Go cycling, they said.
You’ll love it, they said.
When I first started cycling (in any sort of meaningful way, as opposed to a 5 minute jaunt to the shop…) it was with the local triathlon club. I figured I was very new to all this lycra and metal malarky and could benefit from some guidance and experience around me. After all… unlike running, when you’re on a bike you’re typically going much faster and the potential for becoming entangled in metal or wiped off the road is much greater. So tips from the experienced… most welcome!
As I quickly learned, apart from things like road etiquette, what gear you should be riding in and general tips about how to actually ride your bike (who knew?) , there are also a particular number of certainties that go hand in hand with cycling, which unless you have already been initiated into this clandestine little world, you never would have put together.
(I didn’t know anything of this cycling decorum so lest you too end up looking like a confused, gormless gobshite – like me – I suggest you read on!)
Every cyclist’s best friend and unapologetic indulgence.
Before a ride, multiple times during a ride and always, always AFTER a ride.
If you’re out cycling with a club, group or a buddy, be prepared for a nice stop at a cafe along the way. Good chance for a break during a long spin and it can be a welcome rest before heading off again. The caffeine is a helpful boost too – just ask Floyd Landis who infamously downed 15 cappuccinos in one sitting 😉
If you think cyclists are a very serious lot, think again. For a lot of cyclists, the coffee stops are the best part of cycling. I was once out with a small group of cyclists and it was pissing rain so I tabled the idea of forgetting the cafe stop and just cycling straight through to the end.
“Then what’s the point in all of this then?” said four disgusted faces.
Yes, actual cake. Butter, sugar, flour, eggs, whipped together and slathered in icing.
You might be forgiven for assuming all cyclists starve themselves and probably stick to a bare americano or espresso on their coffee stops but no. Nearly every cyclist I’ve ever encountered will go for a pastry, slice of cake, scone, whatever – without hesitation.
Most reckoned they’ve burned the calories and need a few more to fuel the next part of the ride. Most would be right. Granted, I’ve never been out on a ride with a grand tour rider but I like to think they eat cake too 🙂
Similar to a cyclist’s feelings on coffee stops, I get the feeling that most view the cake situation along the lines of sure, what’s the point in a long spin if there’s no cake?
Nobody tells you about the wind. Nobody.
OMG, the friggin wind.
Before I started cycling, I ran. As a runner, I thought I was one with nature and the elements, frequently returning home from a run knowing exactly which way the wind was blowing and being in a position to compare wind strengths from day to day.
Now I look back and realise I knew nothing. Within the first 20 seconds of a ride, I’m immediately calculating which direction the wind is blowing from, estimating wind speeds and working out wind gusts. You feel the wind so much more when you’re seated up on a saddle and though I’m no expert, I expect the fact that you’re moving much faster on a bike than say, you would be while running means that there is a much greater wind resistance and it’s therefore a much greater factor.
The wind is huge in cycling and it can make your ride or… well, just make you want to dump the bike on the side of the road and curl up into a ball. No exaggeration.
4. Social Bunch
Cyclists are the best. One of the reasons I love being a cyclist now is that I feel like I’ve joined a some kind of very cool secret society.
You go out for a spin and you spot a cyclist coming in the other direction. Never met him, never even seen him before, but I look up, give him a little wave and a smile and he likewise, lifts a hand from the handlebars and waves back, giving a respectful nod of the head.
This happens all the time with nearly every cyclist I come across on the road offering a smile, wave, respectful nod and sometimes a few words of hello. Not to sound naff, but it’s really quite lovely. Particularly nice at those moments when you’re feeling tired, bored, soaked to the skin or just otherwise want to turn around and go home – an encouraging greeting from a fellow road warrior can give you a nice little lift and spur you on a bit further.
5. Chamois Cream and Underwear
I’ve saved the best till last.
What no one wants to talk about but what you MUST know about. Ignore this intell at your peril.
Most cyclists do not wear any underwear when they cycle. Two reasons – you can see the lining of the underwear under the lycra cycling shorts, which some find unfashionable/ unseemly. Secondly, wearing underwear can exacerbate the saddle sore situation…
When I first started cycling, I never had any problems with chafing or skin injuries anywhere on my body. Alas, when I started to crank up the frequency and duration of rides, I quickly became acquainted with what are commonly known as “saddle sores.”
Leg up, leg down, leg up, leg down… over and over and over again for 3+ hours, rubbing back and forth over the side of a saddle. Add a good splash of rain and sweat and you quickly have a recipe for skin abrasions. While on the saddle, you might feel a slight discomfort, but actually this is not the worst – what is worse is what comes afterwards.
Stand in a hot shower with fresh saddle sores and you’ll know all about it. Very similar to chafing injuries from running, except these ones are on your heiny and on the inside of the upper leg.
Because of the location of saddle sores, they can be very slow to heal because you cannot very well avoid sitting down completely. And if you’re like me, you’ll be back on the bike a day or two later again and more than likely end up re-aggravating the injuries once you start pedalling away again.
It’s a nasty circle, but the good news is that it can be avoided – mostly. Get yourself a jar of chamois cream, slather some around your shorts and may you never have saddle sores again!
I use Udderly Smooth Chamois Cream (with shea butter) which retails for about 10 euro (on wiggle.com). I only ever need to use a small amount owing to the coconut oil – like consistency, which means you get quite a lot of lubricating for quite a small amount.