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Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

I have been riding a bicycle for twelve years or so. As I mused about my Strava stats, I started reflecting on what I know now about cycling that I didn’t know when I bought that hybrid bike at the end of 2008.

There are the obvious things, like how to use cleats and how to select the right gear for the speed and the terrain.

There are other initially less obvious things that I came to learn and appreciate through experience.

Riding with the right group makes all the difference

Photo courtesy of THL

This is my number one realisation.

I really enjoy riding with a group of like-minded friends. By like-minded I means friends who ride for the same reasons as I do. For fun and food, rather than as a competition and to chase personal bests. Friends who ride at about the same pace as I do. Friends who don’t mind stopping to enjoy the scenery. Friends who wait for each other when there is a flat tire or other mechanical.

Take your time when repairing a puncture

Diorama courtesy of ZAZ

As I have discovered to my cost, haste in fixing a flat tire often leads to grief. Not taking the time to check the tire for embedded bits of grit, staples, etc. guarantees another stop to fix another puncture. Rushing to install an inner tube can lead to a twisted inner tube, which results in a bumpy ride. More commonly the tube is pinched between tire and rim. The outcome upon inflation is an immediate flat.

Protect your spare inner tubes

Inner tubes are usually carried together with tire levers, multi-tools etc. These items can puncture tubes. Constant abrasion against the sides of saddlebags can also put holes in inner tubes. Inevitably, you won’t know that your spare tube is punctured until you get a flat tire.

I forget where I picked up this tip. Sprinkle talcum powder on your spare inner tube, and wrap it in plastic wrap or a plastic bag. The talcum powder stops the inner tube from sticking to itself. The powder also makes the inner tube slippery, and therefore easier to install in the tire. The plastic wrap or bag protects the inner tube from the other items in your saddlebag.

Silca Tire Levers Premio

I have used tire levers from several other manufacturers like Pedro, Lezyne, Ritchey and Park Tool. Each of them had weaknesses. Some had tips that were too thick. Another set snapped.

These tire levers from Silca are my favourite because they have narrow tips which are easy to get underneath tight tire beads. These levers have a reinforced nylon shield which protects the rim. Useful for those who run carbon wheelsets. They are also relatively short and thus easy to store on the bike.

On-Bike Storage 

Photograph courtesy of Specialized

I used a saddle bag or tool roll for many years. As with tire levers, I tried bags and rolls from Silca, Rapha, Topeak etc. Each had a shortcoming. The biggest issue was that I preferred to use the space below my saddle to mount a rear blinker, or for my Apidura Saddle Pack when I went on overnight credit card tours.

Nowadays, I use a tool storage bottle. Mine is from Specialized, but Shimano, Cateye, Elite, Fabric and others make similar items.

You have to sacrifice one bottle cage. I use the bottle cage on the seat tube. However, only having one bottle is not a problem. I am never far from a petrol station, convenience store or sundry shop, so regularly refilling one bottle is not a problem. 

Street View

Image courtesy of Google

Ride With GPS is my go-to route mapping app. You need to subscribe to gain access to advanced route planning tools, but it is worth the money.

When I started planning routes, I dragged ‘Pegman’ over the map to see if the road I was thinking of riding on turned blue. I took this to mean that the road was mapped and rideable.

I was wrong. More than once, I led a group down a road that suddenly shrank to an unpaved track. Not a good thing in the middle of unfamiliar territory.

I now use Street View to preview the roads I plan to use. That helps prevent unpleasant surprises mid-ride.

Rain Vest

Photograph courtesy of Sportful

I don’t wear a rain vest to stay dry. It rains too heavily in Malaysia for that. I wear a rain vest because it protects my jerseys from muddy rear tire spatter. My rain vest consists of a polyester material that is easier to clean than my jerseys are.

Cargo Bib Shorts

I don’t think cargo bib shorts existed when I started riding. They have become my go-to bib shorts for longer rides. The pockets on both legs and two more pockets on the upper back mean that I can ride with empty jersey pockets. I find that more comfortable. The leg pockets are easier to access than jersey pockets are. I can also fully unzip my jersey and not have the back weighed down.

Small Chain Ring and Smaller Cog

It took longer than it should have for me to realise that I must shift to the small chainring and a smaller cog before putting my bike in the back of my car. If I don’t, there is a good chance that the high spring tension in the rear derailleur will make the crank rotate backwards and drop the chain. More often than not, the rearward moving chain drops below the chain catcher and gets trapped between the small chainring and the seat tube. Greasy fingers guaranteed to try to get the chain back onto the chainring.

Shifting the chain to the small chainring and a smaller cog reduces the spring tension in the rear derailleur enough to stop the crank rotating backwards.

I wonder what wisdom the next decade of riding will bring.

Graphic courtesy of Strava

About alchemyrider

I left Malaysia in 2008 as a non-cyclist. I am back home now with three road bikes and all the paraphernalia that goes with being addicted to cycling.

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