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Cycling: I wish I knew…

Cycling – a secret world of lycra, jargon and funny habits.

…But it doesn’t have to be. Having found out the hard way, our guest blogger shares his top tips for beginners.

Things I wish I knew when I started cycling

During a recent ride with a friend I was bemoaning the fact that there’s no user manual for new cyclists and that as a result you have to learn by making some mistakes. We were discussing clothing choices, but it applies to many aspects of cycling, whether you ride for fun, to commute or if you want to get more serious about it.

When I started cycling there were many things that I didn’t know; there were even some that I didn’t know I didn’t know. I’m not talking about the difference between Keirin and Kermesse or Peloton and Palmares; no, I mean the useful stuff that you’re supposed to learn during your ‘apprenticeship’. At 46 years of age and being an armchair fan of the Tour de France I didn’t think I had much to learn. Three years later I realise just how wrong I was.

After our discussion my friend suggested that I list out a few things that I know now that I wish I’d known at the start of this journey. So, here’s my list – it won’t be the same for everyone but I hope it will help even if it just highlights some questions you should ask.

On that last point, don’t ever be afraid to ask – almost all cyclists love talking about cycling so make the most of that. The guys on group rides, staff in the local bike shop, the bloke in the pub; everyone has a view. Just bear in mind that you are getting their perspective, not necessarily the ‘right’ answer for you.

Things I wish I’d known before I started cycling: tips from a beginner

  1. Bike choice is everything – get the right bike for the job. Mountain Bikes, Hybrids and Road Bikes are all built for specific uses and none of them are good outside of their ‘comfort zone’. Riding a heavy Mountain Bike with knobbly tyres on flat well-surfaced routes is hard work, as is using a Hybrid for long road rides.
  2. Getting the right cycling clothing is not just for the nerds. Believe me; cycling home in the rain wearing jeans is not just cold, it chafes and it’s hard work too. Sweating into your cotton t-shirt and shorts is almost as unpleasant.
  3. Cyclists can be incredibly hard to see and drivers are very short-sighted. However visible you think you are, you could be more visible.
  4. Riding solo is great, riding with a buddy is better, riding in a group is amazing. The conversation and camaraderie is really enjoyable but the guilty pleasure of getting a rest by cycling in someone’s slipstream will keep you wanting more.
  5. Hills might hurt your legs but in the end a headwind hurts them more. Downhill sections are brilliant, tailwinds are just something you dream of.
  6. If you’re male (and quite often female) and between 15 and 65; Audax means race, Sportive means race, club ride means race, Strava segment means race… You get the gist.
  7. There is a riding language consisting of hand-signals (no, not those) and calls that will help you avoid a lot of trouble if you learn it. The first time you puncture because of a pothole you’ll wish you’d noticed the signal from the rider in front.
  8. Waterproof, showerproof and windproof are very different things. ‘Breathable’ is an urban myth. There’s an expression that the number of bikes you need is n+1, where ‘n’ is the number of bikes you’ve got now. I’ve found that the same is true of cycling jackets.
  9. A lot of the clichés are true; it is fun, it is healthy, you do meet new people, you do get to see different things and different places. But the truest cliché of all is that coffee and cake really are perfect cycling fuels and the mid-ride coffee tastes so much better than normal.
  10. Buy that second bottle cage and water bottle and use them. Dehydration will affect your ride much more than under-eating. In extremes it can be dangerous.

Every month I ride is more enjoyable than the last. Getting the right gear, being lighter, fitter and stronger, and having a growing network of people to ride with have all helped. Learning the ‘etiquette’ and being a better rider has made a huge difference too and will hopefully make the people I ride with happier about riding with me.

Enjoy your riding and enjoy learning.

About the author: David started riding again around 2013 having not ridden for most of his adult life. As with many new and returning cyclists, it started with a charity cycle challenge and continued from there with regular commuting and joining a local cycling group.

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