My dad has been a cycling enthusiast from a young age. He used to race up and down the country as a teenager, and even now, he still enjoys cycling. He’s currently watching the Tour de France as I write this… so is it any wonder I’ve ended up with a keen interest in cycling too?!
I’m not on the same level as my dad. You won’t find me cycling super long distances or competing in races. I prefer to enjoy it as a hobby, at a rather more leisurely pace than my dad. But I’m passionate about the benefits of cycling.
Benefits of cycling
- It’s a social activity – going for a ride in pairs or a small group is great. You don’t get as breathless as you would running, so you can chat as you ride. You could even consider joining a local club where all abilities are welcome to attend regular group rides.
- It gets you from A to B – cycling is a method of transport that’s good for you and the environment. Cycling infrastructure is improving all the time, with more money being invested in designated cycle lanes. Bike to Work schemes are also really beneficial – you could save a lot of money buying a bike through the scheme, as well as saving money by pedaling your way to work instead of your usual commute on the train.
- It keeps you fit – taking your bike for a spin burns calories and you’ll cover surprising distances in a short space of time. As a low-impact activity, it is better for your joints than running, and if you have asthma like me, I find it puts less stress on my lungs too. So I can keep fit without feeling like an elephant is sat on my chest!
- It’s fun – sport doesn’t have to be a chore. An enjoyable activity like cycling can transform your view of sport. You can grab your bike and go on a cycling adventure exploring with friends as a fun day out – it doesn’t even feel like exercise when you’re enjoying yourself.
- It’s easy – some sports require a lot of investment of time and money, but anyone can get into cycling without spending too much money or giving up too much time. It’s worth investing in a bike as long as you know you’ll get plenty of use out of it, but these days, many cities have bikes available to hire for a few pound a day, and you really don’t need much else.
Top tips to get you started
If you’re just starting out in the world of cycling, here are some tips for beginners to get you on the road (excuse the pun):
Whether you’re cycling on the road, through a park, down a mountainside, or along a cycle trail, always wear a helmet! Cycling isn’t a fashion show – your hair doesn’t need to look good. It’s far more important that your bonce is protected if you crash or fall off your bike. Helmets aren’t expensive and they save lives, so this is a must!
Dos and Don’ts: If you intend to cycle at night, dusk or winter time, you should invest in lights and reflective clothing. You should never wear earphones to listen to music while cycling – you need to use all your senses to be alert and avoid an accident, and listening to music might make you miss the sound of an approaching car. It’s also handy to have a bell to alert others to your presence and prevent you causing an accident yourself.
Learn the basics
Everyone starts off their cycling journey as a beginner. Whether you’re only just learning to ride a bike, or your getting back into it after learning as a child, it may be worth looking into a cycling proficiency course. This will give you the basics about riding safely and riding on roads, which can be a daunting prospect for a beginner.
Invest in a bike
Bikes can be an expensive purchase, so you need to do your research to find the best bike for you. Did you know there are different types of bikes? From mountain bikes, to road bikes, and electric bikes to hybrids, you need to know what you intend to use it for before purchasing one. It’s worth speaking to a specialist in a bike shop for advice before you search for good deals.
To help with the cost of buying a bike, look into Cycle to Work schemes in your workplace, or browse some pre-loved bikes for a good bargain on Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace. These tips can save you a lot of money, but if you’re just not ready to invest, why not see if you can borrow a bike, hire one, or use the Next Bikes in cities around the country?
Basic bike maintenance is a must. I’ll never forget the time my chain fell off and I had to push my bike all the way home because I didn’t know how to fix it. Before you go out for a ride, check your brakes work, oil your chain and pack some emergency tools (an inner tube, tyre levers and pump are a good start). There are loads of great tutorials on YouTube, so you can teach yourself how to pump up your tyres, fix a chain and deal with a puncture while out and about.
After your ride, it’s wise to clean your bike too, especially if it’s got wet and muddy (top tip – fit mudguards to keep you and your bike a little bit cleaner and drier and to avoid muddy spray in the face). This gives you a chance to inspect your chain, gears and brakes for sticks, stones and grit that might cause problems further down the line.
Where to cycle
Wherever you live, there’ll be somewhere nearby where you can cycle. For indoor cycling, why not try a local velodrome – they often offer taster sessions for beginners. If you’re looking for adventure, look out for off road tracks like Gethin Park or Cwmcarn Forest in South Wales. In cities, find the dedicated bike lanes and parks where cycling is allowed. And for leisurely rides, try national trails and cycle routes like the Taff trail. Welsh Cycling has some great resources and suggestions.
You don’t need to spend a lot on new kit for cycling. Most gym-wear is ideal. But I’ve found it really helpful to wear clothes with pockets so I can store my house key and inhaler safely. Thin layers are also a good idea as they keep you cool in summer, and extra layers keep you warm in winter. Always dress for the weather – if it’s cold, wear gloves, a buff and a beanie hat under your helmet. If it’s wet, wear a thin, breathable waterproof. And if it’s sunny, wear sun cream – trust me, you’ll burn without it and end up with very interesting tan lines! And always take a drink of water to keep you hydrated!
How to begin
So now you’ve got the basics under your belt, grab your bike and go! If you’re brand new to cycling, don’t push yourself too much – start on small gears and on flat routes. The national cycle network is ideal as you won’t be distracted by passing traffic. Start off with shorter distances and build up gradually – you might find you go further with a friend than you would on your own. Always take a drink (fit a bottle holder to your bike for convenience) and consider taking high energy snacks on longer rides. But above all, enjoy it!