Here’s the thing: “Rookie Mistakes” aren’t just for rookies. I don’t care how experienced a roadie is, he or she is quite capable of making dumb mistakes seemingly forever.
I should know. I still make them fairly often. And the stupid stuff we’ve done recently – and over the years of riding together – is a fairly regular topic of conversation on group rides with my buddies. In fact, there are more than enough “rookie mistakes” we’ve made to fill this article (most of what’s below are mine, with a few from my buddies sprinkled in). Some actually were made early in our respective riding days, but others as we were much more “seasoned,” shall we say.
Retelling the mistakes we make serves a couple of purposes: First, it provides object lessons for newbie roadies to help them avoid making some of the same mistakes. And for those of us who are much longer in the tooth, it’s always a good reminder of the things we should be mindful of in certain riding situations. Not to mention how much fun it is to think about the dumb stuff we’ve done over the years (so long as no real harm came of it).
I’ll start with my own most recent “rookie mistake,” then provide a littany of others made by me and my buddies. Feel free to add your own (or throw your own buddies under the bus!) in the Comments below the Newsletter version of this article.
Don’t forget to check the tires before you ride.
Just a few weeks ago, after eagerly unpacking my bike when it arrived home after a tour (I had shipped it using Shipbikes.com), I methodically reinstalled the handlebars and seatpost, torquing the bolts to their prescribed specifications. I then installed some new pedals I had been waiting to put on till after the tour. I also swapped my “climbing” cassette for my everyday cassette. Finally, I washed the entire bike, including wheels (wiping each individual spoke; I mentioned last week that I like a clean bike!)
The next day, on a ride with a buddy, I thought to myself how “soft” and compliant the ride characteristics of my bike were that day. Then it struck me why. In all the work detailing my bike the previous day, I had forgotten to check and air the tires! Including the time spent in the box in transit, they hadn’t been aired for well over a week. No wonder they were so soft!
Another good buddy, on his very first ride with our group (a “destination” ride to the mountains, meaning we all drove up there), rolled away fromthe cars to start the ride – and immediately realized he had a flat. It was quite an auspicious introduction to the group, one we surely will never let him live down!
Be prepared with adequate gear and course knowledge.
Another of my buddies (when he was also a rank beginner) was on the verge of hypothermia after completing his first organized ride several years ago on a nasty April Fool’s Day in those same north Georgia mountains.
Caught off guard by the frigid, overcast weather, and owning very little cycling gear, he checked in for the ride wearing shorts, a long-sleeve wool-blend jersey covered by a wind vest, a pair of cotton crew socks, no shoe covers, no head covering under his helmet, protective shop glasses, glove liners and fingerless gloves. Another friend gave him some spare knee warmers to wear, and he headed out on the 50-mile ride. Ten miles in, it started to rain; 30 miles in, the rain turned to snow, and the wind howled.
Compounding his serious clothing mistakes, he failed to put the cue sheet in a protective covering, and it fell apart in his hands when stopped to look at it, thinking he was lost. Finally, in agony as he struggled up a climb 10 miles from the finish, he was puzzled to see a truck and van loaded with bikes drive past him. He had just missed his chance to be picked up by last of the SAG wagons. If only he had known that’s what they were!
In a paceline, pull only as long as you’re capable of pulling.
My first organized ride, only three months into my own road career, was itself a mistake-filled adventure. Riding with my two strongest and most experienced buddies, I prepared as best I knew how. I packed my Power Bars in my jersey pockets, filled my bottles and was ready to roll.
Early on, we formed up into a paceline with some other riders, and as I took my first pull, I hung on for dear life, churning to try to maintain the same pace the guy in front of me had set. I couldn’t do it, but I obstinately stayed on the front until I nearly blew a gasket. Only when the rider behind me yelled for me to pull off did I finally relinquish the lead spot.
Of course, when I rotated to the back, my buddies admonished me only to pull for a short time – if at all – before rotating out. If you’re not strong enough or are too tired to pull, just rotate through, they said. Nobody will mind.
Learn what, and how, to eat while riding.
Later on that same ride, I got tripped up by one of those Power Bars I had brought along. You remember the old Power Bars, right? Roughly the size of a big candy bar, they were arguably the chewiest substance on Earth after being warmed up in a jersey pocket.
As we hit one of the first long hills on the course, I happened to be chomping on one of those Bars like a cow chewing its cud. With a mouthful of “nutrition,” I was literally sucking wind – but not enough. I got dropped like a lead weight. One of my buddies had to come back and help me bridge back to the group. I quickly learned to choose both my cycling food, and when I ate it, more wisely.
Know the contents of your seatbag.
On a group ride a good 20 miles from home, a buddy pulled a flat. When he went to change the tube, he found that the tube in his seat bag was a MTB tube for his son’s bike. Had he been alone that day, he would have been high and dry, and in need of a SAG. Or facing a 20-mile walk. He had to beg one of our spare tubes to get home.
Know where a TT start line is, and arrive early.
This one is a classic in the annals of stupidity. It was the first year of a completely new course for the annual time trial our group used to regularly ride. We all had warmed up together on our trainers in the parking lot and, a few minutes before our respective starting times, had started to roll down the road toward the starting line – which was about a mile away from the church that housed the check-in area, etc.
I gave myself plenty of time to get to the start line. Unfortunately, I didn’t know where it was. My buddies had explained it was “just down the road.” However, I had driven separately to the event, and came in from the opposite direction as they had. So, instead of turning down the proper road, I continued “just down the road” I had driven in on.
A mile. Nothing. I figured it must be a little farther, so I kept going. Nothing. Did they mean it was down another road off that road? I tried that. Again, nothing.
By the time my brain finally starting working again, I was a at least 3 miles away from the starting line. By that point, even if I time trialed to the start line, I wouldn’t make it. But I gave it my all, got slotted in between two other riders, and had to try to explain my sheer idiocy to my buddies afterward. I still to this day can’t explain it!
Don’t try to squeeze in a repair right before a ride.
Unlike the last one, I have a feeling I’m not alone in having made this mistake. Within an hour of a scheduled ride, I decided I had plenty of time to do a quick repair to my brakes. I don’t even remember what it was I was doing. I do remember, however, that by the time I was supposed to be heading out, my bike was totally without brakes. Of course, I missed the ride.
The lesson I learned that day was not to mess with any “vital systems” on the bike so close to a ride, to instead give myself plenty of time a day or two early for such repairs.
Double check the exact equipment you’re installing.
I knew I was in good form, and I expected to have a strong ride in the mountains that day. But the Hogpen Gap climb destroyed me like never before. My lower back ached, I had to stand not just to stretch and give my butt a break, but to find the power to just keep going at times. What on earth was going on?
I found the answer later when I got back home. The box from which I had pulled the cassette the day before was clearly marked 12-27 (my preferred climbing cassette a few years ago; I’ve since switched to an 11-28). However, when I went to put the cassette back in the box after taking it off my bike, I closely eyeballed the lasered markings and found that it actually was a spare 12-25 cassette. Those missing 3 gear inches on a steep climb made a huge difference.
Learn how to properly fix a flat.
This one is another rookie mistake that I made in tandem with the same near-hypothermia buddy mentioned above. Very early on in our roadie days, we flatted within seconds of each other on a group ride. Both of us being rank novices at changing a tube (emphasis on “rank”), we went to work without the help or coaching of any of our mates.
Taking way more time than it should, we both finished at about the same time and reached for our air canisters to inflate our new tubes. What sounded like two rifle shots later, we started the process again. Both of us had pinched the tube between the bead and the rim, exploding the tube.
There are lots more where these came from. We’d love to hear your Rookie Mistakes. Please share them in the comments below the this article, and let’s share a laugh – and a lesson.