Cycling is an excellent exercise and a good alternative to running. If running aggravates old knee injuries, cycle instead. On a bicycle, you can cover more miles and so you are guaranteed a change of scenery. The only disadvantage of cycling is the ever-present risk of a traffic accident. Unfortunately, the cyclist’s own good sense and skill is not enough to protect him, as his safety often lies with other road users. In addition, a collision between a car and a cyclist is a very one-sided affair, no matter who is at fault. Consequently, a lot of extra care has to be taken if you decide that cycling is for you.
A bicycle requires a reasonably large financial outlay. If you are going to include cycling in your training programme, you will need a good quality racing bike. Avoid mountain bikes. Although it is fun to ride along the rough cross-country tracks, the inevitable spills can result in injuries that will set back your training programme.
A hard safety helmet is essential when cycling. Every year, many cyclists are killed or seriously hurt as a result of head injuries. Cycling shoes are also very important. They come in two types. One design snaps on to the pedals, while the other is secured by toe-clips. Invest in a pair of cycling shorts. These are padded in all the right places and will save the cyclist a lot of unnecessary discomfort.
Water bottles are another must for the long-distance cyclist. Two one-litre bottles are a good idea, one filled with water and the other with an isotonic drink. The drink will replace all the lost energy without disturbing your blood chemistry, and the water can be poured over your head to refresh your tired body!
Cycling gloves are another excellent buy. These will reduce the blisters that form on the palms as a result of the continual pressure, which is most severe when you are climbing hills.
Wear a cyclist’s mask if you intend to ride through heavy traffic. These are constructed from neoprene rubber and fitted with a charcoal filter. They do tend to restrict breathing when you are working hard, but they will prevent sore throats and filter out much of the noxious fumes from vehicle exhausts. Sunglasses offer some protection from flying grit and the multitude of insects which fill the air in the summer.
The cyclist’s vest is another useful piece of kit. The many pockets around the back can be used to carry a lot of essential equipment. On the subject of equipment, always carry a tyre pump, two spare inner tubes and a puncture repair kit.
Training all year will mean that you will sometimes ride at night. Make sure that you have bright, dependable lights. These should comprise a red rear light and reflectors and a good front light. Consider fitting a strobe light on the front. These are easily seen by other road-users and well worth the extra money. A reflective band, worn across the shoulder, is another good safety item. You cannot be too safe!
You will not need many clothes during a heavy training session. During cold weather, wear a long-sleeved vest and tracksuit trousers. Avoid waterproofs when training since even fabrics that can ‘breathe’ trap some condensation. Select clothing with bright colours so that they will be highly visible to other road users. Avoid black and dark colours.
Adjust the saddle as high as possible without it becoming uncomfortable. This will relieve some strain on the back and legs. Although cycling mainly works the legs, the arms and back also have to cope with a lot of strain, particularly when climbing hills. Try to keep the ankles as low as possible when peddling, since this will reduce the strain on the calf muscles.
Select the right gear for the road and try to maintain an even pace. Force the pace on hills to give yourself a good work-out. A rest can be snatched on the downhill section.
A cyclist has the same rights and responsibilities as any other vehicle. Stay at least 1 m (3 ft) from the kerb; this allows you room to avoid parked cars – and car doors opening! When turning or overtaking stationary vehicles, look behind you and then give the correct signal so that your intentions are clear to other road users.
Keep a sharp eye on the road ahead for obstacles such as pot-holes, debris and glass from traffic accidents, but never swerve out suddenly. If faced with a pot-hole or some other obstacle, brake, check behind you and then go around it.
When turning right, always check behind you before pulling out onto the crown of the road. In heavy traffic, try and keep up with the flow, but be careful when travelling up the inside of a slower vehicle. Keep alert for traffic pulling in front of you at junctions. On wet roads, keep your brakes on slightly to ensure that you can stop in an emergency. Avoid the white lines and lane markers since these become treacherous when wet.
Take it easy until you get the feel of the bike and the local roads. Buttocks have to take a lot of abuse and this will be a major source of discomfort, initially. This problem tends to diminish as your riding technique improves and you learn to place less weight on the saddle. Keep in as low a gear as possible. This ensures that the legs are always working against the maximum resistance. Change to a higher gear when climbing hills and remain in the saddle as long as possible. On very steep climbs, you may have to use your body weight by standing on the pedals, but modern bike gears with their wide range tend to make this unnecessary. Reschedule your cycling if the conditions are wet or windy. Poor weather takes all the pleasure out of the training and only adds to the danger. High, gusty winds are the worst hazards; they can blow you across the road. Braking in the wet also has its problems. Apply both brakes together.
Stage One: Cycle for ten minutes to get the leg muscles warmed up and then time yourself over a 16-km (ten-mile) circuit. This should be completed in around 40 minutes. Cool down as you cycle home.
Stage Two: This involves a 32-km (20-mile) circuit which, at a fast pace, should be completed in around 85 minutes. Select a route with plenty of hills and the minimum of traffic.
Stage Three: This is a 80-km (50-mile) circuit with some hilly sections. Maintain a good even pace and aim to complete the course in approximately four hours. Take liquids frequently and snacks when required. Choose a long, straight, level piece of road to eat and drink on the move.
With cycling, the work does not end with the session. The bike still has to be maintained and kept in good working order. Clean and dry the bike. Lubricate all the bearings, chains and cables. Check and adjust the brakes, replacing brake cables when necessary. Check that the wheel bearings are in good condition and that the tyres are inflated to the correct pressures. Pay particular attention to the gear-changing mechanism, making sure that it is free from grit. Stow the bike away safely.
Some Handy Tips
Try to train locally so that you can get help if you break down. On longer runs, have a contingency plan. A cyclist can carry very little extra equipment, so you can be left vulnerable if you break down in bad weather. Carry a phone card.
A sore backside is very unpleasant. Wash the affected area and dry thoroughly before adding liberal amounts of zinc and castor oil ointment. The most common complaint, however, is sore knees. Knee injuries can be aggravated by a bad riding position. Experiment with different saddle positions. If you are nursing a knee injury, keep the bike in a slightly higher gear.
Gravel rash is the most common injury resulting from a fall. Wash the grazed area in a solution of mild antiseptic (Savlon solution is great) and remove all the particles of dirt. Dry and leave uncovered to heal.