The best way to learn a new skill is to go deep, submerge that sack subaqueous, and get stuck in. Don’t wade in and test the water with your toe, do a manu.
Before you set off on a long ride, there are a few things you should attempt to learn first, riding the bike is only one of those things! These are helpful questions that you can ask yourself if you are thinking abut embarking on a pedal powered expedition.
1. Am I good enough to ride with other people?
The likelihood is slim if you’re reading a running blog looking for riding advice. A good way to test your skills and to pick up new ones is to ride with other newbie cyclists so that you can learn the ropes (cables?) together.
Riding with people who think that a cassette is a mix tape, and who don’t have terrifying intimidating vascular meaty quads and lumpy moose knuckles all stuffed like a hastily packed sleeping bag into a too-small shiny lycra casing – is a great way to get started.
You can both focus on your cycling skills rather than the pace, and you will probably both have un-cool cycling gear so will avoid embarrassing your mates who have a perfectly matching kit and their sock length measured down to the millimetre.
Riding with other people who have an interest in cycling, but do not feature in any Strava leaderboards is great for enthusiastic beginners. You can do dip-shitty things together at a slightly faster pace than you can with the super new newbies. You can break all the ‘cool’ cycling codes, and get called wankers by bearded people driving four-wheel drives because you were masturbating on your bike at the traffic lights, again.
There is a limit to riding with newbies. If someone turns up to ride the 60km leg of a charity cycle on a bike they have never ridden saying ‘Lolz I am hungover as and I haven’t trained for this’, fuck them. Do not ride with them.
2. Do I really need all the gear?
Does the Pope shit in the woods? Yes you need all the gear. Looking even vaguely like you belong on a bike will make you seem, to the uneducated eye like a ‘real’ cyclist. Someone might even ask you if you are a professional (they could have been asking the person next to me, I’m sure it was me though).
As a general rule the amount of gear you need is always one less item than you currently own. At the very least you should invest in a spare set of shorts if you intend on riding more than once every few days, because when you’re riding inland you can’t get away with blaming that swampy smell on the seaweed.
3. How do I deal with stressful situations?
Going on a long ride when you are not a cyclist is really terrifying. Especially when you know it’s going to go on for hours, and you will hit the wall and get tired and cranky. Going on a long ride with your workmates will test your ability to keep your big girl pants firmly on when you stress out and want to have a tantrum. Any hardships and stressful situations that you face during this ordeal will be downplayed and internalized on the day, then let out two weeks later in a blog post that you hope none of these people will ever read.
I signed up for a 100km charity ride through work, it seemed like a very noble thing to do and I was happy to discover others from my office were also doing the ride. We arrived at the start of the ride in Levin, got on the bicycles and set out into the mist and drizzle that would not lift for the entire day on our journey to Upper Hutt.
One colleague had packed a large bottle of sunscreen in his saddle bag, perhaps just in case he needed some extra moisture to masturbate at the traffic lights, as those wanker cyclists tend to do. Another ‘hadn’t trained for a year’ he said, but something was keeping him well ahead of the pack. Was it pride? Having ridden a bike before? A more senior position in the office? Padded pants? We will never know.
The 5 hour, 120km ride was damp, dank, and dreary in parts but we pulled through as a team and managed to do our first 100km on the bike. I managed to remain positive when I really wanted to cry and swear and sit on the side of the road. I didn’t say a single four letter word, spit, or launch any snot rockets in front of my workmates, you can’t do that in front of the people you work with.
4. Can I fix my own bike?
If you are going on a long ride you should at least learn how to change your own tyre. Some problems though you can’t plan for, like your chain going completely dry because you didn’t bring any oil. Oh wait you can plan for that, bring your own dam oil! Spit might be hailed as a magic lube but it doesn’t work in this situation. Have a cyclist friend on speed dial so that you can call them from outside the Palmerston Pub and ask how to fix your gears or if the butter from your sandwiches will work as chain lube.
5. How often will I need to stop for smoko?
Taking breaks on a long ride is awesome. You can pop in to the bakery and get a danish. Clip across the linoleum in the petrol station and get a pie. Get a coffee. Take a thoughtful poo mostly naked with your bib shorts around your ankles. Break time is great!
When break time is not great is when break time is over and you have to get back on the bike. Too many minutes spent selecting a pastry delight in Brumby’s Bakery has let the blood flow back into your ‘down below’ and the numbness has dissipated. After 100kms in the saddle, trying to get comfortable on the seat again is futile. It feels like you’re sitting on top of that over stuffed ham roll you saw in the bakery cabinet, or perhaps that burning hot crusted up and calloused sausage roll with bits of meat hanging out the side that was flaking fragile bits of pastry onto the floor.
Limit your time spent in the bakery and make sure you get back on the bike before your circulation comes back, for fanny’s sake.