Getting started with cycling

This week the RideLondon100 ballot results have been released and this has resulted in excitement for many, disappointment for some and for a select few a sheer overwhelming feeling of not being sure where to start.

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This is the same every year. Thousands of people enter the ballot for this event, hopeful of gaining a slot to ride this iconic London based event. 100 miles of cycling on closed roads through London and Surrey is amazing and understandably many people want to do it, its a dream. For a number of people this dream will become a reality this year as they have been lucky enough to gain a slot for participation in the event. But I have seen a number of posts on social media from people (including Vicki and Candice, this is for you) who have gained a ballot space in the event, but have little cycling experience and don’t yet own a bike…

So where do you start. This is both an exciting and scary situation to be in. A place in an iconic event, an opportunity to go shopping for a pretty bike (yes bikes can be pretty), motivation to improve your fitness, but also the need to become quite a competent cyclist, get used to riding on the road, surrounded by other cyclists, ascend and descend hills and quite simply, get used to exercising for a continuous number of hours and conditioning your poor butt to being on a bike saddle for a prolonged period…

So where to start? 

Can you ride a bike? Have you ever ridden a bike? Hopefully so if you entered such a massive challenge but some people may not have ridden since their childhood and therefore understandably not sure if they still have the core balance and confidence to ride?

Here even if you are quite sure of your basic bike riding ability, I recommend heading to a safe environment with people who can support you. On a simple level this could mean borrowing a bike from a friend and trying out a very short loop in a local park. Somewhere quiet with not too hazards or obstacles, areas with many people, dogs and children can understandably make people a bit nervous, you don’t want to have to dodge lots of people or things whilst you are trying to work out your own balance and coordination.

Alternatively you can head to a local cycling centre where you will be able to hire a bike and ride on a circuit with no traffic, reserved wholly for cyclists. Many of these centres also offer 1:1 or group tuition if required. For anyone local to me both Redbridge Cycle Centre and Lee Valley VeloPark are great options. Here you can try a bike, work on your balance, get used to the position on the bike etc all with very limited obstacles or outside influences as it is a controlled environment. There will also be staff on hand to help you out if needed.

What next? 

So you have tried a bike, either your friends, or one in a cycling centre and you are now happy to purchase one that will see you through your challenge.

A bike will be the most expensive part of this journey so you want to make the right decisions. You need to ensure you buy a bike that is suitable for the purpose (long distance road riding) but also suits you and will suit any further cycling you may wish to do. The obvious choice is a road bike as the RideLondon is an event on closed roads. But if you never intend to ride on a road after the event but would like to ride round the parks or through woodland areas with your family, perhaps a road bike is not the right choice. There are some fantastic hybrid bikes on the market at the moment and with some slick tyres they also perform very well on the road. Try to ensure you purchase a bike that you will get continued use from.

Many employers offer a cycle to work scheme, as a salary sacrifice benefit where you can purchase a bike at selected retailers using a voucher provided by your employer and this is paid back through your salary. The salary sacrifice payment is taken before tax and national insurance contributions so in real terms this can save you a significant % on the cost of your bike.

When you receive the voucher you will be told which retailers you can use it with. Then you can head down to the store and take a look at the options and try some out with the help of someone at your local bike shop.

If you aren’t using a cycle to work scheme you will have a wide choice of local bike shops you can head to for help and assistance.

It is important that you get a bike that fits you, a frame that is too large or too small can make you extremely uncomfortable on the bike and may cause injuries so its important to follow the guidance offered, most brands will have sizing guides indicating which frame size will be most suited to your height, however it is important to still try these out to ensure it feels comfortable to you, many size guides have a border where 2 frame sizes may be suitable for that height, but it is absolutely important to make sure you are comfortable (you are going to be spending a lot of time on this bike).

Here I am not going to tell you what bike or brand to buy as this will depend on a number of factors; the bikes stocked by your local shop or available on the cycle to work scheme, the brands suitable for people of your height (some brands offer a larger variety of frame sizes than others), and if you are anything like me you will want the bike to be something that makes you smile, a nice design, pretty colours etc (disclaimer, you should not buy a bike purely based on colour/design – but if it makes you smile you are more likely to take it out riding).

It is not necessary to purchase a bike that is brand new, you may wish to look at second hand options, however if you wish to do this please ensure that you buy a bike that is suitable for your needs, the right fit (as mentioned above, check the brand size guides) and I’m sorry to have to say this but please do your best to ensure that the bike is not stolen. Unfortunately bike theft is very common and many people attempt sell on the stolen bikes through common platforms such as EBay, Gumtree etc. So please look out for warning signs. If the price looks too good to be true there is likely a reason. Make sure you ask the seller for the serial number and then you can check the serial number on Bike Index or Bike Register and these sites will tell you if the bike has been reported stolen.

If you are buying second hand I would also recommend where possible you take a knowledgeable friend with you to help look over the basic mechanics of the bike and do a quick visual check of the size and fit. As mentioned before buying the bike is an investment and you will be spending a lot of time on your bike over the coming months so please make sure it is right for you and you will be happy and comfortable with your bike.

If you are new to cycling and purchase a bike second hand it is also advisable to take it for a quick check/service at your local bike shop before heading out on an adventure.

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And now?

You have your bike and feel ready to start riding, you probably already have some comfortable clothing that you can wear on your first few rides, along with some trainers, however there are a few more things you need to ensure you have before you get going:

Helmet: all cyclists will need a helmet – regardless of your opinion on this they are mandatory for RideLondon and quite frankly just a good idea full stop. I had a nasty accident a few years ago and I know the outcome would have been quite different if I hadn’t had a helmet on and have many friends who have had similar experiences. They will be a requirement if you decide to join a club, and also on any other sportives. They really do save lives, you can buy many different designs, colours etc. But this is the difference between saving your head in the event of an accident or cracking it open. Harsh but true. Buy a helmet, wear a helmet, be safe.

Basic supplies in case of mechanical issues or punctures: yep, unfortunately sometimes things go wrong… hopefully not often… But you will need to carry spare inner tubes and/or a puncture repair kit, along with a pump and/or co2 canisters. Tyre levers are also a good thing to have and a cheap addition to your bike kit (trying to get the tyre off the wheel without them is not fun) and I would also recommend carrying a multitool in your bike kit. This can all be stored either in your pockets, in a small backpack if you are comfortable carrying one, or in a neat little saddle bag that hangs (as the name suggests) under your saddle (seen on the floor in this picture as I was using some of the items from within it).

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Lights: A legal requirement between sunset and sunrise, however always a good idea to have lights fitted especially if you will be riding when the light starts to fade in the evenings or on dreary days.

Reflectors: Many new bikes will come with reflectors fitted front and back and most standard pedals have front and rear reflectors. To be street legal for use at night all bikes must have a rear reflector and front and rear reflectors on the pedals. Its also a good idea to have reflective areas on your clothing, and I also use reflective ankle bands during my rides in the dark.

For some further information on the lighting (and reflector) regulations in the UK this is a useful link.

Now you have the basics you are ready to ride…

I think that’s probably enough from me on this post… Congratulations if you got to the end.

I hope this post was helpful, let me know if you have any questions on the above post and I’ll add another one soon on the next steps, getting used to cycling, what help is available, suitable clothing, increasing your distances, joining a local club etc.

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