Before I started my training in November 2017 for Ironman UK 2018, the last time I had been on a bike was a slightly traumatic experience six years ago. Before that, I hadn’t been on a bike since I was probably about 12. I swore to myself I’d never go on a bike. Ha. How things changed. So how did I become *a little bit* more confident with cycling?
A few years ago, it was a warm summer evening and I was on an internship. I didn’t want to face the stench of body odour and a hundred sweaty armpits in my face on the tube journey home. I thought it would be a brilliant idea to hire a Boris bike and cycle home. I got on the bike and I remember wibble-wobbling everywhere. I wasn’t cycling in a straight line. The roads were manic. Cars were everywhere. Buses were coming at me left,right and centre (ok, slight exaggeration). How was I meant to tell the drivers I was going to turn left? Oh my god. I’d forgotten how to ride a bike. Yeap. Trying to retake cycling in peak hours after work somewhere between St Paul’s and Bank was not such a great idea. I ended up trying to cycle for 10 minutes then ended up redocking the bike at the nearest docking station and took the tube home. NEVER EVER, EVER AGAIN.
Before I started Ironman UK training, I went to two sessions with Cycle Confident. These really helped with becoming confident cycling on London roads. People had dropped out of my session, so I was quite lucky to have one-to-one sessions with the instructor, tailoring both sessions to what I wanted. For me, my aim was to become confident cycling on London roads. They had other sessions going on at the same time where groups of adults were learning how to ride their bikes. So, these sessions are really catered for all levels. My mum, who’d taken up cycling before getting inured, was the person who told me about Cycle Confident. She found the sessions really useful to build up confidence cycling on London roads and reacquaint herself with cycling. If you live in London, they have free Cycle Confident sessions across many boroughs.
Some boroughs also have free maintenance classes too: https://www.cycleconfident.com/
Manchester/ Warrington: https://www.bikeright.co.uk/warrington/freewheeling/
South Yorkshire: http://www.pedalready.co.uk/
Across the country: https://bikeability.org.uk/
Let’s Ride by British Cycling – group rides and Breeze for women
Again, my Mum was the one who introduced me to Let’s Ride. It’s supported by British Cycling and helps you to connect with other cyclists and join onto group rides. Rides take place all over the country, any day and time of the week. Distances cover anything from 30 minutes to over 100 miles and cover different types of terrain. The rides usually state their level of difficulty, terrain covered, expected duration and what kind of bikes are best suited.
For further information on Let’s Ride, click here.
There are also the Breeze rides. Breeze rides are pretty much the same set up as the Let’s Ride rides, except these are specifically for women only and are far more beginner-friendly.
Cycling clubs – find one that’s beginner friendly If you can, join a cycling club. As a beginner, I won’t lie. These can be scary places. A lot of them more often than not will claim to be beginner-friendly, but then insist you can only join if you can cycle round a lap within a specific time. Ermm….a truly beginner-friendly club will have a no-drop policy. This is the key phrase you need to look out for when joining a cycling club. A no-drop policy means that no-one gets left behind on the rides, regardless of your pace.
Dirty Wknd very much encompasses this – they have rides for all levels – from those who are part of London’s amateur cycling race scene to those who only took up cycling only a few months ago. And they regularly host beginner sessions.
Maybe I’m biased because I’m a member.
If you want to become a ride leader, they are also looking to set up outside of London.
If you are a part of a cycling club that covers all levels, let’s all here about them. I want to hear more about truly beginner-friendly cycling clubs. Put it in the comments section below.
You’ve got to want to become cycle confident
As with anything, you’ve got to want to become cycle confident. If you’re heart’s not in it, you’ll burn out or get bored very quickly.
Don’t be nervous about asking questions. When I first took my bike out for a ride, I realised I had absolutely no idea where the gears were. I then wondered if I’d bought a bike that didn’t have brakes. I sheepishly walked into a Giant’s store one day and then asked if my bike had gears and if so, where were they?
Practice, practice, practice
It’s one of the many things I’ve learnt during Ironman training. If you want to master something, practice, practice, practice. I found taking my bike in a park or cycling in my garden really helpful. As I learnt from switching from flat pedals to cleats, grassy ground is much more comfier to fall on than concrete.
In your park, practice hand signals for roads. Pretend that the people sitting on benches are traffic lights. Parks are a great place to practice hand signals. You can stop whenever you want and start whenever you want. Then, once you feel comfortable in a park, cycle in a quiet area. Luckily, there’s a few quiet blocks near me and I used that area to practice getting used to city roads.
So I thought to myself, never ever again, didn’t I? Yet, here I am, writing this post, dreading my commute home all because I didn’t cycle my commute. Instead, I’m faced with the prospect of having a hundred sweaty armpits in my face as I stand squished in a crowded central line tube carriage on my way home.
Do you have any other tips on how to become cycle confident or do you have any questions about getting comfortable with cycling? Let me know.