How to Ride a Road Bike – Advice You Need to Know
So you’ve taken the plunge and bought your first road bike, but now you want to know how to get the most from your new steed and take advantage of its features compared to other bikes. You may be a veteran of another cycling discipline or a complete bicycle novice. Regardless, this guide will give you the knowledge to get the most out of your new bike from day one.
1. Feel the Pressure - Make Sure you Pump up Your Road Tires Sufficiently
Road bikes have much narrower tires compared to other bicycle types (typically 23-28mm). Because of this, you need to run road bike tires at significantly higher pressures of between 100-120 psi. If you are used to mountain biking or riding a city bike, then this may seem very alien, but because your weight is being carried by a much smaller patch of rubber, it is very necessary. If you run your road bike tires too low (less than 90 psi) then you will see a dramatic drop in your speed for the same effort, and you also increase your likelihood of pinch punctures - these are caused by a slack innertube finding it’s way between the tire and the rim and being pinched upon hitting a pothole or bump. Always be sure to check if your tires need to be replaced every so often.
2. Get Traffic Smart
If you’ve come from an MTB background, then you will likely be used to the pleasure of having trails all to yourself without having to look out for other users in your immediate vicinity. When moving out onto the road, it’s sometimes easy to forget you are sharing space with all sorts of traffic so take some time to remind yourself of the rules of the road, especially if you don’t drive regularly. Also consider the kind of roads you might want to cycle on, if there is a route which avoids trunk roads and areas of particularly high traffic congestion then these usually make for a more enjoyable and relaxing ride.
3. Wrap Up!
The best thing about a road bike is the feeling of speed! Smooth tarmac and slick narrow tires are a winning combination for brisk riding and even faster descending. Compared to other cycling types, road riding can see your average speed double, but this creates a serious change in the degree of wind chill you will experience. Wind chill is the effect of moving air to cool your body down, and many newbie road cyclists don’t realize the extent of this until they are out and shivering! As a general guide, use one more layer compared to other forms of cycling and pay particular attention to wrapping up your fingers and toes as these are usually the most vulnerable parts of your body.
4. Join a Club
Join a ClubThere is no better type of road ride than one done in the company of others. Finding a local cycling club and become a member is the best way to learn how to ride the road properly and accelerate your confidence on the road. Also to be considered is the benefit of drafting in a group i.e. sheltering in the slipstream of riders ahead of you to conserve energy. If you are not sure how far you will be able to ride or are looking to increase the duration of your rides this is a brilliant safety net as it will allow you an easier ride home if you suddenly get very tired. Just remember to thank your clubmates after getting a tow home! As well as company for riding, a club provides a fantastic forum for learning from more experienced cyclists and is a great information resource for roadies who are just starting out.
5. Get Yourself Into Gear
Effective use of your gears can transform your road riding from an uphill struggle into a leisurely spin. Everybody has their own comfortable cadence (RPM of the cranks) range, but generally, you will find it between 75 and 100 RPM. For more information on how to change gears effectively, see our article on How to Change Bike Gears.
6. Comfort is Key, Don’t Suffer in Silence
With other cycling disciplines, you can get away with non-specific clothing, mainly as you are only riding the bike for a relatively short period of time. Road cyclists tend to spend anywhere up to several hours at a time riding which makes specific clothing a must. Top priority should be a pair of good cycling shorts, these will have a padded insert to reduce the pressure from your saddle on your sit bones and will have stitching and seams carefully located to reduce irritation. Standard stitching patterns on leisure shorts and trousers locate seams in the areas that are most likely to exert pressure from the saddle. Other clothing options that can enhance comfort include cycling-specific gloves with padding to reduce nerve pain in your palms and wrists, socks designed to provide comfort when you are pushing through the soles of your feet and jerseys with a cut designed to reduce tight and baggy areas forming when you are in a riding position.
7. Get a Sense of Direction
Road bikes allow you to go further in less time. This means that typically you will be going further from home each time you do a one or two-hour ride for example. To avoid using the same loops over and over, take some time to study maps of the local area and plot some routes in advance. If you are not confident with directions, then a GPS cycle watch or computer can really aid your navigating and provide you with a map to reference at any time. If you are struggling to come up with routes, looking at cycling apps like Strava can show you other people’s suggested rides and routes for inspiration.
8. Learn to Descend
Negotiating a winding downhill on a road bike is one of the most exhilarating cycling experiences possible. By taking some time to learn the proper descending techniques, you can make this practice more relaxing and less hazardous, especially on high-speed descents where a road bike can easily exceed 40 mph. The key points for good, safe descending are:
- Stay loose - Although high-speed descents can prompt you to hold on tightly for security, this is one of the worst things you can do. By exerting a death-grip on the handlebars, you create rigidity in your body all the way from your wrists to shoulders and upper trunk. The result of this is twitchy handling and jagged steering. By making an effort to keep your whole body loose, you will notice an immediate improvement in the way that the bike flows through corners. Practice lightly drumming the handlebars with your fingers to keep your upper body loose.
- Look Ahead - It sounds obvious, but it’s all too easy to descend whilst staring at the patch of tarmac two feet in front of you. By looking up, you are steadying the weight of your head which improves handling and allow yourself to plan ahead for corners, ensuring you have correct road position, braking distance and entry angle. Generally speaking, your bike will naturally track towards the direction you are looking, so make sure you look around the bend and focus on where you want to move to. This is just as important with potholes and road obstacles, by staring at them you will naturally steer the bike towards them instead of avoiding them, this is known as target fixation. As with corners focus on the clear road beyond the obstacle to safely navigate past.
- Brake before the corner - Braking halfway around a bend is an invitation for your wheels to lock up and reduce your control of the bike. Braking power is most effective in a straight line, so aim to do all your braking before you start turning in. You will find the bike handles much better if you negotiate a corner without having to use the brakes at all, judging how much speed to reduce on approach to the corner is fine art which only comes with practice, so make sure to do as much as possible!
- Follow a friend - If in doubt then it’s always best to ask. Struggling with a particular bend on one of your routes? Try and find a more experienced clubmate and ask to follow them down the descent, whilst imitating their approach and entry. When following anyone at high speed, leave a decent gap, so you have some escape room to use should you need it.
So those are our top tips for how to ride a road bike. There are countless other tips for road bike riding, but we think that the above are amongst the most important ones you should be familiar with when starting out. By following the above, you can ensure that all your future road riding is enjoyable and trouble-free. Do you have any more tips on how to ride a road bike? Make sure you mention them in the comments below.