Keen to start taking cycling seriously, but not sure where to start?
Team 22 rider and Alpine Bikes sales assistant Rachel Crighton guides us through the 5 essentials you'll need to move your cycling up a gear. Follow her rides and training tips on Instagram.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that a bike is kind of essential to start cycling. However, you don’t need a stallion, just a steed. Ultimately, what kind of bike you buy is down to personal preference and what you can afford.
Carbon is great if you’re looking for something that is stiff, responsive and lightweight. However, if you're new to the sport and spend a lot of your time picking yourself off the tarmac then be wary, it cracks. It’s often said that carbon can be more uncomfortable, but brands like Trek have adapted the geometry to balance stiffness and comfort to provide a bike like the Domane, known as the “endurance bike”.
Aluminium has a better strength to weight ratio, and although heavier than carbon, it’s more durable and much easier to repair. It bends and dents, so if you have a wee tumble on your first crit race, then there’s no stress. And for those looking to save some pennies, it is cheaper than carbon.
Steel is like the granny in the biking world: it’s been around for a long time and has a lot of history to go with it. Steel is great for winter bikes and touring. It’s strong and durable and can withstand general wear and tear. Steel also fails very slowly, unlike carbon. It’s also quite comfortable to ride but much heavier than your aluminium or carbon alternatives.
This is just the start of the bike selection process. Then you need to decide what groupset you’d like, frame size and if there is any other adjustments or additional features that you may want added. One thing I would say for sure is TRY the bike. There is nothing worse than ordering it online and finding that it’s the wrong size or just not quite what you expected it to be. Get down to your local bike shop for some friendly advice and hopefully they will be able to sort you out with what you need.
Ah, lycra. It’s a bit like marmite… You either love or hate this stretchy material that has the ability to outline all your bumps and lumps in all the right and wrong places. However, I can assure you that good quality lycra shorts or tights – the ones that get you feeling like you could give J-Lo a run for her money – are well worth the expense. Believe me, a long ride in the saddle without padded shorts can have you questioning whether you are going to be able to sit down for the next week or not. Call me fragile but I am talking from experience! You will soon value having sensation in both butt cheeks for the whole ride.
So how expensive? We have all seen the brands which cost well over the £100 mark for one pair of shorts or tights… it has you questioning whether or not your bum is really worth it. Well, I would say don’t scrimp on your budget but you don’t need to go all out either. Somewhere in the middle – around the £50 to £80 mark – will get you a decent pair of shorts or tights that’s going to make those long hours on the saddle much more comfortable.
Materials? It depends on the time of year. Thick, lined tights are ideal for those cool winter and spring conditions, and as it gets warmer look for something which has some ventilation. Let that air into your body!
Fit? This is quite important and is largely down to personal preference. We all have different body shapes! Try them on, and different brands too. You will soon find you have your favourites. I love the Bontrager RL Women’s Shorts. Personally, if its shorts I also prefer grippers around the legs which are usually made from silicon rubber. It stops your shorts riding up when you are cycling. Nobody wants to be constantly adjusting their clothes when they’re on the bike.
Pedals can be tricky. Flats will undoubtedly instil you with some confidence when you are just starting out. However, if you’re riding a lot and your feet keep slipping off the pedals when you’re going uphill, or you keep adding another dent to your shin, then it may be time to think about going clipless.
When I went clipless I felt as if I was moving from being a casual cyclist to a “real” cyclist. Hello cycling world! However, the idea of clipless pedals can leave some people trembling in their wake. They conjure up drastic images of them toppling over as they struggle to unclip their shoe at the junction, their beloved bike lying on the road, causing a major traffic jam, and finally disengaging their shoe from the pedal, having both their ego and their skin dented from the impact. In reality, it never happens quite like this. Usually it’s quite a graceful stationary fall, where you and your bike gradually fall towards the ground. The ego is usually still dented, but normally you are injury free. Luckily for me, I’ve escaped such trauma. The only time I had a stationary fall was in my own driveway, where my dad happily watched me topple over in slow motion, struggle to get out the pedals, whilst chuckling one of those full belly laughs. Cruel, some would say…
I’m not really selling them for you am I? However, all this can be avoided. Practice, practice again and practice some more. It gets easier, and you no longer have to remind yourself when you come up to each junction that you are clipped in and could you please disengage your foot, and pray for no disasters. It becomes a routine and quite simply I would never go back. It’s a lot more efficient and having your foot in a constant place will reduce injury and allow you to keep legs dent and graze free.
Often I suggest to customers that we set the turbo trainer up in the shop and allow them to try the pedals out before they go out on the road. That allows you to get an idea of how it works, and in the comfort that you’re not going to have any disaster. Once you get the idea into your head, going out on the road doesn’t seem so daunting. It’s all about the FLICK and TWIST. FLICK in and TWIST out. So don’t be afraid to ask your local bike shop to do this… That is what we are here for!
To GPS or not to GPS? I certainly like it as a training tool. It allows you to know exactly how far you’ve gone, at what speed, and how many calories you’ve burned. It’s also great for those who are competing and looking to get their race game on, as some models connect to a heart rate monitor, cadence sensor and power meter… Which if you’re like me and like to see the facts and data, then it’s all there at your fingertips. Aside from GPS systems like Garmin and Cateye, there are other ways to track your progress. Welcome to the world of Strava.
Strava is a great training tool and it can be very motivating too. Soon you’ll find yourself segment-mad and really pushing yourself to beat friends, fellow club riders, and bag those QOM’s and KOM’s. You see your trophy cabinet filling up and you start to feel like the Lizzie Armistead or Chris Froome of the cycling world. Cha-ching. Jokes aside, it’s a great platform to encourage others, track your progress and immerse yourself in the cycling community. I love it!
Lastly, training. Training is very personal. One thing I would say is set realistic goals. You don’t need to try and ride the equivalent of a stage of the Tour De France on your first ride! This will only leave you feeling disheartened and unmotivated. One thing I have found is that consistency is key. There is very little point smashing out a 300 mile week, only then to discover than you’re so tired you have to take the whole week off.
You have to train for your own goals. If you’re just starting out and want to ride a sportive, then train for distance. Get out and enjoy your bike, explore your local areas and take in the views. If you’re training on a more serious level, and want to improve sprinting, then find a flat road that you can do efforts along. Start realistically. Plan some sets, and do them at 100%. Quality is much more important than quantity. If you want to improve your climbing, then you might benefit from riding hills or doing a hill rep session. One of my favourite sessions is hill reps (I’m mad.) I like the challenge and satisfaction that you get every time you make it to the top. There are always ways to push your own boundaries and challenge yourself, but make sure it’s specific for you. How your friend is training may not necessarily be how you should train. We all have different needs, recovery rates and goals.
With that in mind, construct a training plan that fits in around your lifestyle, schedule in some recovery time and stick to it. Buddy up with fellow riders; this really helps keep momentum on a rainy day, or just if you’re feeling a bit flat. But most of all, HAVE FUN and BE CREATIVE. Ride different routes, find new hills, explore new areas, and this will keep it fresh and exciting and prevent boredom. So until next time… HAPPY CYCLING!