as long as you are a professional cyclist with arms in an advanced stage of attrition. Otherwise, you might find them a bit snug. And, after wearing them a couple times, you might find them a bit stinky. Don’t try to get that stink out. It’s your street cred. Also, try to get a jersey that advertises your favorite consumer product. And finally, since bike jersey pockets are otherwise impossible to get to — they’re in the back of the jersey — you may want to have your elbow hinges replaced with ball joints.
  • Bike shorts: Bike shorts have the distinction of being both the world’s most and world’s least comfortable clothing, depending on what you are doing at the moment. If you are on a bike, the big diaper-y thing between your nether regions and the saddle clearly falls into the “boon” category, and the lycra wicks sweat away as it stretches to accommodate the motion of your legs and your — let’s face it — unnatural sitting position. Once you’re off the bike, however, the diaper becomes dank and cold and starts breeding bacteria so fast you can actually hear the cells divide. Plus, thanks to muscle memory from when you were a toddler, you will be unable to prevent yourself from walking with a distinct waddle. The shoes will augment this motion.
  • Layers upon layers: You never know when the weather might change. It could become wetter. Or drier. Or colder, or warmer, or windier. Non-cyclists might simply live with these kinds of changes up to a point and then — if the weather got bad enough — go home. Cyclists, however, are prepared for any shifts in the weather. Hence, you are going to need to not only own, but carry with you at all times, each of the following:

    • Arm warmers
    • Knee warmers
    • Extra gloves
    • Vest
    • Wind jacket
    • Rainproof jacket
    • Shoe covers

And how much should these clothes cost? That’s easy: simply take the cost of an ordinary, comparable article of clothing, then imagine that article of clothing encrusted in diamonds. But still washer-safe.

Emergency Repair Gear
Once you’ve got your bike and clothing, you’re almost ready to ride! But not quite. Because while Cyclists celebrate the simplicity and efficiency of their machines (more on this tomorrow), the reality is that bicycles are required by law to break down every nine miles.

So as to avoid being stranded, you need to make sure you always have the following with you when riding your bike:

  • Patch kit
  • Tire levers
  • Extra tube of glue for the patch kit because the first tube of glue has certainly dried out
  • Extra tube for when the patch still doesn’t hold (true fact: in the history of cycling, only four field-applied patches have ever held)
  • Spare tire
  • CO2 tire inflator system
  • Mini-pump for when the CO2 system doesn’t work
  • Frame pump for when the mini-pump doesn’t work
  • Cell phone for when the frame pump doesn’t work
  • Set of allen wrenches (metric and the other kind…non-metric?)
  • Spoke wrench
  • Duct tape (3 rolls)
  • Extra rear derailleur (better safe than sorry)
  • Road flare
  • First Aid kit
  • Change of clothing
  • Pillow
  • Road atlas of the world
  • Pistol and ammo, just in case you find that you need to live off the land for a while
  • 5-gallon jug of water
  • Acetylene torch and welder’s goggles
  • $500 in cash in case you need to buy a cheap used car to get yourself home
  • Something to read
  • Russian phrasebook in case you get very, very lost
  • Extra Powerbar

These are, of course, merely the bare essentials. If you’re going to be out for more than a couple of hours, bring everything else you can imagine possibly needing on the road.

Depending on the size of your jersey pockets, you may want to invest in a pannier setup.

Almost Set
With these simple and inexpensive purchases made, you’re ready to ride.

No, I was just kidding. You’re not even remotely ready to start riding your bike. Before you dare embark on the simple, carefree cyclist lifestyle, you must first understand cycling culture, etiquette, training techniques, nutrition, and a few other simple, intuitive cycling fundamentals.

I will cover these tomorrow. I know you’re excited.

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