Maybe you bike commute to work. Maybe you bike on trails. Basically, you just enjoy spending time on two wheels. If you’re curious about adding road riding to the mix but aren’t sure how to get started, then this post is for you. I asked Tim, Bicycle Product Manager at MEC, to share his expertise on how to join the ranks of roadies.
Choosing a road bike
The type of road riding you want to do will determine what type of bike to get. There’s performance road riding – think GranFondo, Conquer Cancer rides, triathlons – and there’s leisure road riding, which is more about occasional weekend rides. If you want speed and can afford purpose-specific bicycles, opt for a performance bike. If you’re looking for a bike that will suit most of your riding activities, then look at more versatile road bikes that aren’t built solely for speed.
Performance bikes have shorter wheelbases so they handle quicker, but aren’t as comfortable going over bumps. They are more reactive to the rider’s movements and their ergonomics put the rider in a more aerodynamic position. Generally very lightweight and equipped with only two chain rings, they have drop bars that allow different hand positions so you can switch things up on longer rides. The MEC Col Ltd. and Ghost Race 4900 are great entry-level options. Both are built on lightweight aluminum frames with carbon forks to help absorb vibrations, and they feature similar components, though the Race 4900 does have a triple crankset (helpful for hills).
Other road bikes are more versatile. You could easily use a non-performance road bike on a group ride with roadie friends, but you might not necessarily want to race on it. You could also use it for commuting around town and on weekend cycle touring trips. These bikes tend to have more gears – a definite advantage on hilly terrain – but they often have flat bars that limit you to one position. Their wheelbase is longer than performance bikes’, and their slacker geometry is better suited to versatility. While they also feature lightweight aluminum frames, their forks are not carbon fibre. The MEC Nineteen-Seventy-One and MEC Côteare solid options if you want a “go everywhere, do everything” kind of bike. The Côte’s main advantage over the Nineteen-Seventy-One? Mechanical disc brakes that provide better stopping power.
If you want to try road riding before buying a bike, see if you can borrow a friend’s bike and join one of the MEC Meet-Up rides. If you’re absolutely certain about road riding or even racing, then consider getting a bike that’s one level up from where you’re at now – it could save you buyer’s remorse after a few months. The bike may be a little higher end than you are at the time, but you’re going to grow into it and appreciate the extra initial investment in the long run.
Once you have chosen a bike and determined the proper frame size for you, make sure you take it in for a personalized fitting session. This will ensure that things such as the stem length and angle or saddle position are adjusted to your specific requirements. A few millimetres too low, too high, too forward can have a huge impact on your comfort and your joints.
Clipless pedals provide a huge advantage as they offer a solid platform that mechanically attaches to your feet. This maximizes power and efficiency by allowing you to pedal in circles, applying pressure through the whole pedal stroke rather than restricting it to an up-and-down motion. They also keep your feet in the right position, which can help you avoid knee issues Clipless pedals are very safe. Trying clipless pedals can be a worry for most beginners, but don’t sweat it. Your feet will naturally release from clipless pedals. Practice getting in and out of the pedals while stationary and leaning against a wall. It does not take long at all to master releasing from them. Start off with a low release tension, for easier release, and you’ll be fine.
Choosing a helmet
I had to ask Tim another all-important question: visor or no visor? No visor for road riding. Wearing a visor means you have to tilt your head to see past the visor in the drop position, which could lead to neck aches. Some helmets come with removable visors, so you can take the visor off for your road rides and put it back on the rest of the time. By the way, it’s a good idea to replace your helmet every 2 or 3 years, as the high-density foam that’s protecting your head breaks down over time. Fit is by far the most important thing to consider when choosing a helmet, but you’ll also want to factor in weight and ventilation.
Choosing bike shorts
The most important clothing piece for road riding is bottoms. Jesse, MEC’s Product Manager for Active Lifestyle apparel, gave me the low-down on what differentiates one pair of shorts from another.
Most (not all) roadies wear skin-tight shorts or capris. Since not everyone feels comfortable squeezing into spandex when they start out, you can wear loose-fitting shorts over padded ones. Just bear in mind this increases the potential for friction and sore spots in a sensitive area.
The key element affecting quality and price of shorts is the chamois (the pad). Density, not just thickness and cushiness, is what you need to look at. A light density pad – thin or thick – will feel really cushy, but will compress and lose its structure, rebound, and recovery quickly. It’ll feel nice for the first hour, but then it’ll feel like paper. Shorts like the MEC Randonneur and Rapide have multiple density pads with a mix of materials and foams, and will provide good cushioning over a three- or four-hour ride. Higher-end shorts have anatomically cut or 3D shaped/formed chamois – you’ll undoubtedly notice the difference as soon as you try them on.
Bib shorts have been around for men for quite some time, but they’re a pretty recent addition to women’s cycling clothing. What makes these so much better than regular shorts? For starters, the higher waistline covers your lower back when you’re crouched down in the riding position, and covers your belly when you’re standing around. The suspenders put tension on the chamois to keep it in place, provide overall structure to the shorts, and reduce the chance of any midriff rolling the front elastic band over. Bib shorts also have strategically placed clips and very stretchy fabric, so you won’t have to strip down completely when you stop for a nature break.
MEC Rouleur Bib Shorts have breathable mesh suspenders, a dense, anatomically cut chamois, and laser cut elastic leg openings that hug your thighs to stay in place comfortably. Different brands fit differently and offer various features and benefits. Take the time to find shorts that are right for you.
So there you have it: some advice on how to get started in road riding. Don’t hesitate to pick a staff member’s brain about road riding next time you’re in a store or when you call our Service Centre – we have tons of roadies working at MEC.
Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is Canada's leading retailer of clothing, gear and services for outdoor activities like hiking, cycling and paddlesports. MEC operates 17 destination stores in central locations across Canada. Widely recognized for its commitment to sustainability, MEC is a member of 1% for the Planet and supports various community-based outdoor and environmental initiatives through its grants program.