The Tour Down under is an inspirational race. The speed, power, endurance and grace of the professionals is simply breathtaking.
However, even at the highest levels, cycling is characterised by diversity and suffering. Big sprinters ride alongside elegant climbers, each displaying their talents at different stages of the race. They're united only in their desire to win and their ability to drive their bodies and their bikes mercilessly to do it. It's magnificent.
For the rest of us, road cycling is a fantastic way for people of all shapes and sizes to get fit, have fun and push themselves.
If the Tour Down Under has inspired you to get riding, here are our top three tips for getting started in road cycling (and remember, if you have any questions about bikes, you can contact us).
1. Bike fit is the most important factor for comfort, speed and efficiency.
If you bike fits you well, you'll be comfortable, fast and efficient - and this should be considered above all other things for road cycling. A bike frame that's the right size and set up to suit you is the foundation of your road cycling. The style of frame is also important. Aggressive road racing bikes are ideal for speed and efficiency, but an endurance geometry bike may be more comfortable and even faster over longer distances.
Speak to your local bike shop about frame sizing, fit and style. Don't settle for a near-enough fit because it's on sale or available straight away. Take your time to get the right bike.
2. Accessories help you look and feel the part, but choose wisely.
Clip in pedals and shoes are probably the single best upgrade you can buy for a road bike. They will help transfer power and add around 10% extra efficiency to every single pedal stroke. It's not a free lunch, but it's pretty close.
Let's take a minute to get technical with pedal systems, as there are a few different options and it's worth understanding the pros and cons of each. The most common are Shimano SPD, Shimano SPD-SL and Look KEO.
Shimano SPD is the 2-bolt recessed style of cleat initially designed for mountain bikes. They're great if you need to be able to walk in your shoes, or unclip and put a foot down quickly. They're also fairly easy to adjust. However, they don't have the power transfer, comfort and efficiency offered by the larger, road-specific cleat systems.
Shimano SPD-SL is the 3-bolt style of cleat that sticks out from the bottom of your shoe. They're more difficult to walk in, but the bigger cleat allows better power transfer and firmer engagement with the pedal. It's more about the ride. The SPD-SLs come with the yellow cleats as standard, which have 6-degrees of 'self-centring' float. This means that the cleat is sprung to bring your foot and heel back in line with the pedal. Some riders prefer this. There are even red cleats available with no float at all!
The Look KEO pedals are also 3-bolt style cleats and have the same pros and cons as the SPD-SLs. They typically come in black and red cleats. The black cleats have no float. The red cleats have 9-degrees of float. The main difference is that there's no self-centring function, so your heel moves freely across the range of float and isn't pushed back in line with the pedal. Many riders prefer this free-float, as they feel that it's kinder on their knees. It's a matter of personal preference, but be aware of it.
As with the bike fit, it's worth chatting through what you're after with someone at your local bike shop if you're not exactly sure what you need.
Other essential items include a pair of knicks (cycling shorts). No one really cares what you look like and as you step up the speed, distance and time in the saddle, you'll appreciate the comfort from the lack of seams. Chafing and saddle soreness is not a necessary part of cycling. I'd recommend black knicks as they go with everything, wear well and leave more to the imagination. While knicks are your number 1 clothing concern, jersey's help with styling points, especially if they match your knicks.
3. Find a road riding bunch
Cycling solo is a great way to clear your head. It gives you time to think, plus you can challenge yourself against your personal bests. However, riding with a bunch is a lot of fun. At 32 kilometres an hour, you're spending more than half of your energy just pushing air out of the way. Riding in a bunch gives a break from the wind. This is why the peloton is faster than breakaway groups in the Tour de France, even if the breakaway contains the world's best riders and they're busting their guts to stay in front - the efficiency of the peloton will eventually catch them.
So talk to your local shop, check out sites like MeetUp, talk to your local cycling advocacy body and talk to your mates. Finding a good group to ride is a fantastic way to learn about cycling etiquette, challenge yourself and find some great events to ride in.