Between August and September is when we see the world’s cycling elite compete in the UCI Road World Championships – the highlight of the road cycling calendar. Time trials, road racing, para cycling – the world’s finest racing cyclists will be taking on some of the toughest roads.
Spectacular as they are, you don’t have to be a lycra-glad god – or goddess – on a billion dollars of gleaming carbon fibre to get a massive health boost from cycling. If you’re looking for a great way to get a little fresh air and exercise, to shed a few pounds – and even to save a little cash on your commute – it may be time to join one of the fastest growing sports in the UK.
What’s so good about cycling?
It’s difficult to overstate the benefits of hitting the saddle. Half an hour a day can make a massive difference to your body – and your mind. And if you bike short journeys instead of drive, you’re doing your bit for the environment – and almost certainly saving time. Here are just some of those health benefits:
- It’s a mood booster: you’ll flush your body with endorphins, fill your lungs with fresh air, and get that all important natural light: exercising outdoors is nature’s own anti-depressant – which gives it the edge over studio cycling
- You’ll shed those pounds – depending upon your weight and how hard you hit it, cycling burns anywhere between 400 and a massive 1000 cals an hour
- You’ll slash your risk of cancer and heart disease by up to half
- It’s great for cardio health and developing stamina
- You’ll sleep better, think clearer and give your immune system a lift
- It works a bunch of major muscles groups – not just your calves, thighs and glutes. It also activates your core and works your arms and shoulders
- Cycling can also be fun: it’s a great way to explore your neighbourhood, or further afield – think country lanes in high summer – and whether you like meditative solo cycles, or the sociability of a club ride, there’s something whatever your state of mind.
Do I have to spend a fortune?
No. Entry level road bikes start from about £250. And don’t forget those cycle-to work-vouchers – which max out at £1000 and guarantee you a lovely ride. Here’s a few things to look out for in a bike under £500:
- An aluminium frame
- Solid, well-built wheels
- No heavier than about 10KG
- Branded gears – such as Shimano Claris or Sora
- If you’re close to £500, go for carbon forks
And remember – although an online bike might be cheaper, a good local bike store will make sure the bike fits, set it up for you, help you out with any questions and might even throw in a free six-month service. You’ll probably save money long term.
What if I’m new to bikes?
Everyone’s a newbie at some point, so here’s a few tips for your early days:
- Start small – try short rides first, and consider going traffic-free in a local park
- Make sure you’re comfortable on your bike – a good local bike shop can help get you set up right
- Learn to use your gears – it’ll make all the difference when you hit your first hill
- Be confident on the road – don’t hide by the kerb, ride at least a metre into the road – you’ve every right to be there
- Dress for the occasion – it doesn’t have to be lycra, but you’ll feel so much better if you’re properly dressed – good gloves and padded shorts make all the difference.
Is it dangerous?
Fear is the single biggest reason people don’t cycle. Although you’re more likely to be killed crossing the road than cycling on it, there are risks. But if you’re sensible, those risks are small. Wear a helmet – and lights at night or in low light – buy a reflective or hi-viz jacket and obey the highway code – plus keep alert at junctions and avoid big trucks. Your first few times in traffic may be a bit nerve-racking, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you grow in confidence – and start to reap the health benefits.
The world champs
So, what does it take to be a world cycling champion? First up there’s your biology: genes really do make a difference. But even if you’ve got great genes, it’s not a shoe-in. Next up is grit. However great your genetic gifts, without the brutal hours in the saddle, there’s no hope. Plus, you need a team behind you.
World class athletes are born – and made.