Join the gym, lose weight, get fitter, travel more… As we all know from our own personal failures, best intentions of the fitness persuasion are quickly flattened by less difficult options like slobbing in front of the telly with Jack Bauer on Netflix.
To be truly triumphant at resolution-making and health and happiness we need to change our habits. So forget those painful crack-of-dawn runs and depressing January visits to the gym – just get on a bike!
Cycling not only improves fitness, it saves time and money, protects the environment, gives you a face-splitting grin and offers a whole new way to see the world, so you can tick off umpteen resolutions with one single lifestyle change. Claire Connachan offers some top tips to get started on two wheels.
1. Decide on what kind of cycling you want to do
Do you want ride in forests and over mountains, cover a lot of miles, commute to work or pop to the shops? Much like the car, there’s a wide range of bikes on offer with different pros and cons, so it’s helpful to figure out whether you’d prefer a mountain bike, road bike, hybrid, shopper or cyclocross. Or maybe you fancy diving straight in at the deep end to the bonkers world of Audax.
2. Get a bike
If you want a brand spanking new bike check out the January sales, as are there are some great deals with national retailers as well as local independent bike shops. It’s also worth asking if your employer offers a cycle to work scheme, as the tax savings are considerable for a shiny new set of wheels. Second hand cycles are a great idea for someone new to cycling as the investment isn’t as hefty. Local bike recycling charities are good places to get a bargain, and sites like Gumtree can yield good deals (although be careful re: stolen bikes).
3. Buy some basic kit
Contrary to popular belief, in order to cycle you don’t need to be decked out in lycra like some aerodynamic condom. If you are starting with short distances or want cycle for transport, all you need is your regular clothes. A helmet is recommended, especially if you haven’t cycled for a long time or need to build confidence. A set of lights and a decent quality lock are a must buy – bike thieves are on par with invertebrates and a good lock will help deter their slimy ways.
4. Plan some routes
There are some excellent free resources around for planning safe and stress-free routes on the bike. The CycleStreets website offers a range of route options, from quiet and picturesque through to fast and furious. Google Maps has a cycling layer on its layout, and organisations like Sustrans offer paper maps for some of the best leisure cycling opportunities around.
5. Get out in a group
Cycling is enjoyed solo, but if you’re new to the saddle a local group will introduce you to new friends, unknown routes and shortcuts, plenty banter and some fantastic days out. CTC, the national cycling charity, has cycling groups across the UK. If you’re a female cyclist and want to ride with other women in a relaxed atmosphere, check out the Breeze network in England, and the Belles on Bikes network in Scotland.
6. Build your cycling confidence
If you’ve been off a bike for a while, it can be a bit scary starting to cycle again. By attending some cycling skills sessions, you’ll gain confidence and understand how best to ride on road and paths. Local bike shops often offer half-day courses, local authorities have adult programmes, and national Bikeability qualifications will give you the skills you need to tackle a wide range of on-road cycling situations.
7. Become a mechanic
If something goes wrong while out cycling, knowledge of basic bike maintenance is hugely helpful. By learning how to fix a puncture, deal with dodgy brakes and understand where those weird noises are coming from, you can feel confident on a ride and manage most of cycling’s common mechanical problems. There are hundreds of YouTube tutorials showing you everything from how to use a bicycle pump to how to clean your trusty steed, and if you want more hands on instruction your local bike shop should be able to help with classes.
8. Fit cycling into your life
It’s easy to meet a new year’s resolution for healthier habits with a bicycle, because you can fit cycling into your life – just make some small lifestyle tweaks like swapping your car or public transport for the bike on shorter journeys. Commute to work via bike and start the work day with a spring in your step. Or use your bike to nip to the shops. Before you know it, the miles will accumulate, you’ll breeze up hills and weight will start to peel off from pedal power. Cycling is hugely addictive; once you discover the joys of two wheels there’s no going back!
Claire Connachan has been riding a bike for three years in Edinburgh. She is a ride leader for Belles on Bikes Edinburgh and writes the Claire Cycles blog about her two-wheeled adventures around Scotland. Follow her on Twitter – @crabbitcopy.
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