Top five tips to help you get cycling
By Catherine Ellis, Hill & Ellis.
Are you a bit later than many jumping on the cycling bandwagon? I mean, the resurgence of cycling over recent months since lockdown first began has been unmissable.
And the numbers are likely to increase further as the government is investing heavily in cycling infrastructure, as well as recently offering the £50 bike service voucher scheme to encourage people to get back in the saddle and get fitter.
So, what’s holding you back? If you are still sitting longingly on the sidelines, here are my top five tips that should get you back in the saddle in no time:
Decide what you want and need from your bike
If you are buying a new bike, first consider the kind of riding you want to do and the typical route and make sure you get a bike with enough gears to handle it. If you are commuting, then 3-6 gears should be enough to get you up and down most town and city hills. If you are looking to road or mountain bike you will want to consider more than 10 gears to manage the rougher terrain.
Next, think about the weight of the bike. Modern road bikes are all designed to be very light so even the heaviest will do you well – but aim to go as light as possible. For commuter bikes, the weight can be an issue. The heavier Dutch-style bikes often look very beautiful but they are hard work if you are peddling uphill, lifting it up canal path stairs or storing it in your flat. As a guide 10-12kgs is pretty heavy, still easy to cycle especially if the route is quite flat but you will notice it on an incline. So factor in the weight of the bike if you have a lot of hills to conquer or you need to store it inside.
If you have already have an old bike, dust it off, check the brakes and the gears are working properly and enjoy it. Often, getting on the bike is the only way to know what kind of cycling you enjoy.
Look after your back
Getting the bag off your back and onto the bike is a real joy. It takes the strain off your spine and also reduces back sweat – something a backpack seems to create in very un-natural quantities.
The solution is a pannier rack. They attach over the back wheel of your bike and you can attach pannier bags and baskets on them to carry whatever you need. As the rack is on the back of your bike, not the front, and is low on the bike, it doesn’t affect your steering or stability, so they will help you feel more secure on your bike.
Set your seat position correctly
Another thing that can put pressure on your back and other parts of your body when you start cycling is a bad seat position set up. Often the seat is far too low so novice cyclists are overworking and are putting unnecessary strain on their knees. To set up your bike properly, the simplest way is The Heel to Pedal method. It might not be what cyclists in the Tour de France use but it will get you close to the perfect position. Here’s how:
- Sit on your bike while holding onto a wall or chair for stability.
- Place your heel on the pedal and pedal back to 6 o’clock position. Your knee should be completely straight.
- Increase the height of your saddle until it is straight; that is your perfect position.
If you are just cycling around town the first time and aren’t 100% confident on the bike, it’s a good idea to lower it from this position ever so slightly. This will make it is easier to put your foot on the ground when you want to stop. This will give you confidence on the bike from the start. But, once you are happy in the saddle you can lift the saddle back up to the correct height.
Always plan your route ahead
Your route is vital for an enjoyable journey. The main highways and roads might be the most direct path but they will not be the most pleasant. Always take the backstreets; they are quieter, safer and much more interesting as you get to discover parts of your town/city you would never have seen before.
Luckily, picking your route has never been easier. There are lots of cycle routes now across the country and they are definitely worth taking advantage of. Most city and the country routes are in cycle maps that are easy to follow. For your local paths have a look on your council’s website – most of the maps are available there.
Here are a couple of examples:
For Birmingham – https://birmingham.cyclestreets.net/
Another great resource is Sustrans, which has cycle-friendly, and cycle-only routes across the UK: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/national-cycle-network/
Give yourself an extra 15 minutes to cycle, take the slightly longer, quieter route, explore further if you want and, most importantly of all, enjoy it.
If you still want a bit more courage before cycling on your own, then you need your own personal peloton (cycling group). Cycling is really sociable, with lots of groups keen to help other cyclists get started with advice, buddies and supported rides. There are groups all over the country, so you’ll definitely find one in your local area.
The Breeze network offers women’s only rides and commuting training rides to help build confidence for cycling to work, they will even arrange a group to cycle with you to your office for the first couple of rides.
British Cycling also has beginners guide on their website for the A-Z of what you need to know before taking to the saddle.