You don’t have to be Victoria Pendleton or Lizzie Armitstead to get into cycling. Alice Whitehead shows you how getting bike fit is not about reinventing the wheel…
With the freedom to peddle where you want (in half the time of a car) and with enough calorie busting exercise to dump that gym membership – cycling can, quite literally, be a breath of fresh air. According to research, cycling for just 20 minutes at an average speed can torch up to 150 calories, while biking regularly can help you sleep more deeply, reduce the risk of chronic disease and illness such as type 2 diabetes, help you live longer and even, according to a University of Illinois study, increase your brain power! So why is it that only a quarter of all cyclists in England are female? If the Lycra, lingo and the saddle soreness are putting you off, try our beginner’s guide to getting the wheels in motion…
Cycling magazines and marketers would like you to believe you need the latest carbon-fibre constructed, disc-braked stunner (with a stunning price tag to match) in order to cycle. As you’d expect, the truth is far cheaper. As long as the wheels go round, the gears work and the brakes stop you crashing into stuff, any good bike will do. At its most basic, you’re looking for a dropped crossbar so you can step over more easily, a shorter frame so you can reach the handlebars without slouching, and a light weight frame so you can lift it up stairs and onto bike racks. Wheel and deal at your local bike shop: most places have a try before you buy policy, and never be strong-armed into a buying a pink bike with basket and bell just because you’re a woman.
While some of the more committed MAMILs (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) may insist otherwise, cladding yourself in stretchy fibres is not a requirement of cycling. With few things more un-motivating than the thought of having to squeeze into skin-tight clothing before exercise, you’re best going for comfort and convenience. If you’re cycling outdoors, high vis is a must, and skorts are an excellent hybrid between a skirt and a short with less of the unflattering tightness. One exception to the rule is padded shorts, however – and these are a must-have investment for your ‘lady bits’!
A common beginners’ mistake is not using gears correctly. Cycling in too high a gear (the higher a gear, the harder it is to ‘push’ the pedals round) causes faster muscle fatigue and can strain knee joints. Keeping to a higher ‘cadence’ (the speed you revolve the pedals), will give you a better CV workout, allow you to cycle for longer and make it easier to get to the top of those hills.
You’re not out to break Bradley Wiggins’ records, so pick a pace that raises your heart rate and gets you into that fat burning zone, but doesn’t mean you’re gasping for breath. You wouldn’t attempt a marathon the first time you pulled on trainers so build up to bigger rides gradually. Swap one of the short trips you might take in the car with a bike ride, and then up the distance by a few miles each time. For a good workout you should be aiming for a 15-20 mile round trip (approximately one hour to 90 minutes of cycling).
A spin class can be a great way to get cycle-fit if the weather is rubbish, and there’s nothing more motivating that cycling with others. Most nationwide gym chains offer free 30-45-minute classes, and some even allow you to book a bike in advance so you can sneak in at the back! Based on interval training – slower paced pedalling broken up by high intensity inclines – it can really get your heart racing, but the benefit is you can make it as hard or as easy as you like. Get in early to get advice on adjusting your bike for your height and arm length.