When I began cycling way back when, there were so many things I didn't know.
To be honest, I didn't really care--I was young and enjoyed cycling for simple reasons. Cycling gave me freedom and allowed me to discover new areas. My curiosity led to, "I wonder where this road goes," as I ventured further and further away from home.
However, during those times there were some things that, had I known, would have made my life a little bit easier.
Make sure your bike fits properly.
Before rushing into buying a bike, make sure it fits properly. Many people (myself included) hurry into buying a bike because they are getting a "great deal" or because they are excited to head out on the road or trail that afternoon.
Be patient. This is a big purchase, and if you take good care of your new ride, you will be able to enjoy it for a long time. Sizing can vary between manufacturers, so it's important to check the bike out for size before buying. If possible, take it for a test ride.
Make sure a qualified individual assesses your fit and gives you two thumbs up.
Make sure that you have the proper clothing and accessories.
Riding with clothing that doesn't fit or feel right can be a real bummer. Before you waste your money, do a little research before buying a cycling kit. Riding apparel is not cheap, so do your due diligence.
Also, make sure to have the right clothing for your environment. If you are riding into the mountains, always carry a rain jacket. Even if it's a 90-degree day in the middle of summer, weather can change drastically, and a simple plastic cycling rain jacket can be a lifesaver.
And of course, safety and functionality should be your number one priority over looks.
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Learn how to fix a flat tire by yourself.
Besides the fact that being self-sufficient is important for bike riders, this simple skillset will save you lots of time and energy in the long run.
Always carry two tubes, some tire irons, two CO2 cartridges (or a reliable pump), a patch kit, a dollar bill in case you tear your tire and a little bit of cash in your saddlebag. Carrying two tubes is important. Although flatting twice on a ride is uncommon, it will eventually happen.
I remember one winter day in Colorado: I rushed out the door with only one tube and no cell phone and I had to ride home 35 miles on the rims. Riding on your rims is not only dangerous, but it will ruin your wheels and bruise your ego. Plus, there's always someone who forgets a spare tube on weekend group rides, so handing out a tube to a rider in need is always appreciated.
Carrying extra cash in case of an emergency also comes in handy. It is pretty common to run out of food and "bonk" out in the middle of nowhere--and the only store for miles is one that does not accept credit cards.
Get out of your cycling gear immediately after your ride.
It is very common for new and inexperienced cyclists to hang out in their gear after a ride. This can result in getting chilled and eventually sick or result in painful saddle sores (Google that one yourself!). Get in the habit of getting into clean, dry clothes soon after your ride is over, and you will be a happy camper.
Improvement is not a straight trajectory.
Cycling has its ebbs and flows. Some days you feel amazing, as if you can go forever, and other days just feel extra hard. This is normal and simply part of the process.
Remember that each ride is an individual experience and is not dictated by how others are feeling at a given time or on a particular ride. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything should feel continually easier over time, but this is not reality.
Rather than feeling disappointed or dejected on those days when you just don't have it, use these times as an opportunity to listen to your body. Maybe you didn't eat enough or hydrate properly before the ride, or it's just time for some rest.
Know that everyone at all levels experiences and learns from the "bad days."
Tyler Hamilton is an eight-time Tour de France competitor and was once one of the world's top-ranked cyclists. In 2012, Tyler released his memoir, The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs, a New York Times bestseller and recipient of the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award. Tyler raced professionally from 1995 to 2008 and now runs his own training business, Tyler Hamilton Training LLC, for cyclists of all levels.