Road cycling is pretty easy to get into, but if you’re a beginner, you may not know exactly what you need to get started - other than the obvious bike of course! Luckily you actually don’t need much essential kit, but once you start cycling on the road, you may want to get yourself a few useful things which can make your rides more comfortable and enjoyable.
What’s the best road bike for a beginner?
There are a few key things to consider before you go out and get yourself your first road bike. The first is what you’ll be using the bike for. For the daily commute and weekend rides, you’ll need something comfortable with ergonomic handlebars and saddle, and lots of speed options. If you want it to be suitable on trail paths, go for comfort and grip with a gravel bike, with wide tyres and drop handlebars. And if you want to get into racing, you need a lightweight bike with an aerodynamic frame and carbon forks.
- Frame and fork material: Is usually carbon or aluminium. Most entry level road bikes will have an aluminium frame which offers a good balance between reliability and durability. Carbon framed road bikes are lighter and faster, but are also generally more expensive.
- Brakes: Disc brakes or rim brakes? That’s the question. Where wet weather is concerned, the disc brake will provide more consistent and responsive stopping force over a traditional rim brake (also known as calliper). Rim brakes tend to struggle in particularly wet conditions, but they are cheaper, provide more wheel upgrade choices, and are easier to maintain.
- Groupset: This refers to any mechanical or electronic parts that are involved in braking, changing gear, or the running of the drivetrain. That means the shifters, brake levers, front and rear brake calipers, front and rear derailleurs, crankset, bottom bracket, chain, and cassette. The most common groupset manufacturers are Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo, and each offer models for beginners, right up to experienced cyclists. Go for the best groupset you can afford for smoother shifting, more gear choice and overall lighter weight, which you’ll be thankful for as you start to cycle more regularly.
- Size and fit: It’s so important to get a bike that fits you properly as the size of your bike will dictate your cycling posture, so you can cycle efficiently and safely. You should be able to stand over the top tube of the frame with around two inches of clearance, pedal with a slight bend in your knee, and reach the handlebars and brake levers comfortably.
You probably won’t want to spend a fortune on your first road bike. You can pick up a good entry-level road bike for around £250 which will have reliable tyres, simple gear changes and will give a comfortable ride.
Do I need specialist cycle clothing?
Most activities and sports have specific kit or clothing, and because cycling varies so much (from popping to the shops to riding 500 miles for charity) there is a huge range of clothing to choose from. Beginner cyclists can really manage without all that Lycra as your rides will probably start off quite short, and not too regular. But when you do start cycling more often and racking up the miles, it’s a good idea to get yourself some cycling clothing as you’ll be much more comfortable.
- A helmet: will be your most important purchase after the bike. It’s not illegal to ride without a helmet, but it can help keep you safe from injury if you have a nasty fall, and can even save your life. Look for a helmet with the CE mark which means it meets European safety standards, and don’t forget to measure around your head to find the right size. Try a few different shapes and styles to find the right one for you, and the type of cycling you’ll be doing.
- Shorts/tights: are made from a stretchy Nylon/Lycra with a pad inside to cushion your bottom as you ride. You can get waist shorts or bib shorts, which have built in braces and tend to be more comfortable for longer rides. When the temperature drops, you’ll need cycling tights, which are made of a thicker material to keep you warm.
- Jerseys: are made from moisture-wicking materials to keep you dry, and usually have a high neck to protect you from the sun. And pockets at the back to carry your essentials. You can choose from long or short sleeved, or even sleeveless shirts. If the weather’s warm go for an ultra-light breathable mesh jersey, or a thick windproof and water-resistant jersey in wet weather. Then there are baselayers which are worn under your jersey for an extra layer of warmth. They also help to wick away sweat from your body to keep you dry.
- Jackets: can usually be broken down into three main types; thermal jackets provide insulation and are intended for cold, dry conditions. Hardshells are your classic waterproofs, made from breathable fabrics so you don’t get too sweaty. And softshells provide both warmth and protection from the rain.
- Shoes: have stiff soles, and usually have attachment points for cleats that clip into special pedals. Having your foot fixed to the pedal means better power transfer to the bike, which makes hill climbing much easier. If you’re only going a couple of miles then your normal shoes or trainers will be fine, but if you’re going further afield then cycling shoes will be much more supportive and comfortable.
- Socks: for cycling are made from a thin moisture-wicking fabric, with a thicker layer on the sole for padding. Socks made from Merino Wool are good for the winter as they retain some insulating properties even when wet.
- Gloves: usually have a lightly padded palm for comfort on longer rides, and a Velcro strap to hold them in place around your wrists. In the summer, you can wear fingerless gloves or mitts, which have a towelling fabric on the back so you can wipe your face when it’s hot and sweaty. But you’ll definitely need long-finger gloves in the winter with some good insulation to keep your hands warm.
Proper cycling clothing can make you go faster by ensuring you don’t waste energy as you ride. The most important difference is that cycling clothing is more aerodynamic than regular gear, because it fits closely with no extra fabric flapping around.
Other useful kit are lights and hi-viz clothing (essential for riding at night), a multi-tool and pump for quick repairs, a lock for securing your bike and a backpack for carrying your belongings. Don’t forget a water bottle and cage too which bolts on to your bike frame so you can stay hydrated.