So you’ve bought your new bike, taken it home and it’s now sitting proudly in your lounge, with you, the new owner, gazing at it in rapt anticipation. Maybe even running your hand along the tubes, caressing the junctions and feeling the shapes change under your fingertips. That feels wrong, doesn’t it? But what now? Well, clearly you need to ride it. But there are things you need to think of before you embark on that new relationship.
First, and most obviously, as soon as you throw a leg over it and start pedalling, your pride and joy stops being new. It will never be pristine again. These moments of expectation will be the last time that your new love works properly – it will spend the rest of its lifespan getting scuffed and greasy, being covered in abrasive mud and grit, and maybe even being cast into the bushes in temper. Enjoy these few moments while you can, but eventually the deed needs to be done – you need to go for a spin.
Experienced cyclists tend to forget a few things at this point. They forget that to the inexperienced cyclist riding a bike hurts. It is uncomfortable. The position is all wrong. The saddle rubs. Veterans don’t notice this stuff – their callused backside and scars on elbows and knees giving evidence of a life spent contorting their bodies into the most hideous positions just to get a buzz.
Having returned from your ride, you will almost certainly decide that you need a few things. A helmet maybe, if you’ve smacked your head on a low hanging branch. Or thrown yourself over your shiny new handlebars. Gloves, for the same reason. And maybe shiny new handlebars.
But, for most, the shopping list is ephemera. New riders will scan the internet and the magazines and decide that 1x gearing is the way to make them a better rider. Or a carbon seatpost. Actually, it’s a scientifically recognised fact that making any item out of carbon is a way to make a cyclist better. Or poorer.
What should the new keen cyclist be spending money on? Some boring stuff initially – pump, tube and multi-tool and maybe some time learning how to use them. And after that? Nothing. Be honest, if you were wise and bought a decent bike then everything should work and it should be capable of making the journeys, the adventures even, that you plan for it. Tyres perhaps, as these can and do change the way any bike handles? Poor tyre choice can make the difference between a ride and a long walk. Semi-slicks, beloved of bike manufacturers at certain price points, while adequate on mixed tarmac and gravel don’t make a muddy off-road ride especially pleasurable.
Experienced cyclists tend to highlight wheels as the obvious upgrade. But beware of this. A new lighter, shinier wheelset will indeed make your bike feel different. Once again the handling can be affected, and people talk of feeling a difference in acceleration, compliance and harshness. All those marginal things that are difficult to define or measure. This is a slippery slope. After a few rides your bike will feel normal again. You won’t notice those undefinable characteristics that you felt on that first ride with your new wheels. And that will lead to more internet searching for the next purchase.
And when a grizzled cyclist of many winters tells you not to waste your time spending money on your bike, check out his or her bike and question why they are using aftermarket bars with a strange flare on them, why they have an ultra-lightweight plastic saddle and why their bars are wrapped in the carbon-infused bar-tape du jour.
And then get your credit card out.
Thanks to the Giant Store, Swansea for allowing me to take photographs and plan my next purchase.