I have always had a love of cycling – for me it is truly freedom on 2 wheels!
Recently, and with the realisation that I have been riding a bike for more than 40 years (slightly scary), I have been thinking about how this journey started for me and what keeps my bike wheels turning year after year. 2020 has definitely sparked a renewed enthusiasm, mainly due to the unfortunate cancellation (due to Covid19) of – my other passion – the Oxfam 100km Trailwalker Challenge in June this year. At least for the moment, I have swapped my trail running shoes for bike cleats and it feels great.
My aim from this article is to share my passion, to inspire others to start riding a bike, or – if you already do – to go a bit further. Further down, I have some useful tips from 2 clients – Jane and Richard – who, once they started riding (for the first time as adults), enjoyed the experience so much, they just could not stop!
So why do I love cycling so much and what are some of the benefits?
Here are my top 8 reasons why I regularly pull on the lycra and pedal off down the road, often starting before dark.
1. The challenge of the uphill and the joy of the downhill
I always choose hilly routes when riding if I can and, as long as I have selected the right gear, enjoy settling in for the challenge of the ascent. The pace of everything slows and it’s just you versus the hill. I am pretty stubborn and won’t give up unless extreme steepness takes over. I do remember being beaten a few times, however, in the UK especially in the Lake District and Scotland, with the wind pushing me back down the road, and curious sheep overtaking me walking up the slope on the grass verge.
At the summit, it’s payback time! The reward and feeling of joy that comes after any uphill effort, with the exhilarating downhill ‘wind in the hair’ moment speeding down the other side. Even just a few seconds of free-wheeling makes the uphill grind worth it, and sometimes it seems to last forever. I love it!
On the descent I overtook a car – believe it or not – and as I passed it (doing 40 mph!) I turned to my side and grinned at the disbelieving driver, before plummeting on downwards. A superb moment.Nick – in the Lake District, UK 1995 – doing the ‘end to end’ – 2000km from John O’Groats, Scotland to Land’s End, England
2. Great fitness
Cycling is a superb way to improve and maintain good health, especially aerobic fitness and leg strength (also toning muscles of the core and upper body). An all over approach – incorporating cycle specific strength exercises, with regular breathing and stretching, as well as plenty of time on the bike of course – is therefore hugely beneficial for all cyclists, from beginners right through to pro tour riders.
In contrast to running, and why many people take up cycling as an alternate, is the non-impact aspect of riding a bike – there is no pounding of joints (ankles, knees, hips and lower back) that running sometimes brings.
I have always found great clarity of thinking during exercise, and especially on a bike, I can get happily lost in my thoughts. Cycling gives me time to think and gain a sense of perspective on everyday life. I always feel more relaxed after a ride, and can focus with a clearer head on whatever the day throws at me.
4. See new places
I love exploring my local area, especially along the back roads, and finding new viewpoints and landmarks. Riding a bike – at a speed so much quicker than walking or even at a decent running pace, means one can go further and see more places. I normally ride from my back door, and am lucky enough to live very close to a wonderful bike path, that quickly takes me into the countryside, with very little traffic. It’s easy though to throw the bike onto a bike rack and drive out to find quieter roads, or parks with bike paths.
5. Social riding
Although I have done many great solo rides over the years, I always enjoy riding with mates and catching up whilst riding and over a post ride coffee. There is lots of fun to be had from planning a ride with a friend or group, choosing a new route perhaps, comparing bikes and kit, riding together and then sharing post ride statistics (especially if you are a Strava obsessive like I am!).
6. Inspiration from the pros
Nothing like being shown how it’s done by the pros! Being inspired to ride by watching professional cyclists in action is definitely a great motivator for me. Each year in July during the Tour de France – the ‘flagship’ 3 week Grand Tour of cycling, I seriously deplete my sleep reserves and become obsessed by watching 200 riders cycle over 3000kms in 3 weeks, up and down some very massive hills. I will then remind myself later, when inching up a local hillside, that the human body is incredibly strong and resilient, and that I CAN do this. I also enjoy reading sports biographies and recommend ‘The World of Cycling According to G’ by Geraint Thomas – the Welsh rider who won The Tour de France in 2018 – a very entertaining read.
7. A good way to save money and the environment
I ride just for pleasure at the moment, but I have commuted into work on a bike – back in my London days. As an alternative form of transport to driving, or taking public transport then, cycling is a win win. It’s free – apart from the initial investment of a bike of course and food to power you along – and you get fit at the same time! It’s also easy to park a bike, with most towns and cities across the world having bike racks, to encourage cyclists.
By choosing to ride a bike instead of driving, you are also doing your small – but important bit – to reduce carbon emissions, and therefore helping to keep the air we breathe cleaner for everyone.
8. Role model for my kids
Last but not least, it’s important for me to encourage my children to be active. By keeping myself in good shape and regularly riding – and running – I am sharing with my 2 girls the benefits of exercise. They both enjoy riding – and being twins – always want to be at the front of the pack!
Tales from the handlebars
To help explore this a bit further, I have asked 2 of my clients, both of whom I helped to get out on the bike for the first time, to share their reasons why they enjoy cycling, and if they have any tips for beginners.
About 10 years ago I was overweight, unwell, working 80 hours a week and unmotivated by exercise ….. and then I met Nick Ellson, a personal trainer in our local area and we started working on my fitness. After a few months, Nick suggested we needed a goal and my love of cycling began!
The goal was the 40km cycling leg of the Mooloolaba triathlon and I had two months to prepare. My first ever bike ride was not very promising and after a kilometre I had to get off and have a rest. I rang Nick discouraged but he encouraged me to continue including taking me for weekly training rides and two months later, I had completed the Triathlon cycling leg at a reasonable 30kmph average and I was on my way!
I started commuting to work, a round trip of around 55km and started touring both in Australia and overseas. I joined a social riding group and now lead many rides encouraging new cyclists every chance I get because I’m paying it forward in recognition of Nick’s impact in changing my life for the better. I’ve found my passion in Cycling through Nick and I don’t care if I ride slow or fast, I just want to ride!Richard Kohn, Samford
Why do you like cycling?
I love the fact that you can push yourself as much as you like, and that there is the opportunity to do it with friends (or fellow cyclists who become friends). There is something for everyone in cycling.Jane Seawright
How did I help you with your cycling ‘journey’?
My greatest fear as a beginner on a road bike was cleats – the fear of being clipped in and of falling off and being injured. I also hadn’t worked out that I needed to unclip from my right foot (conventional wisdom is that it should be done from the left foot as that is closest to the side of the road). Any time I tried to unclip from the left, I couldn’t make up my mind to do it, so I didn’t unclip at all and fell over (and that hurts and can be dangerous).
Nick helped me to gain confidence with cleats by starting me with toe clips, which hold your toes in but can easily be released using the same sideways foot movement that you use to unclip cleats, so you get used to the action. It was then quite an easy step to cleats, especially as I had worked out the unclipping right-side thing. He also took me on easy rides to increase my confidence and fitness, and to this day incorporates into my program, exercises such as bent over rows that strengthen my core and upper back and mimic the position on the bike.Jane Seawright
Any tips you have to share with/ encourage a beginner to start or ride more often…
It is important to learn techniques, rules and conventions of cycling from a knowledgeable coach, and it is more fun if you do it with other beginners. The people I learnt with are still my riding buddies to this day. Learning how to ride in a group and what to do on the road is very important for your safety and for those around you, riders and drivers.Jane Seawright, Townsville
Meanwhile, back in the Lake District…
The weather continues to be a roaster, doing it’s very hardest to wring every last drop of moisture out of me. I have to drink constantly. After 750 miles since John O’Groats, I am definitely a fitter and more intelligent cyclist, knowing when to use the right gears to maximise efficiency. If anything, it is my map reading skills and lack of sign posts that is letting me down. I conquer this by asking people the way, their replies ranging from not even so much as a response, to a full blown 10-minute chat on my trans-UK exploits.Nick – in the Lake District, UK 1995 – doing the ‘end to end’ – 2000km from John O’Groats, Scotland to Land’s End, England
In Freedom on 2 wheels (Part 2), read about my Memorable Moments on a bike, from my first ride off training wheels aged 5, having my bike stolen outside a fast food café in South London (and watching the flashing lights get smaller and smaller as they disappeared off down the road), eating my bodyweight in baguettes in Brittany in Northern France with a friend to fuel our cycling adventure, and finishing with my ‘Racing CV’ – a list of all my Triathlons and Bike Races from 1998 onwards.