Cycling TipsFeaturedWomen's Cycling

A letter to my friend, a newbie cyclist: tips for taking up cycling at 30

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Dear KC,

I’m so pleased you’re taking up cycling! I promise not to go on and on about it, but I wanted to just share a bit of advice to make it as enjoyable for you as possible. I’ve learned a few things that I’d like to have known when I started out! Are you thinking of joining a cycling club? It might be worth considering – it’s a good way to meet people, to learn routes and to pick up tips!

In case you’re wondering what to wear, here’s the Victoria Guide to Cycling Essentials 🙂

Padded shorts

I don’t know how you feel about joining the Lycra brigade – I wasn’t keen on the idea, I’ll admit. But, comfort and practicality won out for me, and I’d really recommend getting the right kit – not least a pair of decent padded shorts, because nobody wants a sore bum, and you definitely don’t want any chafing downstairs… Believe me!

There are two types of padded shorts: waist shorts and bib shorts. Personally, I much prefer bib shorts. They do make it harder to go to the loo, but if you’re out on a bike ride you’ll only spend a couple of minutes peeing compared to a few hours riding, so I’d go for the more comfortably cycling option! Bib shorts are great to wear because there’s no waist band to dig in (and no muffin top!) As you’re in the Frozen North, I realise you might not want to wear shorts for much of the year. It might be worth looking at a pair of 3/4 bib tights instead which you can wear in spring and autumn (and probably a fair bit in summer, truth be told!)

Three options that you might want to look at:

  1. Fierlan 3/4 tights – these are really rather beautiful, and they have a good chamois pad. The leg isn’t super tight, so if you’re not fully on board with looking like a Lycra warrior, they’re just a bit more… relaxed.
  2. Rivelo Tideswell bib shorts or Hazelwood 3/4 tights – I swear, Rivelo make the best chamois pads of any shorts I’ve tried. Love ‘em!
  3. Gore Bike Wear Power Lady Bib Shorts – if you’re not convinced by my loo break argument, these bib shorts are a compromise! No muffin top or digging in at the waist, but they have a zip around the middle for – erm – easy access! Definitely worth a look. (The name does make me laugh. POWER LADY.)

A bit of advice – you don’t wear knickers with cycling shorts!! You must go commando! It might feel weird at first, but it’s very comfortable!

Cycling gloves

My second essential? Gloves! I can’t stand riding without them! For one thing, my hands get sore without padded mitts. And on a hot day, my hands get sweaty – the mitts give extra grip on the handlebars and brakes. And in winter, my fingers get terribly cold, so a good pair of warm, padded gloves makes the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.

Specialized Body Geometry Gel cycling gloves are very good. They’re really well padded, and wear brilliantly – I’ve been washing and wearing mine for a year and they’re still looking good!

Endura make some really cool bright pink winter gloves – they’re called Endura Women’s Luminite Gloves, they’re really cosy, and they look ace.

Nothing else is essential at this point, I don’t think. It’s worth having a cycling jersey because it’s useful to have pockets in the back for snacks and your phone, but if you just want to wear a gym top and a little rucksack while you’re getting started, that’s fine. Once you do decide to go full kit, you’ll find that there are some really cool cycling jerseys around!

Trainers vs. Clipless Pedals

As you’re only just starting out, I’m guess you haven’t considered the pedal/shoe issue! A pair of trainers and regular pedals is fine for now, but you might want to think about going ‘clipless’ in the future. That means having cycling shoes with cleats on the bottom which clip into your pedals. The benefit is that, with your foot attached to the pedal, you’re getting double the power because you’re pedalling on the way up as well as the way down. It’s very energy efficient!

Clipless pedals probably sound really scary – I was pretty horrified by the idea of having my feet attached to my bike when I first started. But after an hour of practicing in a car park I felt fairly confident, and after a couple of rides it was just second nature. Don’t get me wrong – in the early days there’s a good chance you’ll forget to unclip once, and you’ll probably topple over at the traffic lights in an embarrassing fashion. But don’t worry – we’ve all been there! And in no time at all, unclipping the moment you see a red light or queue ahead will be a habit that you don’t even think about. But, like I say, you don’t need to worry about that just yet! It’s a challenge just getting back into cycling again after 20 years, I know!

Other stuff:

You should be like a boy scout when you’re cycling – be prepared! It’s a good idea to put a few habits in place. You did the right thing getting Hopey Bicycle Repairs to check the bike out for you before your first ride!

Firstly, never go out without checking your tyres. Make sure they’re at the right pressure. It’s easiest with a track pump, so think about getting one to keep one in the shed. And when you’re out riding, keep a spare inner tube, a compact pump, and a CO2 cartridge inflator with you. (Admittedly, you need to know how to change an inner tube! But if you’re struggling, a more experienced cyclist will help you get back on the road.)

Secondly, have a think about the light and weather conditions. It might be light when you set off, but if it will be fading when you head home, make sure you have fully charged front and rear lights.

Thirdly, TAKE SNACKS. I know you. You need fuelling, regularly. There’s nothing worse than running out of energy 20 miles from home! Keep cereal bars, or a banana, or a mini Soreen – anything! – in your pocket 🙂

Don’t get stressed about hills! Make sure you practice changing gear on the flat so that when you find yourself going uphill you know how to change. Don’t be afraid to go into the easiest possible gear – it’s not about speed, it’s about getting to the top and not killing yourself doing it 🙂

I really wouldn’t recommend looking too closely at the arguments for and against cycling helmets. It’s such a polarising issue with loads of antagonism on both sides. Look, it’s up to you, and of course, if you were involved in a terrible accident with an HGV or a double decker bus, a helmet isn’t going to save your life. But I’ve fallen off my bike twice, and both times, hit my head – the second time I hit it hard, and damaged my helmet. Had I not been wearing it on that second occasion, I honestly think I would have ended up in hospital.

Finally, ENJOY YOURSELF! I can’t convey just how much I’ve enjoyed taking up cycling as an adult. I really wish I’d started earlier! There’s no better feeling than soaring down a hill – it’s just so flippin’ exhilarating! I can’t wait for us to go for a ride together next time I come to visit.

Happy cycling 🙂

Much love,

V xxx

  • Kate

    Thaaaaaanks Victoria! Cycling commando?!!! I hadn’t considered any of this before, aside from the gloves (my hands did hurt even after a short ride), snacks and it did occur to me that if I got a puncture I’d be pretty stuck. I just pedalled off with my phone, my bike and a helmet. Ride number 2 is tomorrow morning. At 7am I’ll be pedalling furiously through the Dales. I plan to attack a hill this time! Thanks for the advice x