One of the aviation magazines I used to read voraciously when learning to fly featured a monthly article called “I learned about flying from that”. Usually the story involved some hair raising dice with nature, human error or plain stupidity, that led to a near-death experience, which inevitably the author learned a big lesson from.
For the cycling noobie, just like in aviation there is a steep learning curve and if you get it wrong the key lesson is the same, that gravity sucks and mistakes can be expensive. My adventures in cycling have been so far fairly vanilla, with only the odd mishap, but over the 3 years of my apprenticeship a lot has been learned, so in no particular order of merit, I learned about cycling from getting these things wrong.
Buy the right bike for the purpose
You can have fun on any bike, but if you plan to do road riding on the dedicated cylcle tracks here in Dubai (which are brilliant), buy a “Road Bike” and not a hybrid or a mountain bike to get you started. Inevitably you will grow out of the straight barred Hybrid or MTB and want a road bike in fairly short order.
Find a good dealer
If you plan to buy from a dealer here in Dubai, find one that listens to you, your budget and needs, not the one who is trying to sell you what he has on the shop floor, that is way more expensive than you wanted. There are a lot of good people in cycling in Dubai, my personal recommendation would be Revolution Cycles in Motor city.
You can have a lot of fun on a cheap bike
Yes the latest Carbon Fibre weapon is a lovely thing, but week in, you see people out having tremendous amount of fun on a budget orientated Alloy bike with only 16 gears. This can be especially humbling when they whizz past your full aero bike at a great rate of knots, looking like they are out on a cake run. Decathlon in Mirdiff City Center’s own brand B’TWin bikes are a good bet for the budget constrained.
Buy a bike that you won’t want to upgrade straight away
While you can have fun on a budget bike, one of the diseases involved in getting into cycling is the desire to upgrade your steed, usually this starts with lighter wheels. If you can afford it, buy a reasonably specced bike at the start, as it often ends up being cheaper in the long run.
Buy quality Bib shorts
Comfort on a bike is everything, when you start you will have a sore bum, it gets better over time. However quality Bib shorts make a huge difference. Intuitively you think that you would prefer to wear normal shorts, however Bibs are just better in every way for comfort, mainly because they do not bite at the waist. Go cheap on the padding and you will regret it. Join a riding group like CSD and get their kit free as part of the membership is a good bet to start.
You will need proper shoes and clip in pedals
Possibly the best investment for road cycling, clip in pedals and shoes put your feet in exactly the right position, protects your knees from injury and gets the best out of your pedal stroke.
You will forget to unclip your shoes
Cognitive fixation and its friend distraction, is the major cause of all accidents whether in aircraft, cars or on bicycles. Your brain will fixate on something and everything else around you becomes almost irrelevant, until it is too late. Coming to an unplanned stop quickly can often lead to forgetting to unclip your shoes (especially as a noob) this leads to the Pratfall, where you gently fall over sideways, just pray the audience is not too big.
Get your geometry right
Buying the correct sized bike and making sure you are sitting on it properly is crucial to comfort and efficiency. 3mm can make all the difference to seat height and 1 degree in angle the difference between soreness or pleasure. There is a lot of information on the internet if you have the time, if not visit one of the better bike shops for a fitting session, it will pay off.
Start on your own but quickly ride with others
At the start you can go it alone to build fitness and bike handling skills, riding in a straight line being the major one! However as soon as possible start riding with others as it is much more enjoyable. If possible find some friends who ride at much the same pace or a little faster. Join one or more of the riding groups in Dubai, the breakfast run to Bab al Shams, organised by CSD should be a compulsory activity.
Group riding is a skill
You need to pay attention, be predictable and take advice, as everyone’s safety depends on each other being consistent. But it is huge fun and very sociable. Like all disciplines, you only get better, one of my favourite one liners is, every time you get on a bike, you get a bit better. Wish it applied to other things in life!
You will get a puncture
Almost guaranteed to happen when you are miles from anywhere. Carry a spare tube and pump (or CO2) and know how to change a tube. In 3 years I have had 5 punctures, one led to a 10km walk because I had no spare tube. Even if you can’t change it, if you have a spare tube, some kind soul will stop and do it for you, with only minimal begging required.
Learn to maintain your own bike
If you have the time and any mechanical aptitude it can save you a small fortune. Bikes are not that complicated and a well lubed steed is a lovely thing. On that note, the heat of Dubai leaches out the grease in bottom brackets, free hubs and stems, they go dry. Check this every 6 months or so, a 20 minute job that makes a real difference.
Get a bike computer
Not strictly necessary, but everyone I know rides faster and more consistently with a Garmin cycle computer and a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM). Logging your rides and putting them on Strava allows you to see real improvement over time and inspires you to ride more.
Do an event or compete
Plenty of great competitions and events here in Dubai, the Dubai 92 should possibly be your first major event, even if you think you can’t go that far. if you pace yourself and keep eating you can go a lot further than you think
Fuel to ride
if you ride fairly fast, you only have fuel (glycogen) in your muscles for about 60-90 minutes hard riding, after that you need to top it up with easily absorbed carbs. Isotonic cycling drinks with carbs are a must for longer sessions and crucial for the big events. Drink milk or chocolate milk straight after a ride to put back glycogen and protein into the muscles, the 30 mins after a hard ride is a crucial window for recovery, otherwise your body will simply eat your muscles.
Take your bike on holiday
Europe is awesome in the late summer, as long as your total baggage weight is under your allowance, bikes are free on Emirates. Learn how to pack your bike in one of the dealer cardboard box’s and nip off to Barcelona for a weekends riding!
Go on holiday and buy a bike, then bring it back
Really viable option with the Euro and Australian dollar being particularly cheap at the moment. if you go to Oz, buy a Giant for half the price of Dubai, claim the tax back on the way out. Winter sales in the UK reveal some tremendous bargains as well.
Get your mates riding
Become that annoying born again cyclist that nags your brunch eating mates, ladies who do lunch and kids to start riding, it is addictive and could add years to their lives. Someday they might even thank you.
Love your bike
Yes they can be silly expensive, but if the cycling bug bites you, you will get more fun out of the AED15K Carbon road bike than any other toy in your stable. As one Swedish friend commented, every time he walks downstairs and see’s his bike, he just wants to get on it and go riding.
Non cyclists find Lycra endlessly amusing
The MAMIL joke will never grow old, I always reckoned it is better than being a GALFEY (Getting A Little Fatter Every Year)
Yes it can be hard work grinding out the kilometers into the wind, and boy do you feel the wind. But the objective is to always try to make sure it is fun, not all rides will be, but most should. Cycling in the summer is more fun than you can imagine, there is something wonderful from coming back from Bab al Shams with 30 other looney’s and sprinting the last kilometer in 38’c, then cooling down in the shade and sharing your excuses for a feeble last 100 meters.
There is really only one thing about Dubai cycling I still find hard to build a bridge over, that is the crazy early morning starts for a lot of my fellow roadies at the weekend. 5:15 starts for the lollipop are just a bridge to far for this bed lover. After all what’s wrong with getting a little hot!