Cycling: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known

Now, if you had asked me a couple of years ago what I thought of cyclists, I was a fully-fledged member of club: it’s desperately uncool/they look like idiots/why don’t they get a car. But, after a flurry of golds at Rio 2016 and a watch of the Armstrong and Pantani docs on Netflix, I was converted and picking my dream bike.

Fast forward a further twelve months and my lunch hours are now spent looking at lyrca and saddles. There are a few things I’d wish I’d known, though, listed below.

1. Set realistic goals

It may seem obvious, but if you don’t you may end up with a puncture, miles from home, knackered and completely soaked through. Trust me on this one. I took the attitude that, hey, it’s a bike, if I get tired, I can go a bit slower, I’ll still be moving. Yes, that is theoretically correct, but don’t make the mistake of thinking the ability to run 10 miles around the local park means you’ll be able to hop on a bike and take on 50 miles of undulating gradients straight off the bat. You won’t.

Head out for 30 minutes, enjoy it. Ignore the stream of passing cyclists, you’ll soon be dropping newbies yourself. Get used to the bike, build your confidence and gradually increase your mileage.

If you want to track your performance and ace familiar routes, the Strava app is a no brainer. The iPhone/Android app features detailed breakdowns of everything you could need for tracking two wheels, from speed to heart rate. Just try not to get too obsessive about beating your best times, Portland Pace has haunted me for the best part of 6 months. The app doesn’t take blind corners or roundabouts into account, so be safe and avoid jumping reds for the sake of saving a few seconds.

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2. Don’t be ashamed, wear the right kit

It’s there for a reason. Like most people, I saw commuters decked out in figure-hugging gear, parading around the office, swanning off for a shower at 10am, and used to think dicks, they’ve worked the system – is it really necessary?

In the same way you wouldn’t play football in a cable-knit jumper, jeans and dessert boots, wearing the right gear, however unflattering, makes being comfortable on the bike a hell of a lot easier. It can be a little pricey as you’ll need special shoes, bib shorts, tops, rain jackets…. but the investment is well worth it in the long run, especially if you’re going to be commuting.

An easy way to prepare for work is to take five days’ worth of clothes in on Monday. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a sweat-drenched shirt during an important meeting.

And buy some anti-chaffing cream, you don’t want to find out why the hard way.

3. Discover your inner mechanic

In all honestly, it’s probably my favourite thing about getting into cycling. Pissing about with your saddle, tweaking to the perfect height; adjusting cleats, improving the efficiencies of your peddle strokes; even cleaning your bike, because a clean bike is (unsurprisingly) a fast bike.

With regards to cleaning… I took a chance on propping it in the bath, which left the place looking like a coal mine. Thankfully Muc-Off Degreaser will rinse of literally anything. So good you can even use it as a general clean, if you don’t mind your home smelling like a Halfords, that is.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, finding guides for basic repairs is a breeze. GCN’s (Global Cycling Network) YouTube is the bible for handy how tos, from chain repairs to indexing gear.

The tools required for such tasks can be a little pricey, but the initial outlay is more than worth it in the long run.

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4. Other people may not be that interested

This may come as a surprise, but friends, family and colleagues may not be as keen to hear about your new love for groupsets.

Keep your inner bike nerd to the cycle clubs and GCN comments section or you’ll be confined to the spare room; drawer for jerseys, tools and parts out of sight under the bed, stand in the far corner for your bike.

I’ve felt the full force from my girlfriend.

5. You’re probably going to get knocked off, so know your stuff

Is cycling dangerous? Possibly too broad a question for this humble 5-point list. Knowing what do following a collision is essential, though .From personal experience, I got knocked off turning into a junction.

It was dark, I was flustered and more concerned with making sure my bike was ok than getting the driver’s details. He went on his way and I was left ringing up Camden and Westminster Councils and London Zoo for CCTV footage. Unfortunately, I happened to have my crash in the one part of the capital with zero coverage, leaving me to foot the bill for a broken wheel.

This is all because I took his number plate without double checking, making it near impossible to trace. So, easier said than done, but do try to remember these 6 simple steps:

1) Get out of the road, best not to get hit again.

2) Give yourself a quick once-over . Forget the bike for a second. If you’re injured or think you may have lost consciousness, ring for an ambulance and the police.

3) Take the driver’s name, address and insurance information. Sadly, some people are dicks and will scurry. Double check it while you’re there, ring the number they gave, get right up to the number plate etc.

4) Swap details with witnesses. Makes solving a dispute further down the line easier. File with the police, preferably within 24 hours of the incident happening.

5) Have your bike inspected by a mechanic, your frame may be bent or your wheels may be knocked out of life. Get a damage report and quotes, so you know how much you’re entitled to.

6) If it’s relatively serious or your bike is written off, it can be a good idea to chat to a no win, no fee firm. They can handle some of the leg work in exchange for a cut.

Most importantly: enjoy it!

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