When I decided to purchase my road bike, it triggered a slew of questions, research, excitement and much more. I was pretty clueless about much to do with bikes, especially road bikes, except how to ride one and wear a helmet. And after I bought my Specialized bike? Yep, the questions continue. I’m super fortunate to have good friends, with lots of patience, who answer my ongoing slew of questions and curiosity. There was, and still is, a lot to learn about the cycling sport.
In the 1.5 years of riding my road bike, aka Ruby, I’ve tried a variety of items, including chamois cream, clothes, pedals, shoes, electrolyte mixes and more. I often write and post pictures about my cycling journey, which has led to many people (particularly women) asking for recommendations and favorites. Since I am so fortunate to have people willing to share their expertise and insight, I wanted to do the same (note that I do NOT consider myself an expert, simply user of the products). I’ll preface this list with the note that I’ve received lots of amazing, helpful information from friends, cycling shops, other cyclists and my own research. This list is composed of items that I’ve tried and like best for me. And that’s the important point – just because something works for one person, doesn’t mean it has to be the best for you. Find what you love.
Chamois shorts: It took me a while to get over the fact that these shorts are meant to fit snug. I just wear a lot of black (ha). Good padding (chamois) is essential for good rides, as important to me as the chamois cream. Pearl Izumi are a comfortable brand with a good chamois and nice fit in the waist and legs. I also really like Performance Bike shorts, which are affordable (and often on sale) and the chamois protects in all the right places. Most of these shorts have reflective sun protection and silicone grips to stay put on your legs when riding.
Chamois cream: You certainly shouldn’t put on the lovely Lycra shorts (or tights, pants, etc) without cream to prevent friction and tenderness on your….special parts. I’ve tried a few different brands, with my two favorite being Chamois Butt’r Her (you can buy small individual packs to keep in your jersey pockets if you need to reapply on long rides) and Okole Stuff chamois cream.
Helmet: One of the most important items, if not the most important, is a bike helmet. You should wear a helmet every time you ride your bike. There are a lot of styles on the market and while you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a helmet, make sure it fits correctly and is safety approved (check out my blog about bike helmets). Seriously, though, wear a helmet.
Trackers: I love having several different trackers to help with my training. Plus, it’s been fun tracking my mileage and feeling pride in my fitness improvement (I rode a total of 300 miles in 2016 and more than 1,500 miles last year. My goal is to ride more this year!). I’ve discovered there are many opinions from cyclists on the best trackers but I’ve used Garmin for years (long before I bought a road bike). It was confusing with so many on the market so when my friend said he really liked his Garmin, I stuck with the brand I know best. I bought an Edge 520 shortly after I bought my road bike, and since it functions on GPS, I can switch between my two bikes. I’m happy I purchased my Garmin bike speed sensor as it’s able to track my speed and distance while on my bike trainer. This has helped with interval training and motivated me to keep consistent with overall training. I also have a cadence sensor, which tracks pedal revolutions per minute. Knowing your cadence can help improve cycling efficiency, lower strain on your muscles (and less pressure on my left leg), and enable you to pedal faster and longer.
Jerseys: I didn’t realize the various fits for cycling jerseys until I tried a few that didn’t fit all that comfortably (performance, race, baggy fit and more). I also discovered that I don’t really like relaxed as the material tends to flap and cause drafts to come up between the material/my skin (sometimes makes me chilly). This is an example of doing what works for you – I was sure I would prefer a relaxed style, but discovered I prefer a close-fitting style (and found some to be really slimming! Let’s be real, we all think about it). There are hundreds of different jerseys on the market – promoting everything from countries to breweries to sports teams to national parks and more. Plus long, short and no sleeves. Whew! Many of my jerseys are from LIVESTRONG events, who often partners with Primal Wear. These have been a comfortable fit for me. I recently discovered Solidarity Cycling, a new company that partners with female artists to create some beautiful jerseys (and shorts) for female cyclists. I love their super soft, pretty jerseys! (stay tuned for more on this great company.)
Sun sleeves: Not many cyclists I’ve met like these but I’m obsessed with sun protection. These simple slip on sleeves protect my arms from the sun (SPF 50+) and provide a layer of warmth when riding on cool days. The sleeves come in varying colors and thickness. I prefer white to help reflect while on the road, and reflect the sun rather than absorb the warmth as black sometimes does.
Hydration and energy drinks: Staying hydrated and energized are important, especially on long rides during warm weather (like biking across Iowa in July!). Skratch Lab has a good hydration mix to add to water (no grit). I also use Nuun hydration electrolyte tablets dropped in my water bottle (these come in a variety of flavors and ‘styles’ with electrolytes, vitamins and more) – beware that these tablets mixed in water cause a bit of fizzy carbonation so the watery mix tends to spurt out a little (very classy to have water dribble down your chin. lol). I’ve tried some energy chews too, but have to be careful as some have too much caffeine that cause me to get jittery (not a good combo on a bike).
Bike trainer: I’ve really loved my trainer this winter, allowing me to stay regularly active on my Specialized road bike. There are a lot of trainer options! Some even connect to virtual programs, letting you ‘ride’ with other cyclists around the world. However, I simply wanted a trainer to hold my bike while I binge-watched some Netflix shows and movies. It got a bit overwhelming for me so I was grateful when my good friend/cycling go-to person recommended the Cyclops Fluid 2. It was super easy to set up on my own and has worked great with Ruby. I’ve since discovered lots of people use the Cycleops trainers!
Clipless pedals/shoes: This system includes special pedals and cleats that attach to the soles of special cycling shoes. When you’re on the bike, you click your shoes into the pedal, creating a secure connection with to the pedals for optimum efficiency when cycling. To get out of the clips, you twist your foot to the outside to release. There is a variety of clipless pedal styles, which I’m not an expert on so recommend talking to your local bike shop. Not going to lie – I was a ball of anxiety at the thought of switching to a clipless pedal, mostly at the thought of not being able to release my foot quickly and causing a fall (my greatest fear with a titanium rod in my leg). The bike shop suggested I prop my bike against a wall when sitting on it to practice clipping in/out of the pedals while stationary. Once I got comfortable with the motion, I took my bike outdoors and spent a lot of time simply riding slowly around a parking lot while clipping in and out. You can set the tension of the clip for easier slip out too. I have to be very careful of twisting my left leg too much since the titanium rod doesn’t give, so my left pedal tension is much lighter than the right to allow that foot to slip out as easily as possible.
Cycling gloves: I don’t wear gloves regularly but tend to on longer rides. In cooler weather, these keep my hands warm and the padded palms help prevent tingling or numbness from gripping the handle bars for long distances. If I got better about flexing my hands more often during the ride, I probably wouldn’t need the gloves. But, alas, I don’t.
While I’m still learning about my bike and cycling in general, these are a few of my favorite items. So far! I’m sure I’ll find more and adjust styles and interests the more I ride and get more comfortable. What are some of your favorite cycling items?
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