Cycling: get back in the saddle

Jane Murphy / 25 January 2019

Been toying with cycling for the first time in years – or even learning to ride? Just feel the fear and do it anyway, says endurance cyclist Mark Beaumont.



Cycling is easier than you think

The main hurdle that stops us from getting back in the saddle? 'It's lack of confidence,' says Mark. 'People are nervous of their own ability, as well as other road-users, so they never quite muster up the time and space to give it a try. But once they're back on their bikes, many people find their preconceptions were unfounded and the fear soon disappears.' So step one is to have a little faith in yourself and set aside some time.

Find the right bike for you

If your old bike has been sitting in the shed for years, it will be in need of a proper service at a bike repair shop before you get back in the saddle. 'It's also important to bear in mind that bike design has moved on a great deal in recent years,' Mark points out. 'So it may be worth trading your old bike in for something that's more suitable for you now. A lightweight hybrid bike that can be ridden over various terrains is good for beginners. Or you could opt for an electric bike to give you an extra push on the hills.'

You don't have to spend a fortune. Look for quality secondhand bikes at bike recycling centres or Cycling UK's online forum. If you prefer to try before you buy, there are various bike hire schemes across the UK.

Your other cycling must-haves

Aside from a bike, the other essential purchase is a well-fitting cycling helmet. 'Helmets can deteriorate with age, so don't just rely on the one you've had lying around for years,' says Mark. 'I'd also buy some quality cycle mitts. If you do have a fall, your hands are normally the first thing to hit the ground, so mitts will protect you. Plus they'll keep your hands warm in winter, of course. Over time, you may want to invest in a pair of cycling shoes. But when you start out, a pair of sturdy trainers or walking shoes will suffice.'

Ready, steady, go...

All set? 'Stick to parks and cycle paths at first, while your confidence grows,' says Mark. 'It helps to give yourself a sense of purpose when you first go out – so you could simply ride to the corner shop to pick up a pint of milk. Even better, arrange to meet friends at a local café. Buddying up with fellow cyclists is one of the best ways to ensure you stick at it. And if you can ride with someone who's more experienced than you, it will help you improve quicker, too. The important thing is to get out there and create memories.'

Riding a bike for the first time

'All of us, even the most experienced cyclists, are still learning,' Mark admits. 'My advice to someone who's starting from scratch is to persevere. Choose a sit-up bike with fat tyres so you can look straight ahead and feel more balanced. Fix your gaze a little way in front of you, and try to keep your upper body relaxed while your legs do the work. It's easier said than done, but try to not to think about it too much. There's a lot of muscle memory and intuition involved in cycling.' For more advice on learning to ride a bike, go to www.cyclinguk.org/beginners.

What are the main benefits of cycling?

Cycling burns calories, builds muscle and improves cardiovascular health – without putting too much strain on your joints. And habitually getting into the saddle instead of the car can really pay dividends for your health: commuting by bike nearly halves the risk of heart disease and cancer, according to a recent study at the University of Glasgow.

'Cycling isn't just about sport and exercise, though,' Mark insists. 'It's a mode of transport, a mood-lifter and a way of making new friends. By getting on your bike, you're improving your health even if your focus is on something else entirely – running errands, meeting friends or simply tuning your senses into the world around you. It's enormously satisfying.' So what are you waiting for?

Around the World in 80 Days by Mark Beaumont is published by Bantam Press, price £14.99. Buy it at a discount from the Saga Bookshop

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