Pedal Primer: How To Get Started in Cycling

Pedal Primer: How To Get Started in Cycling

When it come to training, you could always bang out endless laps at your favorite MX track, but there are a few negatives to that plan, including:

  • Cost. There’s fuel, track fees, and gas for driving to/from the track (now over three bucks a gallon for regular unleaded in So Cal.)¿and that doesn’t even cover the parts bill for wear and tear on your bike.
  • Wear and tear on your body. Sure, that comes with the sport, but the constant pounding can wear on you, particularly if you’re riding several times a week. And the more time you spend on the track, the more you increase your chance of injury.
  • Time. You don’t always have time to drive to and from a track, much less doing it a couple (or several) times a week like riders on the pro level are doing.
  • Burnout. Doing the same thing day after day gets old.

That’s where cycling comes in. It’s always been a great low-impact training tool for boosting leg strength, stamina and cardio fitness, and it’s something that you can do nearly anywhere and on a limited time schedule. It’s also a training tool that’s easy to track both time and intensity (at least on road bikes), and it has its two-wheeled similarities to MX (especially when it comes to downhill mountain biking).

If you want to know which riders are using cycling as a training tool, just check out the top ten of any of the major pro series, and we guarantee a large portion of the riders listed on there use cycling for at least part of their training regimen.

So how do you get started cycling? What kind of gear do you need, and how much should you be looking at spending? We put those questions to two of the biggest supporters of MXers, Kevin Franks at Specialized Bicycles, and Zapata Espinoza from Trek Bicycles.

While we’ve seen lots of department store bikes used for pit putters, for really serious riding you need something more robust and performance-oriented. “Obviously, the more a rider spends, the better the components, wheels, etc will be,” explained Kevin. “The cool thing is that these days even a $1,000 investment will provide the rider with a great bike and a ton of high-tech features.”

Depending on the components, frame materials and construction methods, there are price points from the budget-minded (a few hundred dollars) to the stratospheric ($9,000 for a Specialized Tarmac SL). Kevin continued, “My best advice would be to figure out what you can afford to spend, find a good dealer (check at the end of the article for links to Specialized and Trek dealer locators) and strike up a relationship with that shop.”

Making the choice between a road or mountain bike is one of the tougher choices. When asked which they thought would be the right choice for MXers in training, Kevin and Zap were in agreement, choosing “both” as their answer. Kevin explains the reasoning, saying, “You’ll get more consistent workouts on a road bike. For example, Ricky Carmichael has both types of bikes, but he spends way more time on his road bike because the workouts are simply more consistent and the terrain is almost always the same, therefore it’s easier to measure training progress. The other good thing about road bikes is that if you’re traveling a lot (like motocross racers do), you can keep your bike in the trailer and go for rides straight from the rig. Finding MTB trails in unfamiliar areas can be tough.”

While road riding is the hot ticket for point A to point B and intensity training, mountain bikes relate more to what you do on an MX bike, which is why Kevin added, “I would say that it’s also a good idea to mix in some mountain bike riding when you’re at home for fun and to keep you’re technical skills sharp.

Zap also noted that there’s another choice that needs to be made within the mountain bike group, whether you want a hardtail mountain bike (no rear suspension), or a fully-suspendedike. “I’d suggest fully-suspended, and disc brakes only,” thought he did also note a potential drawback. “Full-suspension MTBs require maintenance and some mechanical know-how. I’ve seen pro MX’ers who know nothing about setting up  their suspension…since their dads or mechanics always did it for them.”

Deciding on a frame material is partly related to budget, and partly on ride quality. You’ll find more aluminum frames at lower price points, and as you go higher up the dollar scale, you’ll find more carbon fiber. On the virtues of carbon construction, Zap explained, “Carbon fiber is light and stiff – but it also fails in ways that aluminum or steel don’t. Trek OCLV Carbon mountain and road bikes are all handmade at the Trek factory in Waterloo,WI. Trek has been making carbon bikes since 1992 – and simply put, no other brand has as wide of success with carbon frames as Trek; Tour de France. Italy, Georgia and Spain, MTB national & world titles, IronMan world titles.”

Components choices also vary depending on how much you want to pay. Kevin noted, “It’ll depend on your budget, and most of our bikes come with great stuff. Good idea to stick with reputable component brands like Shimano, SRAM, etc.” On the road side, Zap suggests looking for, “Shimano or Campagnolo components. For wheels, Bontrager or Mavic. Light wheels on the road really help.

One thing that’s crucial, no matter what type of bike you’re choosing, is to ensure that you end up with the right size bike. Emphasizing that, Kevin said, “One really important thing to do is make sure the shop “fits” you to the bike properly. Unlike motocross bikes which are mostly one size fits all, road and mountain bikes come in many different sizes/configurations and it’s super important to make sure you’re fit right…you’ll have better performance, and avoid injury.”

As you check out photos of the road bikes, you’ll note that none of them have pedals. Why? Because the use of clipless pedals is nearly universal, and since they (and the accompanying shoes) are a rider preference item, the manufacturers leave that option completely up to the riders. There are tons of options for shoes and pedals, and the best bet is to check with your local dealer, and look for brands like Crank Brothers, Shimano and Time.

What other accessories will you need? First up, for you, A good helmet is mandatory. Padded cycling shorts and a jersey are a good idea (don’t fear the lycra), as are some gloves.

For your bike, you’ll definitely want a water bottle and cage, as well as an under-seat bag stocked with spare tubes, a small multi-tool, and a frame-mounted pump. Remember that most high-end bikes use a presta valve rather than a larger shraeder valve found on BMX bikes and motorcycles.

When it comes to riding, the first few rides may not be all that comfortable as you get a little…well, saddle-hardened. But after some hours in the saddle it becomes more comfortable. Also, beginning riders need to know that it’s much better to learn to use slightly easier gears and spin at higher RPMs, than to use harder gears that require more muscle and wear you out faster.

As a final suggestion, Kevin offered, “It’s a good idea to hook up with a coach to develop a training and nutrition program…one option is Carmichael Training Systems ( I can promise that if you do it right, training on a bike will pay dividends in a rider’s performance on the track.”

Check out the photos at right for more info on some bike models and accessories. Yep, there are some pricey bikes in there, but check out, and for less expensive (and MUCH more expensive options).

Specialized Dealer Locator

Trek Dealer Locator

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Trek Dealer Locator