This morning I was riding with a young girl, a mother of a 6 year old. She decided to take up cycling after a 15 year gap. Two weeks ago, I rode with a friend, who has two grown up kids and took to cycling after eons, and has been at it for about 3-4 months. What was lacking was the confidence to do a slightly longer distance. And the first ride was great, the rider came through with flying colors. Truly commendable.
Of late I've run into several people looking to either get back into riding, or taking it up afresh, or stepping up their game and building endurance, speed, etc. I just thought that I'd put down my thoughts and a few pointers based on the questions I get asked, or the experiences I've had interacting with Bikers or potential Bikers.
Firstly, cycling is mostly about balance and coordination. Well any sport takes coordination. For example, any game involving a ball and bat/racket, involves hand/eye coordination. Similarly biking involves simultaneous coordination of several senses and skills. Sight, touch, balance, depth perception. Sounds complicated?
The good news is that its not complicated. At least for those of us who learned how to cycle when we were kids, its a cinch. Because cycling, like walking becomes a reflex action, or at least a near reflex action. You never really forget to how to ride. So for the folks who rode a bike as a kid, or for those who are taking it up after a gap, its not hard at all. Now for the first timers, its going to be a bit difficult, mainly if they are older. The sense of balance, etc that came naturally to us as children, will take a little bit of work. But its commendable that the "has-beens", the "out-of-touch" folks, or the newbies, are taking up cycling again. GO FOR IT, you will not be sorry at all. So whatever your motivation, be it recreation, fitness, mental de-stressing, etc, its a great sport, a methodical and an easier, and cheaper way to get back in shape. Of course you will notice that I've skipped socializing, but that's only because I'm not an advocate of the workout socializing bit as a primary motivation. Of course, you form bonds with fellow bikers, but that's a by product of the activity rather than the goal! The best thing of course is that you can go at your own pace, do the rides that you like, flat, climbs, relaxed, hard riding, endurance, sprints, city riding or then outside the city. You can also pretty much decide the level of your investment in the gear you will need to get started, and as you advance down the cycling path. Its a great way to get family involved in a group activity without too much coordination and expense.
So the question that I get asked the most is, I want to take up cycling, or I used to ride as a kid, and want to do it again, what's the best way to get started? Reallyyyyy complicated question!!!! Hey, just get started, thats the simple answer. To get to a cycle shop and hire a bike or borrow one, is a cinch! For RS. 50 a day, its inexpensive as well. So what are you waiting for? I see a lot of people becoming members of this site as a means of gingerly entering or re-entering the world of biking. I think, its a great idea!! And I would say a tribute to Amit Bhoumik, the creator of the site. Now, I've never met Mr. Bhoumik, but it is my firm belief that I owe him a big pat on the back, and I'm sure several others feel that way too!
Anyway, lets get to the typical questions, fears, etc that come my way, or the way of my peers.
Question: I'm afraid of riding in traffic, what can I do?
Question: What are the rules & regulations for cycling on the Road?
Question: I had a really bad fall, and I've lost my confidence, what can I do to get it back?
Question: I want to become an MTB rider, or I want to be a down hill rider, what should I do?
Navigating Traffic, Precautions, Common Sense:
It is unfortunate that we don't really have dedicated bicycle tracks, and other amenities to facilitate biking. So yes, we need to contend with traffic, or, our best intentions to ride a bike, for whatever reason, will come a cropper. So baby steps. If you're getting back into biking after a gap, you will probably have to contend with a lot more traffic than, say when you were a kid, or even 5-10 years ago. The level of road-rage, careless driving, just the sheer number of cars on the road, lack of lane discipline or for that matter, any sort of discipline will have changed, all to the detriment of the rider. So we need to be doubly vigilant, careful, and capable to overcome these hurdles. I don't know about you, but I personally just love riding in traffic, not a whole lot of it, but....it keeps me sharp, it keeps me focused, and it gives me a challenge. Common, I mean what other challenge can I get riding in the city? And I don't have the luxury to ride out into the outskirts on a daily basis. So for starters, make sure you take precautions and have appropriate gear. Wearing a helmet, and other protective gear, sends a signal to other road users, that you are taking precautions, that you are concerned for your own safety, and that in itself makes them think, that they need to be a bit careful around you. Don't go by the sight of me zipping around. I'm not the role model for this. I don't wear a helmet, I don't wear elbow pads, or knee pads. I weave in and out of traffic constantly, as a part of my challenge. I will take up the challenge of an aggressive or disrespectful motorist, or rickshaw, or bus driver. At best, I will give appropriate hand signals and at night I use read and front flashing lights! My bad!!! They are after all much bigger and more powerful than our manually powered vehicles. Go instead by the advise that experienced riders will give you. Be safe, give ample indication of intent, to turn, to stop, to change lanes, etc. At night, use reflectors, flashing lights, be doubly alert. Slow down well in time, don't jam your brakes and lock the wheels. Ride in groups as far as possible. Start off riding in quieter lanes, or in secluded areas until such time that you get comfortable with riding on the road. Get off the bike if you're loosing balance, and to do so successfully, make sure the seat and handlebars are adjusted in such a way, so as to be conducive to an emergency stop. Follow the typical mount and dismount style, like you're getting on and off a horse. Trying to get your leg over the middle bar is a sure way of asking for trouble, as my little son has discovered on several occasions.
As regards rules and regulations, I don't think there are any rules and regulations specifically for a cyclist. A cycle is a two wheel, manually powered vehicle, that can be used on the road, without the need of a license. There is no age restriction as such, at least not that I'm aware of. So we need to follow the rules and regulations of any other vehicle that plys on the road. In several instances, cycles are not allowed on certain roads, so pay heed to those kind of restrictions. And then apply plenty of common sense. We have a right to use the road like any other vehicle, however, we know that we are pedal power, so ride in the slow lane, not in the middle of the road. Just imagine how frustrating it gets when you have a much slower moving car ahead of you or in the fast lane! Now amplify that frustration several times over, when there is a cycle in front of you! A few practical tips: when you are entering into an intersection be aware that we are slower, so speed up to make sure you clear the intersection while the signal is still in our favor. When you are on a main road, and are passing several cross roads, make sure that you keep an eye out for vehicles coming out from the side road or cross road onto the main road. Unfortunately, cyclists are treated as second class citizens, nay third class citizens, and most drivers don't respect or appreciate that fact that putting a cyclist into a jeopardized position can cause the rider to get imbalanced and topple over, so be aware of that and take adequate precautions. When riding with children or inexperienced riders, make sure that you put yourself in harms way, rather than the rider who is cycling with you. When I ride with my kids, I always try to form a protective block and slow down in such a manner so as to allow my kids to pass safely around the impediment, such as a car, or intersection, etc.
Selecting an Appropriate Bike:
This decision in itself will make such a big difference in the ride, the feel, the safety issues, the comfort, etc. So pay heed to this. There are all kinds of bikes, Mountain Bikes, Downhill Bikes, (preferably full suspension), Road Bikes, Hybrids, Racing Cycles, etc. Each one feels and handles differently. So you should try out all the categories, how? By hiring to get a feel, and then go in for the purchase. Mountain Bikes or full suspension bikes are generally much more rugged because of the terrain on which they can be used, and tend to be a lot more heavier. Riding them also required more effort, however the ride is generally much more cushioned as compared to a road bike. The Hybrid is a cross between a full blown mountain bike, and a road bike, they are easier to ride than the MTB's. Then of course are the racing bikes, which are sooo much lighter than both the MTB's and Hybrids, but also that much more delicate. They usually have much thinner tires, have dropped handlebars.
Other practical Tips:
Make sure that the seat can be adjusted to suit your height in such a manner that your feet can touch the ground, or at least the tips of your toes. Make sure the distance from the seat to the handlebar is not too much. Make sure that the cycle frame size is appropriate to your height and weight. Determine if you prefer disc brakes, or regular brakes. If you're going to be riding in traffic, make sure you get a bell to warn people that may be walking ahead of you.And once you have the bike you grow to love, then make sure you maintain the bike. I will not write about this, because this information is available all over this site, and besides there are professionals who can take care of that for you. However, learn the basics, like fixing a chain that has derailed. Wipe the dust off the chain, and oil the chain regularly.
Off Road and Down Hill:
Whilst, we all have preferences of types of rides we want to do, remember, that to do a decent down hill you need to climb the hill first, unless of course, you can transport the bike to the highest point and just ride it down hill. If you've not done MTB or down hill then, you will need to ease yourself into that world. Get to know people who've done that before, try to accompany them on rides and generally find out of you really like it or you just like the impression it has created in your mind? You will of course need and appropriate bike, appropriate gear, if you want to do that, so get prepared to spend a little more on additional accessories.
I've seen questions posted here about this issue, and some of the replies. Absolutely hilarious!!! WTF!!! Go back to the basics people.
Fear is something that we all cope with knowingly or unknowingly in every walk of like, in so many situations that most of the time we don't even realize that we're coping and overcoming fear all the time. As an example, when we first start riding, our ride is shaky, the handlebars are shaky, we sway from side to side, we don't ride smoothly. But as we progress, we almost automatically realize what we are doing wrong, we adjust and we overcome. When we overcome the fear goes away.
What is a little more difficult is when we have an accident. Say we have not maintained our bikes well, we fail to make sure that the brakes are well adjusted, and therefore we cannot brake in time, and run into something or somebody. We're lucky if its just a gentle brush, but sometimes we are more unfortunate and have a hard run in. Either way, we realize that we should have had the bike serviced and the brakes checked. There are a million scenarios that can cause an accident. an accident by nature is due to carelessness and most times is unforeseen, that is why its called an accident.
Recovering from an incident, is very important. Chalk one up for experience, and move on. Think of ourselves a little children who are learning to walk... they are called toddlers, their walk is shaky, yet they try to walk. The process of learning to walk is simultaneously very exciting and very fearsome for the child. Excitement comes from doing what it sees adults doing, and moving faster, and so son. Fear comes from the fact that the child is out of its comfort zone, of crawling, of walking unassisted. The child invariable has a few falls during the process of learning, and some kids recede back into crawling for a while until they either independently pluck up the courage to attempt a walk again, or then they're encouraged to do so. Have you ever seen a kid walk the very first time? At first they are walking holding on to someone's hand, or some table, etc, then unknowingly they are walking independently. What's really interesting to observe is that, as long as they do the act of walking unconsciously, they're fine, but the moment they notice, oh crap, I'm not holding on to anything they fall down. Its exactly the same concept in cycling. So if you've had a fall, only three things will happen: you will be too scared to ride again, you will ride but will constantly be afraid for a period of time until you regain your confidence, either on your own or then from words of encouragement, and finally you will realize what you did wrong and overcome the obstacle. What about the accident situations? Well shit happens, and its up to you to either give in or get over it. What else is thee to say about this?
Going from Novice to Amateur to Professional:
I can only comment about the novice to amateur bit, as I'm not a professional by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps in my mind's eye I am an "advance amateur" but an amateur all the same. Go seek professional advise from a professional, there are so many of them around!
Most of the questions I get asked are around endurance riding or training, so I think I will focus on this. At the outset, let me bust a myth about endurance. We don't do endurance rides every day, just as the marathon runners don't train by running marathon distances every day. Endurance is a gradual process, it is a series of workout sessions, of observation, of developing knowledge about our own physical and mental capabilities. The battle of the endurance rides is won in the head, and backed up physically by training the body to do what the mind tells us. The Americans put it best: THE MIND IS ISSUING CHECKS THAT THE BODY CANNOT EN-CASH. What better way to put it? So in short train the body t obey the mind, or the mind will be telling an incapable body to follow instructions that is is not trained to follow.
So let's get to brass tacks. How do we build endurance. I can only tell you from my own experience. I started riding about four years ago, when I bough the bike of my dreams (quite by accident, and that's in another blog somewhere). I probably had a better start than most, because I've been physically fit from my youth. I started playing tennis in class 3, became very good at it, played for my schools, played up to the district, state, and nationals. When I was older, well younger than now, I did a lot of weight training, not the body building, bulk muscles variety, but the toned, hidden strength variety. I took up karate and taequando and became very good at it. Then I gave it all up for several years, well I played tennis on and off, used the gym fairly regularly though. Then four years ago I took up cycling again. I started off doing small 30 -45 minute rides on flat roads for about a month, went up to 60 - 90 minutes and introduced uphill, finally I started using my MTB for what it was built, well to some extent. I started going down small flights of stairs, then longer and longer. Now I ride about 2 hours every day, cover about 30 - 35 kms about 3 days a week, 2 days a week I go up to 50 kms, and on weekends its anywhere from 60 - 120 kms. My longest forced ride has been a 5 day ride covering about 200 kms per day. My dream is to do the ride across America, which is 300 miles per day for ten days straight!!! Hopefully I'll live to tell the tale.
Water and Diet and Cycling:
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!!! Its best put by the caption on the back of my Camel BakPack. "HYDRATE OR DIE". Its difficult to believe what lack of hydration can do to your system, go Google it, its worth the read. ALWAYS carry water with you. It helps avoid cramps, it cools down the muscles, and which in turn helps in the muscle building process. Don't gulp water, sip frequently. Tip: Add some sugar AND salt to your water, the sugar will give you the energy and the salt replaces some of the salt you are loosing through perspiration. If you can get afford stuff like Electral or a similar product, do it.
Make sure you get a protein shock before a long distance ride, but also your daily workout, and after the ride you need to replenish the lost energy with some carbs. Now most people will tell you to avoid carbs, but I work a bit differently. I don't want to be a zombie after an endurance ride. Here is what I do. I take a glass of cold coffee with plenty of ice blended into the milk, with extra sugar before the ride, and a cheese sandwich as a light snack. The coffee keeps me alert and pumped up, and the sugar gives me the "instant on" energy. If you can afford Whey Protein Powder, its great! Me? I'm a poor man, so the cold coffee will do. I carry a sipper with Electral sometimes, and mostly sugar and salt in the water. In my Camel BakPack I tank up with water and laced with plenty of ice, which keeps the water cold almost throughout the ride. That's only for endurance distance though, on a daily basis, I just carry my sipper.
How to Build into a Workout Rhythm & Workout Variation:
Starting off, make sure you warm up gradually for about 10 minutes, by cycling slowly, and using a easier gearing ratio, and work your way into the more difficult gears. I try as far as possible to ride in the lowest (meaning most difficult gear), most of the time, after I've warmed up. It just makes me feel like I've had a good workout, and the intensity of the workout is greater. When you ride don't get off the saddle, and push the peddles, stay seated. If you need to change the gears to an easier ratio, rather than get off the saddle. Make sure that your back is in a straight line even when bending over the handlebars. Your legs should work like engine pistons, going straight up and down, not swinging out to the side, it give you more leverage, and thrust. Google and find out he right riding form.
Doing the same terrain, or the same route, can be quite boring, at least it is for me, which is why I make sure, I do Local some days, town some days, and then of course on Sundays, we try to find new challenges. Apart from the boring, introducing variation into your workout, especially the terrain, helps exercise different parts of your cycling muscles.
Coping with Emergencies:
Being prepared for emergencies, should form part of our ride preparation. Carry a cycle pump almost always. On long distance rides carry a spare tube, and a tire repair kit. Carry a set of tools, an allen cap set compatible to your kind of cycle. Cary cash always, not a whole lot, but enough to pay for a tire puncture, or then to take a cab home if that becomes the only option. In case someone falls back due to an emergency, then one rider should always stay behind until the rider in trouble becomes well situated again. The members' of the riding pack can take turns to volunteer for this.
I know how I started off, so I'm quite ok with helping anyone along their journey of self discovery, so don't feel bad to ask questions,
don't feel bad to ask if I will help train you, don't feel bad to ask if
I will ride with you from time to time. I'm willing to share, well to
some extent.....as long as I have the time, and as long as my own place
of zen is not compromised.
Too Much To Tell And Too Little Time:
Any rider will tell you, that there is so much more than what I've tried to narrate here, that you learn something new regularly, by experience, by observing other experienced riders. And don't let people like me who go blah .... blah .... blah .....tell you everything ..... go out and experience it for yourself....