10 Beginner Cycling Questions Answered
How Do I Choose Handlebar Width?1 of 11
For starters, those with wider shoulders should ride wider handlebars. This is to keep your chest open and unconstricted for breathing. Climbers and sometimes sprinters like wider handlebars because the extra leverage makes it easier for the upper body to counter the lateral force generated by 1600-watt pedal strokes.
Choose a bar that is too wide and your slightest body movement will steer the bike offline. Choose a bar that is too narrow and you will waver offline while you are sprinting or climbing because your upper and lower body will not be in sync. Most road bikes come with bars in the 42 to 44 centimeter range; use these numbers as an average and choose a different width according to how much you deviate from the norm. If you excelled as a linebacker in high school football, consider a 46-centimeter bar. If you jumped horses, you are probably a perfect 42.
How Often Should I Lube My Chain?2 of 11
The correct method to lubricate a chain is "lightly and often," but most cyclists follow that advice by oiling the chain before every ride, which coats the drivetrain and leaves a black, gritty mess where a once-pristine drivetrain once meshed. Unless it rains during your rides, once a week or every 250 miles is more than enough time between chain lubrication intervals.
Keeping your drivetrain clean is more important than oiling it regularly, because grit and grime cause more friction and do more damage to your drivetrain than running your chain dry will ever do.
Wipe your chain and sprockets clean with a terrycloth towel first, and then, using a light-viscosity lubricant like Finish Line Pro, carefully drop the oil at the gaps between the rollers and the sideplates. Turn the cranks at a moderate rpm so as not to spray oil all over the bike to work the lubricant into the chain's internals, and then wipe all of the residual oil from the chain and sprockets. The chain does not rotate on the sprocket teeth, so the teeth, chain rollers and sideplates should be dry when you are done.
Only the inside of the chain's rollers and pins need to be oiled—do this and your bike will stay clean, and your drivetrain will enjoy a long and efficient life.
Do I Need to Do Intervals to Get Faster?3 of 11
Brute strength can get you over the first climb and close gaps for the first 45 minutes of a race, but after that, it is the condition of your cardiovascular system that determines your fate.
Road riding is about sustained efforts at near-maximum output and about how fast your body can recover. Both of these situations are maximized by interval training. You will ride like you train. As much as intervals hurt, as ill as you feel as you struggle to recover from each successive effort, this will be the measure of pain and suffering that you will be able to inflict upon your rivals come race day or the next club ride.
Think about intervals as storing suffering in a can—the more you store, the more whoop you'll have later to dump on your rivals.
How Does a Tubeless Tire Work?4 of 11
Tubeless tires and rims are similar to standard clincher types in all but a few details. Tubeless rims must be sealed where there are spoke holes and at the joint area and use a special valve stem with O-ring seals on either side.
Most tubeless rim makers, like Shimano and Campagnolo, eliminate the rim's inner spoke holes completely, thus the need for a rim strip. Stan's NoTubes makes a retrofit rim strip which converts conventional wheelsets to tubeless in conjunction with their latex-based sealant.
Tubeless tires have an inner coating of rubber to seal the carcass (standard clincher tires are too porous to hold air for any length of time) and the reinforcing cords molded into the beads must be stronger to prevent the tire from blowing off of the rim when inflated at high pressures.
The way tubeless tires and rims inflate is that the rim and tire are designed to contact each other just tightly enough to make a reasonably airtight seal when the tire is loose on the rim and uninflated (automotive tires operate exactly like this). A quick burst of air pressure spreads the tire beads outwards towards the rim flanges. The inner rim profile is tapered to fit the tire beads more snugly as they spread outward, so once the tubeless tire is "started," easy hand pumping is all that is required to finish the job. When enough air pressure is achieved, the beads "pop" into place audibly and are sealed.
Why Don't More Riders Use Triples?5 of 11
Triple cranksets provide a comfortably low gear range for climbing while retaining a closely spaced racing-type cogset to enhance riding on the flats and rollers. The alternative to a triple is a widely spaced cogset (12 x 28), which is still not low enough to make a huge improvement on excruciatingly long climbs, and creates big jumps between gears—which makes riding on the flats quite annoying.
Foolish pride is the main reason that most roadies will not resort to a triple chainring setup. Pro racers don't use triples, and they set the fashion for rank-and-file riders. We don't want to be seen riding a triple because it screams out that we are unwilling (or unable) to suffer profusely on climbs—like the "real men" in the peloton.
Another reason is that most rear derailleurs cannot handle the capacity (take up enough chain) of a three-ring crankset, nor can many front derailleurs swing wide enough to correctly shift three chainrings. Now that Shimano Dura-Ace and Campagnolo Record groups feature triples, that is a moot point.
Any rider who spends a lot of time in the mountains or plans on following the hilly stages of the Tour de France should consider this wonder of drivetrain technology.
Can You Explain Gearing for Climbs?6 of 11
Most cyclists call out their gearing by making reference to the number of teeth on the chainring and cog selection that they are using. Thus, a "53/11" would be the big chainring and the smallest cog—a selection that you might use on a fast descent or the downwind leg of a time trial.
Climbers like to talk gearing, such as: "I busted out Tragic Mountain in my 39/15 yesterday." Picking up or slipping down one gear on a familiar climb or time trial course is big news. The difference between early-season fitness and peak-season form may only be one gear, but learn the number of teeth on each cog on your cassette before you boast, because most riders will call you out if you are off by a single one.
How Many Tubes Should I Bring on a Ride?7 of 11
Two tubes is the perfect number. You'll need one to fix the only flat you'll get today, and you'll wave the second one at the jerk who never brings his own spares—or only brought one and punctured a second time.
Wave the tube, but never offer it—the only thing you should leave an unprepared rider with is a memorable lesson. Also, many of us forget to repair or stow a punctured tube and bring it along for the next ride. Having the second is a godsend in such cases.
What Should I Check Before Every Ride?8 of 11
Always check the quick-release levers. Open them a little less than half way, not so far that you mess with the wheel alignment, but enough so you can check that they close tightly.
Next, check tire pressure—always ride the same pressure so you will be able to trust your bike in the corners. I spin the wheels to check for brake drag, cuts in the tires and wiggly rims, quickly put the front tire in between my knees and twist the stem to ensure it is tight, and then squeeze the brake levers to ensure that the pads hit the rims at the right place. If I am using tubular tires (I almost always do), I grab the tire at a random point and roll it on the rim to ensure that it is securely glued, and then I ride.
How Much Air Pressure Should I Run?9 of 11
Every tire has a sweet spot where it rolls faster and yet absorbs road shock—and more pressure is not always better, as many believe. Three features determine where this mythical tire pressure should be set. First, check the ratings on the tire. Some are rated as high as 220psi and others as low as 125psi—usually there is a high/low range, and the best place to begin is the middle.
Second is the diameter of the tire. Smaller-diameter tires (19mm) require significantly more pressure to support the same weight when compared with a larger-volume tire. One hundred psi may be more than ample for a 25mm casing while a 19mm TT tire will run almost flat at that pressure.
Third is rider weight. All you need is sufficient air pressure to prevent unnecessary tire flex, and not so much that you bounce all over the road on rough pavement. Riders in the 200-pound range will discover that they can get a smooth, efficient ride at close to the tire's maximum rated pressure, while a 105-pound female or junior rider may achieve the same performance near the tire's minimum pressure rating.
Any time your bicycle bounces, you are trading horizontal momentum for upward acceleration that is never recovered. What makes a pneumatic tire efficient is that it deflects over objects it contacts without lifting the mass above it (you and your bike), and as it rolls over the object, it springs back and returns most of the energy it stored as it rolls over the back side of the object.
This happen billions of times in a day's ride, so if you use the correct tire pressure, you can save gobs of energy in the form of better rolling resistance. Too much pressure will rob your strength—especially if you are a lightweight rider. If your bicycle bounces, release five or 10 ounces.
How Often Should I Upgrade My Helmet?10 of 11
Replacing your helmet once a year is probably reasonable for a high-time cyclist (2,000 miles a month), and the rest of us should consider a replacement after two years.
Crashing is a different story. The closed-cell foam that protects your head is a one-time deal; once it has been compressed, it will not dissipate the shock as well the next time. If you crash hard enough to scar the shell, you should buy a new helmet. Six seconds in the hospital emergency room costs more than the best helmet made—don't sweat the price.