Robin's Beginners Guide To Serious Cycling

The Cycle

To get the most out of cycling a key issue is that of comfort. To that end a recumbent cycle with its reclined seating position is the ultimate, for me anyhow. However a new rider is unlikely to spend the £400 plus required at the first stages. Mountain bikes can put a lot of strain on the shoulders, wrists and hands of new riders. So traditional racing type cycle with drop handlebars can be a better option if there's little time to acclimatise to a mountain bike. You get what you pay for and please don't buy a new £100 bike. Think of £200 as a minimum, it will last longer, be easier to ride and lighter. If starting out think about trying to borrowing one to start with. Then if you decide the bug is biting for real it's worth the time and money to find your perfect machine. There are a lot of good secondhand bikes around which can be found for less.

Saddles and bums are a problem area. Lycra cycling shorts feature a padded baboon chamois insert, however they cost of around £20 and the look might deter you if you don't have super fine contours like mine! Different saddles to suit your style are available and worth looking at if you don't get on with the one you've got. Gel saddles, with a barely perceptible inert gel cushion are excellent and worth the expense. For macho men the more the seat resembles a razor blade the better. To paraphrase the Sex Pistols "Never mind the bollocks, here's the saddle..."

Gel gloves/mitts or gel handlebar grips are available too, giving valuable cushioning to fragile hands. Looking over the bike with a little common sense should indicate any problem areas. Look especially at the brakes, gears, wheels and tyres and make sure there no loose nuts and bolts or screws. Try and keep it clean and some WD40 on the chain.

This is how to set up your position. Adjust the height of the saddle by placing the heel on the pedal with the crank in a direct line down from the seat tube thus with the ball of the foot on the pedal the left should be slightly bent. The arms should be slightly bent. If the reach is stretched move the saddle forward, but remember to check and readjust (if necessary) the saddle height.

A rack and pannier, saddlebag or bum bag is an essential for your emergency kit and rain top. You can start with a backpack, but you'll soon find them too hot and sweaty.

Dress

In cold weather you'll still find you warm up quite quickly so don't overdress. Several thin layers and some kind of jacket gives a flexible system. If you're not wearing a helmet look out your old bobble hat or bandanna and don't forget the gloves and some kind of waterproof. See above for comments on cycling shorts and gloves. Stiff soled shoes are best, trainers are fine but if you get keen cycling shoes are recommended. Be as bright as possible even the best of drivers can miss you (or get you!) give them every chance not to.

I've been badly run over but still don't wear a helmet all the time. There's all sorts of arguments either way. I'll always have a kamikaze streak in me and don't know if a helmet makes me think more before that wild downhill. Do whatever you are comfortable with, some of the current designs look great and give really good ventilation as well.

Food

Unless you really start cycling distance/racing seriously your normal balanced diet should be fine. But it's necessary to replace the thousands of calories you'll be burning. It's best to eat easily digestible food a little and often. before during and after the ride. These are good for on the ride: bananas, chocolate bars/biscuits and jam sandwiches. You can carbo-load the night before with giant pasta meals as well

Keep hydrated and drinking, water's fine a little better if it got some squash in it. There are various isotonic and carbohydrate sports drinks but these are really for serious sport. Try them before you use them in anger, some taste disgusting and "poisoning" yourself is not recommended! Cold fizzy drinks may be readily available at garages/corner shops you pass but are not recommended, that fizz don't give you wizz!

A banana (carbohydrate) after training is really good, it will speed recovery and help your fitness improvements.

For short rides (up to 50 miles) just water would do. But if you get in the habit of eating/drinking regularly you'll be better equipped if you decided to venture further. AUDAX rides are punctuated by controls at cafes and tea shops so you can keep topped up, plan tours in the same way if you can. And there's nothing wrong with a pub snack and even a beer.

Fitness

If you can walk seven miles you can cycle twenty. As a novice more pleasure will come from a 20 to 50 mile ride if you prepare with rides of short duration. Cycling is man's most efficient form of human powered transport, so it's not going to be hard. Riding around about 5 miles, which will take you about half and hour, once a week is ideal. Over the weeks you'll gain in confidence and strength and if you wish you can increase the distance and frequency. Six weeks of such rides should leave you suitably prepared for a 50 mile ride.

Bear you bum in mind on the initial rides. Mine is hardened from years of cycling and would be fine on barbed wire, but it took some breaking in. So if your bum is feeling sore don't be macho and wait for it to go through the pain barrier, Give it a rest. This is especially true for women who can complain of bruised coccyx.

If you wonder how fast you'll be going, a typical average touring speed is 14mph up to 17-18mph for the keener ones. On good flat roads 20 mph is easily sustainable, and 30-35mph on downhills.

Repair Kits/Essential Spares/Lights you'll need these too - until I get around to writing more just use your common sense!

Also see Secondhand Cycle Stuff For Sale