8. Practice riding different terrain. You can greatly improve your handling skills on your road bike by riding on gravel trails or even grass. Your speed will be slower, but you'll learn how to navigate around obstacles and over pebbles, which will help when you ride on roads with traffic and debris.
9. Be defensive in traffic. Always ride under the assumption that drivers don't see you. Slow down at all intersections, even if you have the right of way. Make eye contact with drivers. Ride as close to the right side of the road as safely possible, use arm signals and obey all traffic signs and lights so drivers know where you're heading.
10. Consider clipless pedals. Clipless pedals (those without traditional "clips and straps") use a cleat to affix your cycling shoe to the pedal. This transfers the greatest amount of force from your legs to your pedals and cranks, propelling you forward with more power and efficiency (meaning you'll tire less easily).
There are several types of clipless pedals--SPD, Look, Time, Speedplay--all with their own unique cleat. Try out several in the bike store (ask to demo them on a trainer to see which is easiest to clip in and out of) and then practice on a grassy field before hitting the roads.
Knowing the basics about bike equipment will get you looking and feeling like a pro in no time.
Bike frames. Bikes primarily come in four materials: aluminum, carbon, titanium and steel. Aluminum is an economical, lightweight frame, but it can feel unforgiving on rough roads. Carbon frames are very light and strong, providing a smoother ride, but they tend to be expensive. Titanium is also very light and strong, but pricey, as well. Steel frames are relatively inexpensive, but much heavier than the other kinds.
If you're happy with your current bike, stick with it. But if you're not comfortable on it or it's just too old, take time to test ride a variety of frame styles and materials before buying.
Helmets. A good helmet should fit well and keep your head relatively cool. Look for plenty of vents and easy-to-adjust straps to ensure a snug, comfortable fit.
Clothing. Cycling shorts have a chamois insert to provide padding between you and your bike seat. Although those "shorty" shorts may look cute, opt for the longer mid-thigh length to prevent inner-thigh chafing. And never wear underwear along with the shorts--they're designed to work best alone. Look for a jersey with pockets in the back to hold energy bars, keys, phone, etc. Choose Lycra/Coolmax combinations or other technical fabric designed to wick moisture away from your skin.
Pedals. You have three choices of pedals: platforms, toe clips and clipless pedals. Since your feet aren't attached to simple platform pedals, they don't allow you to maximize your stroke; all you can do is push down, but not pull up.
Toe clips (also known as "toe cages") allow you to use more of the pedal stroke. The drawback is they need to be snug, which makes them harder to pull out of for quick stops. Clipless pedals, which attach directly to a cleat in the bottom of your shoe, take a little getting used to, but with practice you'll be able to get in and out of them in a snap, as well as get the most out of your pedal stroke.
Shoes. If you have clipless pedals, you'll need shoes with cleats to attach to them. You can get either road or mountain bike shoes. Road shoes have a stiffer sole to create more pedaling power but are a difficult to walk in. Mountain bike shoes are easier to walk in, but not as stiff, so you sacrifice a little power. Even if you don't have clipless pedals, using bike shoes (as opposed to running shoes) will improve your bike speed.
Gloves. Cycling gloves minimize impact and chafing to your hands and protect them if you fall. You can get half-fingered ones for hot weather or full coverage for colder conditions.
Fiona Lockhart is a pro coach with Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. (CTS). She's an expert-level mountain bike rider and avid bike tourist and urban commuter. For more information, visit www.trainright.com.