If you had told me this time last year, I would be back on my bike, cycling more than 40km (25 miles) in one outing and be confident to ride on main roads – I would have belly laughed so hard, I may have rolled on the floor and wet myself too.
Like most of us, I learnt to ride a bike as a child. I kind of remember the wobbles as the stabilisers came off, and I definitely have scars on my knees from peddling too fast around corners. Scuffs and scrapes aside, they are fond memories.
As a teenager growing up along the River Taff in Cardiff, a bike was a must for socialising with friends (and meeting boys). We would learn to ride with no hands on the handlebars and did thousands of miles in the school holidays, and got to explore a lot of the rural parts of the city. However, as college and working life started, the bike began to rust.
Can you even get a bike in your 30’s?
I broke my coccyx a few years ago, and I completely stopped exercising. I was afraid of falling and hurting myself again. Through lack of movement, the muscles in that area began to waste away and exercising hurt more because they were not strong enough to support my efforts. I had to preserve – even when I really didn’t want too – and began to enjoy swimming and spin classes in the gym.
I’m not sure where the idea of buying a bike came from, it could have been reflections on my childhood or finding a gym class I enjoyed. I purchased my first home away from my parents with Michael in August 2019. I told him that by next summer I wanted my own bike. I don’t think he took me very seriously and thought it was a whim. In my head, I thought I could use it on weekends when he was working, or if I was feeling incredibly energetic, I could take it on the train to work and then cycle home.
Getting a bike in lockdown
We all know that February and March of 2020 were like the beginnings of a global eradication film. Driving to work I was hearing of this new disease, the infection cases going up and then that we may be locked in our homes.
I seriously looked at getting a bike here. I had one in my online shopping basket so many times. My thought process was if there’s no petrol, I’ll still be able to get to my parents, or get the shops to buy us food. Mike, the sensible one, talked me out of it saying it wouldn’t be that bad.
As you may have realised by now, I got my bike. It was a birthday present in May. Not to be outdone, Michael got one for himself too. Alongside the wheels, I had a helmet, shock-absorbing gloves and the essential water bottle. I have since bought a phone caddy, where I can securely put my house keys and other small objects such as a lip balm, anti-bac, some sweets and an emergency £10. It means I can cycle without a cumbersome bag on my back.
Would I be all the gear and no idea?
I was nervous about getting back in the saddle, after nearly 20 years. Was I going to remember how to do it? How far was I going to be able to go? Would it be embarrassing to push the bike uphill, or would others get annoyed if I wasn’t going fast enough? None of these things matter.
We are so lucky to live with easy access to the Taff Trail. If we go left out of our estate, it takes you to Cardiff, or right takes you to Caerphilly, or through Rhondda Cynon Taff. The Taff Trail is actually 89km (55 miles) and goes from the Brecon Beacons to Cardiff Bay.
Initially, I would only go out when Mike was with me. I was anxious on the main roads, especially as I know how people drive on them. Luckily, with lockdown, they were much quieter than they usually were. We took the journeys slow and steady and often stopped to enjoy the scenery, catch our breath, or to rehydrate.
Like any exercise, the more you do it, the better your strength and stamina get. My legs would burn on big hills, I would overheat and tire quickly. This still happens, but it is manageable, and my recovery time is quicker. Now, we are going out for 3-4 hours at a time, covering up to 50km (31 miles). Now that “normality” is resuming, on the way home, we like to take a pitstop at our local pub for a celebratory pint.
It’s just like riding a bike!
It is true, you do not forget how to ride a bike. It has changed my life and my lifestyle. I didn’t think I’d get up early on the weekend and get some miles in – I’m a self-confessed lazy person.
So, what are my top tips for getting back in the saddle?
- A bike is an investment. Brand new they can cost anything from £150-1000’s. If you are not sure if you will like it, see if you can borrow one from a friend or hire one? Most large cities, like in Cardiff, have Nextbike a scheme where you can hire by the hour.
- Most local authorities have schemes that teach adults how to ride a bike if you have never done it before. Or, have courses on becoming more confident on the road. You’ll also learn how to fix a puncture and care for your bike. Many of the courses are free too!
- Like all exercise, don’t expect to be able to go out for hours straight away. Cardiff is very flat, and I find it easier when cycling there. However, going to RCT and Caerphilly is all uphill, and sometimes I can only manage 30 minutes (though coasting downhill to home is great fun).
- If you are going out on your own, plan your routes and stick to it. As much as trails are there to be explored, if you have an accident and are seriously hurt yourself, it’s good to know where you are.
What do you need to get back on your bike?
There are endless blogs and articles online that tell you what you need when you want to get into cycling, from getting a bike, to staying alert and knowing your rights of way. I think these are a bit obvious or will come with time, so here’s what you really need:
- A sports bra – it doesn’t need to be a high impact one, I mostly wear a light support (and I’m a busty lady). It just helps keep them contained and take the impact when going over bumps.
- Sunglasses or clear glasses – In bright weather, sunglasses definitely help with the glare. Even on overcast days, you’ll need some eye protection. There’s nothing worse than getting a bit of dust, or a bug flying at your face when you need to concentrate on the road or what’s in front of you.
- Skin and lip protection – with the sun or wind, lips can get chapped. I don’t usually have a face full of make-up on when I go out on my bike, but I always wear some SPF to protect my skin.
- A fitness tracker – I have a FitBit watch, but I know you can use Strava on your phone and probably a million other apps. However, it’s great to geek out at the numbers – see how far you’ve gone, how fast, the calories burnt, and the inclines and the declines. It gives you a great sense of achievement.
- A camera – you can use your phone camera too. Still, you’ll definitely want to stop and take in the views, scenery and take a snap of that new discovery.
- A bike rack – OK, so you may not want to get this one straight away, but by having this, you can take your bike with you on a staycation or even just explore trails slightly further from home.
What getting a bike has meant to me
Being furloughed, and now only working 16 hours a week from home, I can go days and even weeks without seeing people I know in real life. Even going out for 30-minutes on my bike can change my mood and outlook. Fresh air really does do wonders for your mental health, and the exercise has been fantastic for my physical wellbeing too. If you live near me, and fancy exploring together, just let me know!