How to get on your bike and where to begin with cycling

You can’t have missed the bike revival that has taken place over recent months. With massive numbers of people cycling during lockdown for their daily exercise, followed by people rejecting tubes and busses in favour of a bike when commuting to work.

I believe the numbers of cyclists can only increase further as the government is investing heavily in cycling infrastructure, as well as other incentives to encourage people to get back in the saddle, get fitter and avoid public transport. 

So, here’s my guide to starting out if you’re considering taking up cycling to work or for fun, post Coronovirus:

GET YOUR BIKE RIGHT

If you are buying a new bike, first consider the kind of riding you want to do and the typical route. If it’s hilly – make sure you get a bike with enough gears to handle it, if you’re 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 are hard work if you’re peddling uphill, lifting it up canal path stairs or storing it in your flat. So, factor in the weight of the bike if you have a lot of hills to conquer or you need to store it inside. 

If you already 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. 

PLAN YOUR ROUTE

The first thing I’m asked when I mention that I’ve 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 the country routes are in cycle maps that are easy to follow. For your local paths have a look on your council’s website – most of the maps are available there. 

Give yourself an extra 15 minutes to cycle, take the slightly longer, quieter route, get yourself lost and, most importantly of all, enjoy it. 

LOOK AFTER YOUR BACK

Get the bag off your back and onto the bike! Not only does it take the strain off your spine, it also reduces back sweat – something a backpack seems to create in very un-natural 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. 

JOIN A GROUP

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 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. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Ellis is 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. 

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