So you want to become a roadie, get yourself into a peloton, maybe even do your first century? If any of those terms mean anything to you, you probably want to get into road biking.

And you should. But there are a few things you should know before you drop thousands of dollars on this healthy, dangerous, expensive hobby.

We speak not only from experience here, but also from the experience of three very in-the-know road biking experts. Pay attention, future road warrior!

“Take a deep breath and accept the fact that you will be wearing spandex. You may think that dudes all wrapped in spandex look like goofballs, but they’re doing it for a reason.”

Shopping Tips

Beg, borrow (don’t steal): Borrow a bike from a friend or a store (or rent one) and see if you actually like road riding. Road biking is hard. You’ll burn out on climbs. Your balls will go numb. Your calves will cramp up. Your lower back will ache. You’ll probably take a spill or two.

Buy used: If you’re still in, look for a used bike from last season. Chances are there’s some guy just like you who blew some cash on a great bike last year only to realize he doesn’t like the sport (or he upgraded – the more likely scenario).

Buy end-of season: Spring and summer are when manufacturers launch their new lines. This means some of last year’s models will still be on showroom floors at heavy discounts. The savings is great, but make sure you find a bike in your size. As tempting as it may be to grab that bike at a deep discount, if it’s not your size you’ll regret it down the line.

Buy up. This may sound like bad advice, but trust us on this one: When you’ve decided it’s time to finally get your own new bike, stretch your budget and get the next-best one. The better components, fit and comfort will pay off in miles and fitness later on.

Ben Chertoff, New York area bike racer and salesperson at Danny’s Cycles agrees. “Buy the best bike you can afford. Think about where you’re going to be six months or a year into riding. If you buy a bike based on your fitness today, you’ll end up buying two bikes.”

Who are you? Before you shop, think about what kind of roadie you want to be. “Lock in on what you want to do,” says Mark Cote, Specialized Road Category Marketing Manager. “Want to do a triathlon or get a first bike to commute to work?  Knowing what you’re shooting for will help when you research online or talk with someone at your local bike shop.”

“Your first road bike should be one that not only fits your budget but also gets you excited to ride,” Says Maria Benson, Global Product Manager, Cannondale Road. “Road bikes start around $800.  Spending the upper limit of your budget will help prevent the desire/need to upgrade your equipment within the first year of your inevitable love of cycling.”

It also may be tempting to buy a bike online. That’s fine, but keep in mind it will come delivered partially unassembled and untested. “There’s almost always a reason bikes are cheap online: weird sizes, obsolete components or awful paint schemes,” says Chertoff.

“If you do find that amazing online closeout deal,” he adds, “don’t forget to factor in assembly and repairs at your local bike shop. Most reputable shops include assembly and a service plan with their bikes; over the first year alone this could add hundreds to your eBay steal.”

Get fitted. A bike, like clothing, should feel natural. While that shiny new road bike may feel great right off the rack, tiny adjustments in seat position, stack height (how high your handlebars sit on the headset), and foot extension make huge differences on long rides and can reduce – even eliminate – injury down the line. A proper fitting will take at least an hour and can be done at your local bike shop.  They’ll look at your knee angle while taking into consideration your skill level and general needs to help you dial it in. Fittings can be expensive (they’re often included with purchase of a new bike, so ask for that), but if you’re going to take road cycling seriously, a proper fitting is a must.

Avoid the on-the-spot upsell – to a certain extent. When you’re buying the bike, the salesperson will no doubt try to sell you a computer, water bottles, pedals, clothing, a bike rack, and pretty much everything in the shop. Come to the shop with a list of things you’ll need and then ask for a package discount if buying at the same time as your bike. Otherwise, ask them for a couple weeks’ grace period to research what you need and come back with the discount. Any LBS (local bike shop) worth its real estate will grant you that.

Top Gear

Take a deep breath and accept the fact that you will be wearing spandex. You may think that dudes all wrapped in spandex look like goofballs, but they’re doing it for a reason. Spandex not only moves with you, but it also keeps you cool. Plus it won’t get caught on moving parts, won’t chafe, and it’s aerodynamic. Meanwhile, the chamois (think of it like a big comfy maxi pad in the shorts) will keep your boys dry and comfortable.

Protect your man bits. Here’s the deal: Road biking is hell on your crotch and balls. A good saddle and fit will help a lot, but the dark truth is that stuff will be mushed up for hours if you’re on a long ride. There is a solution, though: Pick up some chamois balm to keep your stuff as comfortable as possible. We’re fans of DZ Nuts Chamois cream as it has a cooling effect, but just about anything in the category will work (Chamois Butt’r is supposed to be good stuff, too).

Protect your head. Don’t ride without a helmet, stupid. Whatever benefit you think you’re getting — cooler head, field of vision, or whatever – it’s just not worth it. Helmets don’t need to be expensive, either. A good Giro helmet can be found for around $30-50 on Amazon, and, no, you won’t look like a dork (being dead looks even dorkier).

Consider your feet. Almost every road cyclist in the world uses clipless pedals. Like ski bindings, these clip you into the pedal for a more direct interface with the bike’s drivetrain. If you’ve never used clipless pedals before, know that they have a pretty annoying learning curve (you’ll fall – a lot), but they’re worth it in the end because they create a real connection with your bike and assure that you’re pushing forward throughout your entire pedal stroke. That said, don’t jump right into them if you’re going for a ride in the wild. You don’t want to bail in front of a car. Practice in parking lots or start with flat pedals until you feel comfortable enough on the bike. Keep in mind clipless pedals require special shoes, so you’ll be spending some extra money there.

Time to Ride

Devote a day: For your first ride, put aside more time than you think you need for a ride. Expect to spend an hour just getting dressed and geared up the first time. Once you get through this prep ritual a couple times, you’ll reduce the time it takes, but count on some slow starts at first. For planning sake, here’s our checklist before going for a road ride:

  • Apply chamois butter
  • Slip into bib shorts
  • Stretch into base layer
  • Zip up jersey
  • Apply sunblock
  • Fill water bottles
  • Reset bike computer / GPS device / charge it
  • Check rear flasher light for charge
  • Put goo / food and phone in bag
  • Check tire flat kit
  • Check tire pressure / pump up tires
  • Helmet up
  • Swap sunglass lenses depending on weather / lighting
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Check bike mechanicals

Start slow and short. Don’t expect to ride 20, 30, even 50 miles your first time out. Even if you’re in shape from other exercise, this will be the first time you’ll be doing this kind of motion repetitiously, and you don’t want to get stuck with bad cramps out in the middle of nowhere. Your first ride should be 10 miles max. Take it slow, see how you feel, make notes for fit adjustments, and take your time. Don’t watch your speed, cadence, or any other numbers. Just get out and feel it. There’s time for number crunching on your second or third ride.

Find friends. Chertoff explains it best: “Riding alone is great, but road cycling is, fundamentally, a group activity. Most bike shops will know all the local group rides, from the lazy weekday morning retirement loops to the faster-than-any-race-you’ll-ever-ride Wednesday Night Worlds (every cycling community has a Wednesday Night Worlds – just sometimes it’s on a Tuesday, or a Thursday). Riding in a group takes practice and experience and you’ll get neither if you’re only riding by yourself. And riding in a group is nine million times more fun than riding the same route alone. Even if you get dropped on the first climb it’s worth it. You’ll be back.”

Set a schedule for you and your loved ones. Road cycling is a time suck. You’ll spend entire weekend days, evenings, even trips just for the sport. Plan your training and longer rides ahead to be sure you stay consistent. Share the schedule with your loved ones and make sure they know where you’ll be – both so they give you the time and so they can go look for you if you don’t come home.

Parting/Warning Shots 

Sure, road biking can lead to amazing views, beautiful days outside, and some serious fitness, but a lot of it straight up sucks. Here are just a few things that will make your life hell if you choose to join the spandex brigade:

  • Cars. While bikes are supposed to follow the same rules (and enjoy the same freedoms) as cars, cars are bigger, faster, and their drivers just don’t care. They’re the number-one reason roadies get hurt or die. Don’t be a douche – you will not win in a game of chicken against a 2-ton, motorized vehicle.
  • Hills. Blasting down a mountain road at 28MPH is a beautiful thing. But you gotta get up the hill before you can enjoy the ride down. Some dudes say they love climbing, but we don’t believe them. Climbing sucks. That said, it’s amazing exercise and the feeling of accomplishment you get at the top is hard to beat.
  • Pain. Even the most in-shape guys feel a little hurt after a couple hours in the saddle. Trust us: You’ll find yours. It could be a crampy calf or it could be back pain. It will come and it will haunt you.
  • Racing nerds. There’s nothing wrong with road racing, but sometimes the more hardcore riders have no time for noobs like yourself. They’ll cut you off, they’ll laugh at your bike, they’ll make you feel useless. Pay them no mind: they were once noobs, too!

See full version of first video.

See full version of second video.

Group photo by Konstantin Tronin / Shutterstock.com