On your bike! Why you should start cycling (and how)

Can you remember what your first bike looked like?

Mine was sky blue, a hand-me-down from Melanie, our glamorous neighbour who was leaving Reading for a sunshine-glazed life in America. I kicked those stabilisers off pretty early.

There’s video evidence of that first, giddy two-wheeled ride during a holiday in France, and my father still talks about this achievement more fondly than anything I’ve done since. These days I navigate around buses, motorcycles and dreaded white vans on London’s potholed roads.

The good rides are those through Mayfair or Kensington on a warm summer’s night, under the glowing boughs of Chelsea Bridge, feeling like the leading lady in a rom-com. The bad ones are soggy, knuckle-numbingly cold, around ugly urban roundabouts. But I still feel better when I get there than if I had taken the train.

It wasn’t always this way, though. I’d estimate between the age of 11 and 19, when I got a bike to puff myself around my university city, I rode approximately two miles a year. When I was a teenager I had a fancy bike, and I lived in the countryside, the kind of place which inspires middle-aged men to don lycra and go out on a bike on a weekend, but somehow cycling wasn’t cool or appealing or just done, really. It took effort, there was nowhere to go, and I was, in essence, quite lazy.

Which is a giant shame because cycling is brilliant. It will give you independence and a means of transport. It will allow you the time and space to think and feel and not stare at a screen. You will reach the top of hills, gleefully short of breath, feeling the pure euphoria that comes from making your body do something to get you somewhere.

And, when you grow up and maybe move somewhere different, you will have the confidence to take your bike there – and let me tell you, it is the very best way to discover a new place.

So don’t wait! Here are the five best ways to get involved with cycling now. You’ll be Laura Trott before you know it.

Learn how to ride safely

Do you still cycle on the pavement? Then you need to learn how to get off it. When I encounter idiot boys on bikes on the pavement I tend to shout at them, something along the lines of, “real men cycle on the roads”. You are way cooler than those boys.

Roads can be daunting but they are far less scary when you know how to tackle them. The Highway Code is actually very kind to cyclists – it says we can cycle as slowly as we like down the middle of a road, if we fancy, and cars just have to stick it.

But you don’t need to sit reading books of rules, either. The government offers free cycling safety courses, and there’s a good chance your school can help you find one. Check out the Bikeability website, where you can find a course near you. You’ll be grateful for it when you’re whizzing past those losers on the pavement like a total badass.

Choose an awesome bike

Chances are that you might not be cycling much because you’re between bikes. Maybe you’ve grown out of the one you had when you were younger, or perhaps you want to upgrade to a zippier version.

Start off by heading to your local bike shop; have a chat to them there and get them to measure you for the right size of bike. You can DIY this with a measuring tape, but it’s probably better to get a professional to help. Take a parent or a friend if you’re feeling a bit shy.

Once you know what size bike you need, don’t feel you need to stick to the ones available in the shop. Perhaps you fancy a vintage model, or a second-hand fancier kind of bike if you plan to do lots of long journeys. This fixie bike is £179.99 from Halfords. Set some searches on sites such as eBay and Gumtree, with terms such as “small ladies vintage bike” or “Raleigh working bike frame”, depending on what you want.

Keep an eye on local adverts in newspapers and newsagents, too. I discovered the first bike I fell in love with in the back of a local paper, and it only cost me £35.

Pick some amazing kit

If you just want to do some casual bike rides, you don’t have to join the dad lycra brigade just yet – just some normal leggings, sweat pants or jeans and a light waterproof jacket will do you fine. But you will need a helmet, no arguments.

Don’t get me wrong – helmets are neither cool nor sexy, but you know what’s considerably less cool and sexy? Head injuries. As someone who has ended up in A&E three times from bike accidents, I can tell you that helmet hair is worth every single ounce of well, not being dead.

There are also some really lovely helmets out there, too. Bern pretty much have the monopoly on making chic and safe helmets, but Bobbin makes amazing shiny gold ones and Lazer Armour have a huge range that won’t make you look like a fool. Yes, they cost quite a lot of money, but consider it the cost of your safety. Make sure you fit it properly, and, if you do get a fancy one, take it with you once you lock your bike up.

Don’t forget about lights and locks

More bike admin, but these are the essentials. Locks make sure nobody runs off with your lovely new bike. Different cyclists prefer different combinations of security – some like a cable and a heavy metal D-lock, others just go one or the other. I recommend the dainty but tough Kryptonite Evolution Mini, which can be attached to your bike frame and is relatively lightweight. I’ve trussed up my bike in the most chaotic of ways with that thing and nobody’s pinched it yet.

Lights are a must if you’re cycling at night. You can get them in a huge range, but I’ve always preferred Cateye. A basic front-and-back set will cost you around £20 and they’re reliable. Make sure you keep a couple of spare batteries in your purse.

Go out and have fun!

The trick to really getting on your bike is knowing where to go. Search online for suggested cycle paths nearby and plan an amazing day out with your mates. Take a picnic – it’s always more fun when you know there are snacks in store.

Cycling regularly will help you fall in love with being on a bike, I promise. You’ll quickly realise how speedy you can be on two wheels, so if you wind up learning how to cycle to school in the morning you can guarantee at least an extra 30 minutes in bed. You’ll also find your fitness improves – and your mind, too. It’s incredible the difference even a 10-minute bike ride can make to your levels of happiness.

So what are you waiting for? Get on your bike.

@alice_emily

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