Seven Things You Need To Start Cycling

Yesterday on my post about Three Things You Don’t Need to Start Cycling I promised to follow it up today with a list of things I think you DO need to start cycling. Everybody knows you need a bicycle but beyond that what takes priority? Equipment, skills, mindset, an understanding spouse? Probably a little bit of everything.

What you DO need

  1. A bicycle. Whether it’s borrowed, used, or new you need a bike. Does it have to be a fancy, smancy road bike? No. Many of the readers of this blog started on something much simpler than what they ride now. I did as well when I re-started my riding in April 2008. I still had my old Cannondale but was skeptical about riding it because of my weight. I went out and purchased a Schwinn Trailways at a local Target because it came with a 700c deep-v wheelset. It actually road pretty good but was heavy (which was a great workout). I road it for several months and eventually moved back to my road bike. I still have that Schwinn in the garage in Florida and it will probably make a good commuter. I could see it filling another purpose as well. If I knew someone who was thinking of taking up the sport of cycling, I wouldn’t mind letting them borrow it to see if cycling was a sport they really liked before dropping a ton of cash on it.
  2. Cycling shorts or bibs. These don’t have to be expensive if you shop around and catch some sales. Could you get away with riding in some regular shorts? Yes but only if you don’t plan on putting in very many miles. If you ride a lot, you’ll appreciate the comfort, and protection, that padded cycling shorts give you (taking it easy at first so your sit bones become adjusted helps too). A cycling specific jersey isn’t absolutely necessary but can be handy because of the rear pockets and zippered front. I have a couple of non-jersey shirts I wear sometimes that are the athletic type workout shirts. They work pretty good but don’t have the pockets. Using a seat bag can make up for not having pockets.
  3. Chamois cream. I was going to list this with the shorts/bibs recommendation above but think it’s important enough to list by itself. This is a cream that’s applied to your nether regions to prevent chaffing and discomfort. Some of the popular brands are Chamois Butt’r (Butter), DZ Nuts (which I think is hilarious…and now has a version for women), and Assos Chamois Cream (I hear this is good). Some that you don’t hear about often are Noxema Beauty Cream, Udderly Smooth, and Bag Balm (which is made for cows believe it or not!). I’ve always used Chamois Butt’r but plan on experimenting a little this year.
  4. A helmet. I’m not going to go into the debate of should you wear a helmet or not. My stance is that you should wear one. If you’re involved in an accident and want to protect your melon wear a helmet. Some places have laws requiring you to wear one so check with your local authorities.
  5. Gear and knowledge to change a flat. You’re going to get a flat. Period. It may not happen on your first ride, or even your tenth, but it’s going to happen. When it does you need to be prepared. Some bike shops sell a seat bag that has everything you need to fix a flat (tube, CO2, patch, tire irons, etc.) which is great but buying that seat bag doesn’t get you the knowledge. To learn the basics watch this video over at Bicycle Tutor. Nothing’s as good as hands-on experience though. I recommend you take a wheel off your bike (the back since it’s harder due to the chain), deflate your tire, and practice changing tubes. If you can, have a knowledgeable friend there to help your first time. You don’t want your first time changing a flat to be out on the road miles from home.
  6. Basic cycling skills and knowledge. If you don’t know the basic skills then you’re not only a danger to yourself but to others as well. Some of the basic things you need know include: how to signal, how to ride in traffic, how to pass other cyclists and pedestrians, and local cycling laws. I also think it’s important that you know how to handle your bicycle before getting out on the road or near others. Things like emergency stopping, riding with a partner, and evasive steering. Some of this stuff requires time on the bike but learning on your first group ride or on a busy street isn’t the right place.
  7. A Desire. Thanks to DW Blount Don who sent me this via email. I couldn’t agree more. Everything we do you need some level of desire to accomplish it and cycling is no different. For some of us the desire comes easy because we love the sport of cycling. For others it’s harder because they’ve turned to cycling for other reasons (to lose weight, it’s low impact, etc.). Whatever reason you have for cycling you have to have the desire to do it. To get out there and ride when you don’t feel like it or when the weather’s lousy. Formulating some goals and/or following a plan will certainly help with desire.

What you didn’t see on the list

This was a hard article to write because the list above could certainly be longer and there’s a lot of opinions on it. I didn’t mention things like lights, a floor pump, shoes, and the list goes on. In fact, I bet everyone of my readers has a different view on what’s need. A lot of the other things we could list would certainly depend on the individual rider and conditions they ride in. I think the seven things listed above are the absolute basics though if you want to start safely. The list could be as short as just needing a bicycle but I don’t think that’s either smart or safe.

What would you add to the list?

Like I said, I know you have opinions on this and I want to hear them. Put yours in the comments and/or tell me why I’m wrong about the things I’ve listed.

Feature image courtesy of gluemoon.

Author: Bryan

I'm developing a healthy lifestyle through cycling and invite you to join me in my journey. Comments are always welcome so feel free to share yours below.

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24 Comments

  1. On item #1: what's vitally important is to get a good fit. Make sure the frame size is right and that the handlebars and seat set up a good body position/geometry. Most reputable bike shops have people certified to fit the bike. Lots of info on the web concerning fit but I recommend you get an experienced cycle person (bike shop mech, salesman or fitness coach).

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    • So glad you said something about fit. I meant to but it totally slipped my mind. Your advice is spot on though about going to a shop and getting it done. Most can do a 'quick fit' for around $50.

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  2. I view the helmet (#4) like I viewed my ejection seat. Won't keep me safe but it just might keep me alive. Wear one – it's cool.

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    • Ejection seat? What did you do in the USMC? I thought you were just another Marine that caught a ride with us Navy guys.

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        • Spend any time on USS GUAM (LPH 9)? I did my first officer tour on there. My stateroom was right under spot 4 (where the Harriers landed). Very loud during Harrier ops.

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  3. I'm surprised that chamois cream is on the list. I've been riding for 30 years and never used it or thought about using it…until now! :) I hear there are two camps: those that apply to the chamois pad and those that apply directly to the skin. Any advice?

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    • Chamois cream is a can be a sensitive subject and like I said in the post was hesitant to put it on the list. If you've never used it in the 30 years you've been riding I'd venture to say you don't need it. As far as whether to apply to skin or the pad I think it's per the manufacturer's directions. Chamois Butt'r says to apply to both. Since it's the only kind I've used I can't speak for the others.

      Any of our super-experienced readers want to chime in?

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      • Bag Balm. The miracle of happy skin for the cyclist comes in a square green tin

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        • Rick, thanks for the comment. I’ve used Bag Balm for a year now and have been somewhat happy with it. Just recently I picked up a container of the Eurostyle Chamois Butt’r and really like it so far. It’s got an interesting cooling effect that feels good.

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  4. I'm not sure about the knicks. I know you say “only if you don’t plan on putting in very many miles”, but since this is about what you need to START, I'd argue that you don't need them. All you really need is a bike, basic safety equipment and the desire. The rest makes the process a little easier, but if you have those three, you can start and just build up.

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    • I can see where the bare minimum could be a bike, safety equipment, and desire. I think it's all a matter of personal preference in the end.

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  5. I'm not sure about the knicks. I know you say “only if you don’t plan on putting in very many miles”, but since this is about what you need to START, I'd argue that you don't need them. All you really need is a bike, basic safety equipment and the desire. The rest makes the process a little easier, but if you have those three, you can start and just build up.

    Post a Reply
  6. Chamois cream is a can be a sensitive subject and like I said in the post was hesitant to put it on the list. If you've never used it in the 30 years you've been riding I'd venture to say you don't need it. As far as whether to apply to skin or the pad I think it's per the manufacturer's directions. Chamois Butt'r says to apply to both. Since it's the only kind I've used I can't speak for the others.

    Any of our super-experienced readers want to chime in?

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  7. I can see where the bare minimum could be a bike, safety equipment, and desire. I think it's all a matter of personal preference in the end.

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  8. I have a mountain bike because I do some moderate trail riding. Would this be okay to start out with?

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    • Absolutely. I talk about road bikes all the time because that’s what I ride. Nothing says you can’t ride a mountain bike. If you’re going to be doing any significant riding on the pavement you might think about getting some less aggressive tires (slicks) to make it easier. That said, I’ve seen plenty of riders on mountain bikes keep pace with guys on road bikes. Knobby tires and all.

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  9. Any other advice for a Mom with a very active son? I have not ridden a bike since I was a teen and I recently returned to it because my son enjoys it soooooo much.  All I have is a man’s mountain bike which is maybe two inches too big for me (petite woman of 5 feet). I don’t want to invest money into buying a new bike right now but I am wondering if my feet need to reach the ground in order to ride safely. 

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    • If the bike is too big for you, and you can’t touch the ground, then I would say you’re bordering on unsafe. A lot of it comes down to how good you are at bike handling and when riding with a small one you have to have some quick reflexes. The bike being too big for you could impact that. As an alternative, you might find a cheap cruiser or hybrid bike on Craigslist in your area that would fit you better.

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  10. As a beginner on the road, you’re going to be a bit awkward riding with traffic. I think it’s really important to BE VISIBLE. Wearing grey, black or navy (common t shirt colors) blend in too easily with asphalt. Yellow is the most visually stimulating color to the human eye. Yes, it does look a bit geeky to be wearing one of those neon yellow safety jackets but I do because I want to be seen by drivers. 

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  11. Regarding the clothing, I picked up a few used jerseys on ebay for no more than $10 shipped each. Granted you want to make sure you’re getting something that fits you, but most are pretty good about giving size indications with measurements. It may be an area to look for clothing, gloves and other like accessories.

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  12. LIGHTS, both front and rear. To increase utility, a rear rack and panniers/grocery bags. Bungee cords to lash stuff to the rack, too. The more you can carry on a bicycle, the more you’ll use it

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  13. Regular pants won’t do this but will instead constrict the thighs and
    rub against them or offer too much room and wrinkle up, which can also
    cause skin irritation and pain. So not only is the material a factor
    when choosing tights, but the fit is important, too. Too tight or too
    loose can each cause irritation.

    Male
    Cycling Knicks

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  14. A plan. Know where you are going, what you are riding on. how far (may need water, and or food). what the weather might bring. and the list goes on

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