Taking up road cycling

The greatest cycle race in the world, Tour de France, is just getting under way - and you might be thinking about trying road cycling out for yourself. But before you head down to your local retail park with your credit card burning a hole in your pocket, you might want to read a little advice.

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There are a few key questions you need to ask yourself and also a few key facts that could come in handy before you splash out on a bike and bits.

What's your budget?
You might think cycling would be a relatively cheap activity - and it certainly CAN be - but many enthusiastic cyclists have become used to hearing their family and friends exclaiming "but I could buy a car for that" when they reveal the cost of their bikes.

If you're going to be having your first taste of proper road cycling then try not to get too carried away, in case you don't take to it. Bikes lose even more of their value than cars do as soon as you take them out of the showroom!

So it might be best to stop looking at that £4,000 team replica bike and scale your ambitons back a little.

You can get a basic, serviceable road bike for around £300, with weight dropping and quality increasing rapidly as you spend more.

What frame material?
Most road bikes under £1,000 will have aluminium frames, because the material combines light weight, stiffness and comfort for the rider when designed well.

Go past the £1k mark and carbon fibre frames become more common, offering greater strength, stiffness and comfort and even lower weight.

Steel frames were very rare, but in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the traditional bike frame material among enthusiasts. It is durable and comfortable, but usually heavier than aluminium or carbon.

Where should I buy from? And which brand?
Speak to a cyclist friend and get a recommendation for a good bike shop, or ask them to help you choose a bike. Most cyclists will be delighted to be asked and happy to see somebody taking up their chosen hobby.

Getting the right size bike is crucial, and a good bike shop can help you here. There are other options though - and retail giant Halfords does an excellent range of Boardman and Carrera road bikes which are very hard to beat for value.

Other top brands include Trek, Specialized, Giant, Cannondale and Scott. Cycle chain store Evans has its own in-house brands and there are a plethora of smaller manufacturers.

The best value can often be had from internet-based retailers who follow a direct sales model, there are several UK-based firms and several German companies worth checking out - and a cycling friend will point you in the right direction. Chain store Decathlon also have some decent bargain bikes and accessories.

What else will I need?
A helmet is a must, some comfy lycra cycling clothes, a few tools, possibly a lightweight waterproof and probably clipless pedals and shoes to go with them.

A friend or bike shop can advise on these, and you neededn't spend the earth to start with.

You may also want mudguards if you plan to ride in the wet or with a cycling club. Which brings us to...

Who can I ride with?
If you don't have any cycling friends to go out with, you might want to Google for cycling clubs in your area.

Most areas will have a few clubs to choose from, and most clubs will welcome new members - often on specific rides where they take it easier and introduce you to the techniques involved in riding in a group on the road.

Who knows, if you get the bug you might even end up racing!

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