After recovering the old bike from the back of the garage to make daily exercise more varied during lockdown, many people went on to decide that cycling was a far better option than public transport for their commute to work. If you are thinking of following suit, but haven’t ridden a bike since childhood, where on earth do you start in your cycling journey? Here are some things to consider when getting back in the saddle.
Your old BMX is probably not what you’re thinking of using to restart your cycling journey, so which bike should you choose? The best way to decide which bike is best for you is to think about what you will be using it for and where you are likely to be cycling. If you are looking for speed, perhaps to commute to and from work in the quickest time possible or if you are looking to travel far and fast on your weekend ride, then a road bike, or racer, is probably the right bike for you. They are lightweight and designed for speed. A tourer is similar to a road bike but is slightly sturdier so if you are likely to use your bike for longer journeys where pannier bags might be useful, for example if you are fishing or camping, this is worth exploring.
Alternatively, if you’re considering something a bit more adventurous and want to take your bike off-road in your free time, perhaps on forest trails or over hilly paths, then a mountain bike is probably what you need. These have better suspension and thick tyres designed to grip in muddy or loose terrain.
If you can’t decide or fancy a bike that you can commute to work on but ride off-road at weekends, have a look at hybrid bikes. They are lightweight but also sturdy and comfortable and a good all-rounder. And there is a lot more choice than these three, too. If you have a long commute but still want to cycle either side of the train ride, a folding bike is lightweight and practical, or for people with back and knee problems, it’s worth considering a recumbent bike, where you sit in a reclining position. Your bike will be an investment so take the time to research what will suit you best. You can look online but it’s worth talking to the staff at your local bike shop to find out what will best suit your needs. When it comes to cost, like anything you mostly get what you pay for. If you’re on a tight budget, do look at second-hand, reconditioned bikes. They save money and are obviously also better for the environment.
Starting at the top, helmets are not actually legally required but are important because, in the unfortunate event of an accident, it will protect you. If you think helmets mean looking silly, think again. There are some really stylish helmets on the market these days which means you can make a fashion statement while keeping safe. You can also buy helmets made of recycled materials, that can themselves be recycled at end of life.
Visibility is also key. You must have lights on your bike and, if you are likely to be riding in traffic, consider one you can wear on your (stylish) helmet too. This will make you even more visible to 4x4s and buses. Even if you’re not planning on riding after dark, it’s wise to carry something reflective with you at all times. Who knows, you might enjoy your ride more than you thought and want to go for a bit longer. You don’t have to be clad head to foot in day-glow; a simple sash that can be easily carried with you is enough to be sure you are seen.
Gloves are also a good idea, not just to keep you warm in cooler months, but they will protect your hands in event of coming off your bike – these are generally the first thing you put out to save yourself. Also cycling glasses are not only good for protecting your eyes from glare and UV rays, they also protect your peepers from wind and rain, bugs and dust.
It’s also worth learning a little bike maintenance so you can ensure your bike is fit for purpose on a regular basis. Make sure you know how to check the air pressure in your tyres, test your brakes and ensure you have sufficient lube on your chain.
Firstly, don’t think you need to go and buy loads of Lycra before you can get on your bike. Indeed, you can ride in your everyday clothes, up to a point, although you should avoid heavy shoes or loose laces and baggy skirts or trousers which could get caught up the pedals or chain. Wear light and comfy clothes and avoid things like jeans for long cycle rides as thicker denim can chafe after a while. If you already own any gear for running, they’ll be perfect.
Of course, if you get seriously involved in speed riding you may want to buy clothes and gear that aid with streamlining. On the other hand, if you are commuting, that is probably the last thing you want to do. Instead, look out for cycling gear designed to transition between bike and office. Not only can you get helmets that don’t cause ‘helmet hair’, there are stylish jackets which look great in a meeting but glow at night when you’re riding home. Similarly, there are some amazing shoes out there, perfect for cycling in that really look the part when you are sitting at your desk. There are even pannier bags available that you can take off the bike and hide the clips so you look like you bought from a local designer boutique. Similarly, this gear is great if you are cycling to meet friends for a pub lunch, cream tea or picnic.
Avoid The Hurt
Taking up a new physical activity will almost always leave you with some aches and pains, where you are using muscles that haven’t been worked for a while. Unfortunately, cycling has some additional potential discomforts.
You may find that you are saddle sore to start with. Check your saddle is in the right position and, after a while, as your muscles and tendons get accustomed to it, this ‘pain in the bottom’ will abate. In the meantime, you should stand on the pedals at regular intervals to give yourself some relief. It may also help to invest in underwear with minimal seams or even some specialist shorts. If the discomfort does not improve you might need to think about a different saddle.
You can also find you have discomfort in other parts of your body; neck, lower back, hands, feet and legs. These are almost without fail due to your position on the bike and the handlebars and seat not being in the optimal position. Again, it is worth asking the shop that you buy your bike from to help you get this correct in the first place or ask advice from friends who have cycling experience.
Find the right route
Whether you are cycling to work or for pleasure, consider sensible routes when starting out. You do not want to begin your new pastime weaving in and out of inner-city traffic. Not only is it dangerous to do so without experience, you are highly likely to put yourself off before you start. Try some rural off-road routes to start with. When riding to work, ask about and find some quieter routes that go through parks or beside the river. It may take a little longer, but it will be safer and far more pleasant. Also consider the difficulty of your route. Novice cyclists are unlikely to enjoy hilly rides initially and would be much more sensible to opt for easy terrains and low gradients. You can always build up as you gain confidence and fitness. Best of all, use your early days cycling to explore local routes and find some you really enjoy.
Catherine Bedford is a cycling expert, coach and founder of dashel.co.uk