More people are taking up cycling as an alternative to public transport in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, this is a return to a hobby they enjoy. For others, cycling is something new.
This blog post will go back to basics and explain how to start cycling, from choosing a bike and following the rules of the road, to the right workout gear and useful training apps.
Think about why you’ll be cycling. Is it a way for you to commute? Is it something you’ll do for fun? Will it be part of your fitness routine? A mix of the three? Knowing this will help you decide what kind of bike to get, how much to spend on it, and whether you want to invest in any extra equipment.
The first thing you need to do when shopping for a bike is set yourself a budget. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for – up to a point.
More expensive bikes will have lighter frames and be more slick to ride, which is great if you have to carry your bike on public transport or want to get into racing. But if these aren’t priorities for you, then you can afford to buy something slightly cheaper, without compromising on quality. You could also consider a second-hand bike that’s in good condition. Look for the quality of the build, the bike’s durability, and whether it’s comfortable to sit on.
The bottom line: Buy the best you can afford, but don’t be tempted by features you don’t need. £250 is the suggested starting price for a bike you’ll ride casually.
A lightweight frame is best if you’re aiming for speed, or need a portable bike for your commute. You can even buy folding bikes, which are easy to carry and can be stored in a luggage rack or under a seat on a train, and in a folding bike locker elsewhere.
A sturdier frame is more suited to routes where the roads or tracks aren’t in the best condition, or for carrying heavy luggage on a rack.
As a rule, narrow tyres are better for road bikes, whereas thicker, knobbly tyres are better if you’re planning to go off-road (mountain biking, for example).
Most road bikes are fitted with wheels of 622mm, known as 700c. You’ll have a choice between clincher tyres and tubeless tyres. Clincher tyres have an inner tube, while tubeless tyres do not.
You’ll also need to choose between 23mm tyres, which were standard until recently, 25mm or 28mm. Wider tyres are more comfortable but have less resistance, which means you’ll be able to travel faster. They are also more resistant to punctures.
Gears are useful, but you don’t need very many for general cycling – a low gear is good for climbing up hills and a high gear is good for riding down them.
There are two gear systems you need to know about: hub gears and derailleurs.
Hub gears are found in the hub of a bike’s back wheel. You adjust hub gears by using a lever or twist grip on the handlebars, which triggers the cable that changes them. You can change gears whether you’re pedalling or sitting in traffic.
Derailleur gears consist of a system that’s split in two. The rear derailleur moves the chain on the back wheel, while the front derailleur moves between the chain rings attached to the crank arm (what your pedals are stuck to). Bikes with a derailleur system normally have more gears, giving you more choice on your journeys.
There are three main types of brakes:
Flashing lights are permitted by the Highway Code. However, it’s recommended that you use a steady front lamp if you’re riding in areas without street lighting.
Your body needs fuel before a workout, and cycling is no exception. Foods high in carbohydrates are the best option, as they give you the energy you need for a bike ride.
Pasta with vegetables, chicken with kidney beans and rice, and fish with grains (such as couscous, quinoa or bulgur wheat) are all good, healthy options for meals. As for snacks, granola, energy bars, bagels and bananas are all good sources of energy.
Avoid anything high in fibre or fat, anything too spicy, and alcoholic drinks.
It’s recommended that you wait 2-4 hours before cycling after a big meal, and 30 minutes to 2 hours before cycling after a snack.
A bottle of water and a small snack, such as an energy bar, are good to have with you. You lose fluid every time you exercise, due to sweating – water replaces this, keeping your body working the way it should. A snack will stop your blood pressure and blood sugar levels from dropping too low and will also give you an energy boost.
You should also buy a small, basic repair kit in case you need to fix your tyres or adjust the bike while you’re out. It can be a nightmare getting a puncture on a ride, but at least you’ll be able to solve the problem and not get stranded.
If you’re a commuter, invest in a comfortable, waterproof backpack with extra straps, which will keep it secure while you’re on the move. The backpack should have reflective elements and be big enough to hold essentials like your lunch, laptop, and any other tech you bring with you day-to-day. You should feel comfortable cycling with the bag on your back.
The usual essentials (keys, phone, ID and a method of payment) are required in case you need to get hold of anyone, or someone needs to help in the event of an accident.
What you wear while riding your bike can make a big difference to how much you enjoy yourself. Comfort is key, no matter where you’re going. The aim is to stay warm in winter and cool in summer.
Safety is another important factor. Visibility is a priority, especially on busy routes or dark mornings, when cyclists are harder to spot. Look for items with reflective strips or hi-vis elements that will make it easy for motorists to see you. Your cycling gear should not get in your way, or get caught in the mechanisms of your bike.
The Highway Code contains laws and guidelines for all road users to ensure everyone can complete their journeys safely. There’s a section for cyclists with all the information you need. Here are some key takeaways for beginners.
It’s a good idea to take a beginner course like Bikeability if you’re new to cycling. You’ll be able to build up your confidence with the help of professional instructors, and learn about using your bike more safely. Cycling outside is still safe during the pandemic, as long as you feel well and don’t have any symptoms. It’s safer than commuting, as you’re less likely to come into close contact with other members of the public.
The idea of doing any DIY on your bike may seem daunting at first. But everyone has to start somewhere and regular maintenance keeps your bike in good condition. Here are some basic tips that will save you both time and money in the long run.
As for public places, always use a lock and secure your bike to purpose-designed cycle storage. Plan your routes and know where to store your bike – it’ll give you peace of mind. You could even talk to your employer about having the right facilities, opening up the doors to more cyclists in the process.