Friday, September 2, 2011

What You Need to Start Cycling

For a long time, I was intimidated by the speed-demons in spandex who zoomed by me as I ran along my local trail. There are plenty of hardcore cyclists in Seattle, and I never had the desire to become one... until a few months ago.

That's when I started thinking about doing a triathlon. I love running, of course, but I longed to challenge myself with something new. I bought my road bike a month ago and signed up for my first tri a few days later. I love cycling so far, and I know I'll only enjoy it more as I gain experience.

Aaron, who is a badass cyclist (see: his total domination of the STP), helped me pick out everything I needed to get started. Since not everyone has someone to help them out, I thought I'd show you the things I'm currently using in my quest to become a spandex-clad speed demon!


Before I get into the actual bike stuff, remember that you first need to care enough to try. You can have all the fanciest bike crap in the world, but if you don't have the will to walk out your front door and go for a ride, it won't get you anywhere! Don't buy anything unless you have the will to get started.

I'll also say that you really only need a bike and a helmet to start cycling. The other stuff I'll show you is just what I'm using as I train for a triathlon, all of which I purchased with the intention of one day training for really epic triathlons that may or may not have the word "Ironman" in their names. My strategy was to buy high-quality equipment that would perform well and last me a long time. Don't feel like you need drop a bunch of money or buy all the same stuff!


My God, you need a helmet. Don't even think about riding without one. I know I sound like your mother, but seriously — wear a helmet. Check out this story about a girl who was run over by a car — we're talking tread marks on her body — just 3 miles from her house, and her helmet saved her head from being completely crushed.

Whenever I see someone riding without a helmet, I assume they are completely at peace and ready to die. Don't be that person! Rock your helmet and make it look fierce, baby.


I'm in a serious, committed relationship with this beautiful bike. I was blown away when I first hopped on it! A road bike is much lighter and easier to ride than a mountain bike or hybrid bike, and it really makes a world of difference if you're planning to go for long rides or if you want to race.

I bought this bike new because Aaron is friendly with the owners of a local bike shop and got me a discount,
and the shop provides free lifetime service (which, he says, can really add up). You can definitely find great used bikes in stores or online, but there are plenty of not-so-great ones out there, too. Go with what works for your budget, but don't waste your money on something you'll have to replace soon anyway. Consult a knowledgeable friend (not me) or do plenty of research before you buy.


Clipless pedals are a little confusing because you actually clip into them with special cycling shoes that have cleats attached to them. So why are are they called "clipless" if you clip into them?

It turns out that the toe cage on a regular bike pedal is also called a "clip," and "clipless" pedals are called that because the clip (cage) has been removed and replaced with a locking mechanism
. When you lock into clipless pedals with the special shoes, it make pedaling much easier and more efficient. You don't have to have these, but they rock!

My bike came with no pedals at all. Aaron bought the clipless pedals online, and they came with the corresponding cleats that screw into the bottom of cycling shoes.

The cleat is the triangular thing with the yellow things on each corner (eh-hem, extremely technical description). The yellow upside-down "U" piece fits into the corresponding shape on the pedal, and the straight bottom edge of the cleat snaps under the raised plastic bit at the bottom of the pedal.

Here is the shoe just resting on top of the pedal. As you push down with your foot onto the pedal, the cleat snaps in pretty easily.

This all sounds nuts, but it's actually really awesome. It definitely takes some patience and practice to get used to clipping in and out of the pedals. It helps to have someone hold you steady as you try it for the first time...

...and also walk alongside you in case you fall when you try to clip out. (I didn't! Well, I almost did.)

All you have to do to clip out is twist one of your heels away from your body. This will pop your cleat out of the pedal, and then you rest that foot on the ground while you unclip the other foot. I made the mistake of unclipping too late, after I had already stopped moving on the bike, and that was nearly a disaster as I scrambled to unclip before I fell over. It just takes practice!

Cycling shoes + cleats + clipless pedals = good times.


Hey, guess what? A water-bottle holder didn't come with the bike, either. It adds weight to the bike — which is a big deal to serious racers — so the nice bike people let you add your holder of choice. My holder of choice was the cheapest one at REI. It, and the bottle, only cost a few bucks.

You may also want to attach a little zippered pouch under the seat to hold keys, money, your phone, etc. I don't have one yet, so I wear a fuel belt that I use for running and throw that important stuff in there.

Cycling jerseys usually have pockets on the back that you can use to put stuff in, but most jerseys I've looked at are quite pricey. I just wear fitted tops that I usually wear for running, and they work just fine. Just remember that cycling clothes are tight for a reason: Wind resistance is a bitch! I wore a loose top on one ride and it was really bothersome when the wind picked up. I won't make that mistake again.


Sunglasses are important for keeping the sun, wind and bugs out of your eyes. Aaron has really cool, cycling-specific sunglasses (pictured), but I just wear regular, cheap plastic ones from Target. Maybe someday I'll be cool like him.


It just doesn't get much sexier than this! This is the rear view of my cycling shorts, which have a liberal amount of butt padding. The front view is equally awesome.

More padding! Also, the insides of each leg are lined with grippy material so the shorts don't ride up.

Confession: These shorts were not cheap. I initially bought a less-expensive pair, but I immediately changed my mind once I tried on this pair. The difference in fit, padding and overall comfort was huge, and I wanted to make darn sure I would be as comfortable as possible on long rides.

I have a few pairs of high-quality running shorts and tops that I wear constantly, and several pairs of cheap shorts and tops that I never wear. I've learned that it's best for me to go for quality rather than waste my money on uncomfortable stuff that'll go unused.

So, I have one really nice pair of cycling shorts, and that's all I need. I couldn't be happier with them. Just do whatever you think is best for your man-parts or lady-bits when it comes to choosing your cycling bottoms.


Helmet: Target, many years ago
Bike: Bianchi via Peterson Bicycle
Clipless pedals: Shimano via Ebay (also available on Amazon)
Cycling shoes: Specialized via Gregg's Cycle
Water bottle and holder: Cheap via REI
Sunglasses: Target, many months ago
Shorts: Sugoi via Gregg's Cycle


You'll want a lock for your sweet bike, but I've heard tons of stories from people who've had their bikes stolen despite using locks. I've decided that I will not leave my bike out of my sight. Did I mention that we're in a deep, committed relationship?

You'll also want to have a portable bike pump and repair kit, and the knowledge of how to use these things would be nice, too. You could also play it like me and just always carry your cell phone and have someone on-call to pick you up if things go awry. (Hey, I'm new here. I'll get there.)

The few times I've gone riding by myself, I've made it a point to tell someone where I'm going and make sure they'll answer their phone if I need to call them. I stay on trails that have plenty of other cyclists and runners on them, and I stay the hell away from cars. I also bring my driver's license in case I get into trouble and someone (like, heaven forbid, a paramedic) needs to ID me. RoadID is an excellent product for this purpose as well.

Also, check out Leo Babauta's Beginner's Guide to Cycling for more tips and information that I haven't covered.


Cycling really isn't that scary once you get out onto a nice trail and feel the wind on your face. The speed demons in spandex will pass you and do their thing, but just keep truckin' along. You'll be just fine.

I still have a lot to learn about cycling, but so far, I'm enjoying the ride. That's what it's all about, anyway. The best moments for me have been when I found myself chasing a bee as it flew through the air at the same pace, and when I rode farther than I thought I'd be able to — 22 miles — all by myself.

I cycle to push myself, to find out what I'm really capable of doing and to be afraid of one less thing in this world. Already, in one month, I've learned so much about myself on the bike.

And there are so many more miles to go.


New here?



  1. Awesome post! What would you say the overall starting cost for all these essentials ran you? I've thought about getting into cycling but the price tag kind of intimidates me!

  2. Thanks, Courtney! I added up the cost of the bike, pedals, shoes, shorts, water bottle and holder, and I came in at about $1,250. The bike was just over $900. There are many ways to pay much less, and you definitely don't need the clipless pedals and shoes just to get started. I highly recommend the comfy butt-pad shorts, though. :)

  3. Might I suggest a cheap bike computer? I found that more useful starting out then shoes and jerseys which I only got much later.

  4. Definitely, Will! I failed to mention that I use my Garmin Forerunner 305 watch, which I already had and use for running, to keep track of my speed, mileage, time, etc. It has a cycling setting and works great. A bike computer is also a great tool to keep track of all that info. Thanks for your comment!

  5. You said you purchased all this for the purpose of completing a triathlon. Are you planning on using bike shorts instead of tri shorts for your competition?

  6. Hi Johnathan! I have triathlon-specific shorts (2XU brand) to actually wear during the race, which have much lighter padding than my bike shorts. Once I actually do the triathlon this Saturday, I'll likely write a post about all the gear I used during the race and how it may differ from what I use during regular cycling. Thanks for your comment!

  7. Hi Devon. I stumbled across your blog after googling "what you need to start cycling"(second one on the list!), and I absolutely love your blog!! Love the tips you gave, because I just started riding on road bikes and am excited about getting started. This blog is very inspirational in how you are living your life, helps me realize I need to get out and enjoy the world more while I still can! Best of luck in your travels, look forward to reading more about your adventures!

    1. Awesome, Matt! Thanks for stopping by, and good luck on the bike!

    2. Thanks! Continuing to read your blog...such amazing stories!

  8. Great post! I found it very useful. Love the final result. Thanks for the inspiration and the tips.


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