View Full Version : How to start cycling
12-05-2006, 08:58 AM
So, I'm a university student in the middle of two exchange semesters. My upcoming Spring exchange is going to be in Milan, right in the downtown heart of the city. I'm also a bit of a fitness nut, which presents me with a problem- I severely dislike running in cities. I can't quite explain it, it's just not my thing.
I'd like to buy a bicycle and start cycling. It seems like it would be a good way to explore and stay in shape, and longer trips on a bike have always interested me. I know little to nothing about cycling, the budget for what I'm getting in to, or how safe this idea is in a city like Milan (which I also don't know all that much about yet). I'm in pretty good shape, and will also be training regularly outside of this activity, and I don't forsee any physical problems. As it stands, my only problem is I know next to nothing about cycling besides the painfully obvious.
So here it is for the cyclists on the board: I'm looking for a bike, probably second hand. What kind of bike should I be getting (brands, models, etc)? Do I need any specific type of other gear besides clothing and a helmet? What should I be looking for in the bike? What do I need to know about cycling? I'm expecting to work up to at least an hour a day a few times a week, preferably most days of the week schedule permitting, and eventually even a few longer weekend trips out and about if it suits me. How realistic is the idea of using a bike to travel around this part of Europe?
Any information and recommendations you guys can provide would help a lot. I'm in the middle of finals this week, but I'll do my best to answer any questions as soon as quickly as I can.
12-05-2006, 09:34 AM
I don't know much about cycling in Europe, and I'm not sure from your post exactly where you are now. I know there are lots of cyclists in Europe and cycle touring is fairly popular, so you shouldn't have any problems there. It looks like there's some biking organizations in Milan, but I don't read enough Italian to give you more info. Try Googling "milano massa critica" (Critical Mass is a bike event; if you can find organizers, they'll probably be fairly serious bikers).
In the U.S., I would strongly encourage you to go to your local bike shop. I'd imagine the same is true in Europe.
Talk to them about what type of cycling you think you'll be doing and ask about used bicycles. Most bike shops have a fair supply of trade-ins and will be happy to sell you a starter bike. They should also be able to help you get a bicycle that fits you properly, which is probably the most important thing in enjoying biking. Here (http://www.google.com/search?q=bicycle+fit&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a) is more info on bike fit.
Any of the major brands are good, with generally good construction - what's more important is getting a bike that fits and the right type of bike for your needs. Again, a good bike shop can help with that and won't sell you a piece of big-box-store rubbish. If you're buying a bike in the states, also talk to them about packing and shipping to get your bike over to Italy. Most bike stores around here will also throw in a year or more of free maintenance, which is good if you don't know how to do your own.
A touring cycle might be a good option - it's a road bike set up for comfort and long distances rather than racing. It would also have (or be able to have added) gear for carrying stuff, such as racks, baskets, panniers, etc. Another good choice for in-town riding would be some type of cruiser-style. A lot of students here ride mountain bikes or hybrids. If you get a mountain bike, you may want to change to slick tires for city riding (the nubby tires are a pain on the streets), and I wouldn't opt for suspension for street riding or road touring (you generally have to work harder on a suspended bike if you're riding hard surface). Again, it just depends on what works for you - you'll need to go try out some different bikes.
You may need to change out some parts (stem, handlebars, seatpost, pedals, seat, etc.) either for fit or for comfort. If you're going to be carrying books and stuff, you'll want a messenger bag or backpack, unless the bike has baskets or racks to carry them. As far as personal items, I'd recommend gloves and a helmet to start with. Depending on your preferences, a pair of bike shorts can make things more comfortable, but most look rather silly for day-to-day wear. You don't really need 'em for short trips around town. The next thing would be a water-pack, but you can go with water bottles pretty easily until you start touring. (Make sure the bike has water-bottle holders!)
Get a good, comfortable bike, and start biking. It's pretty much as simple as that.
Good luck and enjoy the ride!
12-05-2006, 09:48 AM
Thanks for the feedback!
I'm currently in Bangkok, Thailand, but with exams finishing Friday I'm going to be all over Southeast Asia for the next month. At best I might be able to find somewhere to size one, but I doubt I'd buy something here without an exceptional reason to do so, as I just have to take it on my flight from here to Vancouver, and then onwards to Italy.
I don't think I'll be using my bike much for quick trips to or from school as I'm going to be living within a block or two of most classes, but the touring bike sounds like an excellent option. I'll poke into some cycling organizations once I arrive and get a bit of italian under my belt - my semester doesnt start until after a 6 week language course, so hopefully I can get by then!
The questions I forgot to include in my OP were some more specific stuff. How should I be working up to this kind of cycling? Are there any particular training tips, routines, etc that I should start with, or just hop on and go as soon as I have a bike?
I have not been to Italy, but in Northern Europe where I have visited tons of people bike to work, you should see the bike racks outside the train stations. One thing that struck me odd was that all the bikes seem to old beat up and well beaters would be a good description. Some single speed, lots of three speeds, and a some 5 speeds.
I asked one of my hosts about this, and I was told that you can't ride a nice bike or it will get stolen. :eek: The nice bikes stay inside and only come out on the weekend, and never get parked anywhere.
Also most airlines charge for shipping a bike between $50-100 extra.
You might want to consider buying a bike when you are already over there. There is a Craig's list for Milan, but it has no bicycles listed
12-05-2006, 01:57 PM
If you're already in good shape, I'd say just hop on and go. Start with short rides and work up; shouldn't take long. (Didn't take me long and I was in lousy shape.) You can take some spin classes if you want to start ahead of time.
There's tons of info on bike training, it's way too complicated to get into here. Don't worry about it to start with. If you decide to go serious hammerhead, you'll figure it out then.
The only thing I can think of is knees - biking can be hard on your knees. Riding with your seat in the wrong place, grinding big gears all the time, etc., can wear on 'em. You probably won't notice now, being the whipper-snapper that you are, but you'll notice in a few years if you keep it up. Also, if you decide to get clipless pedals, be sure to get some with a lot of float to help prevent knee problems.
12-05-2006, 03:42 PM
Check out the roads before you make a decision. The touring bike is an option, but may not be robust enough, and a mountain bike may be a better option - go for slicks, and a hard-tail, and get a seat that suits your backside.
Many years ago, I swapped my motorbike and gym membership for a mountain bike and a 15km bike ride to work (rain, wind, ice, sun). I broke the first bike and stressed my knee within a year. I got a better bike, had it set up, and changed my cycling style, and kept going for another 2 (with no knee problems or broken bikes). The bits that suffered most was between my legs and my hands - they would go numb after a while.
But it was worth it. I didn't lose weight, but I was very fit. When I had my appendix out (and I rode for a week with a grumbling appendix) I loved the look on the face of the nurse when she did my BP/pulse rate. It always caught them off guard cause it was so low.
I wish I could do the cycling again.
12-05-2006, 10:52 PM
Hey, I race a lot but I'll just say what everyone else has said:
bicycling is an awesome sport and Milan should be a fine place to do it.
I strongly recommend getting a traditional road bike if you're a fitness freak, and it will allow you to do a lot more than a hybrid or a mountain bike or any of that crap. I can't suggest too much in the way of specifics without a price window, but one thing that new people to the sport are the worst at overlooking is getting cycling shoes. You don't have to get $400 Sidi's, but you definitely should get some shoes that can handle cleats to go with your clipless pedals (the wording is confusing, clipless means no webbing clips, but clipless means you clip in like to a ski with a ski boot).
Again, if you can provide a price range that would be great, but otherwise I would say go to a shop once you get to Milan. Moving a bike through the airlines can be expensive. Stay open to the idea of racing.
Have fun, and try to hook up with some local people that can show you where to ride etc.
Finally, feel free to e-mail me through my profile if you have more questions.
12-05-2006, 10:59 PM
Oh yeah, and one more thing.
Put the start of Milan-San Remo into your calendar. The race might be boring on your end, but it's a classic that you should try to see the start of. I'm confident you'll be able to find it somewhere on TV in Milan as well.
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