Stay safe, get fit, and have fun — a beginner’s guide to cycling
Reckon it’s time to get on your bike? Age group GB triathlete and duathlete Ellie Barnes, of Barnes Fitness, is here to point you in the right direction…
More and more women are taking up cycling, and once they’ve hit the road on two wheels, they’re more often than not hooked — especially if they’re already exercising regularly — because cycling brings so many rewards in terms of fitness and fun.
But before you rush for the door to join them, it’s important to start as you mean to go on by choosing the right bike, the right gear, and the right beginner routes.
So here are my top tips for novice cyclists…
1. Get the right bike for the job
First work out what you’re mainly going to use the bike for. What works well for the occasional trip to the shops may not be up to a daily commute or long weekend training runs. And will you be mainly on tarmac, or are you planning to stay off the beaten track? What works for one will generally not work for the other, so do your basic research and then head for a good bike shop. Don’t buy less bike than you’re likely to need — too many people (especially women) choose based on their current riding ability and are then driven by price. If you’re genuinely only going to pop to the corner shop once in a blue moon, that’s fine, but once past the newbie stage a cheap and cheerful steed all too often becomes a liability and you may end up forking out again for the bike you should have had in the first place!
2. Get the bike fitted
Many shops offers bike fitting as a service, but if yours doesn’t find somewhere that does. It’s essential not only to select the right frame size but also to ensure your riding position is perfect for you. This ensures you’ll get the most from your bike performance-wise and reduces the risk of picking up injuries. If you’re buying second-hand, the same applies but you must also get the brakes, tyres, chain, and other key components checked.
3. Get a properly fitting helmet
No ifs, no buts — you must wear a helmet. And if you’re still in any doubt, have a look at this video, made by Olympic rower James Cracknell after his horrific crash while on a charity cycle ride across the US.
Pay as much as you can afford and never buy second-hand. It needs to fit properly and you need to look after it. If you are unlucky enough to put it to the test — or even drop it hard — you must replace it.
4. See and be seen
Investing in a good set of lights is important at any time of year, but especially in winter. Exactly how much you need to invest will depend on your cycling — a daily commute in traffic and all weathers or down unlit country lanes obviously needs something more serious than the occasional run out on a sunny weekend.
5. Dress for the part
You don’t need to don Lycra from head to toe to ride a bike, but there are some clothes that will make your cycling easier and safer. A good sports bra will make all the difference, as will base layers that wick away moisture. Two must-buys for all but the most occasional of riders are a decent pair of padded cycling shorts or tights and a waterproof jacket. Cycling-specific jackets are cut to accommodate your riding position but you can easily manage with something less specialised. Just make sure it’s not black — hi-viz materials really do make sense.
At some point you may want to upgrade and go clipless with special shoes that attach directly to cleated pedals, but best to build your confidence first.
6. Leave your earphones at home
Never ride a bike while attached to your music — it diminishes your awareness of what’s going on around you, compromises your concentration, and it’s just plain dangerous.
7. Invest in a sturdy lock
At some point, you’re going to leave your bike unattended and for that you need a good lock. The choice is immense, so how much you spend — and the exact type you choose — depends on the value of your bike (and its value to you!) and the degree of risk you’ll run when it’s out of sight.
8. Use cycle routes
Especially when you’re getting to know your bike, staying off busy roads makes sense. Wherever possible use assigned cycle routes, such as those on the Sustrans network, and never ride on pedestrian footpaths unless they’re clearly designated for dual use. Also good for building confidence are group rides, such as those organised by Sky Ride.
9. Join a club
Cycling clubs are there to help you — they’re not elitist (or they certainly shouldn’t be) and most have a mix of ability among their members. You’ll learn more — and more quickly — through club activities than you ever will on your own, and riding in a group is both safer and much more enjoyable. There are plenty of online options too where experienced riders are always happy to advise newcomers.
10. Enjoy the journey to a fitter you!
Don’t forget to have fun while you’re getting to know your bike and honing your new skills as a cyclist — it’s a great sport — not just in itself but as a component of multi-sports like triathlon and duathlon — and you’ll rapidly reap the fitness rewards once you start putting in the miles!