Cycling can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. Especially if you're new to cycling. To help motivate beginner cyclists to become biking pros, we've picked the brains of some of the top cycling bloggers
Cycling can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. Especially if you're new to cycling.
To help motivate beginner cyclists to become biking pros, we've picked the brains of some of the top cycling bloggers in the UK.
These bikers have been there before and want to share their top tips.
They also want to talk about how you can avoid the common sports related injuries that can affect cyclists.
Meet the Experts
Why do you enjoy cycling?
I love cycling because it's like a meditation for me. On the road it's only me, my bike and my thoughts. Cycling helps me clear my mind, focus on things that matter and of course, it helps me be active and keep fit.
I also love cycling because of the freedom I feel when I am on my bike, not to mention the beautiful views and surroundings I get to experience.
What would be your advice to encourage people to start cycling?
Cycling is not a difficult sport and really easy to start with. When you are a beginner, traffic can be intimidating, so use traffic-free routes and as you get more confident try quieter roads.
You set your pace and difficulty yourself, so if you feel you are quite unfit, you will be able to cycle - just start on a level you are comfortable with.
Do you have any tips when bike riding abroad?
Don't overplan your trip. Being committed to being in a particular place on a particular day due to accommodation bookings, etc, takes all the flexibility out of cycling. Use an app on your phone to find your accommodation when you arrive in a town or city or do as I do most of the time and take a tent.
Cyclists will never be turned away by campsites, especially if you are travelling alone.
What are the best and worst countries for cycling in Europe?
Europe is such a wonderfully eclectic place that I have yet to discover the 'best' and 'worst' places to cycle as all countries have their good and bad sides. The Netherlands and Denmark have wonderful, safe cycling infrastructure, but no great mountains to climb and look down from and gaze in wonder at the view.
On the other hand, Albania has some comically dreadful roads and fearsome drivers to contend with but some of the most magnificent scenery on the continent.
Aside from the cycling, the people you meet are often what makes or breaks a long cycle tour and I'm delighted to report that I have discovered that in every country through which I have cycled in Europe (and that is now 19 of them) I have discovered some wonderfully welcoming people.
Why do you enjoy cycling?
I love cycling for many reasons. Firstly, it's a great way of keeping fit, and for most of us whose lives are pretty busy already, it doesn't have to take up loads of time.
In fact, sometimes it can save you time - cycling can often be quicker than driving, especially if there's loads of traffic.
It's also so much better for the environment than driving and it's a fab way of fitting a little adventure into your everyday. Cycling to work, the shops or just out for the day gives you the chance to explore routes and places you couldn't by car.
Do you have any tips for people bike riding outdoors or in the countryside?
Wear padded cycling shorts (especially if you're cycling a long distance on a new bike!) Trust me, I learnt the hard way. Wear protection, particularly when riding on roads. The advice is there for a reason. I've heard enough horror stories, that I really don't mind looking like a flashing, luminous numpty.
But most of all, enjoy the ride. Savour the fresh air, the sunlight, your surroundings. You'll be home soon enough, longing for the next ride!
How safe are UK roads for cyclists?
The short answer is, not very safe at all. The KSI rate (killed or seriously injured), both by distance and time, far exceeds all other modes of transport, with the exception of motorcycles.
This doesn't mean that cycling is intrinsically unsafe - the KSI rate for cycling in the Netherlands is around 3-4 times lower than in Britain. As a point of reference, there are approximately 100 cycling fatalities each year in Britain; if cycling was as safe as in the Netherlands, around 80 of these fatalities simply wouldn't happen.
It should also be borne in mind that these risk comparisons are likely to substantially underestimate the danger posed by Britain's roads, principally because more vulnerable users (children, who are more likely to make mistakes, misjudgements and errors, and the elderly, who are more frail and prone to injury) are greatly underrepresented in the British cycling population.
A considerably larger proportion of the amount of cycling in the Netherlands is undertaken by children and the elderly than in the UK. To take just one example, 40% of all trips made by those under the age of 17 in the Netherlands are made by bike. The equivalent figure for the UK is 2%.
Furthermore, roads that might appear to be 'safe' according to casualty statistics will often be objectively dangerous - they are only 'safe' in the sense that very few people are prepared to cycle on them.
Why is cycling in the Netherlands better than cycling in the UK?
The Netherlands has a dense, high-quality cycle network, and the UK doesn't!
In practice this means that, almost anywhere in the Netherlands, you can cycle from A to B in comfort and safety, with negligible inconvenience.
Main roads will almost always have protected cycleways on them; access roads will be genuinely quiet and pleasant to cycle on, as they are designed not to form through-routes for motor traffic; and on top of that there are direct cycle-only connections between destinations.
Journeys are easy and enjoyable, with very limited interactions with motor traffic. Cycling is taken seriously as a mode of transport.
This kind of care and consideration is almost entirely absent in Britain. It is extremely rare to find protected cycleways on main roads. Even in London, where some of this infrastructure now has a relatively high profile, there are only around 12 miles of it.
This means that, across the country, cycling journeys will inevitably involve dealing with motor traffic, either on main roads, or on allegedly 'quiet' streets that will often be intimidatingly busy.
At best, people cycling will have to trade off safety and comfort against inconvenience - the direct journey involving cycling on hostile roads, the alternative being to cycle semi-legally on footways or on circuitous, indirect routes.
What are the best cycling apps on your smartphone?
I'm a fan of Strava, which allows me to see the various rides my friends have been on. I've also actually built an iPhone app for cyclists myself - called Bike Doctor which helps you maintain your bike.
For viewing, Open Cycle Maps and getting directions both BikeHub and CycleStreets are excellent.
Do you have any tips or advice for those cycling in cities?
If you are not confident about cycling in a city, I would thoroughly recommend going on a cycle training course. They'll teach you some skills which will completely change the experience. I found it incredibly valuable.
What cycling kit should beginners get?
I’m going to be really obvious and say ‘a bike’; spend as much as you can afford and completely ignore those that advise the lightest carbon fibre on the shop floor. that’ll come later when you’re totally smitten.
Apart from that, get a well-fitting pair of cycling shorts and wear them like you just don’t care, a quality helmet from a reputable brand and some decent shoes, cleated or otherwise, depending on your sense of adventure.
What are the best cycling accessories for beginners?
Cycling can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it, but some extra bits and pieces never did anyone any harm. I’d suggest a pair of padded cycling mitts, a ‘proper’ cycling jersey with three rear pockets and a cotton cycling cap (worn with the peak down).
If you need to know where you might be going wrong, grab a copy of Velominati’s ‘The Rules’ and commit them to memory. They’ll ensure you never take yourself too seriously.
What cycling kit is essential for experienced cyclists?
There are a few items of kit that I would deem to be essential for more experienced riders. As a beginner, you often buy fairly basic, entry-level versions of things because you’re not sure how much you’ll use them – or how useful they will be. Once you’ve been cycling for a while you’ll probably be looking to upgrade a few things.
I’d say a really good pair of bib shorts (or tights, depending on the season) is essential. You might have been wearing own brand shorts as a newbie, and they were probably ok – but once you’re really putting in the miles, compressive fabrics and high density chamois pads make a big difference to the comfort of your derrière.
We’re really big fans of Rivelo who make excellent bib shorts and tights with really robust chamois pads
In a similar vein, it’s time to get fitted for a really great saddle, rather than the one which came with your bike. Does that one actually fit you? Do you know the width of your sit bones? If not, go to a specialist shop where they can measure your sit bones and find you a supportive saddle. As a female cyclist, this was invaluable for me and eradicated painful saddle sores.
Vamper.cc co-editor Matt also found it really helpful to switch to a saddle which gave him more support after he damaged his coccyx.
Finally, if you’re committed to cycling and won’t let a spot of rain put an end to your enjoyment, you’ll be looking for a great waterproof jacket. We’ve been blown away by the Gore Shakedry range which is madly waterproof, and madly compact, folding up small enough to pop in a jersey pocket. A fabulous item of kit.
What are the best cycling accessories for experienced cyclists?
A great bike computer is a brilliant thing. We both started with Garmins, which were good, but we have recently switched to the Wahoo Elemnt which is fantastic. There was a period of adjustment, as the interface is quite different – but we love how easy it is to sync and upload rides to Strava when we’re out and about, and the devices look great, too.
A really good pump is pretty vital. It’s handy to carry a CO2 canister on rides for emergencies, but to get your tyres to the right pressure you want a great track pump at home and a good compact pump in your back pocket.
We really rate Airsmith pumps from Neos Cycling – we didn’t have any expectations when we first tried them but they’re fantastic. The Lifeline Professional Track Pump is also great to keep at home.
Which muscles does cycling workout?
As you might expect, cycling is focused mainly on the leg muscles. You’ll exercise your thighs, hamstrings, calves, hips and backside, while cycling also requires your core muscles to help you stay balanced.
The type of cycling you do will also have an effect. For example, mountain biking needs more upper body strength to keep you going along those uneven surfaces.
What are the fitness benefits of cycling?
Cycling is a low-impact exercise, which means it’s kinder on your joints than something like running. If you suffer from injuries to your ankles, knees, hips and lower back, cycling is a perfect way to stay fit.
A brisk cycle will burn around 500 calories per hour, so it’s a good choice if you’re looking to lose weight. It also helps you improve your balance, while many cyclists will tell you that heading out on your bike is a great way to deal with stress.
What other forms of exercise help you improve at cycling?
While cycling has many benefits, it only needs limited movement patterns. Incorporate some strength training into your exercise routine and pay particular attention to your back and lower body.
This will reduce your risk of muscle injuries, allow you to pedal faster for longer and reduce muscle tightness, meaning you feel more comfortable on your bike.
And if you're looking for general advice on staying healthy or want to discuss any concerns, you can talk to a doctor online now.