Progressing as a new cyclist

This is a follow up post to the recent one I wrote about getting started into cycling. In that post I talked about how to try cycling in a safe environment and also things to consider when buying a bike and getting ready for your first proper ride on it. If you missed that post you can read it here.

So you have your bike – now what? 

You’ve been for a little trial ride on a hired or borrowed bike, decided to persevere with cycling. You’ve bought a bike, a helmet, lights etc. But you are still not sure what comes next or how to progress and gain some confidence.

Now this depends on the level of confidence you already have.

No confidence/very little confidence

I would suggest that you take your bike to the local cycle centre and continue to practise in this safe, off-road environment. Most cycle circuits have some small hills and some turns etc. so you can practise stopping, starting, changing gear and general bike handling skills in a safe environment. Keep to the left of the track so faster cyclists can pass on your right and take things at your own pace. If you need a bit more assistance then you can book some lessons with a cycling coach at the cycle centre, they are used to helping beginners and under confident cyclists and will be patient and understanding.

When you are happy with the handling, braking and general bike skills then you can progress to quiet cycle paths until you have the confidence to do some riding on the road or in busier environments.

Happy with basic skills but would like some assistance

There is an initiative funded by TFL whereby residents of most London boroughs can have access to free lessons to develop their cycle skills. More information can be seen on the TFL website here. I am afraid I don’t know if other cities have similar initiatives but if you are aware of any I would love to hear about them. You can contact the company that run these lessons – Cycle Confident, and they will arrange for you to have suitable lessons, their website shows the courses they do and the boroughs they work with. For anyone based in Havering (near me) this link provides the information on what you can do in Havering. This includes free 1:1 cycle lessons for basic, urban or advanced cycle skills and also the option of some family cycle skills training, what a great way to start you off training for your event – get the whole family involved and learn together.

Ready to head out on some longer rides but need some confidence and support

British Cycling have teamed up with HSBC to offer the ‘Lets ride’ initiative. These are guided rides, a ride leader has planned the route, will help with any punctures or minor mechanical issues and will be encouraging. You can find details of rides near you (in the UK) on the Let’s Ride Website. They describe the rides as:

‘It’s easy. It’s free. And it’s a fantastic day out for the whole family, with friends, or just on your own. You’ll meet new people, improve your fitness, and get more confident on your bike.’

What better way to gain confidence and build up your mileage.

As part of this initiative it is also possible to join a female only ride for any women who would feel more comfortable in a female only environment, these are the Let’s Ride Breeze rides and again details can be found on their website here.

Comfortable on your bike for slightly longer periods, ready to progress and get training for RideLondon

Well done! You have made it this far. Now hand on heart I would say the best way to progress here is to join your local cycling club. I know its many peoples worst nightmare, starting at a club when you feel like you wont know anyone, people might judge you, or you won’t be good enough. I’ve had all these feelings myself. But honestly miles pass so much quicker in a group, the large majority of the cyclists I have met so far have been incredibly supportive, understanding and an absolutely pleasure to ride with. They can offer tips, show you new routes, and become great cake and coffee buddies. Nothing beats exploring new areas with like minded people barely noticing the miles pass by. Most clubs have groups of varying levels so head along to a beginners or intro session initially to get to know people and ride an easy route to get used to riding with the group (don’t join a hilly route on your first week – most people can’t chat and climb hills at the same time). You can find your local cycling club on British Cycling’s website some local bike shops also organise their own group rides so get involved whenever you can.

You can still consider using a course such as the Cycle Confident advanced cycle skills course if you want some direction, and many cycle centres will also offer advanced coaching.

Get out on the road as much as you can, go exploring, on the day those 100 miles will all be outside in whatever weather conditions happen to be around that day, so its good to get used to riding in all weathers if you can as bike handling can change quite dramatically in the wind or the rain, you want to be confident during your sportive so put the practise in.

What do I wear?

Now clothing is always going to be personal preference. When I first started cycling I just used my gym leggings and vests, I could do over 100 miles in my normal gym clothing. My bike fitted well (I highly recommend getting a professional bike fit) and I had reasonable core stability so I was not uncomfortable on my saddle. However with plans to ride over 270 miles to Paris in 24hrs I bought some cycle specific clothing, padded shorts, jerseys with pockets and I eventually progressed to wearing cycle shoes and using cleats.

You may feel that you need more padding etc. for comfort and there are many different cycling brands that provide clothing, male and female specific with different shaped pads to suit. Again here is trial and error really, you need to find clothing that is comfortable and suits you.

Please don’t feel under pressure to ‘look like a cyclist’. I have been over taken many times by people wearing casual loose clothing riding a foldable bike. Appearance means nothing.

But if you do want to progress to cleats I recommend going back to step 1 of my previous blog post and practising in a park or safe quiet area. Personally I went to an area where there was a fence I could hang on to whilst I practised clipping in and un-clipping, and then road a few miles along a cycle path till I was comfortable going back to my normal ride routes and distances. I’m not going to go into details here but if you have any other questions about making the swap from flat pedals to cleats just message me and I will do my best to help or point you in the right direction.

So now you have chosen a suitable bike (suitable for both the event you have planned and your future needs) had some assistance learning to handle the bike and gaining confidence, found groups of local people to ride with, built up your fitness and mileage – you are ready for the event.

Good luck, have fun with your training and let me know how you get on!