Cycling is such a versatile activity, and there’s a way in for almost anyone. Taking to two wheels can mean anything from a local errand to a countryside jaunt; an urban commute to a serious weekend workout. It’s a life-affirming pastime and the whole family can cycle together. Now the weather’s getting warmer, what are you waiting for?
What is cycling good for?
Apart from saving you cash and helping to preserve the planet, it’s great for all-round fitness. Cycling burns, on average, five calories a minute. It gives your heart and lungs a good workout, and tones and strengthens your legs and glutes. ‘Cycling is one of the easiest forms of exercise,’ says Becki Morris, women’s cycling project manager for British Cycling. ‘It’s low-impact, so it’s easier on joints than some other activities, and it gives you a wonderful sense of freedom.’
In a recent survey carried out by Cyclescheme, 50% of people said they lost weight in their first year of cycling, while 48% found themselves eating more healthily after becoming cycle commuters and 80% said they felt less stressed. Let’s not forget, getting active also reduces depression and the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and many cancers. Hitting the road for 20 miles a week reduces your risk of heart disease to less than half of someone who takes no exercise.
How do I get started?
Whether you’ve cycled in the past and lost your confidence, or have never made the transition from beginner to commuter or fitness cyclist, help is out there. Remember Cycling Proficiency lessons at school? ‘They still exist and for adults at all levels,’ says Becki. ‘They’re now called Bikeability schemes and are often subsidised by local councils. Trained instructors can help you build skills and confidence, whether you’re starting out or want to learn to cycle more safely in traffic.’ Find out more at bikeability.org.uk.
In a survey of 1,000 women carried out by the charity Sustrans, the most common reason cited for not cycling was fear over safety. But according to Cycling UK, you’re about as likely to be killed in a mile of cycling as a mile of walking – and more likely to be killed doing an hour’s gardening! The general risk is just 0.05 injuries per 1,000 hours of cycling. ‘If you’re feeling nervous, it makes sense to start cycling in traffic-free places such as parks and trails,’ says Becki. For details of the UK’s National Cycle Network’s 14,000 miles of traffic-free or quiet-road routes, visit sustrans.org.uk.
What equipment will I need?
If you don’t have a bike, consider borrowing or hiring one before you invest. If you’re dusting off your old rusty bike from the shed, it’s worth taking it along to a bike shop for a service to make sure it’s roadworthy before you hop on for a ride. If you’re going to buy a bike, check out second-hand options locally, or head to a nearby cycling shop, where they can help you make the best choice for your needs and budget. There are lots of different types, from road racer to mountain, electric to fold-up. And you can pay anything from £100 to £5,000 plus.
‘A good everyday option is a hybrid, which combines the speed of a road bike with the sturdiness of a mountain bike – and being upright, it gives you a good view of the road,’ says Becki. ‘Hybrids have multipurpose tyres, so are as good on roads as they are on trails and paths for weekend fun rides.’
One size doesn’t fit all
If the bike isn’t the right size for you, you won’t feel comfortable riding it. Any good shop should have trained specialists to help you find the correct size of frame for you – the position of the handlebars, brake levers, saddle height and tilt can all then be adjusted accordingly. Once you’ve got your bike, lights are a must. If you cycle at night or in poor visibility, it’s a legal requirement to have a white front light, a red rear light, a red rear reflector, and amber reflectors on the front and back of each pedal. Other useful investments include a helmet, gloves and padded shorts. Reflective and showerproof clothing is also handy for night-time and wet weather rides. And you’ll probably also need a lock, multi-tool and puncture repair kit.
How can I improve?
Finding someone else to cycle with is great for boosting your confidence and general experience of cycling. ‘One of the best ways is by joining the HSBC UK Breeze Network,’ says Becki. ‘This is a women-only group that organises free group rides and sportives of three to 60 miles for all levels – all over the UK. It’s a brilliant way to get fit, meet new friends and cycle in safety – and there’s usually a coffee stop…’ Visit letsride.co.uk/breeze to find and share routes, meet local cycling buddies, or join women-only rides and other organised rides for both men and women. You may also like to join one of over 1,700 British Cycling affiliated cycling clubs around the UK. ‘Don’t be intimidated,’ says Becki. ‘Lots have beginners groups and most let you try a few sessions before signing up. Cycling clubs are a good way into structured training and challenging rides, if you fancy them.’ Visit cyclinguk.org. Want more? Go to britishcycling.org.uk and look up ways to try different types of cycling, such as mountain biking, cyclo-cross or track racing.
5 of the best UK Cycling Routes
1. The Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire
A well-signposted family trail with plenty of picnic sites to stop off at and refuel.
2. Hanson Way, Oxfordshire
You don’t have to be a student to take advantage of Oxford’s cycle-friendly flatness. Follow the river south to Abingdon and Didcot, then hop on a train back to Oxford.
3. Millennium Coastal Park, Llanelli
According to Sustrans, this is one of the finest stretches of the National Cycle Network, part of the Celtic Trail.
4. Chocolate Tour, Birmingham
This seven-mile route starts in Birmingham and follows the Rea Valley to Cadbury World for a fun day with the kids. sustrans.org.uk
5. Clyde and Loch Lomond
A 20-mile cultural and picturesque ride from Glasgow to Loch Lomond, passing Dumbarton Castle. sustrans.org.uk
Find out what to eat before cycling here.