If you used to enjoy cycling but have not done it for some time then this guest post should help you to get back in the saddle and ensure you are riding safely.
Are we cycling more now?
The resurgence of cycling over recent months has been both unstoppable and unmissable. With massive numbers of people cycling during lockdown for their daily exercise, followed by people eschewing public transport in favour of a bike when commuting to work.
And the numbers are likely to increase further as the government is investing heavily in cycling infrastructure, as well as recently offering the £50 bike service voucher scheme to encourage people to get back in the saddle and get fitter.
If you are still sitting longingly on the sidelines, here is what I believe you need to know to get yourself saddle ready and back on your bike:
If you have an old bike, dust it off, check the brakes and the gears are working properly and enjoy it. Getting on the bike is the only way to know what kind of cycling you enjoy. (If you managed to get a service voucher, congratulations, you are one of the lucky ones and your local mechanic can fix it up for you.)
If you are buying a new bike, first consider the kind of riding you want to do and the typical route. If it is hilly – make sure you get a bike with enough gears to handle it, if you are commuting then 3-6 gears should be enough to get you up and down most town and city hills. If you are looking to road or mountain bike you will want to consider more than 10 gears to manage the rougher terrain.
Next, consider the weight of the bike. Modern road bikes are all designed to be very light so even the heaviest will do you well – but aim to go as light as possible.
For commuter bikes, the weight can be an issue. The heavier Dutch-style bikes often look very beautiful but they are hard work if you are peddling uphill, lifting it up canal path stairs or storing it in your flat.
As a guide 10-12kgs is pretty heavy, but still easy to cycle especially if the route is quite flat but you will notice it on an incline. So factor in the weight of the bike if you have a lot of hills to conquer or you need to store it inside.
There are some great commuting bikes available, which are beautifully made, pretty light and have real style.
For a British-made bike with some serious looks check out Temple cycles and there is also the ever-chic Tokyo bike and Crème Cycles Creme cycles.
If you don’t have much space, the Brompton bike is always a great solution Brompton.
THE SEAT POSITION
I often see cyclists around with a bad seat position set-up – usually, the seat is far too low so they are overworking and are putting unnecessary strain on their knees.
To set up your bike properly, this is the simplest way: The Heel to the Pedal method. It might not be what cyclists in the Tour de France use but it will get you close to the perfect position. Here’s how:
Sit on the bike whilst holding onto a wall or chair for stability.
Place your heel on the pedal and pedal back to the 6 o’clock position. Your knee should be completely straight.
Increase the height of your saddle until it is straight; that is your perfect position.
If you are just cycling around town for the first time and aren’t 100% confident on the bike, it’s a good idea to lower it from this position ever so slightly.
This will make it is easier to put your foot on the ground when you want to stop. This will give you confidence on the bike from the get-go. Once you are happy in the saddle you can lift the saddle back up to the correct height.
The number one thing I get asked when I mention that I have cycled around London for 15 years is; “aren’t you scared of the traffic?” I’m not. But that’s because I always pick my route carefully – even now.
The route is crucial to an enjoyable journey. The main highways and roads might be the most direct path but they will not be the most pleasant.
Always take the backstreets; they are quieter, safer and much more interesting as you get to discover parts of your town/city you would never have seen before.
Fortunately, picking your route has never been easier. There are lots of cycle routes now across the country and they are definitely worth taking advantage of.
Most city and country routes are on cycle maps that are easy to follow. For your local paths have a look at your council’s website – most of the maps are available there.
Here are a few:
TFL for London
For Manchester – TFGM
For Birmingham – Cyclestreets
For Edinburgh – Innertubemap
And if you are getting out of the city – the best resource is Sustrans, which has cycle-friendly, and cycle-only routes across the UK.
Give yourself an extra 15 minutes to cycle, take the slightly longer, quieter route, get yourself lost and, most importantly of all, enjoy it.
FREE YOUR BACK
Getting the bag off your back and onto the bike is a real joy. It takes the strain off your spine and also reduces back sweat – something a backpack seems to create in very unnatural quantities. The solution is a pannier rack.
They attach over the back wheel of your bike and you can attach pannier bags and baskets on them to carry whatever you need.
As the rack is on the back of your bike, not the front, and is low on the bike, it doesn’t affect your steering or stability, so it will help you feel more secure on your bike.
Hill & Ellis has a range of stylish bike bags that all attach securely to your pannier bike rack. They are also designed to look smart so are the perfect accessory for the work commute. Hill and Ellis
If you still want a bit more Dutch courage (so to speak) before cycling on your own, then you need your own personal peloton (cycling group).
Cycling is really friendly, with lots of groups keen to help other cyclists get started with advice, buddies and supported rides. There are groups all over the country, so you’ll definitely find one in your local area.
The Breeze network offers women’s only rides and commuting training rides to help build confidence for cycling to work, they will even arrange a group to cycle with you to your office for the first couple of rides.
British Cycling also has a beginners’ guide on their website for the A-Z of what you need to know before taking to the saddle.
But most of all don’t rush. Enjoy it. Life from the saddle will always make you smile.
Another way to gain confidence is to eliminate the guesswork of cycling by using a power meter. A power meter accurately measures your power output on the bike, so you know exactly how you’re doing.
You might not be doing as poorly as you thought you were. Instead of doubting and second-guessing your performance, you may as well use a power meter to get an objective look into your power, speed, and stamina. This way, you know what to work on.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Ellis is the founder of Hill & Ellis, which produces a range of high-quality, stylish cycle bags. Each bag, designed in the UK, is created to transition perfectly from home to bike to boardroom to bar.
They are functional, fashionable and hard-wearing. There’s plenty of space inside for a laptop and other essentials, and each bag comes with patented pannier clips that fit almost any bike, allowing you to clip the bag on and off quickly and easily.