by Troy Oldham, race director, Cache Gran Fondo 

Having made it through another harsh Utah winter, your friends and neighbors are beginning to thaw out by wearing stretchy shorts, tight tops, helmets and disappearing for hours each day. You hear them talk about “Smithfield Canyon before dark” and “making the Tuesday night ride.” At work, you overhear coworkers discussing strategies to get into the lottery (LOTOJA or Little Red), or expressing excitement for the next century ride or Gran Fondo.

Beginning Bikers

It’s likely those same friends are coaxing you into their craziness. Could this be the year you join them? If 2016 is your year, here’s a list of eight things many cyclists wish they would have known before they joined the sport:

  1. Carry food and water. The best way to renew energy is to keep your body properly fueled and hydrated. Best practice is two full water bottles and two snacks.
  2. Tubes don’t change themselves. If you ride regularly, you will have to change a flat. The worst time to learn tire repair is when you are on a lonely road, daylight is fading and the battery on your phone is dead. Most bike shops will show you tools, tips and techniques. Carry food, water, an extra tube and a way to inflate the tire.
  3. Invest in a bike fit. Whether from the bike shop or a certified specialist, the money spent on a bike fit will save you time, pain and money down the road. It may seem like overindulgence, however, you will be spending time in the saddle, so make sure it is the right height and proper angle.
  4. Learn wind. When I was 5 years old, my grandfather told me, “Don’t pee into the wind.” It meant something to me then, and the same principle applies now to cycling. When you start your ride with a stiff wind to your back, be prepared to ride against it on the return trip. Go head-in to the wind early, because it’s a lot more fun returning with confidence, speed and energy left in the tank.
  5. If you are thirsty, it’s too late. Make it a habit to snack and drink during your rides, then refuel afterwards, too. The best time to replenish glycogen stores are within the first half hour after a ride, when your body is working hard to recover. Studies show the best snacks have a 4:1 carb to protein ratio.
  6. Don’t be stingy with the butter. Chafing is common and annoying for cyclists, and it can keep you off the bike while you heal. To avoid the “chaff,” wear proper, well-fitting bike shorts or bibs, make sure your seat is properly fitted and apply the lotion liberally. Use cycling-specific ‘Butt Butter.’
  7. Hands and head. Don’t pass on gloves, and make sure to wear a well-fitted helmet. Gloves help your grip, keep your digits warm and protect from calluses, blisters and impact if you fall. A helmet is smart and required by law.
  8. Learn before joining a group ride. Group rides are a great way to join the sport and make new friends, however, there are specific safety rules all should understand. Start off with someone who is willing to teach you how to properly draft, transition and point out obstacles. Working together is a great way to learn.