Getting started in cycling: Adding another sport to your regimen

Runners often make great cyclists.  They have the endurance, VO2 max, leg and core power, and mentality to do as well on the road as they do on the running trail.  Making the jump to cycling can be a little intimidating, though, in part because cycling tends to be such a gear-junkie sport. 

While a runner’s conditioning might make for an easy transition to cycling, there are a few things to keep in mind to fast-track the adoption of cycling into your regimen.

Pick a Type of Cycling

There are several different types of cycling, and the one that you focus on will probably be dictated by one of two things:  What you have easiest access to, and what your social circle tends to do.  

Many runners gravitate to road cycling because it shares the concepts of endurance, distance, and speed.  Others shy away from roads because of the potential traffic danger.

Those thinking of doing a triathlon will probably do either road biking, or may ride on an actual tri bike.  Tri bikes behave a lot like road bikes in terms of the kind of riding you will do on them.

Mountain biking is popular for people who have easy access to dirt or singletrack trails, and gravel biking is growing in popularity as many people have easy access to unlimited mileage of gravel roads.

Whatever you choose, you will then want to focus your equipment and riding style on that type of cycling.

Get the Basic Gear

Cycling involves lots of specialized gear.  Unlike running, where a good pair of shoes, shorts, and a decent pace watch can get you going, cycling involves quite a few bells and whistles that take a while to master.

The first consideration, of course, is the bike, but that warrants an entire additional article.

As for attire, most cyclists wear bike shorts and a cycling jersey.  The bike shorts are made with a chamois pad to help keep your bottom more cushioned on the ride.  A bike jersey has pockets centered on the back, which is where you want to store things like your phone or a protein bar on a ride.

The footwear is also different.  Sure, you can ride with plain pedals or cages which your running shoes fit in to, but you are not going to get the full power of your pedal stroke this way.  The preferred footwear for cycling is the combination of a cycling shoe with a cleat, and compatible pedal.  This allows you to “clip” on to the bike, creating a full-power, 360-degree stroke.  There are a few different options for bike pedals and cleats, but the key is to get something that is compatible with each other.

Of course, you will want a good helmet and eyewear, but more on that in a minute.

Safety First

Given the speed at which you are often moving, safety is a major consideration when you start to transition to doing more cycling.

Some runners might already be experienced with dealing with traffic, but for others it can be a whole new world.  If you plan to become a road cyclist, or even a trail rider who needs to ride a road to get to the trailhead, try to find road routes with slow, predictable traffic and wide shoulders.  Fast-moving traffic, lots of intersections or turn lanes, and narrow shoulders all make a road less suitable for a cyclist.

When in doubt, find a good bike trail to build your skills and confidence, and only go on roads when you have a good feel for your equipment.

Always wear a helmet, even if the ride is expected to be short or slow.  The same goes for eyewear.  You never know when a wasp or pebble heads straight for your eyes, and if this happens you need something covering them.

Note that a disproportionate number of bike accidents occur in low light, so be especially careful if riding at dawn, dusk, and try not to ride in the dark.

Common Aches and Pains

If you have been a lifelong runner, you will find a few new muscles being exercised when you begin riding.  Don’t worry if it takes a few weeks to work through, as any new activity is bound to test your joints and muscles in different ways.

Common cycling tweaks or soreness include back pain – both upper and lower – and shoulder, wrist, or elbow pain from having too much pressure on your handlebars.  

People who do longer rides often find that their neck gets sore from the cycling posture, and they might also experience “saddle sore” which results from long-term contact with the bike seat.  Good bike shorts will help avoid that.

The good news is that a properly-fitted bike and good cycling form will help you avoid most cycling tweaks or overuse injuries.  It is worth it to pay for a professional bike fitting when you begin riding, as it will help ensure you aren’t “fighting your bike” and risking injury.

Post courtesy of Paul at Complete Tri.
About Author

Matt Rasmussen lives in Keizer, Ore. with his wife and three daughters. He enjoys watching hockey, going to as many breweries (618) and wineries (152) as he can, and all things Canada (he was born there). Matt was raised as a baseball player and officially transitioned over to running in 2010.

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