In this cycling guide we take a look at what the essentials of cycling are. We’ll have a look at the cycling equipment you need; road safety for cyclists; training and nutrition plans for long-distance and ultra-cycling; and give our insider tips for cycling for beginners.
The Styrkr team includes several experienced endurance cyclists who we’ve asked to share some of their experiences from just starting out as a cyclist to what they know now, what equipment they like, how they prepare and fuel for ultra-cycling events, things to be wary of when out on the road and what the benefits of cycling are for them.
So, firstly, let’s have a look at the basics:
What should a beginner cyclist know?
Bikes: There are a wide range of bikes which are built for different purposes. That means you need to first understand what type of terrain you want to ride on. The four major types of bike for long-distance endurance races or time-trial events are below. (There are hundreds of other types such as BMX, folding bikes, and general city bikes).
- Road-racing bikes - a lighter frame with smaller, thinner tyres, built for going fast on smooth tarmac
- Touring bikes, long-distance endurance events - A heavier, sturdier frame with thicker tyres, built for roads and pathways where there may be gravel and/or bumps. Also allows the rider to install packing equipment for supplies and equipment. This bike is at home on mixed terrain.
- Mountain bikes/trail bikes - A thick framed bike with in-built suspension for woodland tracks, jumping, and climbing - not so good on a road.
- Velodrome racing bikes - ultra-lightweight and streamlined, built specifically for velodrome races and time-trial events on a circular, purpose-built track.
The equipment & clothing you need
If you’re just going down the shops, you won’t need to put on your cycling gear. However, if you’re planning to stay on your bike for hours and days, the right clothing is essential to avoid a whole range of uncomfortable ailments.
This is what the STYRKR team said was their cycling clothing and kit checklist for endurance events:
HELMET - Although not an obligation in the US and UK, it is essential in our view to have a decent and comfortable helmet. Accidents happen, including silly slips as well as more serious crashes, and your head needs to be protected. If you're on the road, a trail, or gravel a helmet is a MUST.
PADDED SHORTS - being sat on a saddle pedalling away for hours, you’re going to start feeling plenty of uncomfortable chafing, rubbing and general discomfort without padded shorts.
GLOVES/MITTS - some handlebars come with extra grip, even still, riding gloves or mitts can reduce the rubbage on your hands, give you extra grip and also keep your hands warm in more severe weather.
CYCLING SHOES - hard-bottomed clip-on riding shoes are great because they just increase your pedalling efficiency and remove slips. I’m sure you remember getting your calves grated by cogs when you were little, with these it just doesn’t happen.
EYEWEAR - there are plenty of reasons for wearing cycling glasses: the sun and flying insects being the two major ones. Nothing worse than getting a fly in your eye on a steep downhill.
WINDPROOF TOP - Spending hours out in the elements, the wind-factor can really take its toll on your chest and cause some serious discomfort.
JERSEY - a tight-fitting (usually lycra) top which reduces wind resistance as well as keeping your torso warm but well-aired.
NECK WARMER - on higher roads and trails, temperatures can drop pretty quickly, so it’s important to keep your neck warm and protected unless you want to pick up a stiff neck or cold.
PACKING SADDLES - For unsupported races you need to take everything with you: water, food, kit so you need to invest in well-designed packing saddles which fit well with your bike and keep everything balanced. You don’t really want too much on your back.
GPS/MAPS - you must know your route and have a support person tracking you in case of emergencies. Also, sometimes the weather just shifts and you need to adapt and find the nearest shelter.
REPAIR KIT - flat tyres, chain problems should all be fixable on the road. Make sure you know how to before you go!
Basic rules of cycling
Perhaps you’ve seen the road rage videos of cyclists and drivers clashing. It seems to be an age-old battle like cats and dogs. Sometimes it can be a little unclear and confusing to understand who is in the wrong. The best thing you can do as a cyclist is to know the rules of the road and stick to them, for your own safety, and the safety of others, and avoid angry confrontations.
Can you answer these?
Are cycling rules the same as driving rules? Can cyclists go on the pavement? Can cyclists go the wrong way up a one-way street? Can cyclists use bus lanes? Do cyclists have priority on the road? Do cyclists have to wear a helmet? Do cyclists have to stop at red lights? Do cyclists need to indicate? Do cyclists need to give way to pedestrians? Do cyclists have speed limits? What is the correct formation for cyclists on a busy road: single-file, in pairs or groups?
Here we check out the basic rules for cycling and cyclists and answer the questions above:
- You must obey all road signs and signals: you must ride as a person drives.
- You must stay to the side of the road as much as possible when on unmarked roads.
- You mustn’t cross the (advanced) stop line at red lights
- You mustn’t cycle on footpaths, tracks or pavements unless specifically allowed
- It is not an obligation to wear a helmet, but strongly advised.
- You must use cycling lights between sunset and sunrise, and also it is strongly recommended to use reflective clothing
- You mustn’t carry an extra person unless your bike is designed to do so
- You mustn’t drink and ride, or be in any way intoxicated while on your bike
- You mustn’t hold on to a moving vehicle while riding
- You must ride single-file when on smaller roads, and you mustn’t cycle more than two abreast when on bigger roads
- When going around bends you must ride single file
- You should keep two hands on your handlebars at all times unless indicating, which you must do.
- You shouldn’t use clothing which can get stuck in your chain or wheels
- You should make sure that your bike is properly balanced if using packing bags
- You mustn’t leave your bicycle in a way in which it can be obstructive to road users, pedestrians, shop entrances or emergency services
- You should be observant of upcoming road obstacles such as drains and potholes so as to not swerve into traffic suddenly.
- You must give way to pedestrians, even if you have the right of way. Remember, it is a legal requirement to do everything you possibly can to prevent harm to people or animals.
Staying safe on the road
Apart from knowing the rules of the road, there are several ways you can increase your safety on the road. Here the Styrkr team recommend some safety tips:
- Be (highly) visible - lights, reflective clothing are so important
- Keep your distance from vehicles where possible
- Stay as straight as you can, avoid swerving
- Indicate well ahead of time before turning, let other road users understand
- If feeling uneasy due to a queue of cars behind you, stop and let the traffic pass
- Balance your bike as well as you can and test it before setting off
- Be comfortable on your bike - adjust your bike; saddle height being super important, and clothing needs to be fitted right before you get going
- Be observant: watch out for obstacles on the road and other road users
- If in a group, alternate lead rider. To indicate this we use the ‘flick of the elbow’; when the lead rider puts his elbow out to indicate he is moving to the side.
- Stay in control of your speed, don’t go faster than what you are comfortable with
- Be considerate of other road users, and remember that people make mistakes sometimes. Always put your safety and safety of others first.
- Cycling should be fun, not dangerous. If you feel at risk, stop.
What are the health benefits of cycling?
If you cycle regularly the health benefits are numerous, from helping you lose weight to being beneficial for the planet. If you go a step further and take on endurance events and long-distance cycling competitions you will need to train a lot and also get your nutrition right, which has huge benefits. Here we look at both training and nutrition for long distance cycling, and also some other positives of cycling on your overall well being.
Training for any endurance event requires good organisation, discipline and sacrifice. Those professionals who can focus all their attention into the sport can, in many ways, be more flexible than the amateur as they may not have a full-time job. Sure, they train a lot more because they need to get the results. However, for those who are working the 9 to 5, and endurance or long-distance cycling as a serious hobby, you need to fit in training around your schedule. And stick to it.
I spoke to Christian who is the Styrkr team leader. He gave me a rough idea of what his training routine looks like when he has a full-time job from 8.30am to 6.30pm:
MONDAY - REST DAY
TUESDAY - Gym 6-7.30am/ 20km Bike in the evening
WEDNESDAY - 10Km run am/ Gym in the evening
THURSDAY - 20km Bike am/ Evening 20km Bike
FRIDAY - 10km run am/ Gym in the evening
SATURDAY - between 4 and 6 hours of cycling
SUNDAY - between 2 and 3 hours of cycling
“This is a pretty standard week for me. Obviously at first it is tough to get into the routine and stick to it, but after a few weeks it became second nature. I was and am very motivated to not skip anything.”
Are you not knackered?
“Weirdly, I actually feel like I’ve got more energy and I look forward to the next day. It’s addictive.”
What about downtime and going out with mates?
“I’ve had to prioritise my training schedule over other things which might perhaps be considered more fun sometimes, but I still have fun with mates and family, usually at weekends, and I've got rid of some habits which needed getting rid of. Actually, because I have to be more organised to give everything the time it deserves, I have plenty of downtime, but without feeling like I’m wasting time… It’s designated, you know what I mean? So it’s kinda almost better in many ways. It’s quality time that I use and plan for, rather than just flop out doing nought. My friends and family are all really supportive and encouraging. I think they see a ‘new me’ and are quietly proud of that. My daughter, Astrid, is getting into it too, and she’s seeing lots of beautiful places. The results are so worth it and I just love getting out on the bike as much as I can, come rain or shine.”
You can check out a detailed sports nutrition plan here and why the right nutrition is so important for endurance sports and long-distance cycling, but below are the basics that those embarking on this adventure should try to incorporate into and eliminate from their diets to get peak performance.
What you need - macronutrients: healthy fats, carbohydrates and protein
Healthy fats are found in nuts and seeds as well as fish. But also some cured meats. Healthy fats are good for creating a store of fuel for longer distances which will be burned off.
Carbohydrates are your primary fuel source for long-distance cycling. Pasta, bread, eggs, sugary foods and fruits are all good sources of carbs.
Protein is needed to get stronger muscles and also to maintain and repair muscles. It’s really important for recovery. Chicken and meat are excellent sources, but also there are many vegetables such as avocado which can be a solid supply of protein.
What you should cut out - saturated fats
Yep. All the processed foods with a long shelf life. All frozen foods and ready-made meals. Bye bye.
Can you answer these now?
- What type of shoes should you wear when you are biking?
- Do cyclists have to signal?
- What does flick of the elbow mean in cycling?
- Is it illegal to cycle on pavement?
- What foods should you stop eating for long-distance cycling?
- What foods should you eat for long-distance cycling?
- What type of bikes are there?
So, the benefits of cycling are huge. It is an amazing hobby and a serious challenge. It is important to know and adhere to the rules of the road when you’re out there and be sure to keep safety right at the top of your priority list. Get the right bike for the terrain, and make sure it is adapted to you, then get training and eating well. REMEMBER: Cycling should be FUN and SAFE. You can find a the full list of rules and regulations for cycling.