The common joke doing the rounds is that while the world fights a deadly virus, in India, it’s just been a collective call to a cyclothon. Economists and social behaviourists will baffle for decades in the future, wondering just how the denizens of the world’s largest democracy took to pedalling when the pandemic struck. Nevertheless, any excuse to be fit is an acceptable one, but cycling is an activity fraught with serious safety concerns. Here is a list to prep you adequately for your very first ride.
Cycle: There are largely three kind of cycles — road bikes that have the down-turned handle with slim tyres, mountain bikes with chunky tyres and shock absorption systems, and hybrids, which sort of straddle the middle path between the other two. Those big-tyre cycles you may have seen aka Fat-bikes, are meant for the beach ideally, so don’t be a noob and get those for your city riding. A road bike is fast, but the posture you need to hold over a ride can be tricky, requiring a strong core. It can also be difficult to manoeuvre from that position, so maybe this is only recommended to those who are familiar with cycles. Mountain bikes are fun and comfy but also heavy (unless you drop a six-digit figure on one), so they won’t go too fast, and unless you plan a lot of off-roading or downhill riding, you will never really tap into its full potential. This is where hybrids come in — thin enough tyres to go fast on a robust frame to take in potholes and speed breakers, while affording you a more comfortable, upright riding position. There you go.
Road bike spend: Basic: B-Twin by Decathlon, Firefox. Intermediate to highend: Giant, Trek, Specialized, Argon, Scott, Cervelo, Bianchi, Wilier, Colnago, Pinarello. Price will depend on the model, but expect to pay more for Italian bikes. A simple bike would cost about Rs 50,000 and frankly, there is no upward limit to how expensive you can custom-build one. But for Rs 4 lakh, you can easily get one head-turner of a speed demon.
Clothing: While it’s okay to cycle in just about any pair of shorts and tee, the tighterfitting cycling gear is engineered to (a) keep you comfortable and chafe-free and (b) make you go faster while keeping you aptly insulated. Cycling shorts have bum pads that look ridiculous, but they are an absolute must while riding. Cycle seats are glorified metal saddles, and they are designed so because over long rides, this form reduces the chances of chafing — something that excessively cushioned saddles can cause. Slim saddles are lighter and more aerodynamic. It’s always a good idea to spend on a good pair of shorts. You can go for the regular kind of the bib version, which has two bands that go over your shoulder to help keep the shorts in place, but it’s a whole level of inconvenience when you wish to use the toilet. As for jerseys, some brands will fit better than others and it’s all about what you like here — from colour to designs and even brand prestige. Socks is a field that is picking up interest now, and aero-socks are all the rage to make you go faster. In cycling — especially road biking — cyclists are obsessed about these gains, minuscule as they might be, so are constantly upgrading socks to seatpost and everything else in-between.
Clothing brands: Castelli, Assos, Rapha, X-Bionic, Pearl Izumi, 2XU, Agu, Socks: Rule 28 (their oil spill is the only aero-socks you will ever want). Good shorts will cost nothing less than Rs 4,000 and can go up to Rs 20,000, similar for jerseys.
Gear: Remember, you and the cycle connect at three points — bum (already covered, no puns), the hands, and feet. So you need the right gear at these extremities too — cushioned gloves, with gel or foam, for your hands and slick shoes that are aero and stiff, but also comfortable. You need stiff shoes so that all the power from your legs transfers to the pedals, and translates into speed. If the shoe were to bend, then you’re wasting energy. And remember, even milliwatt counts. Let’s not forget helmets — don’t ever ride without one.
My choice is a Giro or Catlike Mixino (Rs 20,000), but I would also recommend any helmet with MIPS technology, and also Bontrager by Trek’s latest advancement — WaveCel tech protection system. For shoes, Sidi, Specialized, Shimano, and Northwave (Rs 8,000-Rs 35,000) are some of the top brands to go with. I prefer disc closures on shoes because you can dial in the degree of grip even while riding and also, they distribute the pressure much more evenly than laces, which also stand the risk of coming undone mid-ride. Velcro is a good middle option.
Cycling shoes are slick and light, but cumbersome to walk in. If you wish to have more multi-purpose shoes, get mountain bike shoes, they won’t be as aero or light, but they are definitely more comfortable. Look (Rs 8,000+) is the top choice, followed by Shimano. There are others too, pick what works for you, as long as you remember to match the cleats that are fixed to the bottom of your shoes to plug into the pedals that you have. Finally, sunglasses, and Oakley is the only brand doing simultaneous global launches for its latest ware in India, so go with them.
My favourite silhouettes are the Jawbreaker or the Flight Jacket, both of which incidentally recently launched in a special Olympic-destined unique splashpaint aesthetic called Kokoro (Rs 10,000). Another brand, Rudy Project, is great, but not available here. A relatively new brand, Goodr ($25), makes funky designs at very affordable prices, but you will need your US friends and family to help you acquire them
Accessories: These are the bells and whistles, almost literally. A rear light is a must, one that is bright and won’t drain batteries fast. Then, you will need a bottleholder, and a bottle (Camelbak insulated bottles are the best). Now, the next three things — mudguard, lock and stand — are entirely your prerogative, All I will say is they are practical add-ons. Also, a phone holder isn’t a bad idea.
Cycle computer, power meters: Is it really a ride if you don’t have the metrics to post somewhere? Today, a smartphone app like Strava or MapMyRide will do the job sufficiently. If you are nerdy like me, and wish to know more, not just for speed and distance but also your cadence (i.e. pedalling revolutions per minute), how much power you are generating in watts per hour and also in watts per kilo, then you need to get special meters to gauge all this. Power meters can cost as much as a medium-end bike, and it’s only for people who are training to that level. It is easier to get a sports watch (Garmin, Suunto, Polar, anything between Rs 25,000-Rs 90,000) and then buy a few sensors to record your cadence and speed (Rs 5,000). Power meters by brands like Stages, Favio, or Garmin will cost upwards of Rs 40,000, in addition to the watch mentioned above. Many prefer to have a watch that they use for running and other activities, but then get a dedicated cycle computer (Rs 20,0000+) for the bike, which sits atop the handle bar, and displays the same metrics as the watch would, but on a bigger screen.