Summer is finally here! The rain is gone (mostly) and the skies are blue. It’s the perfect time to put those car keys or that bus pass back into your bag and get out on two wheels instead.
Whether you are a seasoned weekend warrior trying to get back on track from winter or are looking to spend your commute in the sunshine rather than on the underground, many of us will be dusting off our saddles for some summer riding. But, after a cold winter, muscles are tighter, cycling shorts are stuffed in the back of a drawer and it can be hard to get started.
Here at Champneys HQ we have gathered some tips and expert advice to help you kick-start your summer cycling.
Before you even put foot to pedal or Lycra to skin there are some things you need to take care of. These simple preparations will mean once you do get those wheels turning it’ll be even harder to stop.
We spoke to Brian Palmer, cyclist and blogger at The Washing Machine Post, who told us about when he first became really interested in cycling: “I’d always ridden as a kid, delivering newspapers etc., but Robert Millar winning the tour’s King of the Mountains jersey in 1984 was probably the beginning of an obsession. Robert brought a lot of scots into cycling.”
We asked Brian for his top tips for anyone looking to get into cycling: “In this case, I defer to others, who have put it far more succinctly than I ever could: my friend Ben Lieberson is keen to point out, ‘outside is free’ and the bicycle is the ideal means of taking advantage of that fact.
“For the commuter, I feel Mikael Colville-Andersen’s slogan is particularly apt: ‘If you rode your bike, you’d be there by now.’ And overall, Ira Ryan, has it nicely summed up with ‘work hard, ride home.’”
We also spoke to the Discerning Cyclist, Pete, who has been running his urban cycling blog for six years, reviewing urban clothes for cycling, as he says: “stuff that feels good on the bike and looks good off it”. He told us how he first got into urban cycling: “Like many I started cycling as a child and it was essentially my main mode of transport until I was 16, at which point I started driving more and my bike gathered dust.
“However, I really got back into cycling again when I was about 22 and was sick of sitting in traffic jams and started cycling to work instead. I got a real buzz off it and felt so much better when I arrived at work and more energised throughout the day – now I cycle whenever it’s possible or makes sense.”
Pete gave us his top tip for someone looking to start cycling: “Take your time. If it’s been a few years since you’ve ridden a bike, just find a bike you can use and go for a little spin – it’s an incredibly liberating and satisfying experience.
“Also, don’t worry about not having the right gear or an expensive bike – just hop on and have fun. You can figure that stuff out later if you want.”
Although, as Pete said, you can start without all the professional kit, having it can help kick-start your enthusiasm. From uncomfortable clothing to a bike not set up properly, these things can hinder your experience and your long-term enjoyment. Also, new gear often brings new enthusiasm, in all areas of life. If you buy a new bike you’ll want to ride it, if you buy a new cookbook you’ll want to try a recipe from it, and so on. So, even if just for the reason of inspiration then getting some new gear can be all you need to get started.
This is one of the most important parts of learning to love cycling. Yes, you can ride with an ill-fitted bike and get from A-B but it’s going to make it harder, which will make you love it less. Your bike should be an extension of yourself, it should fit you perfectly and you should fit it. It should reflect you, people should be able to tell it’s your bike. Whether you end up covering it in stickers, filling your basket with flowers or making sure it’s your favourite colour, don’t be afraid to personalise your wheels. Not only is this going to make your bike feel more comfortable, it’s going to make you want to ride it more.
When looking for a new bike a few of the things you should consider are:
What type? - There are many types of bikes, the main kinds you’ll find are mountain, road, hybrid and leisure. Depending on your style, you’ll need to pick the right kind to suit your needs. If you are only looking to cycle to the shop every weekend a leisure bike will be perfect. If you are looking to keep up with traffic on your commute then a road bike may be what you need, it has lower suspension but will let you cruise down the roads must faster due to its light frame. If you are going to be cycling over rough terrain, a mountain bike with its heavy suspension is what you need. If you are going to be doing in a mixture of things, then look at a hybrid.
How much? - Bike prices can vary drastically. From cheap second-hand bikes to bikes going into the thousands, it can be hard to know the right starter price for your wheels. There is nothing wrong with a second-hand bike, provided it’s in good shape and still works properly. Often, you can test out your route or your riding style this way without needing to fork out a lot of cash in the process.
If you are looking for something more serious, it’s worth investing some money into your perfect pair of wheels, the right bike can last you a lifetime if treated with care.
Don’t be afraid to make upgrades. If you find something is holding you back, perhaps saddle pain, or not being able to carry everything you need, it might be time to purchase some new additions. You’ll be able to find a range of options, and people who can help you with this. If you aren’t confident enough to swap your saddle, take it to your local bike shop.
Apart from a bike, the next most important thing you need is a good helmet. A helmet can save your life, and although it currently is not the law in the UK, it is highly advised. Many cycling injuries and collisions involve the head, and a helmet is your extra layer of defence. Ensure your helmet has its strap tightened under your chin, and it is brought down on to your forehead.
Whether it’s a pair of sunglasses to tackle road glare, or some gloves in case you fall on a gravely surface these little things can make a big difference to your ride.
You don’t necessarily need to fork out for lycra and cycling clothes, but a few little pieces can make all the difference. For example, if you are going on long ride, padded cycling shorts have extra cushioning to stop that dreaded saddle pain.
Road Runner Bags specialises in making colourful and compact bags specifically made for cyclists. We spoke to the team who told us a bit more about the history of the brand: “We are a US based company that produces bags for cyclists, all products are hand made in US workshop and delivered to customer all over the world. We strive for the better in everything and constantly working on making products better and serve the purpose. That is why most items are made to order. Each item has a sense of personality to it and a handmade feel. At Road Runner Bags you’re supporting people, not a corporation.”
They told us why having good storage options on your bike is important to consider: “Nowadays when cycling is getting more popular and people shift from cars to bikes it is important to carry on all necessary items on daily basis or during weekend rides with friends and families. It allows you to enjoy riding much more than ever before and at the end make your bike look nice with extra accessories that can match colour scheme of bike etc.”
Finally, we asked for the team’s top tip to help you kickstart your summer cycling: “Set your bike up with bags and go for nice bike-packing ride with friends to enjoy nature, freedom and have nice conversations which will charge your battery and keep you motivated.”
Riding in the dark calls for extra gear to ensure you safety and visibility on the road. If you know you’ll be cycling outside of daylight hours, or perhaps when the winter months do come back around you know you’ll be commuting home in the evening, being prepared is everything.
A white continuous light on the front and red light on the rear is demanded under UK regulation. You’ll also need to ensure your bike has reflectors which are often pre-fitted when sold. However un-chic a reflective jacket may look, it’s another way to make you visible on the road. As soon as a car’s headlight hit you, you’ll be illuminated. This, as well as your lights and reflectors, should make you stand out and make your ride as safe as possible.
Keeping your bike in good condition is important to riding. Make sure you have your puncture repair kit with you at all times, the only thing worse than getting a puncture is not being able to fix it. More than this, having a few more tools at home will mean if you need to make tweaks, like changing the height of your seat for example, you’ll be able to do that yourself.
Also, be sure to keep your bike clean. Not only will this make you want to ride it, it will help keep it in good condition. Leaving mud on the frame and in the gears can cause some long-term effects that can all be avoided with a simple, regular wash down.
One place that offers some great cleaning equipment is Juice Lubes. We spoke to the team there who told us a history of the brand: “Juice Lubes was born in 2010 in the UK. We were (and still are!) mountain bikers and noticed no one had a product to keep our expensive suspension running nicely. Rather than wait for someone else to do it, we cracked on and made Fork Juice, an inexpensive and easy way to lubricate and protect suspension between rides. Dirt Juice came next, which is our bike wash, and then our range of chain oils. We soon got the attention of some pretty big names and it grew from there.
“The range has grown massively since then, but we've been careful to stay true to our promise to only make great quality, no nonsense cycle maintenance gear. We've also made sure that all of our cleaners, lubes and fluids are made here in the UK so that we can keep a careful eye on them and guarantee they're as good as they can be.”
The team told us why it is important for people to clean and maintain their bike regularly: “That's an easy one and it's at the heart of why we started Juice Lubes. A clean, tidy and well-maintained bike is more fun to ride and will cost you less money in fixing broken bits. We all want to have more fun and have a bit more money for chips and beer, right?”
Finally, as seasoned riders as well as bike cleaning professionals, the team at Juice Lubes gave us their best tips to help you kick start your summer cycling: “The summer is too short to ride a rust bucket. Get your bike out of the shed and get it tuned up early so you're not wasting a single day of sunshine.
“Get your bike ship-shape from day one with a full service and a tune-up. Most jobs can be done at home with a Sunday afternoon, a YouTube tutorial and some basic tools (some good maintenance products won't hurt either!). Anything else can be done in your local bike shop.
“Give everything a good clean, degrease and lube your chain, get some fresh brake pads in and give your gears a tune-up. A new gear cable and a fresh pair of grips and tyres can make the world of difference! When that's done, just go enjoy yourself and make the most of the summer.”
The truth of the matter is, you won’t want to cycle anywhere if you have sunburn. Even a simple commute can see you spending some more time in the sun, and that means you need to take care of your skin. Carry some sun cream with you and make sure to apply before you hop on your bike.
Britain is famed for its rain, not even the summer is safe from a downpour. Unfavourable weather is thought to be the most common reason people decide to ditch the bike and jump in a car or on the bus instead. There are two key solutions to this:
If you don’t mind getting wet - If you don’t mind getting wet but worry about your belongings, then investing in a waterproof backpack is essential. You can slip into your dry clothes when you get to the office and hang your kit out to dry ready for your homeward journey.
If you want to stay dry- Waterproof clothes are relatively inexpensive to pick up, invest in waterproof trousers and a jacket, to layer over your clothes and ensure they stay dry.
Always take a drink with you on the road. Even if you are only planning a ten-minute ride, staying hydrated is key to a safe and healthy journey. Plus, even if you aren’t hot before you get on the bike, after a few turns of the pedals, you’ll start heating up and you’ll be glad of the drink as you ride. As well as drinking when you are on the saddle, it’s important to keep hydrated all day. If you get on your bike dehydrated it’s not going to be too long before you tire.
As well as staying hydrated, eating enough is also important. Especially if you are going on a long ride. Don’t shy away from carbohydrates, they are a cyclist’s best friend. Their slow release energy is perfect for keeping you moving through a ride, and if you try to focus on wholegrain carbohydrates they are packed full of nutrients. Oats and cereal are a great example of this.
It’s also important to stay energised whilst on your bike. If you are planning on going on longer rides, then buy a few energy snacks to get the kick you need without spending a lot of time eating. If you’d rather go for a more natural approach, a banana will also do the trick!
It’s all well and good getting in the saddle, but how can you stay there? Perhaps the initial buzz has worn off and you are finding bus journeys are trumping cycling commutes. Or your once beloved bike has now turned into a clothes horse. It can be hard to continue to find ways to be excited about something, especially when you are just starting out.
We spoke to Andrew Sykes from Cycling Europe, who, as well as blogging about his experiences, has also written a series of books about his long-distance cycling adventures with his beloved bike, Reggie. Andrew told when his interested in cycling peaked: “I've always been a cyclist and didn't buy my first car until I was in my 30s; cycling was simply part of my life and it continues to be so.
“I took up long-distance cycling about ten years ago after seeing the cyclists at the Beijing Olympics on TV cycling beside the Great Wall of China. I thought to myself how wonderful it would be to go off and cycle somewhere exotic. I haven't yet made it as far as China, but I have notched up 20,000km around the nooks and crannies of Europe including a few exotic destinations.”
We asked Andrew about how he would categorise his cycling style: “It depends what day of the week it is! Yes, I commute most weeks to work (it is by far the best way to start your day and cheaper than the gym), I go off at the weekend for a ride in the countryside of Yorkshire where I'm based (often jumping on the train at the start or end of the ride), and I try to head off on a long-trip at least once a year to do a little bit of 'adventure cycling' or, as it used to be called, plain old 'cycle touring'. I find joy in cycling full stop.”
Finally, Andrew gave us his best tips for those looking for inspiration to get on, and stay on the bike:
- “Don't over-plan; keep things simple and flexible
- If you can, camp or use youth hostels, especially if you are travelling alone as you will always find someone to chat with at the end of the day
- Ignore the weather; if you are really bothered about getting wet on a bicycle, it's perhaps time to consider alternative means of transport as it's going to happen sooner or later
- Find a mountain and cycle up it. Once you are at the top and look down into the valley, you'll understand why it was worth all the hard work and effort
Try riding somewhere new. This sounds basic but exploring your local area, and even areas further afield, can give you a nice release from your usual route. You can use these opportunities to ride slow and admire your surroundings!
If you are riding for a commute and not enjoying it, try riding for fun as well. Riding for a commute is great but this can make you feel like your bike is simply a mode of transport and not an accessory for fun. Try taking your bike out on the weekend and riding for fun, whether it’s cycling to somewhere sunny to sit and have some lunch before cycling home or exploring somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, cycling for fun can be fantastic.
If you are already riding for fun but are finding your usual route lethargic, try finding new routes. This can mean hopping on the train for a few stops and cycling the rest of the way home, searching the internet for local riders and finding their preferred routes or finding a new activity to make your rides more exciting.
A great activity to try is Geocaching. This sees ‘geocachers’ leaving small, hidden boxes at a disclosed co-ordinate and others trying to find them. Often, there are set routes made up and this is an interesting way to add another level to your rides. Letting you get off whenever near a cache for a mini-treasure hunt.
Another thing you could try is a cycling holiday. Pack your bags (and your bike) and travel somewhere new. Whether you just explore another part of your country or travel further afield and rent a bike for some time away. This can be a great way to absorb the local culture, as well as getting some wheel time in. Perhaps even cycle to your local ferry port and travel that way, this a great way for cyclists to travel and means you don’t have to deal with trying to get your bike through airport check-in!
If you are struggling to stay motivated, perhaps having someone new to motivate you may be a good idea. Riding with someone can not only be a great and healthy way to spend time with people, but it can also be the push you need to continue to try and better yourself and keep riding.
All over the country on Sunday mornings roads are filled with cycling clubs. If you are a weekend rider, or perhaps a commuter who is looking to fall in love with cycling, then joining a cycling club could be great. This gives you the opportunity to meet like-minded people, and also gives you a schedule to keep to. If you know your group will be meeting in the morning you are more likely to want to get up and go than if you have to self-motivate.
Depending on your club, they may either meet on week nights for rides, or weekends, or even both. Cycling UK has a great resource to help you find your local cycling groups. However, it can also be worth asking in local bike shops or keeping an eye out on the roads.
This can also be an option if you commute. It’s likely that someone else also in your office will cycle into work, and it can be worth asking around to see who you may be able to commute with. This can also work the other way and if any of your neighbours ride in, you can join them for at least the first portion of your ride.
The main thing that is going to put anyone off of cycling is an accident. Often bike accidents can leave someone shaken up and apprehensive to cycle again, especially road accidents.
Make sure you are aware of your surroundings. If you are a commuting cyclist make sure you are sensible on the roads, and act as you’d want a cyclist to act if you were driving. Keep a safe distance and make yourself known to the vehicles around you. Also, make yourself aware of uneven surfaces on the way to work, for example if there is a big pothole on your commute make a conscious effort to slow down long before you get near it to make sure you don’t hit it.
Another good way to avoid accidents is to learn the rules of the road. Just like drivers, cyclists have to stop at red lights. Unlike drivers, cyclists are legally allowed to cut through traffic when it is at a stand-still. Knowing the road laws that apply to cyclists will help you make sensible calls when on the move, as they are all in place for the safety of road users.
Recovery is an often overlooked but very important part of making sure you stay in the saddle. If you are finding yourself aching for days after a ride you’ll be less likely to want to go out again. Learning how to recover means understanding what your body needs, especially after longer and more challenging rides, and you’ll be able to provide it.
At a Champneys’s Boot Camp, you can not only work up a sweat but also get educated about nutrition and making positive lifestyle changes. The Boot Camps can help you understand your body’s health, and how to treat it right, all whilst making new friends and shedding the pounds. If you are finding recovery can be an issue, attending a Boot Camp can help you learn from our qualified and professional trainers who will guide you through.
Finally, make sure you just aren’t putting too much pressure on yourself. If you have a long daily commute and feeling the burn, perhaps go back to your usual commute every other day to give your legs and body a rest. Eventually you’ll work up to being able to make the journey every day.
After a while you may feel yourself wanting to take it to the next level and not knowing how. Your rides are getting longer and your legs stronger, and the bike feels natural as you are moving. If you are looking to take your cycling to the next level, here are a few things you can consider.
If the competitive streak within you is just dying to get out and pit you against others with your new hobby, there are cycling races and competitions taking place constantly all over the country. These races can give you great reasons to get on the bike more and up your training, as well as letting you have some fun.
British Cycling will let you search for events near you as well as find races, organised leisure rides and much more. Joining the events is also a fun way to meet cyclists in your area and find some new riding buddies.
Trying a new kind of riding can take some getting used to but can also be an excellent way to blow off steam. It can also offer you a new challenge, and a great new way to explore the world of cycling.
BMX allows you to learn more trick cycling, and because it doesn’t mean covering large distances, you won’t need to travel far. Find your local bike park or even skate park and try to learn a few new tricks this way, or just find a flat area of concrete to practice on. BMX is a great way to build up body muscle and learn a new skill.
Mountain biking is perfect for those looking to get back to nature in the most exhilarating way. This extreme sport sees riders zip down woodland tracks, riding harsh corners, attempting big jumps and pushing themselves. If you don’t have a local park you can travel to some larger parks, Bike Park Wales is suitable for people of all abilities from beginners who are looking to learn, to for more advanced riders who are looking for a challenge.
Charity bike rides are a great way to do something you love whilst raising money for a good cause. Whether they are distance rides, fun rides or even fancy dress rides they can not only give you a new challenge but also give back to the community. Keep an eye out on local bulletin boards and in local bike store windows to find promotional material for these rides.
If not, you can always start your own. If there is a charity you are passionate about raising money for, set yourself a challenge and gain sponsorship for it. This is a fantastic way to do something to help people, and you can even end up creating an event more cyclists will want to take part in.
You now have all of the information you need to kickstart your summer cycling, so get out there and start riding!
Image Credits: Road Runner Bags