I’m off on holiday, so I’m excited to have Catherine Ellis of Hill & Ellis as a guest blogger this week. I had my first grown-up bike as early as when I was 3 (my great uncle loved to splurge, I guess…) and while I was still in Central London it was not unusual to see me in the saddle (including cycling the whole of Hyde Park in one afternoon on a Boris bike). You know me, though, I’ve never been one for the sportsy aesthetic, more like the “going to a market in Paris” one, and that’s why I fell in love with this brand. Today, we talk about how to get me (and you, if you’re in the same boat as me) back on the saddle.
With cycling in the spotlight are you planning to get back in the saddle? Here’s what you need to know.
The revival of cycling over recent months has been both unmissable and unstoppable, with many taking up cycling during lockdown for their daily exercise, followed by people swapping public transport in favour of a bike when commuting to work. Numbers are likely to increase further as the government invests in cycling infrastructure, as well as recently offering the £50 bike service voucher scheme to encourage people to get back in the saddle and get fitter.Perhaps you are one of those that are keen to start cycling to work but haven’t quite got the confidence up yet, here is what you need to know to get yourself saddle ready and back on your bike:
GET THE RIGHT BIKE
Do you already own a bike? If so, dust it off, check the breaks and the gears are working properly, and enjoy it. Getting on the bike is the only way to know what kind of cycling you enjoy.
On the other hand, if you’re buying a new bike, first consider the kind of riding you want to do and the typical route. If it is hilly – make sure you get a bike with enough gears to handle it, if you are commuting then 3-6 gears should be enough to get you up and down most town and city hills, but if you’re looking to road or mountain bike you will want to consider more than 10 gears to manage the rougher terrain.
Next up, think about the weight of the bike. Modern road bikes are all designed to be very light, but still aim to go as light as possible. For commuter bikes, the weight can be an issue. The heavier Dutch-style bikes often look very beautiful but they are hard work if you are peddling uphill, lifting it up canal path stairs, or storing it in your flat. As a guide 10-12kgs is pretty heavy, still easy to cycle especially if the route is quite flat but you will notice it on an incline. So factor in the weight of the bike if you have a lot of hills to conquer or you need to store it inside.
There are some great commuting bikes available, which are beautifully-made, pretty light, and have real style. For a British-made bike with some serious looks check out https://www.templecycles.co.uk/ and there is also the ever-chic Tokyo Bike and Crème Cycles.
If you don’t have much space, the Brompton bike is always a great solution.
BUILD YOUR CONFIDENCE
If confidence is your stumbling block, then you need your own personal peloton (cycling group). Cycling is really sociable, with lots of groups keen to help other cyclists get started with advice, buddies, and supported rides. There are groups all over the country, so you’ll definitely find one in your local area.
The Breeze network offers women’s only rides and commuting training rides to help build confidence for cycling to work, they will even arrange a group to cycle with you to your office for the first couple of rides: https://www.letsride.co.uk/breeze
British Cycling also has a beginners’ guide on their website for the A-Z of what you need to know before taking to the saddle: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/commuting
CHOOSE YOUR ROUTE
Your route is crucial to an enjoyable journey. The main highways and roads might be the most direct path but they will not be the most pleasant. Always take the backstreets; they’re quieter, safer, and much more interesting as you get to discover parts of your town/city you’d never have seen before.
Fortunately, picking your route has never been easier. There are lots of cycle routes now across the country and they are definitely worth taking advantage of. Most city and the country routes are in cycle maps that are easy to follow. For your local paths have a look on your council’s website – most of the maps are available there. For example:
For London – check out TFL for their map of the cross London cycle lanes. https://tfl.gov.uk/maps/cycle?intcmp=40402&intcmp=58492&intcmp=60683
For Manchester – https://tfgm.com/cycling/maps
For Birmingham – https://birmingham.cyclestreets.net/
For Edinburgh – https://www.innertubemap.com/
If you’re outside the city – the best resource is Sustrans, which has cycle-friendly, and cycle-only routes across the UK: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/national-cycle-network/
Give yourself an extra 15 minutes to cycle, take the slightly longer, quieter route, get yourself lost, and, most importantly of all, enjoy it.
THE CORRECT SEAT POSITION
I regularly see cyclists around with a bad seat position set up – usually the seat is far too low so they are overworking and are putting unnecessary strain on their knees. To set up your bike properly, this is the simplest way: The “Heel to Pedal” method. It might not be what cyclists in the Tour de France use but it will get you close to the perfect position. Here’s how:
- Sit on the bike whilst holding onto a wall or chair for stability.
- Place your heel on the pedal and pedal back to 6 o’clock position. Your knee should be completely straight.
- Increase the height of your saddle until it is straight; that is your perfect position.
- If you are just cycling around town the first time and aren’t 100% confident on the bike, it’s a good idea to lower it from this position ever so slightly. This will make it is easier to put your foot on the ground when you want to stop. This will give you confidence on the bike from the get-go. Once you are happy in the saddle you can lift the saddle back up to the correct height.
FREE YOUR BACK
Getting the bag off your back and onto the bike is a real joy. It takes the strain off your spine and also reduces back sweat – something a backpack seems to create in very un-natural quantities. The solution is a pannier rack.
They attach over the back wheel of your bike and you can attach pannier bags and baskets on them to carry whatever you need. As the rack is on the back of your bike, not the front, and is low on the bike, it doesn’t affect your steering or stability, so they will help you feel more secure on your bike.
Hill & Ellis has a range of stylish bike bags that all attach securely to your pannier bike rack. They are also designed to look smart so are the perfect accessory for the work commute: www.hillandellis.com
All this advice should get you on your bike, so to speak. But most of all don’t rush. Enjoy it. Life from the saddle will always make you smile.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Ellis is founder of Hill & Ellis, which produces a range of high quality, stylish cycle bags. Each bag, designed in the UK, is created to transition perfectly from home to bike to boardroom to bar. They are functional, fashionable and hard wearing. There’s plenty of space inside for a laptop and other essentials, and each bag comes with patented pannier clips that fit almost any bike, allowing you to clip the bag on and off quickly and easily.