About Road Cycling for a Fit Life
Not only is road cycling one of the most popular sports around, but it’s also been a common and popular mode of transport since the 1800s.
This type of cycling started out as a recreational attraction for the rich and famous, spreading far and wide as bicycles became more affordable thanks to mass production. Nowadays, it’s almost unusual to come across anyone who doesn’t know how to ride a bike.
Road cycling is a low-impact exercise that can be enjoyed by all ages. It takes place outdoors (although there are indoor training versions), and can be as social or solitary as you like. This activity has many health benefits and can also be used as a complementary remedy for several ailments.
Since it’s easily accessible to many fitness enthusiasts, road cycling has become one of the fastest growing sports worldwide with clubs and competitions springing up wherever tarmac can be found. Its also one of the three disciplines of the triathlon, coming straight after the swim and before the run.
Benefits of Road Cycling
Although all the different types of cycling have two wheels in common and have roughly the same health benefits, they are all vastly different sports.
When compared to the other types of cycling, road cycling has a few benefits all of its own:
- You don’t need any special venue to enjoy road cycling – any safe stretch of road will do.
- It requires less effort in concentration than mountain biking which involves perilous tracks and obstacles.
- Unless you fancy your chances of a yellow jersey, you don’t need much specialized equipment.
While professional racers will want all the latest gear and best super-charged bikes, for starters all you need is a good quality road bike, a safety helmet and comfortable clothing.
What is a Road Cycling Bike?
Although road cycling takes place on the road like touring and commuter bikes, they differ vastly in design from these everyday specimens. The main features of a road bike are:
- Lightweight components, wheels and frame
- A curled drop handlebar, or a flat handlebar if you prefer
- Narrow tires and wheels
- No suspension
- A front fork made of a composite material like carbon fibre
- Gender-specific design
- Precise sizes
Road bikes are made for fitness enthusiasts and competitive riders, and are specifically designed to move at speed on paved surfaces. You can’t take a road bike off-road; they’re designed to travel fast over long, relatively smooth-surface distances. Road bikes are not built to carry anything except for the rider and their race necessities. You wouldn’t really want to go touring or shopping on a road bike.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use your road bike for day to day things, just be prepared to carry a backpack for your gear. Panniers cannot be fitted to a road bike.
Competitive Road Biking
There are two main competitions involving road bikes, namely road racing and track racing.
Road racing is the best-known kind of cycling event worldwide and include events such as the Cape Town Cycle Tour and the Tour de France. These races take place on paved roads and can be further divided into three categories as follows:
- Road Races – team events that take place from point-to-point
- Time Trials – individual or team races against the clock
- Criteriums – team or individual events on a route made up of multiple circuits.
The second type of road bike racing is track racing, which happens in a velodrome. A velodrome is a specially-designed cycling venue, similar to an athletics stadium, with two straights and two banked turns that slope inward. They can be indoors or outdoors and are normally made of wood or cement. These track meets may include the following events:
- Individual efforts
- Team races
- Mass start sprints
- Endurance events
In addition to these formalized competitions, you’re sure to come across plenty of informal, fun rides and races in your neighborhood. These are a wonderful opportunity to meet fellow enthusiasts and often have a charity component, so you get to do good in the process of keeping fit.
The World’s Best-Known Cycling Events
On the other end of the scale from these fun outings, there are plenty of opportunities for the professional competitor to get their kicks worldwide.
- The Tour de France which traverses over 3 000km of the scenic French countryside over three weeks.
- The one-day 300km Milan St Remo in Italy
- Paris-Roubaix, known as the Hell of the North, which takes place in Northern France and is famous for its cobblestoned, bone-jarring stretches of road.
- Giro d’Italia which is Italy’s answer to the Tour de France and includes punishing stretches that traverse the Dolomites and the Alps.
- The Amgen Tour of California covering 1 200km of California’s desert and farmlands.
While these big ticket races are out of the league of the average cyclist, they’re something to aspire to while competing in challenging races such as the Cape Town Cycle Tour, the African Continental Championships in Gabon, the Tour d’Egypte and other African challenges.
Easy Does It
Like any exercise program you’ll do more harm than good if you start off flat out.
Ease yourself into making road cycling a part of your fit life regime, gradually increasing your distance and speed as you get fitter.