I grew up doing the normal amount of bike riding for a rural kid, but a white-knuckled ride down a highway in Cape May, New Jersey around age 10 left my nerves so frayed I couldn’t enjoy the pastime anymore. For more than a decade, I’d only get on two wheels if some kind of vacation merriment absolutely demanded it, and even then I would be terrified the entire time. So when I say that I, a new cyclist, am training to do a 545-mile ride for charity in June 2019, I mean that I, a new cyclist, basically a baby deer clipped into a sleek metal death machine, am spending basically all my scant free-time cycling in a desperate attempt to survive a week-long ride. OK, yes, I’m doing it on a tandem, which basically means I’m using my partner’s body as a set of (sort of) socially acceptable training wheels. But suffice to say I’ve got a long road ahead of me, and I’m learning a lot about what it takes to get a beginner ready for multi-day bike trips.
I’ll be writing about the entirety of this absurd endeavor if and when I make it home after the ride, but for now—and in light of all the New Year’s resolutions floating around during the next few weeks—I’m here to share the gear that’s helped me out so far and what I hope is going to help me in June.
Not all bike shorts are created equal. If you’re in the saddle regularly, you want a skin-tight pair with a built-in chamois—squishy bits to protect your most delicate squishy bits (read: your junk). The aim, at least from what I can tell, is to have as little friction as possible and as much padding as you can get in there without feeling like you’re in a diaper.
I tried quite a few cycling bottoms this fall and the Marion Chammy from Wild Rye was the most comfortable during long rides. If it’s a bib you’re after, my personal favorites are by Evelyn Hill. I can’t pretend I’m not biased; the company is owned by a family friend. But in terms of comfort and quality, their bibs held up like no other.
(You might notice that some of the products on this list are geared specifically toward women, and none are geared specifically toward men. Like most athletic endeavors, cycling is still largely a boy’s club in the gear department. Finding really good stuff that solves traditionally feminine problems is hard. Just know that if I’m recommending a brand for the lady-type-person version of some product or another, chances are super high that the dude-type version will be stellar as well.)
Not every day is a day for shorts, and one of the biggest adjustments I’ve faced as a new cyclist is the weirdness of dressing for a day on a bike. You want to start out kind of cold, because riding a bike for hours at a time is going to warm you up. But you’ve also got no idea what wind chill really means until you’re on a highway by the water with no trees to protect you from an unrelenting Arctic blast. Layers are the answer up top (more on that in a second) but if you’re biking in the cold, you really need a reliably toasty—but totally breathable—pair of pants. I always feel comfy in Pearl iZumi’s thermal tights, which have a pretty good chamois to boot. $140-150.
It’s called the Perfetto for a reason. One Amazon review said this Castelli jacket “felt like it was part of her,” and I totally get it. It keeps you warm (but not too warm), dry, and comfortable in pretty much any conditions except totally freezing. I’m also a fan of the Alpha Ross, which features a zip-up inner layer—it’s a great way to quickly cool off a little without shucking a layer or having your coattails flapping in the breeze.
I’m guilty of wearing my cycling jackets out and about on crisp mornings, awkward butt-pocket be damned. And Rapha’s Brevet jersey got a lot of airtime: it’s shockingly windproof and stunningly light, so it’s the perfect thing to throw in your bag in case things get choppy—whether or not that bag is attached to a bike.
When I first read the phrase “cycling bra,” I was intrigued but not optimistic. I already own a lot of sports bras, and I was sure that even if this bra from Castelli offered something different, it wouldn’t work for me. I was wrong! If you’re new to cycling and used to having to basically duct tape your chest down for other kinds of workouts, wearing something truly meant for low-impact sport can take some adjustment. But not only does this garment provide all the support a cyclist actually needs; it’s also 100 percent more breathable than the kind I wear for cross-training or lifting. That meant I was way more comfortable at the end of a day-long ride.
On a bike, gloves don’t just keep your hands warm: they also provide a cushion to keep the vibration of your handlebars from making your hands numb. Speaking personally, I really, really need that cushion. Without good gloves, my hands feel downright arthritic the next day. I have these in pink, and that makes me happy. They’re good for mild days, but if staying warm is a concern you should consider the lobster (gloves).
I’m generally a cotton sock kinda girl, and in warm weather, I usually can’t be bothered wearing bike-specific socks—I’m sure one day I’ll be horrified to read this, but I find my gym socks or knee socks work just fine. In cold weather it’s a different story: I highly recommend getting yourself some well-made wool cycling socks, which will keep you toasty without adding any weird bulk or friction to your shoes. Don’t forget to hand wash them.
When I get into a new hobby, I want to hit the ground running. So I was disgruntled when my partner, an avid cyclist, told me I should start off with city shoes—something that I could walk on like any sneaker to avoid unnecessary discomfort (and spending). I’ve got no complaints about the Pearl iZUMi pair I ended up with. They’re light, comfy, easy to clip in and out, and fine to run around in.
I may have been eager to get into super-slick cycling shoes, but I was not eager to get into clips. I was sure they’d make biking scarier and more difficult. Of course, I quickly learned that the boost they give you in power—you harness energy from the upward pull of your feet along with the downward push—is well worth the learning curve. Prepare for every eventuality with these reversible pedals. $53.
You can’t go wrong with an Ortlieb. If you so wish, you can attach one to basically every surface of your bike. You probably shouldn’t do that, but a solid pannier will certainly help a new cyclist get comfortable with biking to work (clothes!) and to do errands (veggies!).
“I didn’t know I needed this until I sat on it,” praises one Amazon review of Cane Creek’s seatpost. My mom, who’s been cycling at least as long as I’ve been alive, recommended this to me about five hundred times between my announcement that I’d be getting a tandem and my actual purchase of the bike. It has indeed busted much of the potential thudding, and my butt is thankful for the shock absorption. $129-$215.
You need a helmet. Yes, really. Giro makes great helmets. Don’t make this more difficult than it has to be. $46.
It can be tempting to go for a bike seat that feels cushy. This is a huge mistake. Squishy seats won’t necessarily deform in a way that fits your body, which means you might be putting pressure on the wrong spots and permanently damaging your nerves. The squish is a lie! A high-end leather saddle like one from Brooks will feel cold and unyielding the first time it hits your tuchus, but will slowly and gracefully conform to your anatomy until it’s literally made for you. My partner says it’s like the cast iron skillet of bike seats: it’ll take some time to break in, but once it’s seasoned you’ll wonder why anyone would ever use anything else. $127.
I don’t need a multi-hundred-dollar bike computer. But if you’re training for something, you definitely need some kind of tool to keep tabs on your distance and pace—how else would I frantically calculate how long it will take me to work up to a 110-mile day? Here’s one that’s consistently named as a great budget-friendly option, so you can start logging data without diving off the deep end.
I always assumed the fancy looking sunglasses I saw on cyclists were pretty much the same as any other pair of shades. I learned how wrong I was the first time I tried to wear the pair I bought for five bucks at Claire’s five years ago. Tifosi glasses stay on your face no matter what, don’t get all pokey under your helmet, and come in at least a few colors that won’t make you look like a total dork.
Speaking of things you never knew you needed, these foot condoms will keep you warm and dry as the temperatures start to drop, which is something your cycling shoes will not do on their own.
My partner is a crazy person who bikes “as long as it’s not too icy,” but I’m not about that. Now that the days are short and freezing, I’ve got to keep my practice up indoors. You can easily shell out four figures on a high-end training apparatus, but there are solid options out there for less than a hundred bucks, too.
Chamois cream, AKA butt butter, helps reduce friction between you and your chamois. And yes, vaginas need different chamois cream. Luckily, several companies make chamois cream for penises and chamois cream for vaginas. Get either, get both, just do what you gotta do for your bum (and adjacent anatomy).
Most of this list is written from the perspective of a precious wee babe of a cyclist who could stand to learn a thing or two (but at least has a lot of experience being a newbie!) Here’s the one piece of advice I can even give to seasoned bikers: work out your damn core. And your thighs. Really, just work out anything. I may be an idiot about all things cycling, but I’ve never had problems with power. And that’s because of what I do when I’m not on a bike. Look, this ab thing even has a wheel on it. It’s practically a unicycle. I also recommend getting some resistance bands that advertise booty-building properties, because blasting your glutes and quads is always a good idea.
I’m swooning just thinking about getting a good calf stretch right now.
Another thing you need is a cushion to sit on in the tub when your sit bones hurt so much that you can’t even sit in the tub.
I actually haven’t found this yet, please DM me if you have one, I need it, okay, thank you.
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