road bikes

Cycling Tips

Lessons learned: Five things I’ll take from cycling in 2015

Pru_100_13
views
1125
  1. You will get faster. Two years ago the idea of a sub-twenty minute lap of Richmond Park was unthinkable: now, it’s normal. You might think that your current average speed is about as good as it gets – but trust me, you’ll look back at your old Strava times and be amazed at how far you’ve come.

  2. Don’t fixate on a single training strategy. To become a better rider, you need to alternate: sometimes you should focus on speed, but sometimes it’s about pushing yourself to ride further. Distance and endurance are vital building blocks on which to increase your strength and therefore build speed – while practising those sprints on shorter rides will boost your power for long outings.

  3. It’s no use waiting for the mood to take you. No matter how much you love cycling, you won’t always feel like riding. Yes, you’ll be tired; hungover; the weather won’t be ideal… but you have to ride. If you wait for ideal conditions you’ll never get any better. What’s more, you’ll be amazed by how often your best rides will be those you didn’t much fancy.

  4. Don’t be a lone ranger. Riding with others is a really enjoyable experience, and joining a cycling club will help you improve your technique and road craft. Take the plunge – you might not love the first one you try, but there are plenty around so ride out with a few groups until you find the one that suits you.

  5. It’s not all about the bike. You might tell yourself that you’ll be faster on a better bike – but actually, what will make you a better cyclist is a better you. Losing those excess pounds and taking care of yourself will make you faster, fitter and stronger. (That doesn’t mean you won’t want, or need, another bike as well. But don’t buy it until you deserve it.)

Vamper’s Matt took up road cycling in 2012 but 2015 was the turning point when it went from hobby to lifestyle.
Vamper’s Matt took up road cycling in 2012 but 2015 was the turning point when it went from hobby to lifestyle.
Cycling TipsFeaturedWomen's Cycling

From high heel-wearing casual cyclist to sweaty sportive rider: #thisgirlcan

Sedate to SportiveFrom sedate cyclist to Strava-obsessed sportive addict. Times change.
views
3142

In a recent article about cycling participation in The Guardian, one paragraph in particular caught my eye.

“For several female participants in the study, being a cyclist – or choosing not to be one – was very much entangled with concerns and convictions about femininity, appearance and their inclusion in a highly visible minority transport culture – a sort of club. One, Rachel, new to cycling, described uncertainties about what to wear: “I swing between, should I go all in Lycra or should I go for a more girlie look.” Others recognized the dilemma but felt they handled it quite comfortably, and some fully embraced the cyclist look: “I’ve got the kit, I’m a cyclist, yeah.” There was also outright rejection: “The women that do cycle are probably more blokey than feminine.”

I understand those concerns about appearance and femininity.

Only 18 months ago I was cycling to work at a gentle 12mph so as not to get sweaty in whatever I planned to wear at the office that day. A skirt and blouse with heels; a dress; a pair of skinny jeans and a blazer. I was always safe in a helmet and a fluorescent sash at night, but I was adamant that the only way I wanted to ride was at a comfortable pace in my regular clothes. And I enjoyed it.

It’s safe to say my view of cycling has changed in recent times.

Why would I want to ride fast and get sweaty on my way to work? Why would I want to wear specific cycling clothes, and have the rigmarole of getting changed at the other end? Couldn’t cycling just fit in with my lifestyle?

A leather jacket and sandals used to be my typical cycling outfit...
A leather jacket and sandals used to be my typical cycling outfit…

Well, of course it could.

But it’s safe to say my view of cycling has changed in recent times.

Fast forward a few months, and a persuasive Matt – co-founder of Vamper – convinced me to put my name down for the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 mile cycling event. Quite how he managed it, I still don’t know; but sure enough, I entered the ballot – and was so disappointed to not receive a place that I immediately signed up for a charity spot instead.

It gradually dawned on me that to ride 100 miles – up some hills! – on my steel-framed single speed would be a challenge. I wasn’t sure Leith Hill was really made for a cyclist with a basket on the front of her bike. And I was fairly sure heels weren’t going to be the most appropriate footwear.

That aversion to sweat? Gone.

I realised I was going to have to make some concessions to practicality.

With Matt’s guidance, I settled on my first road bike. With a budget of £1,000, I wanted the best bike I could possibly find for that money. We decided that Sheffield-based Planet X was my best bet, and I opted for the Pro Carbon SRAM Rival 22 Women’s road bike.

Happy with my Planet X Pro Carbon SRAM Rival 22
Happy with my first road bike – a Planet X Pro Carbon SRAM Rival 22

I couldn’t very well ride a carbon road bike in heels, though, could I?

With some coaxing, I agreed to go the whole hog on the pedal front. I duly bought a set of Shimano SPD-SL pedals, and a set of cleats. They weren’t going to fit on my stilettoes, so I bought a pair of road shoes. And road shoes would not look good with a skirt, so I ordered a pair of padded bib tights. Which required a coordinating jersey… and a sportier helmet……

I couldn’t very well ride a carbon road bike in heels, though, could I?

I spent some time in a state of panic, practising clipping in and out on our private road until I felt reasonably confident that I could free my feet in case of emergency. And off we went. Me, riding a road bike, with gears, in Lycra.

I enjoyed it.

My hands hurt a bit, so I ordered a pair of cycling gloves. And a cycling jacket.

I enjoyed it all the more.

My first cycling event - the 38 mile Le Petit Depart in the Yorkshire Dales.
My first cycling event – the 38 mile Le Petit Depart in the Yorkshire Dales.

We put our names down for the 38 mile Le Petit Depart recreational ride in the Yorkshire Dales. I acquired a Garmin, and a cadence sensor. I started caring about Strava sections – and realised that I have a little bit of a competitive streak.

And by ‘a little bit’, I mean that it transpires my competitive streak is a mile wide.

I spent some time in a state of panic, practising clipping in and out on our private road until I felt reasonably confident that I could free my feet in case of emergency.

That aversion to sweat?

Gone. That’s what Muc-Off Dry Shower is for. And hell – if my hair is a bit messy at work, I can always tidy it up with the straighteners I keep in my desk drawer in case of emergency.

Riding casually is great - but riding hard is much more satisfying
Riding casually and looking nice is great; but riding hard is much more satisfying. Give me sweat and aching muscles!

Having a physical, competitive outlet has given my life a new direction. I worry far less about my appearance than I used to: I’m happy to have a body which is active and healthy. I’m happy to have strong legs that allow me to nail sections and keep up with Matt.

I like to sweat.

Sweating keeps my skin healthy, and it tells me that I’ve worked hard.

I like my legs to ache after a 17mph commute or a hilly sportive.

I like my cycling tan from a summer of long rides, and I like the tell tale oil mark on my leg when I’ve been messing about with my bike in the house.

I like road cycling, and I’ll never again be content to ride at 12mph in heels again.

“The women that do cycle are probably more blokey than feminine.” Riding hard, challenging myself, breaking a sweat and dressing the part don’t make me feel blokey, that’s for sure. I feel like a stronger woman than I did before – and that makes me feel better about my gender than adhering to any modern constructs of what constitutes femininity.

This woman can.

One of the greatest days of my life - completing the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 with Matt.
One of the greatest days of my life – completing the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 with Matt. Sweaty, achey, and utterly elated.