Cycling is great way to build your fitness quickly and complement your other training. Your leg muscles will essentially build themselves, and it will also improve your core strength and general coordination. But getting started can be a little daunting. If you’ve ever seen a bunch of lycra-clad cyclists zipping along, you may have thought they look a bit silly, or a little intimidating, or maybe they’re just crazy. It’s hard to understand the thrill of cycling from the outside, but if you’re keen to give it a go, here’s a quick guide on how to get started.
Types of bicycles
Your two best options are either a road bike or a hybrid. Road bikes are ridden by pro-cyclists and amateurs alike, and the lightweight design of the bike allows for speed and long distance riding. The positioning is a bit different to a regular bike. It’s more of a forward lean to the handlebars, creating a slight slant in the back, making you more aerodynamic (and speedy!). This can feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but if you’ve ever done a spin class, you’ll probably be fairly comfortable on a road bike.
Hybrids are a mix between a road bike and a commuter bike. They are a good entry-level option, and perfect for those who haven’t ridden a bike for years (they’re also a lot more affordable). This is more like the type of bike you would have ridden as a kid. However, they’re heavier and therefore you’ll fatigue much quicker than on a road bike. They also have wider tyres and you sit more upright. If you’re wanting to commute a short-medium distance to work to improve your fitness, a hybrid will suit you fine. They’re also great if you want to stick to bike paths or trails.
If you’re serious about cycling, and you want to be able to bike long distances, you’ll want a road bike. They take some getting used to, but once you’ve got the hang of it, I guarantee you’ll never want to go back to a regular bike.
Gear you’ll need
I recommend getting a bike with ‘clipless’ pedals and proper cycling shoes, which have a cleat on the bottom that slots into a groove in the pedal. This allows for a smoother pedalling motion, decreasing the risk of injury and rate of fatigue. You can get away with standard plastic pedals on a hybrid, but clipless pedals are a must for a road bike.
You may abhor the idea of lycra, but your butt and legs will thank you! There’s a reason that people wear lycra, despite the funny looks. A cycling kit consists of a jersey (top) and knicks (shorts). The knicks have built in cushioning, which makes riding SO much more comfortable, and the compression of the lycra helps with recovery (side note: do not wear underwear with your knicks, there’s no need). The jerseys are less essential, but their tight fit means that it won’t flap around like a t-shirt or regular gym shirt, which at higher speeds is a godsend. Jerseys also have convenient pockets built into the back, as road bikes don’t generally come with a lot of storage space. A word of warning about lycra: tan lines. Enough said.
You’ll also want to attach a bottle cage or two to your bike, and take plenty of water (or even a sports drink if you’re riding in the heat). Dehydration can happen quickly on a ride, so you want to make sure you drink water before you feel thirsty.
Where to ride
If you’re new to cycling, I’d recommend starting out on the paths. You may have to share with pedestrians, but that’s a lot less daunting than sharing a road with cars when you’re starting out. Paths are built for slower rides, where you can take in some scenery and ease your way into riding. As long as the path is sealed, there’s no reason you can’t start out riding your road bike on a path. Once you build your confidence, you can move on to the roads. Joining a cycling club or group is a great way to learn road riding skills. Groups usually ride at a set pace and this can help you push yourself more than solo riding.
The beauty of cycling is that you can go places inaccessible by car or foot. You’ll find new places, meet new people, and sculpt amazing legs that you can’t show off (see above-mentioned tan lines). People look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I get up at 5.00am on a Sunday to go ride 50km. Despite the hours spent in the saddle and the early mornings, it never feels like a chore, or even exercise. It’s pure enjoyment with so many benefits: increased energy and strength; better moods and sleep. I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my gym training since I started cycling. Workouts that used to exhaust me now only generate a light sweat. I can lift heavier and run further.
Yes, we cyclists are a crazy breed. But once you’ve had a go and seen the light, you’ll be hooked too.
Are you currently living the cycling life? What impact has it had on your training? Let me know in the comments below.