Since a bad bike fall on road in January 2014 I’d let the demons ruin my love of cycling, I was constantly envisioning myself falling over the handle bars and completely forgot the feeling of liberation which I once had when riding during my uni days. This year I’m entering in for two sprint triathlons and a duathlon, so how did I get to this point?
Zoom back to February 2014, I’ve drawn my curtains and the weather is suprisingly beautiful for the time of year, two hours later and I’ve borrowed a friend’s road bike, I go to signal right to get down to Park Street and totally underestimate the handling of the handle bars. Good one. Next thing I know I’m on the floor and the whole of the Triangle is watching me – for all Bristolians, boozers on the steps outside Browns got some quality entertainment that day! I get up limping and bright red out of embarrassment more so than the blood from the – oh – so many cuts all down my left body. This wasn’t a great straight to my bike ride, not to mention my return to cycling. Needless to say, I bought some plasters and got back on the bike – thanks to Dan, my very Northern and tough housemate who was out riding with me!
I consider a complete return to cycling as the point when I’m confident to ride on busy roads with my road bike, I would be able to signal both left and right and I would cycle up hill without doing zigzags (not like the Tour de France where they zig zag intentionally to strategically ride up the ascent, more like, zig zag uncontrollably with each pedal because my glutes hurt). As I write this, I feel confident enough now to say that I’ve conquered most of the demons, but not all of them. I wanted to share with you my experiences of getting back on the bike and hopefully help other people who are still letting the busy roads deter them from putting on the bike helmet and getting out there. Here’s what I did..
Cycle in your comfort zone
I was constantly putting myself and my bike in busy, congested and road-ragey situations which, surprise-surprise, didn’t really help things. I could hear the frustration of tailing cars when they accelerated past me, I saw hills and dismounted because I knew I’d get my gears wrong before going up or I cycled down routes that plonked you right in the middle of a four lane roundabout – by accident. Instead, I decided to simplify the whole thing and just cycle at the weekends and in wide open spaces like the Bristol Downs or Ashton Court. Set the parameters that you’re most comfortable in and work within them while you get used to the handling of the bike.
Don’t make excuses
Recently on a ride along Southend seafront in the beautiful sunshine, I realised that I’d let the fear of the road get on top of me, I’d held off cycling due to heavy winds or because I knew the only time I could get out would be during a school run when the roads would be busy. I had created excuses which had stopped me from getting out with my bike, I read somewhere “If you always wait for the right conditions, it’ll never happen”. Set a training plan which will mean you can’t just quit if you don’t feel like it doing. Failing that, organise a social ride with some friends and let the social pressure iron out any last minute doubts.
Get some strength indoors, before getting outdoors
I was trying to return back to cycling during Winter so it was much easier to book into a spin class as an alternative to going out on the road. Spin classes really aren’t that scary, I would even say, they are less scary than a massive bus trying to overtake you on a hill (true story). Some of the best spin classes I’ve been on mimic an actual bike ride, containing sprints and hill climbs which prep your quads, glutes and hamstrings for a real-life bike ride. Anything which can build your confidence off the road is worth doing, whether it’s a turbo trainer (a stand which you can prop your bike onto indoors to train infront of the TV) or the indoor bikes at the gym.
Walk the path you want to cycle
Put your mind at ease by walking the route you want to cycle and mentally running through every step you plan to take when you’re on two wheels. For a route that you don’t have time to walk beforehand, look it up on Google Earth and check the road width, cycle paths and potentially busy areas of the route.
Cycle with a charity
The Sustrans is a really great bike charity based in the South West and is just one example of the MANY great initiatives set out to get more people on their bikes. (Lifecycle UK and Bristol Bike Project also support existing a new riders build up their confidence on the bike with lessons and bike maintenance lessons). I cycled from Bath to Glastonbury with the Sustrans (Part 1 of the ride & Part 2 here), I got a lot of useful tips and advice from the marshals whilst we were cycling which was invaluable and definitely helped boost my confidence!
The Sustrans lead the annual ride down to Glastonbury each year from either Bristol or Bath, it’s actually one of the easiest ways to get down to Glastonbury festival – don’t have to worry about parking and the Sustrans take care of your bag both to Glastonbury and back.
Cycle for a charity
Wouldn’t it be awesome to say that you cycled from London to Paris in 48 hours (such a challenge exist and it looks FUN!) or for those who are so over the regular cycling sportives there’s such a thing as an ultracycle. Not that I’ve found an amazing looking ultracycle from Niagara falls to New York or anything. Pick a challenge that’s a challenge for you right here, right now and just enter in for it – when you put money down for a competition entry, you’re so much more likely to face the demons knowing your chosen charity is relying on YOU!
The beer ride
I’ll never forget the weekend when my friend, Charlotte BP, visited Bristol for the weekend and we decided to cycle out to Bath – dazed by the sun we stopped for some brunch at the Workhouse Cafe, Bristol before scooting down to the Bristol to Bath cycle path. What was so good about the bike ride? Two things, we had time to chat about anything and everything as we covered the 20 miles to Bath, we also rewarded ourself with a cold, refreshing ale in the Bath Brewhouse at the other end of the line. This meant we could cycle back to Bristol a little bit inebriated on sunshine and ale, lovely.
If you are in the same boat as me where you’d like to take it up a gear and giving your rides a sense of purpose, then check out the following events to see if any catch your eye –
- Cotswold Spring Classic Sportive – 55km – Bike Ride – 28th March. £30 to enter. I was suggested this race courtesy of Jo – this consists of a nice little ride in the Cotswolds after Easter – do Creme eggs count as sufficient pre-race food?
- Ful-on Duathlon – Surrey – Run 6k / Bike 24k / Run 6k – 22nd May – £42 to enter. I loved the idea of cycling & running around the Top Gear test track, I also wanted a reasonable challenge to aim towards within a reasonable time frame. End of May, that’s ages away, right?
- Portishead Sprint Triathlon – Portishead – 400metre Swim/25k bike/5k run – 13th August. £41.50 to enter. This is the goal, to be able to complete my first sprint triathlon and finally put the three activities, swim, ride and run side by side. The swim will be in a pool so it’ll be a great into race for me to complete before I move onto an open water sprint tri.
I know a whole army of people who are on the brink of throwing themselves into the world of multi-discipline races like a duathlon or triathlon. If you’re one of the people in said army, then I urge you to book in a race today to help motivate you to achieve something amazing this Summer.