With the recent explosion in cycling popularity, the United States is experiencing record growth in the sport of cycling. This is a particularly encouraging development in a country which has largely associated cyclists with automotive target practice using projectiles like Gatorade bottles and 7-11 Big Gulps.

Each day a new cyclist dons his or her two wheeled steed for the first time is a day where more people learn to tolerate the sport. However, if you go out on the road and look like the quintessential cycling geek who clearly doesn't know what they're doing, you will only hurt the cyclist's cause for social acceptance.

We all have to start somewhere, and I was definitely not immune to being a neophyte. I had all the rookie characteristics: the obscenely large helmet, haggard looking shorts, baggy jersey, hairy legs, greasy chain marks on my calves, bobbing posture on the bike - oh yes, I was indeed a tool.
However, not all rookies have to be subject to ridicule. There is a way to look experienced without having thousands of miles under your legs; you just have to pay attention to the details. This article is targeted towards folks who are new to the sport of cycling and wish to avoid the potential embarrassment I was put through as a rookie.

Tip 1: No Pro Kits

The cardinal violation in trying to be a cool cyclist is when you buy a full professional team kit (jersey, shorts, socks, etc.) of a team you do not ride for. Nothing screams ROOKIE louder than a full Discovery Channel uniform on a non-payroll cyclist. Steer clear of these overpriced kits. The only time these types of jerseys are acceptable is when they are vintage. General rule of thumb is 10 years after a team's disbanding. For instance, if you hit the road in a vintage Motorola or Coors Light jersey, you get big style points. Just make sure you know a few of the cyclists who rode for those teams so that when approached by other cyclists, you can sound knowledgeable.

Tip 2: Buy the coolest helmet you can afford

When it comes to helmets, don't skimp. You are going to be wearing this piece of equipment all the time (hopefully), and you want to be motivated to put it on. If you have some cheapo brain bucket or a nicer one that is two sizes too small, you'll never want to wear it. Back in the day when I was young and stupid, I thought riding around with no helmet and gel that made my hair glisten was cool - well, it wasn't. My Giro Pneumo helmet looks far cooler than my bare cranium, especially when it's hemorrhaging blood after a head-over-shammy 30 mile per hour crash.

Tip 3: Buy cycling clothes that fit

Okay, if you are new to cycling, and you're a bit uncomfortable about the whole lycra thing, then you'd better suck it up. Don't go out and buy clothing two sizes larger than what you wear on the street. Cycling is about aerodynamics. You need tight fitting clothes. If you wear a large t-shirt, get a medium jersey. Sometimes the fit is a bit different between brands, so try them on first. Riding down the road with a jersey as aero as a parachute will make any seasoned cyclist holler "tenderfoot ahoy!" In addition, as far as jackets, no, the orange rain poncho which you wore to the Steeler game last week is not appropriate rain gear attire. Get a clear cycling rain jacket. It is far more aero and far less ridicule inducing. Also, if you have a loose fitting jersey, don't go making matters worse by tucking it into your bib shorts. This isn't wrestling.

Tip 4: Shave the legs

Obviously this tip is targeted for the guys, however, if you are a girl, and haven't heeded this tip yet in your life, then maybe cycling is a great excuse and a God-send for your spouse. I know it sounds crazy, but if you are a cyclist with hairy legs, people will ride ten feet away from you and avoid conversation. It may sound shallow, but it's the truth. Nobody should judge a book by its cover, or a cyclist by their leg hair, but it happens.

On a related note, I am often asked why cyclists shave their legs. Contrary to rumor, it is NOT for added aerodynamics - although it might play a miniscule factor. The real reason is avoiding the "Velcro effect" on your legs during a pavement slide and for ease of cleanup after experiencing an eventual fall.

Tip 5: Avoid "rookie marks"

Nothing gives away newbie status more than someone with "rookie marks" - greasy chain marks on your inner calf muscles. This often happens when someone doesn't keep their chain clean and has an inefficient cycling posture, spin, or tries to clip out of the pedal towards the inside. To avoid rookie marks, keep your chain clean. Wipe it down often and use clear chain wax products like White Lightning which don't turn your chain into a black grimy mess. Also make sure that you are cleaning the cogset and chainrings also to avoid getting cogset grime on your nice clean chain.

Tip 6: Pick the right accessories

Some accessories make a cyclist look cool, while others make them look tool. For instance, any saddle bag that you can actually fit your saddle into is way too big. Any more than two water bottle cages on a bike is overkill (unless you are a triathlete in training). Any cyclo-computer with more wires on it than your home PC is verboten. Pro cyclists go wireless, make sure you do too. Polar makes a heart rate monitor and wireless cyclo-computer with a cadence meter all in one device; that's pro. Avoid all rear-view mirror related devices regardless of whether they mount on your helmet or handlebar - it's a major nicht-nicht. Besides, do you really want to see yourself getting hit by a car? I'd rather not know.

Old school or complete tool? Its hard to tell. Nice ski goggles.

Tip 7: Dump the reflectors and "plastic ring"

If you just bought a brand new bicycle, congratulations! The first thing you must do once the bike arrives home is to remove all reflectors from the bike as well as the plastic ring which protects the top cog from the spokes in your rear wheel. If the bike is properly maintained and dialed-in, the ring is unnecessary, and it looks silly. Failure to comply with this advice will result in excessive finger pointing, hand-covered giggling, and cruel people shining flashlights at your bike. If you do heed this warning just be responsible enough to not sue anyone if you are riding at night like a numbskull with no lights and get hit by a car. Yes, that actually happened once, and the plaintiff won a multi-million dollar suit against a major bike manufacturer for making "faulty reflectors".

Tip 8: Practice with your clipless pedals

Before going out on the road, if you have clipless pedals and are using them for the first time, practice in your driveway or backyard for a few hours beforehand. There is nothing more embarrassing than flopping over like a beached whale at an intersection for hundreds of people to see. Trust me, it's ego crushing. It happens to almost everyone at least once, but by practicing, you are lowering the risk of this total rookie blunder.

Not practicing with your clipless pedals before riding leads to certain peril.

Tip 9: Unless you're riding a mountain bike, no hydration systems!

There is this guy who frequently rides, no, speeds around my neighborhood, and he makes me break into hysterics every time I see him. It isn't the fact that he wears the exact same cycling clothes every day, or the fact that he appears to be time trialing always, or the fact that when he is time trialing, he even does it on a crowded paved trail with pedestrians and slow cyclists, or the ridiculous yellow spoke Spinergy Spox wheels that he has; no, those reasons are not the source of my laughter. The primary thing about this guy which makes me guffaw is that he rides with a Camelbak, and the nozzle is perpetually hanging from his bearded mouth like those guitar voice box tubes that Peter Frampton and Joe Walsh used to rock in the seventies. It isn't like this guy is on a ten hour ride where he needs tons of hydration; he rides to the neighboring town and back, albeit probably at breakneck pace, but still, it is ridiculous looking. Unless you are mountain biking, leave the hydration system at home.

https://www.roadbikereview.com/reviews/?attachment_id=13716Tip 10: Know the cycling etiquette

If you are planning on doing a group ride, make sure you know common cycling etiquette. There are a lot of little things you pick up over the years, but the most important ones are:
  • pointing out potholes and other objects in the road for the person behind (don't ever bunnyhop potholes without forewarning those behind you - I was guilty of that behavior)
  • indicate with your hand to people behind when the group ahead is slowing
  • do not make abrupt and unannounced speed or direction changes
  • never overlap wheels unless your handlebars are even with their thigh and they can see you
  • if you get a flat in the middle of the pack, raise your hand, yell out "flat", and hold your line until everyone has passed
  • when standing out of the saddle, always pedal while simultaneously standing up to avoid a lag in momentum which can lead to the rider behind crashing into you.
  • if you are in a fast group and don't have the energy to pull the other riders, stay at the back out of the rotation. Nothing irritates experienced riders more than some yo-yo infiltrating their paceline.

Outlandish grimaces and other facial expressions are a must in pack riding.

Got all of that? Good. Now that you're done with the article, go back and take detailed notes. There are more tips I could share, but the ones highlighted above will get you off to a respectable start and prevent you from being labeled as a greenhorn. So get out there and ride with people, because ultimately, observing the behavior of others is what's most valuable in learning the ropes of cycling. Most importantly, get fit, have fun, and good luck!