A FRIEND OF MINE JUST BOUGHT A NEW ROAD BIKE. He’s been riding a hybrid for a few years, with its fatter tires, straight handlebars and upright riding posture, but he test rode one of my road bikes a few months ago and liked it. So on Black Friday, he was able to get a screaming deal on a beautiful carbon fiber Trek.
It occurred to me that the difference between casually riding a hybrid around the neighborhood, compared to mounting a faster, sleeker road bike and cranking it up on the highway, could be problematic at first. I thought I would point out a few differences that the average rider might not be immediately aware of.
Road bikes can be a little fussy
If you’re new to skinny tires and the more forward posture used on road bikes, here are few tips to keep in mind that will help you keep the rubber side down.
- Road bikes handle much differently than bikes with fat tires and straight handle bars. For example, steering is tighter and less forgiving. Take a few days of slow easy riding in a variety of settings to get used to this new feel before trying to negotiate traffic during rush hour.
- If there’s rain or dampness on the road surface, avoid the painted lines as much as possible. They are slippery when wet. If you do need to cross them, do so in a vertical position, preferably seated and either coasting or soft pedaling.
- When riding on the side of a lane, avoid that expansion joint or crack in the pavement where two slabs of pavement come together. They can make your skinny tires flinch from side to side, or if wide enough you can get the front tire jammed in the crack. Either occurrence could lead to a crash.
- Also, avoid riding over grates in the road. Your front wheel will likely slip right through a parallel grate, and going cross-ways over a grate can be slippery. About six months ago my back tire slipped off of a steel grate. I maintained control of my bike, but the rim and tire were both damaged when they hit the jagged edge of the concrete surround.
- Hold your line. In other words don’t weave back and forth over the width of your lane. A car or even another cyclist approaching from the rear will expect you to ride steady and in a straight line. Even minor swerving left or right could lead to disaster, or at least make others on the road very nervous about your intentions.
- When overtaking a bike or a runner or a walker, call out, “on you left!” before you reach them. The warning could keep them from absentmindedly turning into you as you ride by.
- When riding over speed bumps, lift your butt off the seat, bend your knees, and shift your weight to the rear of the bike. Your center of gravity is more forward on a road bike. The first time I road skinny tires, I tried to ride over a large speed bump in a casual position and was thrown over the handle bars when the front wheel came to an abrupt stop in front of the bump. You’ll want to avoid that embarrassment.
- Ride your road bike as you drive your car. In other words ride WITH traffic, not against it. Obey road signs and traffic lights. Make no unnecessary or radical moves. Signal your turns and intentions. You’ll want others in your vicinity to be able to anticipate your movements.
- When you ride your bike you are essentially “driving a vehicle”—you must yield to pedestrians.
These are a few tips to get the new roadie started safely, I be back next week to cover sharrows, bike lanes, listening to music and more.
Be safe out there, and enjoy the ride!
(Excerpted from my new book in progress: Riding for Our Lives.)