In 1999, I bought my first road bike. It was a used, grad-student-budget-friendly $400 Quintana Roo, and the previous owner put a sticker on the top tube of the frame near the handlebar stem. I liked the pretty purple daisy; it made the bike seem friendly and less intimidating.
A week later, the truth blossomed. The sticker was covering a giant crack, which I discovered when my bike suddenly felt bouncy in the middle of a training ride. At first, the bouncy feeling felt nice, until I noticed the ripped sticker and realized my iron steed was coming apart at the seams. My worst fears were confirmed: cycling required knowledge, and I had no idea where to find it.
Thirteen years later, I've gained a tiny bit of insight into the wonderful world a two-wheeled life. My Colavita teammates and I would like to help all women navigate those first few steps into the sport. We may be pros now, but we definitely remember our first foray with foreign gear and equipment. From rookie mistakes to current blunders, we know there's a lot to learn. So we plan to help every step of the way. Below are some tips for new cyclists.
Roll on, ladies. Welcome to the cycling world! Just remember, watch out for flower stickers.
What kind of bike do I get?
This is the big question when a rider first gets into the sport. The No. 1 rule is a bike needs to fit you, and the best way to ensure a proper fit is to find a local shop that provides bike fits and sales. Seek your local shop; take some time to browse through and find a place where the salespeople are knowledgeable and spend time answering your questions.
As a beginner, you don't need to shell out thousands of dollars. Many intro-level road bikes are less than $1,000. Too much? No problem! Social media sites like Craigslist and eBay are great places to find terrific deals on used or clearance models for less than half the cost. (I suggest local networks, so you can check out the product in person.) But before placing an Internet order, it is imperative to know the right sizing and components (the parts on a bike). I've ridden tons of different bikes over the years. This year, our team is on Jamis Xenith road bicycles and they do a great women-specific bike line. Nearly all the major brands have women-specific bike frames, which are often better suited to our bodies. But it's not necessary to get a woman-specific bike. Anything that fits you well is the way to go.
When I got into the sport, I found a local cycling/triathlon club and asked a seasoned veteran to go with me to the bike shop and explain what I needed and why. That is often the best way to start, finding someone with the right experience who can help you on site. So while you're looking up bike shops, look up local road cycling clubs and reach out to women and men for some advice and assistance. I guarantee you someone will respond positively. We cyclists are a pretty helpful bunch! -- Kathryn Bertine
What to bring in your flat pack
The flat pack is the little emergency kit that hangs onto the bike under the seat in case you get a flat tire, which you will at some point! You'll need to know how to change a flat, so ask your local bike shop to show you. Don't be intimidated; bike flats are much easier than car flats.
On the road, I ride with packs that are large enough only to hold the following: a multi-tool of allen key wrenches, two tire levers (I'm less likely to bring out my embarrassing curse word vocabulary if I can get the tire on and off the rim easily), a spare tube, a C02 canister and inflator and a patch kit (although in the six years I've been cycling, I've never actually patched a tube, but it makes me feel good to have it in there).
I also ride with a frame pump, as a C02 will only inflate your flat tire once. If you double flat and have to patch a tube, you will need the pump. If all else fails and you aren't riding on carbon wheels, you can just stuff your tires with leaves and ride home as fast as you can! I'm serious. Remember, the people at the bike shop can help you fill your flat pack; don't be afraid to ask them for help! -- Jamie Dinkins Bookwalter
Choosing pedals and shoes
The feeling of purchasing a new bike is one of those sensations that typically results in a perma-grin that lasts for several hours or, in some cases, several days. In most cases, that smile shrinks slightly at the realization those platform pedals that came with the new bike are not going to cut it. The next realization is a combination of thoughts; new pedals will be required, which, in most cases, also requires a new pair of cycling-specific shoes. So what to buy? How do you know which pedal-shoe combination is the best?
To anyone looking to start riding on the road, whether as a road racer, triathlete or weekend group rider, I recommend a road pedal such as Speedplay or Look. These pedals will offer a solid platform where the pedal and shoe come together. One thing I've learned is a bad pedal-shoe combination will result in loss of power on each pedal stroke, which ultimately requires more work and energy. I have found the Speedplay pedals to be my favorite due to the double entry option. The pedal is circular and allows the rider to clip in from either side, top or bottom of the pedal, which results in a really quick clip in. All other non-Speedplay pedals only have one entry point for clipping in and the pedal design makes it flip upside down when the rider is not clipped in. This requires the rider to turn the pedal over before clipping in. With a Speedplay pedal, this issue is eliminated.
When selecting the right road shoe, I have learned a higher price does not always mean a better shoe. Many high-end road shoes will cost upwards of $400 (and more!) and offer the same basic performance as lower-priced models, with the exception that they will be a few grams lighter. I recommend finding a shoe that fits well, eliminates hot spots in the toes, provides proper ventilation and, let's be honest, also looks good!
Comparing grams (weight) to price is important, as well. Is it really worth spending an extra $150 just to shave 10 grams of weight? In most cases, it's not worth it at all. Most shoe manufactures offer a quality shoe anywhere from $150-$200. This level of shoe will offer the same functionality of a high-end shoe and should be more durable. If you take good care of your shoes, they will last more than one season of riding. -- Mary Zider
How to pick a new helmet
Wearing a helmet is essential at all times. As we know, protecting the brain is important, so it may be worth it to invest time and a little money to pick up the right helmet. Not to mention finding one that is comfortable.
For years, I was riding with a helmet that was too big. Just last year, our team manager told me I looked funny in some of the pictures because the helmet looked too large. It turns out I was not well-protected because the helmet would have been able to move on point of impact. Not good at all! Make sure the helmet fits tight enough that it cannot rotate once it is in place. Also, make sure it is sitting straight, not too much on the back or front of the head; it ensures you get the best protection possible. Make sure to get it tight enough. Sometimes helmets have an additional adjustment on the back of it to make it tighter and safer. If you have long hair, wear it in a ponytail when shopping for a helmet so you can see what fits most comfortably. -- Joanie Caron
How to select good-quality cycling clothes
Choosing a kit (the correct term for cycling jerseys and shorts) can be a bit daunting with all the options available on the market today. There are varied fabrics, color schemes, cuts, seams and chamois (the padded part in the shorts) all claiming to be the latest and greatest.
Let's start with the shorts, as that's going to be arguably one of your most important pieces to get right! Many companies now offer female-specific shorts, some with very short leg inseams and some longer. Go with whichever style you'll feel most comfortable wearing, but definitely try them on. If you can, sit on a bike in the shop to make sure the chamois is in the right spot and make sure the legs don't creep up too much or the backs of the shorts don't feel too low. (The jersey should overlap the shorts at the back or you'll inevitably end up with a Cheshire grin-shaped sunburn across your lower back).
Some women prefer to wear bibs (shorts with built in suspenders which are the norm in the competitive peloton), as the suspender option eliminates tightness around the waist. The down side to bibs is they make bathroom breaks more of a procedure since the jersey must be removed each time. If opting for bibs, definitely match with a full-zipper jersey instead of the over-the-head option. Now you're stylin'!
As for the best chamois, more padding does not necessarily equal greater comfort. Most of the newer mid-to-high end designs are quite low profile and very comfortable. Your overall comfort will be achieved by pairing the right combination of chamois, saddle and bike position to suit you. Also -- and ladies, this is very important -- cycling shorts are meant to be worn without underwear; more layers and seams will detract from your comfort and endanger you to saddle sores.
As for your jersey, if most of your riding will be done in very warm temperatures, opt for a light-fabric, short-sleeved option. Even light jerseys can be suitable for mild temps if you add a pair of arm warmers, undershirt and vest. Long-sleeved jerseys are great for cool climates and winter rides. Jerseys typically come in racer fit, semi-fitted and relaxed fit. They are meant to be worn relatively snug, come in partial or full-zip, and women's jerseys have either two or three pockets across the low back. My personal preference is a full-zip, three-pocket jersey; it's easier to take on and off and allows the contents of my pockets to be better balanced. Happy shopping and enjoy the ride! -- Moriah MacGregor
Gloves and glasses? Gotta get 'em
Gloves are very important and need to be worn to ensure proper grip. You need your hands for the simplest tasks of daily living, and there is nothing worse than getting road rash and cuts on them if you fall off your bike. (I wish I could say I didn't learn this the hard way.) Also, it is important to have some variety with gloves. I prefer short-fingered gloves, but sometimes Mother Nature can be unpredictable and long-fingered gloves are a must. Gloves that fit well are important; you don't want them so tight that they cut off circulation, but you also don't want them to be too loose to create some unpleasant chafing.
Some padding under the pads of the hands is also a nice addition to help absorb some of the road vibrations. Try on lots of pairs. Many companies like Pearly Izumi, Champion Systems and Louis Garneau make women-specific gloves.
Glasses are really based on personal preference. I have a narrow face, so I am always looking for a smaller frame so the glasses fit snug and don't fall off. It is also nice to try them out to make sure they fit well with your helmet and earpieces. The key to great glasses is not knowing you are even wearing any: lightweight and super-comfortable. Glasses with a variety of different lenses are also a plus, as are photochromic lenses which block exposure to UV radiation. Our team wears Rudy Project glasses, and many of the styles come with multiple interchangeable lenses for sunny, cloudy or rainy weather. -- Leah Guloien
How do I find a good coach?
So, you've got the bike and done some riding. Now, you want to learn more. Well, I think you want to look for someone who you can personally relate to and vice versa. I think the best coaching relationships are the ones where the coach can almost tell when a rider is tired, needs to be pushed or is keeping right on track with the goals they have in mind. Someone who has spent a long time in cycling is usually a great call; but, again, if you don't feel comfortable talking to them and being honest, then the relationship doesn't always work.
Make sure you give tons of feedback to the coach, even if you have skipped a lot of workouts; it gives them an idea where you stand and where to go from there. It sometimes helps to ask around and get recommendations from people who work with coaches; but keep in mind the type of rider they are and what their goals are. Speak to the coach and get their philosophies on training and see if it will fit with what you are looking for. Whether you want to race, keep fit, lose weight or just add a structured plan to your cycling life, a coach can be a great asset for personal growth. -- Colavita co-director Tina Pic
Cycling newbies, we wish you all the best and would love to hear your questions and comments about the sport! Scroll down to do just that.
Kathryn Bertine is the author of two sports memoirs, "All The Sundays Yet To Come" and "As Good As Gold." You can follow her on Twitter @kathrynbertine.