Below is an excerpt from the book "The No-Drop Zone: Everything You Need to Know About the Peloton, Your Gear, and Riding Strong" by Patrick Brady. The 250-page book outlines all aspects of road cycling for beginners, from riding skills to bike gear to the cycling lifestyle. Learn more about the book here.
In cycling, "Fred" is code for newbie—someone whose knowledge is incomplete. Naturally, it's the last thing anyone wants to be called. This book, if it does nothing else, should help you avoid being labeled a Fred.
Riders rarely call someone Fred to their face. Even using the term can seem rather third grade, but riders' regard for the health of the herd trumps their care for any one rider. The issue isn't whether someone is fast enough or has a cool bike, but really one of skill based on the need to stay safe at high speed.
In the view of the group, a Fred is a rider who lacks skill and knowledge and those deficiencies are seen as potentially dangerous. The logic goes: If you don't know how to dress like the riders in the pack then you might not know how to ride like them, and you might not be safe to ride near.
There are two ways to be a Fred. The primary way is through your appearance, but a secondary way is through your behavior when riding with others. Your ability to act with consideration for other riders will determine whether they treat you like the Pied Piper or an infectious disease.
The biggest problem new riders face when joining a group is simply looking the part. Here are a few simple rules to keep in mind. They are as good as knowing the secret handshake.
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In short, don't wear it. Cotton offers none of the technical benefits that come from wearing wool or synthetics. When it gets wet, it stays wet and therein lies the rub—metaphorically and literally. Tube socks, T-shirts, sweatshirts, or shorts—they are all the antithesis of technical garments that make comfortable cycling for hours at a time possible.
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Nothing says, "I'm new!" like a chainring tattoo. You never see a pro cyclist with a big, black, greasy chainring mark on his right calf. Unfortunately, it's common among new riders. Avoiding this one is easy. If you have a leg over the top tube, keep one foot clipped in. Never straddle your bike with both feet on the ground; it's a recipe for disaster, or at least a badge of dishonor.
Because rest is a big part of going fast, when you are stopped, keep a foot clipped in and sit on your top tube. It doesn't matter which foot remains clipped in; to remain stable, the foot on the ground will be extended out to give you a stable stance; either way your calf can't hit the big chainring. If you want to stand up with both feet on the ground, get off your bike completely.
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Riders who wear jerseys two sizes too big are said to wear skirts. A jersey's pockets should sit on your lumbar, not at your hips. Wear a jersey too big and you are likely to catch the tail of the jersey on the saddle nose when you try to sit down. While some riders may not mind the baggy look, the effect the wind will have on the jersey causes it to flap around like a flag, making it harder for riders behind you to see what's going on up ahead. Form-fitting clothing reduces the number of visual distractions other riders must process and cuts down on noise.
Similarly, riders who wear shorts two sizes too big are said to wear bellbottoms. If the leg grippers flair out instead of fitting snugly around the thigh and if the Lycra bunches up rather than running smoothly over the rider's skin, not only is the look terrible, but chafing is inevitable. It's as comfortable as a sandpaper sock. Loose shorts also present another liability: plumber's crack. When you ride in the drops in a group no one should see your skin—from your back...or elsewhere. Bibs take care of this problem and are more comfortable to boot. And again, form-fitting clothing eliminates visual distractions caused by flapping fabric.
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