Riding your first cycle sportive this summer? Here's the gear you'll need...
You don't need to become a tech-boffin in order to enjoy cycle sportives, but you do need to spend your money wisely.
Let's start with the bike. Unless you want to make life hard, you'll need a road bike, rather than a mountain bike or even a hybrid. They don't come cheap though. Spend above £500 and you'll get something comfortable and reliable. Spend £1000 and it'll be light and fast too. Above this price point, the benefits rapidly diminish per pound you spend.
Borrowing or hiring a bike is another option, but whatever you do, be beware of the importance of good bike fitting. You wouldn't run a marathon in someone else's ill-fitting shoes right? The same applies to cycling. For this reason, seek an independent bike fitting (at a reputable shop) or at least spend time researching how to measure it yourself. Don't let a shop sell or hire you a bike that doesn't fit you, just because it's the last one they have in stock. It happens.
Your bike must also have the appropriate gearing for the terrain you wish to cycle on. This is dictated by the number of teeth you have on your sprockets (connected to your rear wheel) and chain rings (near your pedals). It'll be expensive to have these changed later, so ask your shop for advice and help in the first instance.
If you do decide to buy a bike, do your homework first. Magazines like Cycling Plus and websites such as BikeRadar.com have hundreds of up to date reviews and comparisons to help you seek out the best value for money.
The same applies for kit. During a ride, you're particularly susceptible to changes in weather and wind-chill. The key is layering, as it gives you various mid-ride options. Warning: This may mean wearing some Lycra (eek!). For regular summer cycling you'll need padded bib-shorts, a cycling jersey with pockets, separate arm-warmers, a thin Gilet (like a tank top with a zip!) and fingerless cycling mitts. Then you can unpeel the layers if you get hot, and store them in your pockets. You'll also need a helmet, cycling glasses (to deflect flies and grit), spare inner tubes, a mini pump, tyre levers, money and a mobile phone. Quite a lot of stuff eh?!
So before you buy any clothing, make sure you try it on and choose the most comfortable and best fitting. It needs to be breathable and it shouldn't rub. With cycling you're better off buying right and buying once. Expense doesn't always guarantee performance either.
The Serious Triathlon Blog
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Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and writer.