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What I learned on the bike

by Meghann on May 5, 2011

Meet Courtney


Courtney is a Central Florida native (holler!) who competes in triathlons while earning her nursing degree at USF. Just this weekend she placed seventh in her age group at St. Anthony’s. Go Courtney!


Courtney has a swimming background, but over the last couple of years of triathlon training, has developed an appreciation for cycling and offered to take me for a ride to help me wrap my head around how to work my own bike this morning.


A little background…

I purchased my bike Blue way back in January of 2009.


I needed a road bike for triathlons, so I bought a bike. That was the easy part.

Since then the extend of my relationship with Blue has been pretty simple. I’ve only ridden Blue on flat, Florida trails during tri season and the longest ride we’ve done was the 26 miler during my Olympic triathlon last summer.


Because I live in Florida (and it’s flat as a pancake) I’ve rarely messed with the gears. I keep it in one setting without a clue in the world if that’s where it should be or not. I’m pushing myself hard to go 16 mph and 13 mph is my comfy, easy pace. Is that good or bad? I had no idea. But, I did know I get passed on the trail. A lot.

Courtney was here to help. Or at least put my mind at ease.


We went for an 18 mile ride and Courtney did a great job of pointing out when I should change gears, what the different gears mean, and so on and so on.

I’m a visual person. I could read up on all this info all day, but without someone in person showing me what they’re talking about, I have no clue! Having Courtney in person helped a lot!

Most of what I learned today is probably really basic, but it helped me. πŸ™‚ Here’s a simple (no technical terms here!) break down of what I learned.

(Sorry, I have no photos. I should have taken some for better explanation. Major fail. πŸ™ )

Big Gear, Little Gear

  • The biggest thing I learned today was that on my bike, the left hand controls the ‘big gears’ in the front and the right hand controls the ‘little gears’ in the back. <– Cue how little Meghann knows about her bike.
  • The farther out the chain goes on the ‘little gears’ in the back, the ‘harder’ it will feel on your legs. When you switch the gears and move the chain in, the ‘easier’ it feels.  

Flat Riding

  • On a flat trail you want to keep the chain on the largest gear on the front of the bike.  
  • On a flat trail, it’s best to keep the chain on the ‘little gear’ in the back all the way out.


  • Anticipate a hill, by changing gears before you go up.
  • For small hills you want to go to an ‘easier’ gear going up. This means the ‘little gear’ chain will move in using the right hand.
  • When going down it’s opposite. Move the ‘little gears’ chain back out.
  • For large hills the ‘big gear’ in the front needs to come down, then switch the ‘little gears’ in the back. You don’t want to have the ‘little gears’ chain move all the way over while keeping the ‘big gears’ chain on the larger one. This will cause ‘cross chaining’ and the chain to fall off.


  • Don’t point your toes while pedaling <– bad habit of mine
  • You don’t want to feel uncomfortable on the bike. If you’re uncomfortable, you’re doing something wrong.

Final Notes:

  • There are a million theories out there on how to cycle, find what’s comfortable for you and stick with it.
  • I need to invest in clip-in shoes and better bike shorts. Now.
  • All of a sudden 56 miles doesn’t sound scary.
  • Courtney is a swimmer, so she relates a lot of work outs to swimming. I’m a runner so I translate things in my head into running terms. Find what works best for you! πŸ™‚

I told you it was basic, but it’s what I needed to hear. Sometimes you just need someone to tell you what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Thanks Courtney!

I came home from the ride today and had a mini Peppermint Stick Luna Bar.


Lunch was late (lots of work to catch up on!)


Leftover reheated Kale with carrot, cheese, hummus, and a corn muffin.


Random, but oddly delicious. I have a lot of meals where I just throw into a bowl what ever looks good at the moment. Those meals are usually my favorite. πŸ™‚


If you have any further cycling advice, please share it in the comments! I’m such a newbie here! I still have lots to learn.

1 RunEatRepeat May 5, 2011 at 2:52 pm

This was helpful! I’ve barely taken my training wheels off last week…
RunEatRepeat recently posted..I Drink Your Milkshake

2 Errign May 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm & are both relatively cheap sites to pick up pedals, shoes and gear. I just have one set of shoes & pedals that I switch from my mountain bike to my road bike when I need to. Padded shorts will change your life – I prefer my mountain bike style ones (they’re more like board shorts with spandex on the inside), but anything padded is key!
Errign recently posted..Recapping the weekend

3 Samantha Angela May 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm

I see what you mean about being visual. I could hardly follow most of those pointers. I’m sure it makes much more sense when you see it in person.

4 Nicole of Raspberry Stethoscope May 5, 2011 at 2:55 pm

woo for USF nursing!:) Class of ’08
Nicole of Raspberry Stethoscope recently posted..Its not you- its me

5 Kristina May 5, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Obviously time in the saddle is very important and will help you feel comfortable, but another way that you can develop strength and power is by going to spinning classes, especially if you attend classes that have bikes with the “clipless” pedals.
Also, in terms of the clipless pedals – you will fall down. I fell down SO many times the first year that I had my bike. It was painful but somewhat comical. Other than a majorly bruised ego, I didn’t hurt myself, so just be aware that falling is definitely part of the learning experience.
And if you don’t fall, I’d love to hear how you managed that!

6 Mary May 5, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Yes, you will fall. I can second that!!! Usuually I tend to fall in my driveway either before riding or after getting back. No worries – just unclip, get back up, and go.

7 Kristina May 5, 2011 at 9:25 pm

And I should say that you will fall OVER, not down! I used to have some spectacularly embarrassing moments at stop signs and/or lights.

8 Katherine: Unemployed May 5, 2011 at 2:56 pm

this is like a lance armstrong post
Katherine: Unemployed recently posted..Rhea

9 Hope May 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Good tips! I am so horrible at riding a bike. I really should try to learn because it would be great exercise! πŸ™‚
Hope recently posted..Buffalo Chicken Sliders…

10 Freya May 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I need to bookmark this post! I daddled with cycling earlier this year, and rode through hills, flat etc, and never changed gear once. TOTALLY don’t understand it! So next time I get the bike out – I’m re-reading this!

11 Karen May 5, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Nice job! Do you have access to a bike trainer? That would be a good way to work on changing gears if you don’t have any hilly areas nearby.
Karen recently posted..Race week!

12 Meghann May 5, 2011 at 3:10 pm

I have a trainer, but I’m just learning how to use that as well. Lol.

13 Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat May 5, 2011 at 3:10 pm

That Luna bar flavour is one of my favourites! I think you’ll definitely notice a huge change once you get cycling shoes. I won’t teach spin classes if I don’t have mine with me!! It just makes things so much easier when you don’t have to worry about your feet slipping out of the pedal cages. Sounds like you had a great lesson! πŸ™‚
Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat recently posted..April Goal Check-In

14 Rae May 5, 2011 at 3:11 pm

lol, yes a bit personal, but invest in body glide as well. Super helpful for chafing and comfort after, ahem, a long ride. If you get my drift πŸ™‚
Rae recently posted..Cross purposes

15 chloe @ 321delish May 5, 2011 at 3:15 pm

you are definitely going to want 2 water bottle holders on your bike for your 1/2 ironman! So I would put the holder on now and practice switching them!
chloe @ 321delish recently posted..Eating Italian on Cinco de Mayo

16 Alaina May 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm

That’s some great advice Meghann! If I ever decide to get a bike that sophisticated, I’ll definitely takes these tips in mind!
Alaina recently posted..GBCA Trade Show 2011

17 Holly @ The Runny Egg May 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I have no advice about cycling — I haven’t owned a bike for years — my old one was stolen out of our garage πŸ™
Holly @ The Runny Egg recently posted..Pizza Bread

18 Courtney May 5, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Thank you for posting these tips! I am planning to purchase a bike next week to get started with some sprint tri training and I am a complete newbie. These tips will most definitely come in handy πŸ™‚

19 Donna May 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Always pump your tires before a ride or race.

Before you start training on your own get yourself an under-the-seat tool bag. In it store tire levers, extra tube, a tire (if you can fit it), and 3 c02 cartridges to pump your tires (there’s a high probability you’ll burn up the first C02 cartridge… trust me!), a dollar bill (works magic as a patch in a pinch).

Know how to change a tire too. Know how to get the rear wheel on and off your bike. Never, never ride without your cell phone and ID (or a Road ID). I see the most seasoned cyclists sacrifice these things for less weight on the bike; only realizing it’s stupid when they find themselves on the roadside waiting (hoping) for assistance.

As for pace on the bike, check the bike cut off times for your 70.3 to determine where your pace needs to be and determine a goal. 13 mph might not get you to the halfway point on the bike course in time. 15-16 will, for sure. πŸ™‚
Donna recently posted..You Need to Train How You Want to Race

20 Meghann May 5, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Thanks Donna. I’ve already checked the times. That’s why I’m training for 17 mph time. 13 is comfortable for me now, but I plan to change that. I used to be comfortable running 10 min/miles now I can fo 9:00 min/miles. If I can train myself in running, I can train myself on a bike. πŸ™‚

21 Lauren May 5, 2011 at 3:54 pm has great and cheap clipless pedals and shoes. Once you get used to those babies, you are going to LOVE cycling because you can push as well as pull on the pedals to get a nice even pedal stroke!
Lauren recently posted..Hump Day Excitement!

22 Laura May 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Bike fit is so important! I hated cycling my first year, but I invested the money for a fit and have loved it ever since. Top priorities for me were: (1) comfortable women’s saddle, (2) more narrow handlebars, and (3) shims in my brakes. Before the changes, my hands were too small to properly use the breaks and I had tons of pain in my shoulders, neck, and personal areas. Now, it’s perfectly comfortable. So worth it!!

23 Silvia @ skinny jeans food May 5, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Could not agree more with the women’s saddle, a worthy investment. But what are shims in the brakes?
Silvia @ skinny jeans food recently posted..Slow-cooked Beef Stock a la Julia Child

24 Jenny @ Fitness Health and Food May 5, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Sounds like you’re working on your weaknesses which is the perfect triathlon strategy. Great post! πŸ™‚

25 TC @ P&L May 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm

This is a great post. I love bicycling–I commute by bike every day! Eventually I plan to do some touring along the coast with my boyfriend. The other piece of advice I have is to make sure you have a bike that fits you AND you have your seat at a good height. And always get your bike professionally maintenanced.
TC @ P&L recently posted..DIY 5k

26 Heather @ Side of Sneakers May 5, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I’ve been absolutely terrified of cross-chaining ever since I found out what it was. I REALLY need to find a bike-riding friend that can take me on a ride and tutor me. I’m crazy clueless and start freaking out when my chain rattles on the 2 lowest gears….but I need those gears!!

27 Silvia @ skinny jeans food May 5, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I’ve biked since I am 4 years old, but clip on shoes are SCARY! I have some but I think it is the only time I ever fell off my bike, or let’s say, the bike and I fell, clipped together.
Silvia @ skinny jeans food recently posted..Slow-cooked Beef Stock a la Julia Child

28 miranda @ working mom works out May 5, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Sounds like a great session

The Peppermint Choco Luna is my Fave! It tastes like a Thin Mint!

29 J May 5, 2011 at 4:59 pm

I have nothing insightful to say about cycling, but love the peppermint stick luna bars!
J recently posted..A Tale of Total Idiocy

30 Courtney May 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Courtney and I have the same name πŸ™‚
Courtney recently posted..How Pre-Syncope Feels

31 Elena @ GagaForGrapefruit May 5, 2011 at 5:42 pm

eighteen miles!? you GO girl!
Elena @ GagaForGrapefruit recently an instant

32 Lisa (bakebikeblog) May 5, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Great tips!
Lisa (bakebikeblog) recently posted..Marjoram – the herb of happiness

33 Alexa @ Simple Eats May 5, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I can’t give any tips, but I don’t even own a bike! Hopefully one day, when I’m not in the city and have a place to put it! Looks like fun, though!

34 Lauren May 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Great tips! I have a bike but don’t use it much because I literally live on a HUGE hill.
Lauren recently posted..Crunch Time

35 Emma (Namaste Everyday) May 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I also know nothing about bikes, so this was a good intro, thanks! I’m jealous…vermont is very hilly!
Emma (Namaste Everyday) recently posted..Glacier Country

36 Courtney May 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm

You did a great job out there today! I am really impressed with how much you absorbed and can’t wait to hear how your half ironman training goes! You will do great with your awesome attitude!

37 Amanda @ Eating Up May 5, 2011 at 7:22 pm

I’m clueless about bikes too! I would like to learn though!
Amanda @ Eating Up recently posted..Eating Up Returns

38 Amy May 5, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I for sure need a lesson on the bike as well!
Amy recently posted..Wednesday weigh in- Fat

39 Lauren May 5, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Great tips!! I wished I could bike. I enjoy a leisurely bike ride but I don’t think I could ever compete. I think I’ll just stick with spin. πŸ™‚
Lauren recently posted..WINNER of the Glass Dharma Giveaway

40 Alison May 5, 2011 at 8:17 pm

I would recommended Every Woman’s Guide to Cycling by Selene Yeager. It’s a great book and breaks done a lot of the information.

41 Ash @ Good Taste Healthy Me May 6, 2011 at 10:23 am

I’m just getting into biking and I absolutely LOVE it. I am trying to learn a ton about it and just really enjoy it!
Ash @ Good Taste Healthy Me recently posted..Unexpected Turn of Events

42 Stephanie Clement May 6, 2011 at 11:10 am

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!! My fiancee is an amateur-ish cycler….and loves it!! And so, because I love him, I want to try it with him (heavy emphasis on ‘try’ here..). Anyways, I get frustrated because I feel like I also fudge up the gears and I always feel like I put myself in a terrible position by making myself work far too hard. I’ve asked him to explain all of this to me, but he says it ‘needs to kinda be done on your own’. Well, I’m also a chicken-butt-scardy-catt and am terrified on messing up the gears and flinging myself over the handle bars. ANYWHOOO this was the most wonderful description!!! In Lehman’s terms for me and so simple to follow. THANK YOU A MILLION TIMES!!! Going to try to get out there with him today and show off my new skillz!!! THANKS MEGHANN!!!

43 Billie May 6, 2011 at 12:00 pm

I am cycling from York UK to Amsterdam, Holland and BACK next month for Marie Curie cancer nurses. I love cycling.

44 Ali @ Around the VeggieTable May 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Does Courtney travel to MD ever? I need a crash course in cycling! I got a bike for Christmas and it’s way more complicated than I remember it being as a child lol πŸ™‚
Ali @ Around the VeggieTable recently posted..Olive Spoil

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