Become a cyclist in a month
For the first time ever I have to ride my bike. Forget the lazy meanders to and from the pub – I have no choice, due to my own stubbornness, stupidity failure to let the jibes of my colleagues wash over me, I am doing a triathlon.
I have always been a strong swimmer, and – I’m sure I will soon be corrected – running is running. But the cycling element has me worried. I have cycled from a young age, and, until I lost the bounciness of the youth, I was pretty confident. I occasionally cycle to work if the weather permits and I have watched a stage of the Tour de France. But, a cyclist, I am not.
Being surrounded by some of the buffest fitness minds in the business, I had an endless source of knowledge – once they stopped laughing at my triathlon attempt. So here are the five crucial things I learned in my first month becoming a cyclist:
Your sartorial street cred will suffer
That shiny, weaponized piece of carbon fiber is not to be sullied by using a futon instead of a saddle. But as many a weathered cyclist will attest, those few of leather don’t offer much in the way of comfort; think saddle sores, numb bum and a general loathing of any pothole between you and the sofa.
The way around this is to swallow your pride and buy a pair of well-fitting cycling shorts. Yes, for the first few rides it will feel much like wearing a soiled nappy but you will soon settle the added comfort. Before long it will be difficult to go without.
Made from a stretchy mix of lycra and nylon, you want to find a pair that fit snug. Too tight and they will constrict you and chafe, too lose and they won’t move with your body – and then chafe. Remember that the padded bit, or chamois, is meant to be next to your skin. As odd as it sounds it will the process much smoother.
Well, in as much as its crucial to ride a bike that fits you. Just as an ill-fitting suit is painful to look at, an ill-fitting bike will be painful to ride. Chances are that within your first weeks of cycling your main concern will be rather than aerodynamic gain so bear that in mind before you try to imitate an extreme riding position.
Your saddle height will make up for the majority of your comfort, efficiency and a lowered risk of injury. A good starting point is to take the measurement of your inseam, take 90% of that, and measure that from the middle of your cranks to the top of your saddle. This will mean that you will have the full range of movement without the risk of over-extending.
The other main contact point is your . You shouldn’t really have to change it too often – it’s very difficult to change the space between your seat and handlebars – but it can make a huge difference ensuring your hands are in the right position. A professional bike fit is by far the best option.
How to fix a puncture
Imagine the scene, me, a young upstart 100m from cresting the monolithic Ditchling Beacon – a fearful 10%, unending gradient – when I heard the vicious hiss of immediate doom. A puncture can be an annoyance, or a catastrophe if miles from home and in the rain – it’s always raining when you get a puncture.
So it pays to be able to fix one swiftly. You generally have two options: carry a puncture repair kit (more effort), or carry spare inner tubes (more money). But a pump and levers are a must.
If you find yourself deflated find a quiet spot and loosen off the affected wheel with either the bolts on each end of the axle or the quick release, then drop the wheel out of the frame.
Careful not to damage your rim, pry the rubber out of the wheel with the levers until one side is loose. You can then replace the tube or patch the puncture. Remember, and those I spoke to looked very grave as they said it, make sure the thorn/nail/malicious twig that caused the puncture in the first place has been removed by running your fingers along the inside of the .
Then once pumped, unlike myself, you can continue on with your ride. Although it was a good excuse not to finish that climb.
The dirty work
Cycling is not all champagne on the Champs-Élysées and, truth is, riding in Britain will soon turn your bike a similar to most puddles. Not only will a grimy steed sap your motivation; grit and mud will limit the life of your components.
Regular cleaning will not only keep you spinning along faster but also save you the money and hassle of forking out for shiny new bits.
You only need some warm water, bike wash fluid and degreaser, a couple of sponges and a good bike lubricant. It shouldn’t take long and the sooner you do so after each ride, the better the results.
An easy mistake is to use the wrong amount of lube. Make sure each moving part of the gears and chain has a thin coating, leave for a minute then wipe down with a rag. This may seem counterintuitive but your bike will soak up everything it needs and you will wipe away any dirt-magnetic-excess.