Bikes are meant to be… simple, right? Just throw on a helmet and push the pedals… right? This simplicity comes to a halt after you’ve outgrown your childhood bike or that old college fixed gear. If you’re ready to upgrade and looking to ride for fitness or for distance, a road biking setup can be a bit more complicated—but factor in the speed, the efficiency, and the mileage opportunity, and it’s all the more rewarding.

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In addition to being a choice fitness activity for those with joint pain or those recovering from high-impact sports injuries, cycling is a lifelong activity that can benefit people of all ages. It’s an efficient means of travel; there are hundreds of paved miles crisscrossing the Front Range alone that serve up prime road biking opportunities with a side of stellar Colorado views. Here’s how to shift your road biking setup into high gear.

Glossary

Like shoes, all bike brands and styles will fit and feel a little different. Before diving into the nitty gritty of gear and safety necessities, familiarize yourself with some key terms that will explain the various general components of nearly all bikes.

  • Frame — the metal triangular body of the bike, which can be shaped differently for men and women. Shape can also depend on the intended use of the bike.
  • Saddle — the bike seat. It’s important to be comfy and find one that works with your body, not against it—nothing is worse than a long bike ride with a painful behind.
  • Platform Pedals  — the most basic and classic pedal; flat and can be used with normal, everyday shoes.
  • Clipless Pedals — a type of pedal similar to a ski binding. With this admittedly confusing name, they require special cycling shoes that do clip into the face of the pedal. These are helpful for longer and uphill rides because you can pull up the pedal with your shoe in addition to pushing down, resulting in more efficient and smoother pedaling strokes.
  • Presta — a type of tire tube valve, typically long and narrow and most often found in high-pressure road tires and some mountain bikes.
  • Schrader — a type of tire tube valve, typically smaller and more squat than the Presta. Common on American bikes.
  • Front and Rear Derailler — the mechanical system that shifts your chain back and forth between gears. Important to keep clean and dry.
  • Chamois — the light padding found inside bike shorts. These can be your best friend.
Road biking 3 - Vail Pass - Vail Colorado - OutThere Colorado
Reaching the top of Vail Pass on a road bike. Vail, Colorado. Photo Credit: OutThere Colorado.

Gear

There can be a lot of gear to sort through when setting up your road bike–and it can all add up quickly. To begin, stick with the basics so you’re not tempted to compromise quality for price. As you grow into the sport, you’ll develop a better idea of where you want your road biking to take you, and how best to supplement and swap out your gear.

1. Frame

The goal of any frame is to balance strength with weight. Ideally, you want a strong machine, but a lightweight one that is easy to use. When buying a frame, the two most important aspects to consider are material and size. Most bikes will come in aluminum or carbon. The biggest difference here will generally be price—aluminum can be cheaper, while carbon will be a bit pricier; both are good beginner options.

As for fit, you want to measure the inches between your ankle to your inseam. Bike frames usually come in extra small to extra large, and will fit a range of heights according to this measurement. Bikes also come in different versions for men and women, so be sure to try a variety a frames to ensure you’re getting the best fit.

You also want to look for the ability to upgrade. If you buy the more basic version of a bike now, can you later exchange or add on more advanced mechanical systems or features to the frame? Some good road bikes to try are the Cannondale Synapse AL Sora or the Giant Defy 3.

2. Pedals

Most road biking bikes won’t come with pedals. You’ll have a choice between platform, clip-less, and clip-in to add on your bike. For now, stick to the basic platform pedals until you’re ready to invest in special cycling shoes and committed to riding a least a couple days a week. Try something like the EVO Adventure Trekking Pedals to start, and later you can always swap them out for a clipless pedal upgrade.

3. Water Bottle Cage

Especially in arid Colorado, hydration is key on long road rides. Buy a simple cage to hold your bottle so you’re never far from your next sip. Don’t splurge here, try: Planet Bike PB Water Bottle Cage.

4. Lubricant

You want to keep your machine oiled and working well, so specialists recommend cleaning and lubricating the chains on a biweekly basis for those that aren’t necessarily riding everyday. As you ride more consistently, you’ll want to clean and lubricate about once every 7-10 days. Again, no need to get fancy here: Finish Line Dry Lube 2.

5. Bike Lock

The last thing you want to is to finish a big ride at your favorite brewery, rehydrate, and then walk out to find your bike missing. Invest in something good, but not too heavy, for example: Kryptonite KryptoFlex 1018 Cable Lock.

Getting Started

Once you’ve got your bike set up, it’s time to ride. First suit up. A light and breathable top is best for longer rides, especially during the summer months. Shorts with a chamois, or lightly padded bottom, can add a nice level of comfort on long rides without too much bulk. Women should try a pair like Pearl Izumi’s Escape Sugar Short, and men should try the Quest Splice Short.

If it’s sunny out, don’t forget your sunglasses or sunscreen. Polarized sunglasses especially can help with glare and flares from automobiles, signs, and some roads on hot days.

Familiarize yourself with your route. How long do you want to ride for? Do you want to base your ride on time, miles, or location? Pick out and then get to know the route before you even think about buckling your helmet (and print out the map to store in your saddlebag, or load it onto your phone); that way you won’t have to stop at every intersection to double check your moves.

Pro Tips

A good cycling bike will balance two key components: comfort and lightness. You want to find a bike that will be comfortable for your body, while also airing on the side of “the lighter, the better. You’re working hard enough to pedal as it is, no need to add any unnecessary weight. Eliminate all the unnecessary gadgets and doodads. You’re looking for aerodynamic and smooth.

You’ll also want to factor in the price of road biking materials. A good road bike, especially one that you can add upgrades to, can serve you for decades if you take care to routinely clean and tune up the mechanics. You might be dropping a lot of cash now, but it can be worth it in the long run.

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Most bike specialists will recommend taking it to a bike mechanic and tuning up your bike once a year—kind of like an oil change—and also doing small chores yourself, like cleaning and lubricating the chain and the brakes, on an as-needed basis. How often you engage in these little touch ups will depend on how frequently you ride, so consider cleaning and lubing the chain every seventh time that you ride.

Keep your tires in good shape by inflating them to the proper air pressure. Check them before each ride. If they are too flat or too taught, it’ll affect your ride and can often slow you down, or you’ll risk popping a tube. Along with the dimensions of the tube, the prime pressure range will be noted on the tire.

Take the time to find a good fit. Most bike shops and REI stores will fit you to a bike size for free, so don’t hesitate to pop in even if you aren’t planning on buying one of their bikes. Really, invest in a comfortable saddle; you will thank yourself after the first thirty minutes of pedaling.

Road Biking - Vail Pass - Vail Colorado - OutThere Colorado
Road biking over Vail Pass. Vail, Colorado. Photo Credit: OutThere Colorado.

Safety First

Safety is one of the most important things to consider when setting up your road bike. Helmets can save your life; lights and reflective gear are mandatory, according to Denver and Boulder County law because they alert automobiles to your existence; and a repair kit can save you from hours on the side of the road on a 90-degree summer day.

  • Helmet – There isn’t much variance here, so find one that fits well on your head and in your price range. Look for good ventilation, too. Try: Giro Savant Cycling Helmet.
  • Lights – Both front and rear lights are law in much of Colorado, so don’t risk the $125 fine. Buy a pair like these: Blackburn Click Combo Light Set.
  • Repair Kit – This is a must if you are going on longer rides, especially on roads outside of town. A saddle pack will hold all of the necessities and velcro onto your frame. Once you’ve assembled everything, leave it on and you never have to think twice about bringing it along. Buying a ready-to-go kit like the Topeak Deluxe Bike Tool Accessory Kit is great, but if you want to pick and choose your own gear, check out the recommended items below:

A medium sized pack like the Topeak Aero Expanding Wedge will hold your repair kit essentials:

  • a multi-tool (Topeak Mini 9 Multi-Tool) for any adjustments you might need to make on the go;
  • a patch kit (Park Tool VP-1C Tire Patch Kit) for when you accidentally run over glass or a nail and need a quick fix;
  • tire levers (Pedro’s Tire Levers) to help remove the tube during a repair;
  • a spare tube, which will depend on the type of valve (either Presta or Schrader) and the tube’s dimensions (found printed on the inside of your tire), for when the damage is too extensive for a small patch. Good examples are the Novara Presta Tube and the Co-op Cycles Schrader Tube.
  • pump or CO2 cartridges to inflate a newly fixed tube. Pumps can vary depending on which tire valve you have, but the Topeak Pocket Master Blaster will work for both Presta and Schrader; CO2 cartridges like the Genuine Innovations Air Chuck Elite CO2 Tire Inflator are single use, but screw into both kinds of valves and inflate the tire insanely quickly.
  • emergency food (GU products or Clif Bloks) for… those rides that end up being longer and harder than you anticipated.
  • $10 or a credit card for when your repair kit just isn’t enough and you might need that Uber.

Next Steps

Check out the Colorado Bike Maps series for ideas on where to ride across the state, info on group rides and cycling clubs, and special cycling events.

Some favorite rides are: 1) Boulder’s NCAR road during sunrise, 2) anywhere along the Cherry Creek State Park’s Reservoir, and 3) winding through any of the plentiful paved trails in Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

For women, check out the Venus de Miles event happening in August—Colorado’s largest ladies-only ride. You can choose your course length, either 33, 66, or 100 miles, and bask in the fierce female power as you pedal together along Boulder County’s smooth and rolling backroads.

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