Happy New Year everyone! Now that things are quieting down, you might be wondering whether it's time to dust off your bike and start getting some fresh air.
So here are my top 10 tips for how to get back on your bike in 2015!
1) TAKE IT EASY
Start simple, and don't expect too much too soon. It may take a few minutes to warm up but once you're off, the feeling of freedom and independence will bring a smile to your face. Remember it's not a race out on the roads (yet), it's about being outdoors and not bogged down by timetables and delays.
2) CHECK YOUR BIKE
Let's talk about your bike. If it worked last time you used it then great. This is a good sign, as it may only need the tubes re-inflating and you're away! If this is not the case, you should take it to your LBS (local bike shop) for a quick check up.
3) CONSIDER HAVING A BIKE FITTING
Now we can get on with planning your first ride, either to work or ideally on a day off to familiarise yourself again with the gears and controls. Saddle height should be set so both feet are on tip toes whilst your bum is on the saddle, this will give you a pretty good set up. However, a proper bike fit and adjust is worth every penny - especially if you suffer from pain each time you ride. Bike fittings are really important if you plan on cycling for more than 1 hour.
4) PLAN YOUR COMMUTE
If you're intending to commute to work, it's a good idea to take all your stuff with you (e.g. pannier bags with a change of clothes and pump). This gives a much truer idea of the weight of your bike and whether you need to avoid very steep hills and narrow alleys. TFL (Transport for London) have detailed maps for different zones in London. Yellow cycle routes are quiet streets whereas blue routes are busier. Blue cycle routes have clear signposting but there are also likely to be other cyclists! This can be off-putting if you're just starting out so you can also find your own route or loop. Often, your planned route takes less time than you thought so always have a longer plan B ride if weather and conditions are good.
5) STRETCH AND USE THE GEARS TO HELP YOU
A 10-15 minute pre-ride stretch is really going to help, especially if it's been a while since you last cycled. It's well worth going somewhere quiet to do this first. Try an hour's ride or less first time round and get used to powering yourself at a steady speed and not pushing or applying too much pressure to the pedals. Keep your legs spinning quite fast (about one revolution a second) - this will help you last longer and not get lactic acid build up in your legs. Remember the gears are there to help you.
6) REDUCE LACTIC ACID IN ACHING LEGS
If you think you've pushed yourself too hard during the ride and can feel your legs aching, try and spin your legs as fast as possible for around 5-10 minutes at the end of the ride to your front door (quiet lanes are good for this as it does look rather silly)! The slow speed and high spin rate helps reduce lactic acid in your muscles, so when you stop it will be easier for them to warm down and return to normal. You can then do your post-ride stretch. Spend a couple of minutes on each stretch, stretching out your hamstrings, calves, quads, hips, back and ankles.
7) DRESS FOR THE WEATHER
Always check the temperature and weather before you ride. Wind is your biggest nemesis so remember if its easy on the way out, it's going to be harder when you come back into the wind! Dress using layers and so you feel cool to chilly when setting off, this will change after about 15-25 minutes of riding. Ice or frost may also be a consideration if you're using less busy roads; gritting lorries may not have been down these, so stay alert - you can always get off and walk.
8) LAYER UP AND DON'T FORGET HANDS AND FEET
For this time of the year, invest in a good base-layer followed by a technical fabric jersey on top (long or short sleeve is up to you) then a jacket or gilet to keep your core warm. Good jackets will have breathable backs to allow heat to exit. A bigger jacket is heavy and cannot be put anywhere if you don't carry panniers so try adding more jerseys if the weather looks like it may get warmer as the day progresses.
Good gloves and two pairs of socks in a warm material like merino (and maybe even shoe covers) are very important as your feet and hands don't actually move much but get a lot of wind directly on them.
9) FOCUS ON THE RIDE TO KEEP FROM FEELING CHILLY
Concentrating on your route, the traffic and the surrounding views will help keep your mind off how cold you are for the majority of the ride. Mind tricks and self-awareness are two very real and important issues to be addressed on long road rides, but for our starter rides I don't think we need to worry about this. Just focus on your legs spinning and not using too much energy, you could try eating after 30 minutes followed by a bar every 45 minutes. I recommend natural foods like a banana - you can save a flapjack or energy bar for the return leg in case you start to flag.
10) KEEP TRACK AND FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOUR RIDES!
When you're home try not to graze on loads of sugar, instead cook some pasta and do a post-ride stretch whilst it's cooking. Alternatively, drink a recovery shake or refuel juice. Note down your route, mileage and time taken. The details such as how you felt during and after the ride will be really helpful after a few weeks when you'll start to see and feel the small but important gains you've made in your cycling. Always stay at your own speed and commute safely, looking back at drivers and other road users.
I hope these tips have been helpful. Enjoy and don't hesitate to drop me an email if you have any questions!