Guest post by Catherine Ellis, Hill & Ellis
With massive numbers of people cycling during lockdown for their daily exercise, followed by people eschewing public transport in favour of a bike when commuting to work, the resurgence of cycling over recent months has been both unstoppable and unmissable.
And, as the government is investing heavily in cycling infrastructure, as well as recently offering the £50 bike service voucher scheme, the numbers are likely to increase further.
If you’ve been wanting to get back in the saddle but not got round to it yet, here are my top tips to get you back in the saddle.
TIP 1: Boost your confidence
It’s entirely possible, particularly if it’s a long time since you last cycled, that a lack of confidence has been holding you back. What you need is your own personal peloton (but without the eye-watering pricetag) AKA a cycling group. Cycling is really friendly, with lots of groups keen to help other cyclists get started with advice, buddies and supported rides. There are groups all over the country, so you’ll definitely find one in your local area.
British Cycling also has beginners guide on their website for the A-Z of what you need to know before taking to the saddle. So you can still get your confidence levels up even if you don’t fancy joining a group.
The Breeze network offers women’s only rides and commuting training rides to help build confidence for cycling to work, they will even arrange a group to cycle with you to your office for the first couple of rides. Sadly, the Breeze Network isn’t available everywhere but you may be able to find similar options for your town by doing a quick search online or checking in with your local cycling group.
TIP 2: Get the right bike for you
If you have an old bike, dust it off, check the brakes and the gears are working properly and enjoy it. Getting on the bike is the only way to know what kind of cycling you enjoy. (If you managed to get a service voucher, congratulations, you are one of the lucky ones and your local mechanic can fix it up for you.)
Consider what you’ll use your bike for
If you’re buying a new bike, first consider the kind of riding you want to do and the typical route. If it is hilly – make sure you get a bike with enough gears to handle it, if you are commuting then 3-6 gears should be enough to get you up and down most town and city hills. If you are looking to road or mountain bike you’ll want to consider more than 10 gears to manage the rougher terrain.
Factor in the weight of the bike
Also consider the weight of the bike. Modern road bikes are all designed to be very light so even the heaviest will do you well – but aim to go as light as possible. For commuter bikes, the weight can be an issue. The heavier Dutch-style bikes often look beautiful but they are hard work if you are peddling uphill, lifting it up canal path stairs or storing it in your flat. As a guide, 10-12kgs is pretty heavy, still easy to cycle especially if the route is quite flat but you will notice it on an incline. So factor in the weight of the bike if you have a lot of hills to conquer or you need to store it inside.
There are some great commuting bikes available, which are beautifully made, pretty light and have real style. For a British made bike with some serious looks check out temple cycles and there is also the ever chic Tokyo Bike and Crème Cycles. Alternatively, if you don’t have much space, the www.brompton.com is always a great solution.
TIP 3: Make sure you’re sitting comfortably
Far too often I see cyclists with a bad seat position set up – usually the seat is far too low so they are overworking and are putting unnecessary strain on their knees. To set up your bike properly, this is the simplest way: The Heel to Pedal method.
It might not be what cyclists in the Tour de France use but it will get you close to the perfect position. Here’s how:
- Sit on the bike whilst holding onto a wall or chair for stability.
- Place your heel on the pedal and pedal back to 6 o’clock position. Your knee should be completely straight.
- Increase the height of your saddle until it is straight; that is your perfect position.
- If you are just cycling around town the first time and aren’t 100% confident on the bike, it’s a good idea to lower it from this position ever so slightly.
Lowering your seat position will make it is easier to put your foot on the ground when you want to stop. This will give you confidence on the bike from the get go. Once you are happy in the saddle you can lift the saddle back up to the correct height.
TIP 4: Take the weight off your back
Although practical in many ways, backpacks put a strain on your back and increase back sweat. Getting the bag off your back and onto the bike is a real joy. The solution is a pannier rack. They attach over the back wheel of your bike and you can attach pannier bags and baskets on them to carry whatever you need. As the rack is on the back of your bike, not the front, and is low on the bike, it doesn’t affect your steering or stability, so they will help you feel more secure on your bike.
Hill & Ellis has a range of stylish bike bags that all attach securely to your pannier bike rack. They are also designed to look smart so are the perfect accessory for the work commute.
TIP 5: Plan your route
The number one thing I get asked when I mention that I have cycled around London for 15 years is; “aren’t you scared of the traffic?” I’m not. But that’s because I always pick my route carefully – even now.
The route is crucial to an enjoyable journey. The main highways and roads might be the most direct path but they will not be the most pleasant. Always take the backstreets; they are quieter, safer and much more interesting as you get to discover parts of your town/city you would never have seen before.
Fortunately, picking your route has never been easier. There are lots of cycle routes now across the country and they are definitely worth taking advantage of. Most city and the country routes are in cycle maps that are easy to follow. For your local paths have a look on your council’s website – most of the maps are available there.
Cycle routes in some large UK cities:
For London – check out TFL for their map of the cross London cycle lanes. https://tfl.gov.uk/maps/cycle?intcmp=40402&intcmp=58492&intcmp=60683
For Manchester – https://tfgm.com/cycling/maps
For Birmingham – https://birmingham.cyclestreets.net/
For Edinburgh – https://www.innertubemap.com/
And if you live outside a big town or city or are planning a break away from it, the best resource is Sustrans, which has cycle-friendly, and cycle-only routes across the UK.
Give yourself an extra 15 minutes to cycle, take the slightly longer, quieter route, get yourself lost and, most importantly of all, enjoy it.
Most importantly, in this hectic life, take your time! Life from the saddle will always make you smile.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Ellis is founder of Hill & Ellis, which produces a range of high quality, stylish cycle bags. Each bag, designed in the UK, is created to transition perfectly from home to bike to boardroom to bar. They are functional, fashionable and hard wearing. There’s plenty of space inside for a laptop and other essentials, and each bag comes with patented pannier clips that fit almost any bike, allowing you to clip the bag on and off quickly and easily.