Since signing up for the Barcelona Ironman 70.3, I managed to do a couple of long rides with Clinton, Raphael and the Tritons. I went from doing zero cycling to 10km to 16km to 40km to 53km to 60km – all in the space of 10 weeks. It was a steep learning curve, but each time I went out my handling skills improved and gave me that teeny extra bit of confidence!
For me, the biggest challenge is about overcoming the fear of being on the roads. I live in London, where traffic is insane, where most drivers wouldn’t hesitate to blast the horn if you’re even two seconds slow in responding to a green light. Each time I go out I have to try and not think about the fact that I am on nothing but a piece of scrap metal and with nothing to protect me but a little dinky looking piece of helmet.
I’m not going to say I’ve overcome all these fears (I haven’t), but I do want to say that taking up cycling was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I love cycling because I love the adrenaline rush and the freedom it brings. It’s an amazing feeling, having the wind in your face and taking in the sights and sounds of life. When you’re just venturing down to a flat, straight, quiet piece of road, with no one around, no cars to fall off and land under.
These are the seven lessons I’ve learned from the past 10 weeks of cycling:
- Don’t stop pedalling when going uphill. Once you stop it’s difficult to get started again. I know this from experience. And trust me, its a painful experience. More from injured pride than an injured anything else! The key to getting over hills (certainly for me) is riding at your own pace. Find an easy gear to keep you pedalling and break the hill down. For example, pick a point partway up the climb that you can see ahead and aim for that. Then pick the next one and so on. These manageable sections will make the effort pass easier…
- Avoid cycling in the rain. Cycling along as close to the road edge as possible in drizzle with lorries speeding past you is not fun.
- Wear padded shorts. Your ass will thank you.
- Don’t forget to wear a high vis!
- Always bring a pump and don’t just rely on Co2 canisters, unless you know how to use them. Be prepared for punctures and learn to change an inner tube (YouTube has plenty of useful resources). You’re on your own when you’re out on the roads.
- Make sure you have the right saddle height. If your saddle’s too low you’ll be uncomfortable and less efficient. If it’s too high, you risk tendon and joint injury, and rocking from side to side to pedal will chafe. There are a number of ways to determine saddle height – the most useful rule of thumb is that your knee should be about 30 degrees from straight when the pedal is at the bottom of the stroke. I had to get my saddle adjusted by a fellow Triton in the middle of a group ride, which was obviously not ideal!
- Cycle with someone who knows the route (or know the route yourself). TFL has a fantastic tool for finding quiet cycling routes in your local area. Countryside rides will always beat city rides – just be careful of potholes!
I know I’ve got lots to learn before the Barcelona Ironman 70.3 in May. But I’ve come a long way. The amount of confidence, independence, and strength I gained from riding a bike has been both physically and mentally rewarding. I encourage anyone out there to give cycling a try!