Lifestyle: Want to get back into cycling after a long hiatus? Or maybe you haven’t been on a bike since childhood, but are looking to take up riding again? If it’s not only your bike, but also your cycling skills that have become a bit rusty over the years, perhaps it’s time to throw away those training wheels and get into some more serious cycling.
Riding offers a lot of benefits for all ages and fitness levels. It can be anything from challenging to sociable, a means of exercise or a simple way of commuting to work. Regular cycling can also reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as cardiac disease and diabetes, while boosting your mood and keeping your weight under control.
Whether you want to take up cycling to eventually participate in races, or just for recreation, it’s easy to start riding and keep it up regularly. Here are a few tips to help you hit the road.
When starting out, try to find a flat area with little traffic, until you’ve built up your skills. When you eventually have the confidence, and before you venture out into higher traffic areas, learn how to ride single-handedly, so you can make hand signals when out on the road. Try to also improve your visual awareness by practising looking over both shoulders, which will help you to assess the traffic situation behind you.
If you’ve decided to take up cycling for health benefits, you should aim to ride for at least 150 minutes per week, which is the amount of moderate aerobic activity that is generally recommended for healthy adults. When first starting out, you could space this out over the week in separate five to ten kilometre rides, for instance. This would give you a light to moderate workout lasting about half an hour, depending on the terrain of your ride, assuming you can ride around 15km/h.
One of the most common reasons that beginner recreational riders injure themselves on the bike is that they try to take on too much before their bodies and minds are ready. To avoid this, be sure to build up your rides slowly to ease your body into its new exercise routine. When you’re out on the road, don’t start too fast and become fatigued or burn out. Once you’ve warmed up sufficiently, you can then settle into a comfortable rhythm and power home towards the end.
Some recreational riders find it challenging to keep themselves motivated after they get started. One of the easiest ways to ensure you continue cycling regularly is to use your bike as a means of regular transport. This is a great way to combine exercise with commuting, particularly if you live relatively close to your workplace. Be sure to explore some possible routes to your school or office during low traffic times before venturing into daily commuting, so you’ll know how long your trip will take, as well as where the safest routes are.
If bike commuting isn’t a practical option, try squeezing in a ride before or after work, or perhaps go on a ride every weekend. To help find the quietest and quickest routes in your area, consult your local council, as they often produce free local cycling maps and can also provide information about local cycling infrastructure. There are also websites, such as Bikely, which allow commuters around the world to share which public cycling routes are safer and have lower rates of traffic, helping other riders to make more informed choices about which routes to use for their own rides. These websites are a great tool for planning future trips and finding out about nearby cycle routes that suit different levels of ability.
If you prefer a bit of company on your rides, you could also consider joining a local cycling club. Clubs often offer social rides for newcomers and organise workshops to provide advice on anything cycling-related, from buying a bike to regular maintenance and, once you become more skilled, local racing programs.
Buying a new bike
Now that you’ve brushed up on your cycling skills, it’s time to consider whether your bike is also in need of an upgrade.
It can be a little intimidating walking into a bike shop that has a large array of bicycles to choose from, such as mountain, road racing, touring and hybrid bikes. Particularly when you’re starting out, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need a top of the range bike, or an expensive kit or cycling shoes to match. The most important thing is to get out there and ride. There’s always time later to invest in upgrades.
Buying a bike doesn’t necessarily need to be very costly. It is wise to identify the type of cycling you want to do, before buying a new bike. Think about where you’ll be doing most of your riding. Mountain bikes are great for cycling off-road, such as on dirt or bush tracks, but are still suitable for sealed surfaces. Road bikes, by contrast, are built with speed and performance in mind, and are usually ridden on sealed roads. City bikes, on the other hand, can be used for commuting, exercise and recreational rides. Once you’ve decided on the type of bike that is most suitable for you, as well as your price range, then browse through the models from the available brands that satisfy your criteria.
Also remember that standard bicycles are usually proportioned according to male physiology. So female riders can also consider buying a women’s bike, which is usually built to suit the specific anatomical needs of women, and can include features such as shorter-reach levers for smaller hands and sometimes even modified frame tubing to accommodate lighter bodyweight. All of these little adjustments can help you become a more confident rider.
Another important point to remember is to buy the right size bike for you. Ending up with the wrong size bicycle is akin to wearing the wrong size shoes: they just won’t fit properly and will likely cause you problems. In addition to this, if you can afford it, a proper bike fit at your local bike store will also go a long way to avoiding injury and maximising your efficiency.
To this end, be wary about buying online. Although you might think you’re getting a bargain, you might end up buying a bike that ultimately doesn’t feel right for you. If you’re looking to buy a bike on a budget, second-hand bikes can be a good alternative option. However, you need to know how to check the bike thoroughly before purchasing it, to avoid buying a lemon.
Maintaining your bike
Once you’ve bought your new bike, it’s essential that you keep it well maintained. You don’t need to be a professional mechanic, but routine good care will keep maintenance costs at the bike shop down to a minimum and also prolong the life of your bike. Things to look out for include keeping the chain oiled, making sure the tires are inflated to the pressure marked on the tire sidewall, and regularly checking the brakes.
Don’t forget bike safety
Depending on the safety regulations in force where you live, you may need to wear a helmet while riding. If so, find a helmet that fits snugly, and as an optional safety consideration, you can also improve your visibility on the road at night or in dim light by wearing light-coloured or even fluorescent clothing. In the dark, a working white front light and red back light, plus a red rear reflector can also help ensure you remain visible to motorists. But it’s wise to check your local regulations, as you might need to adhere to different or additional safety rules when on the road.
Learn how to use your gears
Something that can be slightly tricky at first is knowing how and when to shift into your most efficient gear. So either go online to view some video tutorials, or ask for some help from your local bike shop or club. Armed with this knowledge, you can go out and practice what feels best for you on the climbs as well as on the downhill.
Carry spares or a patch kit
Every rider knows what the sound of air hissing out of their tire means. When you have a flat tire, it’s best not to rely on someone else to come to the rescue. Knowing how to change or patch a tube will make you a much more independent and confident rider. Always carry the proper tools on hand (including a spare tire or patch kit, tire levers and a small pump) to make sure you can get back on the road quickly after a puncture.
Fuelling during a ride
You should always bring water to replenish the fluids you lose when cycling. If you are planning to ride for more than two hours, make sure to bring enough snacks to refuel. Ideally, if you’re on a longer trip, start eating 30 to 45 minutes into your ride, and continue to eat small amounts every 15 to 20 minutes. Forgetting to refuel can result in what cyclists term ‘bonking’, or put more scientifically, a state of hypoglycaemia which can cause severe tiredness, irritability, dizziness and nausea, something you definitely want to avoid when out on the road.
These beginners’ tips are by no means exhaustive, but should hopefully help you on the road to taking up bike riding.