A Beginners Guide To Cycling
Whether you’re living with joint pain, arthritis or just looking for a new way to get active, finding an activity you enjoy is key. By enjoying something you’re more likely to stick at it and make it part of your regime.
In 2018 it was reported that 42% of people living in Great Britain had access to or owned a bicycle.
As a low-impact exercise, cycling offers a good form of cardio and is a great way to stay active without putting undue stress on your joints. What’s more, cycling, if done properly, keeps your knees moving through their full range of motion.
If you’re interested in getting into cycling - something the government have recommended in light of the ongoing Covid-19 situation - we’ve put together some simple tips to help you get started.
Servicing an existing bike
It might be you’ve already got a faithful set of wheels in your garage, shed or attic. This is always a good place to start to see if cycling is right for you.
Before you set off on an old bike consider the following:
1. Are the brakes in good working order?
2. Are the tyres at pressure?
3.Is the chain in relatively good condition?
If in any doubt take your old bike to a local bike shop. For a relatively low price, most bike shops will give your bike a service and make it roadworthy and safe.
Buying a new bike
Bikes come in all shapes and sizes. From road and mountain bikes to foldable and hybrid, before you start your search, ask yourself first what its primary use will be?
Are you planning on hitting the open road at the weekend in your lycra? Fancy using it to get to the shops? Want it for your daily commute? Perhaps you just want to keep up with the kids in the park?
If you’re living with joint wear and tear or osteoarthritis and think you might need a little hand, modern hybrid bikes feature chargeable electric motors that can take some of the strain off your muscles and joints.
Whichever route you decide, take your time choosing, set yourself a budget, draw up a shortlist and try to resist making an impulsive purchase.
If you’ve not bought a bike for yourself before, you’re advised to head to a specialist bike shop rather than taking a punt on a deal online. Don’t be shy to ask for advice. No matter how basic you think your questions are, they will be happy to help.
Remember, before you buy a new bike always take it for a test ride. This will give you a key insight into whether or not you like how it rides and the ride position.
Places to buy a bike
Local independent specialists
Get the right gear
It’s very easy to spend a lot of money on cycling equipment but you should never feel under pressure to do so. Below are some essentials with some optional extras you might like once you get up and running.
You want to be as safe as possible when on your bike (more on this below) so a helmet is a must. While no one plans on falling off a bike, a helmet can very well save your life if you do. Most modern helmets are adjustable to fit but it’s always good to try on a few to see which is the most comfortable.
It is advisable to have a simple light for the front and back of your bike. This is to make you more visible to other road users. Even during daylight setting your lights to flash can help draw attention to you.
If you’re planning on cycling through parks and along country lanes having a bell is great for alerting others to your presence. It can also help avoid any unnecessary collisions.
If you’re planning on cycling when it gets dark, lights are a must. As an additional measure, you might also want to think about reflective clothing. It’s just another way of drawing people’s attention to you on the road.
A good pair of cycling gloves can make a world of difference to your cycling comfort levels. If you’re cycling in anything but a very smooth surface (London roads, for example, are NOT smooth) then gloves can help absorb the bumps and help prevent repetitive strain in your hands.
Padded shorts or leggings
Depending on the saddle you’re using you might find after a long cycle you have a sore behind. Padded clothing can greatly reduce this and allow you to cycle in comfort.
Safety on the road
If you’re not experienced cycling on roads before, it can be a bit daunting at first. Don’t worry, you’ll build your confidence soon enough. At the same time, it’s also important to remember some very basic but important safety tips.
Know the rules
Before heading out on any road it’s good to have a working knowledge of the Highway Code. If you are a new road user there are lots of classes to help urban cyclists get up to speed quickly when it comes to riding in built-up areas.
This might sound obvious but always having your hands on your brakes can make the difference between a swift stop and a potential accident. By having your hands always positioned on your brakes you save precious metres in your stopping distance.
Ideally, you will be in a cycle lane if riding in a metropolitan area. When that’s not an option, it’s important to start with good road positioning; you don’t want to get too close to the kerb, where you might encounter slippery drains, potholes and debris.
By cycling a little more centrally you have more room to move into the left should a vehicle look to overtake you. This will also help you avoid the opening doors of parked cars. The cars driving behind you might have to wait, but that shouldn’t cause you any issue, you have as much right to use the road as they do.
Be sure to keep an eye on what’s around you, whether that’s drivers, fellow cyclists, pedestrians, road humps, potholes or puddles. All road users have the capacity to do something you don’t expect which makes road awareness very important. With that in mind, you shouldn’t be listening to headphones when you cycle nor should you be looking at your phone.
Make your intentions clear
It’s important to signal when you plan to make a turn. This will involve taking one hand off your handlebars so you may want to practice somewhere quiet before attempting it at any busy junctions.
Find the best route
There are a host of smartphone apps to help you find the best route to your destination.
Google Maps also has a ‘cycle’ option which will often allow you to choose a route that keeps you off busy roads. Remember, if you are planning on following a route on your phone, it’s a good idea to have your phone visible and securely attached to the handlebars. You don’t want to be distracted reaching for it in your pocket.
Do not feel pressure to keep up with the mad capped couriers and commuters. What’s more, the gears on a bike are your friends. Use them to find a level of peddling that suits how you want to ride in any given circumstance. If you’re cycling in metropolitan areas it’s always best to drop to a low gear when approaching a traffic light. This will mean you can accelerate easily away from the light changes rather than having to stand up in the peddles to get moving.
Cycling is a fantastic form of exercise and, thanks to being low-impact, it’s perfect for those living with arthritis or joint pain. But start slow, do some gentle warm-ups before you head off and most importantly, enjoy yourself.
Get all this right and you’ll find any excuse to get on your bike.