I was recently asked by one of the sponsors of my world ride to write a few words on my top cycling tips for people and I thought I’d share them on here. Will anyone take any advice seriously from a man who wears a cape and his pants on his bike? Read on and make your own mind up…
I’ve tried to include something for everyone on here, from cycling newbies to seasoned sportive riders. If I’ve made any glaring omissions or if you’ve got a top cycling tip you’d like to share, please add it in a reply on this page.
1) A HAPPY BIKE = A HAPPY RIDER
I’m a big believer in a happy bike makes for a happy rider. By that I mean, just what kind of state is your bike in? If your chain is rusty and worn, if half your gears are not working, are you seriously going to be able to fully enjoy your bike ride? Go on then, put some oil on your rusty chain if you need to and sort your gears out while you’re at it! If you can’t do some of this minor bike maintenance, take it into your local bike shop. Your bike will love you back for any bits of TLC you give it.
2) FEELING DEFLATED?
Check your tyres are properly inflated! It’s such small thing, but this can make the world of difference for speed, comfort, safety…that’s ticking a lot of my favourite boxes right there! Loads of children turn up to my SuperCyclingClub I run in school with tyres that are almost flat. That makes it really hard work to pedal and a nightmare for cornering! The correct tyre pressures are normally written on the tyres themselves. If you haven’t got a pump, just put enough air in so that the tyres are hard enough that they don’t squash much when you grab them in your hand. It’s nearly always a case of having too little air in your tyres (my OCDness makes me check my tyre pressures about once a week!) as all tyres leak some air over time. Do be careful you don’t over-inflate your tyres though, especially in really hot weather, as you can take it too far the other way and burst your tyres!
3) RIDE LIKE A PRO!
I love going on long rides, whether it’s from Tooting to Turkey or Tooting to Torquay. Navigating around the place has been made easier with SatNavs and maps on phones, but I still find it’s a good idea to write some key destinations down on a piece of paper and sellotape it to your frame during a big ride. I did this recently on a 200km+ bike ride looping around Lake Geneva.
If you get a chance, add this Lake Geneva ride to your riding bucket list, it’s awesome! Do it off your own bat or do the Cyclotour du Leman mass ride that’s run every year round Lake Geneva in May. Having the key destinations written down really helps you to feel confident about what’s ahead of you. You’ve got enough going on in your head when you’re taking on physical challenges, so remove that brain strain and put it down on paper. Pro riders like Fabian Cancellara do this when they do long stage races, so they know when feeding stations or big climbs are coming up. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me!
4) WHEN IS AN ENERGY GEL NOT AN ENERGY GEL?
The answer is, when it’s patching up your tyre that has for some reason got a gaping hole in it. Now, inner tubes most people can deal with when they get punctures, but it can be a bit trickier when the tyre itself has a hole in it. If you’re lucky the hole in the tyre won’t be too big. In which case you can eat an energy gel you’ve got with you, then use the empty wrapper to put inside your tyre and act to cover up the hole in the tyre wall. This will hopefully stop the inner tube from popping through and allow you to gingerly limp home on your bike and replace your tyre in the comfort of your home.
5) CAN WE FIX IT? YES WE CAN!
The most likely thing to stop you cycling is a puncture. If you can fix it, it’s normally just a pain in the b*tt fixing it for a few minutes by the roadside while your friends wait impatiently and ‘tut tut’ about your appalling puncture repair technique. If you can’t fix a puncture though, it is game over and a long walk home. It doesn’t have be like this! Get yourself clued up on how to quickly fix a puncture (and a few other basic repairs if you can). Ask your local bike shop or a friend to talk you through it one day. Oh and it’s no good knowing how to fix a puncture if you don’t carry a spare inner tube or puncture repair kit (mentioning no names Crispin Vitoria!). I always take with me an inner tube, a few spare self-adhesive patches (in case I’m really unlucky and get more than 1 puncture) and a tiny pump like in the picture.
I bundle all this up in a sandwich bag and pop it in my cycling jersey pocket EVERY ride. Always ready…like a SuperCyclingNinja!
6) AS THE GERMANS SAY: WHAT’S THE WURST THAT COULD HAPPEN?
I’m a pretty optimistic kind of superhero/guy normally, but I’ve learned after spending lots of time on two wheels on the roads that it pays to sometimes be a bit of a pessimist. What I mean by that is, sometimes (especially in busy towns or cities) it really pays to keep in your head “What’s the stupidest thing that could happen here?” Could someone open their car door on you? Could a car suddenly decide to do a U-turn right in front of you to avoid sitting in a traffic jam? Could a pedestrian suddenly run across the road trying to catch a bus they’ve seen approaching? 99 times out of 100 everything will be fine and nothing will happen. But riding defensively and thinking ahead of what might happen on the road ahead, might just save your skin (literally) on that one important occasion out of 100.
7) DO I CYCLE TO EAT OR EAT TO CYCLE?
Sometimes I wonder what my biggest passion is: eating or cycling. I’d say they are in healthy competition with each other! More than any other sport I’ve done, I find that cycling is completely about keeping your body topped up with fuel (food+drink). It really is very simple, if you keep adding fuel to your car, you can keep going for miles. It’s exactly the same with your body and the bike. If you keep pouring the fuel in, you can keep going for hours and hours. If you’re doing a ride of more than an hour (someone once famously said “It’s not worth taking your bike out the shed for less than an hour”!) I’d say try and eat and drink something every 30 minutes to avoid fatigue or (I’m just going to say it) “bonking”. I like to mix up what I eat and try to munch as much “real” food as I can. Current favourite foods are: beef jerky, flapjacks, bananas, bounty bars, chocolate brownies, cereal bars, Skittles (amazing energy burst before a climb!).
Please share what your favourite cycling snacks are in a reply at the bottom. I’m always on the look out for more tasty treats and reasons to cycle further so I can eat more!
8) “YOU’VE GOT A NICE BUM!”
Yeah, YOU! The one with the nice bum, I’m talking to you. On my world cycle I regularly do 100 miles a day back to back for days, sometimes weeks. People sometimes say: “Ooh. Don’t you get terrible chaffing?” In a word, no. If your bum hurts, something isn’t right. Either your position on the bike needs changing (a friend who knows what they’re doing can help with this or go to somewhere like Cyclefit who do bike-fitting) or I’d say you’re probably just in need of a better-fitting saddle (they come in all shapes and sizes, just like bottoms!) or just better cycling shorts. I swear by Assos shorts. They might be expensive, but I think your bum is worth it, especially yours!
9) THE HEALTH AND SAFETY BIT
I thought I’d put this one low down as nobody enjoys the health and safety stuff, so I’ll keep this brief.
(i) Take a phone with you on every ride you do. You never know when you might need it – it could help you or someone else who needs help.
(ii) Wear the right clothing for the conditions. Check the weather forecast before you go. You can get some insanely small waterproof jackets these days that pack down to almost nothing. The Sportful Hot Pack series of jackets are current favourites of mine.
(iii) Wear a helmet, but also make sure you’re wearing it so that it actually protects you and your brain!
(iv) If you’re riding in the dark, get the best bike lights you can afford. Exposure Lights are freakin’ awesome! I used their lights on a 24 hour ride from John O’Groats to Edinburgh. The front light was so bright the other riders I was with could have turned their lights off and and just seen stuff with mine! It’s obvious stuff but the brighter your lights, the more you can see of what’s in front of you (especially useful for spotting suicidal deer running into your path in Richmond Park!) and the safer you are, as you can be seen more easily by other road users.
10) REDUCE YOUR RISK (of getting punctures)
I’ve already touched on punctures in my 2nd point which is all about keeping your tyres properly pumped. There are a few other things you can do to reduce your risk of getting pesky punctures.
(i) First, get some decent tyres. Look for a high number of TSI (threads per square inch) as the higher the number the better protection you should get. Some tyres also have kevlar bands around them to protect even more. My favourites for road biking are Hutchinson Fusion 3s Kevlar Pro Techs. Pretty light and amazing puncture protection. I used these to ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End (0 punctures) and 4000km from Tooting to Turkey (1 puncture).
(ii) Secondly, spend 2 minutes before you go for a ride just looking for any sharp tiny pieces of glass or stones in your tyres. If you see any things stuck in there, just flick them out carefully with a knife or a bike tool. You’d be surprised how much stuff can stuck in there on a day to day basis! You might have to deflate your tyres to flick out some bits of debris that are stuck right in. But I’d rather deal with pumping up tyres with a big track pump in the comfort of your home rather than when you’re tired and with a tiny little hand pump half-way to wherever you’re going!
(iii) Do your best to avoid riding into pot holes and any glass, sharp stones on the road. Especially in big towns and cities and particularly near junctions you can see loads of glass and stones on the road. Just keep an eye out for any shiny reflective bits of glass in the road and try and dodge it, as riding over that will pretty well certainly mean it’s time to get the puncture repair kit out.
11) ENJOY THE RIDE!
Let’s take it to number 11, like the volume control on the BBC IPlayer!
For me this is the most important, but often most forgotten.
Cycling is a sport, a hobby and is something to be enjoyed. If you shout abuse and ride aggressively, impatiently or arrogantly then you are just fuelling the fire of people who can and do generalise about “cyclists”. “Cyclists are reckless”, “cyclists jump red lights”, “cyclists think they own the road”, “cyclists are arrogant”. You can do something about these generalisations. Next time you’re out on your bike, why not make it a point to smile, nod and hell, why not go crazy and even give a friendly wave to another road user if you want to let them pass in front of you. If a car has pulled across to give you more space if you’re going past or if it has been waiting patiently before overtaking you, give the driver a quick thumbs up! You might just find that person will then think differently about that generaliation they may have of “cyclists”…and the next person…and the next person. And another wonderful kind of cycle has begun
I hope you find these tips useful. I found it hard/impossible choosing just 10. If I have missed any tips off or if you would like to share your own personal top cycling tip, please add it here with a reply.