Adapted from Optimum Nutrition Spring 2019

Feature


Government guidelines have allowed for unlimited exercise during lockdown. For those wanting to give cycling a try, Graeme Wilcockson shares tips for how to get going

From steel to carbon-fibre, no gears to dozens, drop vs. straight handlebars, disc or v-brakes, solid wheeled to spoked, front/rear/no suspension, wide-bottomed saddles to skinny, posterior-splitting streamlined perches, folding, battery powered hill climbers to the indoors exercise bike/ clothes horse — the choice is endless. So how to sort the wheat from the chafing? Firstly, if you want to take up cycling, there are a few things to consider when it comes to bike selection.

Road vs. mountain vs. touring/hybrid

While there are various subsets of each, bike design typically falls into one of the above three designs. So, consider what you will use the bike for and where you intend travelling (during and after lockdown), as well as terrain and distance.

As you might expect, the road bike is designed for tarmac roads. Typically faster machines, with skinnier wheels and tyres, they are designed to negotiate modern roads with speed and ease. Lightweight and aerodynamic, providing the most speed for the least effort, they are ideal for commuting but have little room for luggage, particularly racing models. They also lack a degree of comfort and are more prone to punctures and rim damage from poorly maintained roads. Carbon fibre models will set you back a small fortune but can weigh less than six kilograms.

Mountain bikes, as the name implies, offer a far more solid and rugged ride. Designed for off-road use, and taking trips beyond the urban sprawl, these machines are robust, comfortable and reassuring. Of course, they are perfectly sound machines on modern roads as well, more durable against punctures and damage, with superior braking — but the thick rubber tyres offer a lot of rolling resistance. If you intend frequently using these machines on roads, you may be better served by swapping the tyres for smoother surfaced, road suitable options.

Finally, as you might expect, the hybrid brings together the best and worst features of both road and mountain styles. Less robust than a mountain bike, but far quicker. Conversely, it’s not as speed driven as a dedicated road bike, but being heavier, will take a little more punishment — and often has room for panniers. The riding position is also a little more upright than a road bike, allowing for a degree of comfort not afforded by a dedicated road bike. For a casual, social ride or a short commute, the hybrid is ideal.

Cost

The cost of bikes genuinely falls into the realm of ‘anything goes’. There are often some second-hand bargains to be found on your local appropriately named Freecycle, or Gumtree — but it is always worth consulting your local cycle shop - via email or social media - to get advice on correct sizing and maintenance.

Theft

Sadly, theft of bicycles is a continual nuisance, so ensure your insurance covers theft/loss and invest in a sturdy lock. The latter cannot be understated. A rule of thumb is that a lock should be at least 10 per cent of the retail cost of the bike. A cheap lock may look like a deterrent, but too many can be disabled in a matter of seconds. Even the seemingly sturdy D-locks can be quickly levered free with enough force.

Remember, your bike is also the thief’s getaway vehicle. Subtly cracking a lock and riding away will not draw any attention. A long heavy chain which secures both wheels and frame is always the preferred option. Local police forces still carry out ultraviolet stamping of bikes, which helps recover lost and stolen machines to their owners.

Safety

Many people are concerned for safety while riding, and rightly so. There is an element of vulnerability on the road, but it can always be mitigated by taking sensible precautions: bright clothing, and nothing loose which will catch in wheels. Make yourself as visible as possible to other road users. In winter months, lights are essential, and legal requirements. Thankfully, the days of heavy, easily stolen lamps are long gone. Now replaced by lightweight, miniature yet surprisingly powerful and long lasting LED bulbs; many can be affixed directly to clothing or bags.

In current circumstances, remember to stick to social distancing regulations; keep 2m away from other cyclists, runners or walkers and only exercise alone or with members of your household.

The law

Cyclists are bound by the Highway Code just like motorists. There are those who choose to ride on pavements, jump red lights, and even cycle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But make no mistake, all are illegal.

Fun

All this looks past the most important aspect of cycling — it is a fun and healthy activity. Even for a novice, an impressive amount of miles can be racked up with minimal effort. Whereas runners can suffer from tendonitis in the knee, because of the continual pounding impact — on a cycle, impact is entirely negated. The steady state cardio also burns up a high number of calories.

Now, on your bike!