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14 things they never tell you about being a cyclist

The inconvenient, unwelcome and sometimes unsavoury aspects of riding a bike

Riding a bike is the coolest activity out there – we can all agree on that – but there are some parts of being a cyclist that we could all live without.

Everyone gives you their opinion of cyclists

You're at work, in the pub, at a party...

"Oh, you're a cyclist..." 

And they launch into a story about the time they got stuck behind a group of cyclists riding two abreast (perfectly legal), cyclists not using cycle lanes (perfectly legal), cyclists riding in the middle of the lane (perfectly legal), and all the rest of it.

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That kid who rode their mountain bike into Aunt Elsie in the shopping precinct: that's your fault.

When cyclists ride through their village early on a Sunday morning while talking loudly to one another: that's your fault. 

And don't get them started on "road tax" (they might not know what it's called, but they're experts), licences or insurance. 

You get everyone's take on Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong (via NBC)

Thankfully, this one is less of a problem than it used to be, but it turns out that most people have an opinion on Lance Armstrong and you, as a cyclist, are bound to want to hear it. 

You have to explain why cyclists shave their legs

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Even if you don't shave your legs, at some stage you'll be called upon to explain why many cyclists do. It's one of those questions people like to ask.

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Cyclists give all sorts of reasons for shaving their legs: it makes massage less painful, it reduces the chance of infection after crashing, and so on. 

Specialized ran tests in their Win Tunnel and found that shaved legs offer a significant aero saving over hairy legs, so you can go with that.

Worn Lycra really stinks

dhb Corefit Long Sleeve Baselayer

Artificial fibres and sweat are a heady mix. You can buy synthetic clothing designed to be antibacterial/antimicrobial (and merino wool is really good at keeping nasty niffs at bay) but let's be honest, a few miles down the road your odour is usually somewhere between 'slightly funky' and 'absolutely minging'. That's fine when you're on the move, but it's more of an issue at the mid-ride café stop.

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Some artificial fibres come out of the washing machine smelling all fresh and new again, but others gradually take on a fusty odour. Something like the Nikwax BaseFresh that we reviewed can deodorise base layers that have become whiffy.

Everything needs washing

You probably stick most of your cycling clothes in the washing machine when you get back from a ride as a matter of course, but what about the waterproof jacket you put on for a few minutes? What about the pads and straps in your helmet? What about those leather gloves? 

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You might not be able to wash all your kit after every ride, but you can't ignore it forever, so check out the instructions for anything with special requirements. 

Then there's crotch rot

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Cycling shorts: there's a lot of potential for things to go wrong down there – chafing and saddle sores, obviously, but also fungal infections, sometimes called crotch rot or jock itch. Sweaty clothes are famous for harbouring it.

Bend36 Mens Chamois Cream

As usual, prevention is better than cure, and your first line of defence is to keep everything as clean as possible. Antimicrobial seatpads and detergents help, as does antibacterial chamois cream, such as the Bend36 Chamois Cream we reviewed

If you do get crotch rot, Canesten or another anti-fungal treatment is going to loom large in your life for a while.

Check out the bike kit bio-hazards cyclists never talk about, and how to beat them.

It never gets easier, you just go faster

That's what three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond said. It's true.

You get predictable comments

Stop for a mid-ride drink at a café or pub and there's a decent chance that someone you've never clapped eyes on before will ask, "How much does a bike like that cost?"

They'll pick it up and say, "Wow, that's light."

And there's an outside possibility that they'll quote the famous Yellow Pages TV ad from the 1980s: "I were right about that saddle, though."

Full marks if you get all three.

Other cyclists give you advice

You might not ask for advice from other cyclists, but you'll get it anyway.

How to set your saddle height 10

Your saddle is too high/low; your cadence is too fast/slow; you'd be better off with Di2; those wheels are too heavy; aero bikes are a waste of money; you should be doing more intervals; you need to upgrade to Campag, mate... 

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You might even have people – adults, mind – tell you that your socks are the wrong length. 

You have options here: nod politely or just tell them to bore off.

Not everyone wants to hear about bikes and/or cycling

Mad as it seems, some people don't want to know about the century ride you did last weekend or the new Bianchi you're thinking of buying. I know, right? 

If they're backing towards the door, it's time to change the subject.

Underwear and cycling shorts don't go together

If you don't know this to start with, you soon will.

Cleaning your bike is part of the deal


Cycle in Italy, say, and cleaning/re-lubing your bike is an occasional chore. Cycle in the UK and it's a frequent necessity if you want your bike to keep functioning.

Here's now to clean your bike 

Commuting is a matter of logistics

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If you commute a long distance by bike and don't want to lug loads of stuff around with you all the time, you suddenly have to start planning what you're going to wear at work and how you're going to get it there. 

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Fit a rack and panniers and you're sorted, but commute with just a backpack and moving a suit jacket and a pair of shoes around is more complicated. 

You become obsessed with the weather, especially wind direction

Parentini Mossa jersey - riding

The British are famous for being obsessed with the weather. British cyclists take it to another level. 

It doesn't matter if all eight of the weather apps on your phone agree that it's not going to rain, you still need to take your emergency waterproof jacket.

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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