After retrieving the old bike from the back of the garage so that daily exercise would be more varied during lockdown, many people decided that cycling was a much better option than public transport to get to work. If you’re thinking of doing the same, but haven’t ridden a bike since childhood, where the heck do you start your cycling journey? Here are some things to consider when re-riding.
Your old BMX probably isn’t 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’ll be using it for and where you’re likely to be riding. If you’re looking for speed, perhaps getting to and from work in the shortest possible time, or if you’re looking to travel far and fast on your weekend ride, then a road or racing bike is probably the right bike for you. They are lightweight and built for speed. A touring bike is similar to a road bike, but it’s a bit more rugged so if you’re likely to use your bike for longer trips where panniers might come in handy, for example if you’re fishing or camping It’s worth exploring.
Alternatively, if you’re considering something a bit more adventurous and want to take your bike off-road at your leisure, perhaps on forest trails or hilly roads, then a mountain bike is probably what you need. These have better suspension and chunky tires designed to grip on muddy or loose ground.
If you can’t decide or don’t fancy a bike that you can ride to work but ride off-road on the weekends, take a look at hybrid bikes. They are light but also resistant and comfortable and a good all-rounder. And there are also many more options than these three. If you have a long commute to work but still want to cycle on both sides of the train journey, a folding bike is light and handy, or for people with back and knee problems, a recumbent bike, where you sit, is worth considering in a reclined position. Your bike will be an investment, so take the time to research what works best for you. You can search online, but it’s worth talking to the staff at your local bike shop to find out what best suits your needs. When it comes to cost, like anything, you mostly get what you pay for. If you’re on a tight budget, look into used, refurbished bikes. They save money and are obviously better for the environment too.
Starting at the top, helmets are not a legal requirement, but they are important because, in the unfortunate event of an accident, they 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 staying safe. You can also buy helmets made from recycled materials, which can be recycled at the end of their useful life.
Visibility is also key. You should have lights on your bike, and if you’re likely to be riding in traffic, consider one that you can also wear on your (fancy) helmet. This will make you even more visible to 4x4s and buses. Even if you don’t plan on cycling after dark, it’s still wise to carry something reflective with you at all times. Who knows, you might enjoy your trip more than you thought and want to keep going for a bit longer. You don’t have to be dressed from head to toe in the radiance of the day; a simple band that can be easily carried with you is enough to make sure you are seen.
Gloves are also a good idea, not only to keep you warm in the colder months, but to protect your hands in case you fall off your bike; they are usually the first thing you use to save yourself. In addition, cycling glasses are not only good at protecting your eyes from glare and UV rays, but also protect your eyes from wind and rain, insects and dust.
It’s also worth learning a bit about bike maintenance so you can make sure your bike is fit for purpose on a regular basis. Make sure you know how to check the air pressure in your tires, test your brakes, and make sure you have plenty of lube on your chain.
First of all, don’t think you have to go buy loads of lycra before you can get on the bike. You can actually ride in your everyday clothes, to a point, though you should avoid heavy or loose-laced shoes and baggy skirts or pants that could get caught on the pedals or chain. Wear light, comfortable clothing and avoid things like jeans for long bike rides, as heavier denim can chafe after a while. If you already have running gear, this will be perfect.
Of course, if you’re serious about speed riding, you might want to buy clothing and gear that helps with aerodynamics. On the other hand, if you’re traveling, it’s probably the last thing you want to do. Instead, look for cycling gear designed to transition between the bike and the office. Not only can you get helmets that don’t cause ‘helmet hair’, there are stylish jackets that look great at a gathering but sparkle at night when you return home. Similarly, there are some amazing shoes, perfect for biking that actually look good when you’re sitting at your desk. There are even panniers available that you can remove from the bike and hide the clips to make it look like you bought it at a local designer boutique. Similarly, this kit is great if you’re cycling to meet friends for a pub lunch, cream tea or picnic.
Avoid the damage
Starting a new physical activity will almost always leave you with some aches and pains, where you’re using muscles that haven’t worked in a while. Unfortunately, riding a bike has some additional potential discomfort.
You may find that you have saddle pain to begin with. Check that your saddle is in the correct position, and after a while, as your muscles and tendons get used to it, this “pain in the butt” will go away. Meanwhile, you need to stand on the pedals at regular intervals to relieve yourself. It may also help to invest in underwear with minimal seams or even some specialized shorts. If the discomfort does not improve, you may need to consider a different saddle.
You may also find that you have discomfort in other parts of your body; neck, lower back, hands, feet and legs. These are almost without exception due to their position on the bike and the handlebars and seat not being in the optimal position. Again, it’s worth asking the shop where you bought your bike to help you get it right in the first place, or asking friends who have cycling experience for advice.
Find the right path
Whether you cycle to work or for pleasure, consider sensible routes when you start. You don’t want to start your new hobby by weaving in and out of downtown traffic. Not only is it dangerous to do without experience, but you’ll most likely be discouraged before you start. Try some rural off-road routes to get started. When you commute to work, ask around and find some quieter routes that go through parks or along the river. It may take a little longer, but it will be safer and much more enjoyable. Also consider the difficulty of your route. Novice riders are unlikely to initially enjoy hilly riding and it would be much more sensible to opt for easy terrain and low inclines. You can always increase as you gain confidence and fitness. Best of all, take advantage of your first days on the bike to explore the local routes and find some that you really enjoy.
Catherine Bedford is a cycling expert, coach and founder of dashel.co.uk