How to start cycling and reap the benefits (for your body and your budget)

Did you know that by cycling you’re helping your community, your county and your planet?

According to Cycling UK, you’re also saving yourself a ton of money.

The average amount spent on a running a car each year is thought to be around £2,500, but apart from a few initial costs, cycling is free, which is great for news for anyone who is feeling that cost-of-living crisis at the moment.

According to Department For Transport statistics, 71% of all journeys made in England in 2020, were under five miles, which is an easy distance for even a beginner to attempt on a bike.

And, by doing so, it’s a great form of exercise, too. In fact, data shows that cycling to work is linked with a 45% lower risk of developing cancer, and a 46% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to commuting by car or public transport.

Plus, switching just one journey per day reduces your carbon footprint by approximately 0.5 tonnes over a year.

So what better time to make the switch than Bike Week that is encouraging as many people as possible to get out there and try two wheels.

However, if your heart is willing but your mind is not, you’re not alone. New research by Bott and Co solicitors, reveals that 90% of women don’t own a bike.

And yet, 49% would like to own one, but were discouraged from doing so by road safety issues, the risk of being injured, a lack of cycle lanes and not wanting to ride alone. In fact, a measly 31% of women said that recent changes to the Highway Code would be helpful.

Although cycling has grown in popularity in the UK in recent years, a gender divide also remains and this is another reason women aren’t taking to the saddle.

Who knew there was such a thing as MAMIL (Middle Aged Man in Lycra)?!

So what’s the best way to go about it, if you’re a beginner?

‘Most areas have their own local bike shop and this is the best place to get your cycling journey started,’ says Dame Sarah Storey, a British Paralympic cyclist and winner of 14 Paralympic gold medals.

‘There are other ways of getting your hands on a bike such as online, subscription services, or bike rentals but gaining expert advice from your local bike shop will help you understand which bike is best for you.

The best beginner bikes

Genesis Brixton

All your city travel needs sorted (Picture: Sim Mainey)

The Genesis Brixton is an all-seasons town bike that comes with with guards, a rear rack and a load carrier up front.

It has all-terrain ability thanks to 37mm-wide tyres and hydraulic disc brakes for a reliable stop in all conditions.

Buy for £999.99 from Freewheel.

Raleigh Sherwood

Cute and practical (Picture: Raleigh)

With a Dutch-style frame and a cute wicker basket, the Raleigh Sherwood shopper bike is perfect for leisurely rides through the city.

It has a lightweight frame, seven speeds and a low step.

Buy for £499 from Raleigh.

Cannondale Quick CX4 bike

Best of both worlds (Picture: Cannondale)

If you’re looking for something that can switch between urban-adventures and city pavements, the Cannondale Quick CX4 bike is built for agility, and comfort. It’s light, has seven speeds and multi-surface tyres.

Buy for £650 from Evans Cycles.

‘If you’re thinking about commuting to work on your bike you will need a suitable road bike, if hitting off-road trails on the weekend is more your style then a mountain bike with chunkier tyres is what you’re after.’

Or if you’re looking for the more relaxed approach there is an array of electric cycles available.

‘As a woman you will realise that you require a different style of bike to others, that could be narrower handlebars or a comfier saddle type, we’re all different and your local bike shop will be available to assist,’ Sarah advises.

Once you’re kitted out, you can simply take to the road, but if you’d rather link up with like-minded women in your area, you’ll need to find a local club.

‘Finding local cycling groups will help you to discover new routes and make new friends,’ she adds.

‘And cycling in a group will also make you feel a lot safer if you’re not the strongest on the saddle.’

Dame Sarah also advises always planning your route in advance, so you know what to pack in terms of food and water and ensuring you let someone know the route for safety reasons.

‘Finally, always pack a rain jacket,’ she adds. ‘We all know what the lovely British weather is like, so you never want to be caught short on a ride when the heavens open.’

Top tips for getting started

‘Whether people are taking up cycling for the first time or getting back into it after a long period, we understand that it can often seem like a step into the unknown,’ says Sam Jones, communications manager at Cycling UK.

With this in mind here are Sam’s top three tips for beginners.

1. Get a well-fitted bike

‘This doesn’t always mean spending a fortune as sometimes it’s possible to pick up a good quality second-hand bike from recycling centres or trusted online forums.’

2. Practice

‘It’s also important to feel comfortable when cycling. Practising mounting and dismounting and pedalling around a local park is a great way to gain confidence.’

3. Learn basic maintenance

‘It’s handy to know how to look after a bike and learning to fix a puncture or to change a tyre is a great place to start.’

‘You can have so much fun’

Olivia French, 21, is an aspiring tennis pro at Durham University student. She hadn’t ridden a bike since she was 12, but says an achilles injury and the start of lockdown in 2020 was the inspiration she needed to start cycling again.

‘Tennis was my first love and that’s where I thought my sporting ambitions lay,’ she says.

‘But lockdown started halfway through my first year at university and I couldn’t play any tennis because all the courts were closed. I was looking for something else to do but I couldn’t run because of my achilles. My dad suggested cycling, so I borrowed my mum’s bike and started riding with him. I was happy we could do something together and I rediscovered how much fun you can have cycling.

‘At first, I was also worried about not having the right fitness, but the great thing about cycling is that it allowed me to get out and explore – cycling took me much further than I could have gone running.

‘I don’t really enjoy the competitive side to tennis, but with cycling there was none
of that pressure, I could see I was improving without comparing myself to other people.

‘Now I absolutely love cycling. I think it has something in it for everyone. It’s such a diverse sport, you can do road, off-road, mountain-biking, you can use it to commute or go riding with friends.’

‘I’ve lost three stone since starting cycling’

Judith Worrall, 56, from North Yorkshire started cycling when she was 47 in a bid to get fit and lose some extra weight. Before this she was apprehensive of the idea of squeezing into lycra, getting to grips with a bike and being out of her depth.

‘I felt I needed to do something big,’ she says. ‘I was hurtling towards 50 and I saw an advert for a charity bike ride in India that involved riding 250 miles in five days. I signed up and loved it. I got the bug and haven’t looked back since.

‘It’s helped me lose three stone in weight and after completing the India ride, I was buzzing and quickly signed up for another in Cuba. Since then I have tackled routes in Tanzania, Vietnam and Cambodia, Brazil, Costa Rica, London to Paris and Milan to Venice.

‘Before, I’d always been put off by not having the right kit or the right bike, plus the idea of wearing lycra, or what would happen if I got a puncture.

‘I think some of the cycling clubs have a reputation from having members who are speed-merchants and there are a lot of idiots on the road, which can put some people off, but I believe any woman has the ability to take up cycling at any age and we have one woman in my club in her 70s.

‘I remember my first hilly ride and I felt like I was going to die, but just go out and enjoy it. Cycling is good for your body, your mind and soul.’

To find clubs in your area visit bottonline.co.uk/shecanride/club-finder.

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