How to get started with cycling
It’s official: cycling is now the most popular outdoor activity during lockdown. As it was one of the three forms of exercise permitted by government when we were restricted to one daily outing, lots of us took advantage of the opportunity dust off our bikes and get out on the roads again. Our own healthy team member Hattie was already cycling regularly before lockdown, but now she’s encouraging newbies to have a go, too.
‘One huge positive of the current situation is that the roads are clearer of cars, which is perfect if you’re a little nervous,’ says Hattie, who also believes that a sense of connection with other cyclists has helped her on difficult days. ‘Spotting my neighbours and nodding in solidarity when navigating pinch points has helped cement a sense of community. And while others shop for the elderly or deliver baked goods, I lend a bicycle pump and give directions.’
Cycling has also helped Hattie discover more of her local area. ‘I’ve discovered riverside paths, sweeping palace gardens and bumpy forest tracks, all local but previously unknown to me.’ Coach Holly Seear says the simplicity of cycling makes it worth celebrating; all you need is a bike and you’re off. ‘It gives you a sense of freedom, is easily built into your routine, and there are endless websites and apps to help you enjoy it,’ she says.
So now we know the wellbeing benefits, what are the physical benefits and how do we get started?
What are the body benefits?
Lots of research has found that cycling reduces risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. A moderate ride burns up to 500 calories per hour, and it boosts your mood, keeps you slim, ups cardiovascular fitness and strength, and is easy on your joints. ‘It’s particularly good for toning your lower body and core, which keep you steady as you ride. Your upper body gets a workout if you stand, climb hills or ride off road,’ says Seear.
How can I get bike confident?
‘Start somewhere traffic-free, like a park, to master riding single-handed so you can signal, and get used to looking over both shoulders so you’ll be aware of traffic,’ says Seear. Road cyclists benefit from using cleats, which clip your shoes to the pedals, so you can apply pressure all around the revolution, not just when you push down. ‘If you’re new to them, start on the loosest tension setting on the pedal and practise stationary next to a wall. Practise changing gears, too, until it’s instinctive. Using your gears correctly will help you accelerate or make hills easier. When you go for a ride, be assertive and stay out of the gutter. Remember you’re a road user like anyone else – don’t apologise for being there. When you look back to signal, make eye contact with drivers. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back, take your phone, emergency cash and a puncture repair kit.’
What are the riding basics?
When going around a corner, keep the outside pedal at the lowest position, with pressure on it for more grip. Try to keep pedalling at a cadence of 70-90 full revolutions per minute. ‘Be ready for hills by shifting to an easier gear as soon as you feel a slope, then spin up,’ says Seear. ‘Spinning’ here means pedalling faster in an easy gear, as opposed to ‘mashing’, pedalling more slowly in a harder gear, which puts more strain on your knees.
What bike should I go for?
It depends what kind of rider you intend to be. ‘For off-road or rugged trails – a mountain bike. If you plan to do events, sportives, races or commute daily, a road bike is best. For the occasional commute and riding for pleasure, a hybrid might suit. Your bike shop can help.’ Hybrids are the most popular choice among women: they’re light, and can cope with most terrains and weather, thanks to wider tyres, straight handlebars and a more upright position. The shop will help you with the right frame size. Also get a helmet, padded shorts, a cycle jersey, glasses (to protect your eyes from bugs, stones and weather), mitts (to protect your hands), and a repair kit.