Beginner’s Blog 1: Common questions from beginner cyclists

The next few blogs we’ll be posting relate to new cyclists – So let’s kick off with some key FAQs.

If you’ve just taken up cycling (and hats off to you if you have – it is January after all), then you might be facing numerous  considerations. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

What type of bike should I get?Crowd bike

The answer depends on where and how much you intend to ride. There’s no point getting a mountain bike or BMX bike if you want to start commuting to work by bike on the roads. Similarly, it’s no good getting a road bike with skinny tyres if you also intend to use it for countryside escapes on trails where the surface can get muddy or gravelly.

How much should I spend on the bike?

Again, the answer depends on how much you are going to be riding. However, even if you are not going to be using it a lot, it’s inadvisable to aim for the cheapest bike your money can buy. Invest a little more and you’ll enjoy it more (and consequently use it more). But for under £350, you’ll get a good, reliable bike and that means the ride quality should be comfortable and the components shouldn’t wear out after a few rides. Second hand bikes will usually deliver great value for money; check out our blog for advice.

Do I need to wear lycra?

Absolutely not, plenty of cyclists don’t. Lycra is comfortable if the rides are longer and when the weather is hotter. But cycling in your civvies means you can hop on and off the bike with minimum fuss (and if you commute by bike, you don’t have to change before you get to your desk).

kryptoniteA cheap cable lock will do, right?

This is an area where it’s worth spending a little, but of course the cost of the lock should be proportional to the cost of the bike. Look for the label certifying locks that are Bronze, Silver or Gold standard and read our blog about how to beat the bike thieves.

How and where can I learn to ride?

With us of course! We are London based and work with selected boroughs who sponsors cycle training for those who live, work or study in the borough so that the training is FREE to you! There are other training providers around the country too to give you expert help to get you pedalling.

Is it not dangerous to ride on the road?

There are risks associated with everything we do and of course this includes every form of transportation from walking, cycling, driving to travelling on a plane. The National Standard for cycling we teach at our cycle training is intended to help cyclists to cycle more safely. There is training that’s geared to complete beginners as well as experienced cyclists. And of course, there are plenty of on-road routes that avoid busy junctions and bus lanes. If you’re willing to go slightly out of your way, you can pretty much get anywhere by bike in London, without needing to share space with HGVs and hurrying taxis. Again, our instructors can help with advice on quiet ways and route planning. You don’t know what you don’t know so when in doubt, get expert help!

Can we go on a bike ride together?

The answer is always yes. The question should be where you should go for a bike ride. Having a cycling buddy will be really appreciated by beginner cyclists. Experienced cyclists can usually learn something along the way too by helping beginners.

What if I am too slow?Penny Farthing Racing

Not all beginner cyclists are slow but we were all beginners once so if in a group, the slowest should be given due consideration. If you are walking and your friend has a foot injury, you’re not going to leave them behind, right? Always be aware of your surroundings and where your friends are during the ride to ensure you are not split up.

Am I asking too many questions?

You probably are but that’s how you learn from scratch. No one has all the answers to every cycling related question (though we’re doing our best!) so we should keep asking questions and keep helping each other.

 

 

Top 10 hills to avoid/visit in London

Some avoid hills at all costs, some long for them. There aren’t long mountain passes in London but you will find some seriously steep hills and there’s no question – they’re a tall order to conquer. For the purposes of this blog, the M25 is the boundary; all 10 hills are within this. If you struggle to ride up the approach to London Bridge then you should be prepared for a walk when tackling one of these. Click on the hyperlinks to see the technical profile of each hill.

Canonbie Road SE23

How do you know if a road is steep? How about looking at the houses that line the road? It is almost comical how steep this road looks. At the top, you will get a very rare, uninterrupted view of London in two opposite directions.

Points Hill SE10

Staying in residential areas but in Greenwich. The parked cars sometimes make it even more difficult when you have to change your speed to give way. Give yourself some serious points if you reach the top.

Blackheath Hill SE10

This one is the least steep on the list but the high volume of traffic makes it particularly challenging. Slow moving traffic will keep you warm with their exhaust but you’ll want to hold your breath.

Swain’s Lane N6

The infamous stinger of a climb in Highgate. It’s both feared and respected. The wall on the left side and the overarching trees are a little claustrophobic, that is if you’ve got the capacity to think about anything other than the pain in your legs and lungs.

Fox Hill SE19

Tucked away behind Crystal Palace, you will know about it if you live/cycle nearby. It’s got some brothers and sisters along the ridge but this one is the steepest of them all. The pain doesn’t last very long… but the test is if you can actually get over it.

Brasted Hill TN14

We are heading south, very near the M25 now. The start of the steep part tickles around 12% and with no respite, gradually work its way up to 20% at the top. From the bottom of the hill, you can see all the way to the top which is very intimidating.

White Lane RH8

A quiet climb next to Titsey hill. The gentle curves and greenery hide the finish from your sight. It gets steeper just as you think you are about to finish but mind over matter. There’s a hill climb race on this hill every year organised by BEC cycling club for anyone who wants to watch others suffer.

Succomb’s Hill CR6

The relatively busy traffic on this hill which takes you up to Warlingham will keep you wanting to go up it faster. When you see the S bends up the road, prepare yourself for the real stuff.

Bug Hill CR3

This is the least violent hill on the list (if hills can be called violent). It does get steep but the gradient changes very gently so no surprises and you will usually have enough peace and quiet to focus on your thumping heart and screaming legs.

Downe Road TN14

This one has a nasty surprise for you right at the end, before it lets you into Cudham. The majority of the climb is very manageable but the final ramp feels like the road engineers are saying “oops we made a miscalculation, let’s just finish the job quickly and join this bit straight up to that bit”.

 

Aaaaaand we’re over the top. Anyone else feeling exhausted just from reading about these hills? There are others that would be excellent contenders for sure (we don’t presume to be the ultimate authority). If you know of any gems that should be on this list, let us know in the comments section.

 

Top 5 cycling new year resolutions

locked bikeHappy New Year! Let’s make 2017 another cycling year! Read on for our 5 favourite cycling new year resolutions. There should be something for beginner cyclists, occasional cyclists and seasoned cyclists alike.

Get someone to start cycling

Spread the love! You might know someone who is considering taking up cycling for commuting or recreationally. Help them with the process of getting a bike and offer to guide them on a ride. You’ll be glad to hear that we’ll be publishing a mini series of blogs soon to answer some common questions from beginner cyclists. We also have suggestions for how to get your friends, family and colleagues to start cycling.

Climb a hill that’s defeated you before

You and your bike vs hills. Having 100% confidence that you can get over any hill makes route planning much easier so if you’ve been beaten by a hill, keep trying until you conquer it! If you thought London was flat, we’ve got news for you… watch out for next week’s blog “Top 10 hills to avoid/ visit in London”.

Plan and complete a challenging ride

If you are getting bored of cycling in your local area or your commuting route, how about challenging yourself with a long ride and perhaps a more taxing terrain? Part of the fun is planning the route (don’t overestimate your own ability!) Perhaps plan to ride with someone you know who is more experienced; they may be able to advise on route planning and help with directions or mechanical mishaps on the day. If you choose your partner wisely, you’ll probably even get a few words of encouragement.

Start cycling into work

Tired of waiting for buses and trains that are forever late or cancelled? Feeling the January tug of the purse strings (or waistband)? Tick all the boxes at once by switching to cycling in to work. Depending on your confidence and the length of your commute, cycle the whole way or consider replacing a particular leg of your journey. Most train and tube stations have ample parking for bikes or there’s the foldable bike option if you want to take it with you on the train. Don’t let the British weather deter you though; get some tips and inspiration from these blogs: How to love riding in the rain, Some inspirational thoughts on winter cycling commutes, A guide to winter commuting by bike

By: Federation European Cyclists'
By: Federation European Cyclists’

Cycle more often and more safely

Form a realistic plan and make your target to cycle more often. For example, look at using a cycle hire scheme to get around your city for meetings. Maybe you can commit to cycling in to work at least once a week to start off with. For the weekend, treat the family to a leisurely countryside cycle once a month.

You can take care of the “more safely” aspect by booking some cycle training with a company like ours. There are many cycle training providers across the UK so it shouldn’t be hard for you to find a National Standard Instructor to give you a lesson or two. The training is usually free or subsidised by the local authority and caters for every level of ability.

A guide to winter commuting by bike

Danish Bicycle History - Some Things Never Change

It’s cold, wet and dark. Why would you ever commute to work by bike in winter? Well there are a few things that you can do (or have) to make that cycle commute less daunting. Here are some ideas.

Lights

You should have a set of lights charged up; white for the front and red for the rear. If you are in an urban area with lit streets then use flashing modes to help you stand out a bit more.

Be considerate to other road users with your lights though. As a rule of thumb, if your front light is putting out 100 lumens or above, you should check the angle of your mount as you may be dazzling oncoming road users.

Visibility

See and be seen. Apart from having lights, you can also improve your visibility to other road users with reflectives. You will find reflectives on cycling specific clothing and bags. You can also find reflective ankle or arm bands.

Light doesn’t bend around objects or corners* so having lights and reflectives are only part of the solution. Your positioning is more important for seeing and being seen by other road users. All cyclists should consider getting cycle training with a qualified National Standard cycling instructor who can teach you about road positioning and more. We make no apology for the plug; the benefits of cycle training for cyclists of any ability are well documented. For London boroughs where we work, you can book your training session with us for free here!

*Light does bend on the astronomical scale by gravitational lensing as predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity but that probably has no place here.

Layer up

Layering up is the obvious preparation in winter. If you have a long ride, you should pay some attention to your layering set-up so that removing a layer mid-ride is an easy affair. Take a waterproof to work even if it’s dry in the morning; the Met Office can’t be 100% accurate day in, day out.

Cover up

When it inevitably gets bitterly cold, you will want to cover up as much as possible. There are cycling hats that can fit under the helmet and extend down to cover your ears too. A neck warmer is another good purchase as you can pull it up to cover most of your face. A pair of clear glasses is a bit of a luxury but works a treat in the hail or on eye watering descents.

Mudguards

We’re big advocates of full length mudguards. Even if it’s not raining, surface water will linger on the roads for a long time and, without mudguards, you’ll be wearing it all up your back. There’s an added benefit to the cyclist behind you too, in the form of avoiding an unwanted baptism by dirty water.

Black IceBlack Ice

You need to be aware of the possibility of encountering black ice in winter. If you’re “lucky” enough to go over black ice head on, the best countermeasures are: resist the instinct to brake, relax and keep steering straight. If you hit black ice on a corner… you’re in the lap of the gods, sorry.

Obviously, if you are not cycling on the road then you mitigate the risk completely. Assess the roads you ride on; are you in a rural area with sparse traffic or are you in a densely populated urban area? Unsalted rural roads will be peppered with black ice given the right (or wrong) conditions. The timing of your ride is also important; riding urban roads in the morning after peak traffic will slightly lower the chance encountering black ice.

Here we are, well into winter. We’re still commuting by bike so we’ll see you out there!

Diamond bike frame

Sorry if the title’s a bit of a clickbait – you won’t find an actual diamond covered bike here – but what you will find is the classic ‘diamond’ shaped bike frame plus some wonderful variations on the bike frame theme.

The modern bicyclebicycle_frame_diagram

We will leave the story of the origin of the modern bicycle for another day. Most people will recognise a Penny Farthing (known as the ordinary bicycle) which is not the safest option on two wheels: think high centre of gravity combined with stopping quickly and cycling up or down steep hills. So the need for a safer solution was clear. Through many iterations, we eventually settled on bike frames comprising a double triangle, hence the name diamond shaped bike frame.

Extreme variations

Modern technology, competitiveness and human yearning for pushing the boundaries has given us some very unconventional takes on the bicycle theme. The most famous ones must be the Lotus bikes and the Old Faithful.

Chris Boardman rode the Lotus 108 to victory on the track at the 1992 Summer Olympics 4 km Pursuit. He also broke the then hour record on board the Lotus 110. On the other hand, Graeme Obree built the Old Faithful from BMX tubes and bearings from a washing machine and went on to break the hour record on it twice.

Denise Mueller recently set a new women’s bicycle land speed record on board a specially designed bike. It still has the diamond shape but does look like a cousin of a chopper motorcycle. A closer look will reveal a range of suspensions, stabilisers and the double chainrings to give her a gigantic gear ratio on a fixed gear bike.

slingshotLess famously (some might say infamously) the Slingshot has no downtube, one side of the diamond shaped frame being replaced by a taut wire known as SlingPower technology (see pic). A quick search on the interweb reveals they are still selling bikes with this technology (though not massively popular so it must be an acquired taste).

Moderate variations

The triangle is a strong geometric shape which is why it features on bikes wherever possible. And you’ll find them in a lot of civil engineered structures too, as well as the humble corrugated cardboard. However, some commonly used bikes do away with the double triangle, diamond shaped frame.

The most obvious is perhaps the step through bike but fold up bikes and tandems have also done away with the diamond shaped frame for good functional reasons. Less commonly seen are recumbents and adapted cycles. Some of these may be heavier to make sure they are strong enough but none of them involves cycling 6 feet off the ground like a Penny Farthing, phew.

Consolation

To make up for the lack of diamond covered bikes in this world, there is a gold plated bike which was made by Ernesto Colnago for Pope John Paul II in 1979. Not many people would return a gold plated bike but that’s exactly what the Pope did after a year, stating that he wanted a bike with flat handlebars. Which Colnago duly delivered.

 

Cycle Confident’s Christmas Crossword

This week’s blog is a Christmas Special! If you’re feeling like you see the same old Christmas festivities every year, then gather round for our Christmas Cycling Crossword! Pre-heat room to 15-20 degrees Celcius, blend equal measures of Christmas and cycling, bake in well oiled brain and have a Merry Christmas!

You can also click here to download the PDF version for printing out. You will still need internet access for two of the answers though. Here are the two links that you will need for clue 1 and clue 10.

CC Christmas Crossword Image

 

Give the gift of wheel building knowledge

Need a Christmas present idea that’s perfect for the bike enthusiast who seems to have it all already? Look no further. Our Demystify Wheel Building course is the perfect gift!

wheel-building

Taking City & Guilds standards and our teaching experience, we’ve developed this 2 day course to take students from minimal prior knowledge to being able to build a wheel from scratch. The aim is to give you
the knowledge, resources and confidence to tackle selecting your own components, calculating spoke lengths and building your own wheel to the standard that is expected in the industry.

On Day 1

Working in our accredited, fully equipped training workshop in Oval, you’ll learn first about the materials and components. After this, you’ll go on to rim, hub and frame compatibility, comparing lacing patterns before learning how to calculate spoke lengths for different hubs and rims for any wheel set. We end day 1 with lacing your spokes to hub and rim.

On Day 2

Having dreamt about spokes all night you’ll come in fresh to learn about truing and tensioning. You’ll learn and then practice how to properly tension and pre stress a wheel to prevent damage and reduce problems down the line and you’ll practice tensioning and making the wheel true to the tolerances expected across the bike industry.

Finally, you’ll stand back, marvel at your brilliance and return home basking in the glow of skills learnt having conquered the dark art of wheel building.

Course Dates are Saturday and Sunday 18th-19th Feb.

Cost is £200 for a 2-day course. Here’s the link to book:

http://www.cycleconfident.com/events/f9d17d86-3bf1-4635-af21-bab3a97bf2ce/

Merry Cycling!

Some inspirational thoughts on winter cycling commutes

Let’s face it, going outside in wheel autumn the winter is rarely an exciting prospect unless you’re making a snow angel. Some of you may already be reaping the benefits of commuting by cycling. Here are some thoughts to keep you going during the bleakest months.

No one is sneezing on the back of your neck

Unless you’re driving to work, the chances are you need to use public transport. Travelling en mass is great and relieves some of the strain on your local transport network. But it does also mean personal space can be compromised. The truth is being sneezed on at close proximity is no one’s idea of a pleasant experience and (stereotyping alert), since Brits are so polite, it’s a commuter crime that seldom gets reprimanded. The solution’s simple: get out there on your bike and enjoy the fresh air and personal space.

Arrive warmed up and pumped up

You’ll stand out from your colleagues when you arrive warmed up and ready to start working while everyone else is queueing up for a coffee and waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Ok, may be you will have cold hands and feet but if you’ve worn the appropriate clothing, it shouldn’t be too bad and the body will very quickly take care of them once you’re indoors.

It’s impressive

Don’t be the person to arrive half drenched, shaking the water off your umbrella on your way in and moaning about the rain. Instead, occupy the moral high ground and arrive on your bike, energised and enjoying a discreet boast about how you just braved the elements. Some external motivation is always helpful to keep you going when the weather really gets grim.

Cycling in WinterYou will toughen up

If you continually cycle in the winter then everything you do outdoors will eventually start to feel easier. Be sensible about clothing though; we aren’t recommending braving the cold in a t-shirt and shorts.

 

There’s no need to change those summer routines

Why change your travel routine when you can just carry on cycling to work all year round? There’s a risk of withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop; you may experience phantom cycling on your chair or signalling while walking to the store room. Jokes aside, combining physical activity with travel is how most people keep active in their busy lives so keep calm and carry on.

Catch the sunriseSunrise Over London

Make your morning a magical one. Catch the sunrise on a clear winter’s morning and give yourself a moment to simply enjoy being alive. Set off early enough to factor in a breakfast break somewhere with a great view. London Bridge is a superb spot to stop and admire the sun rising over Tower Bridge. It’s the perfect moment to ponder that novel you haven’t yet written or that dream bike you’re going to build one day…

Tune in to next week’s blog for things to consider to make your winter cycling commute safer and more enjoyable. Have you got any other inspirations you draw from for your winter cycling commutes? Let us know in the comments section.

RCA (Random Cycling Acronyms)

Question

Let’s use an adage to justify this blog: you don’t know what you don’t know. The cycling universe is huge and there’s lots for each of us to discover. So how many of these RCA’s do you know or can you work out?

Let’s face it. These days there’s precious little you can’t get an answer to with a few clicks on your keyboard so you can almost certainly complete this short game very quickly with a search engine’s help. But think of the satisfaction if you get there without! So make like the interweb’s not there and see how you do. Two notes of caution: one of these acronyms is completely made up (just for the sheer thrill of it), and yes, there are two LT’s, it’s not a typo.

In time honoured tradition, the answers are at the very bottom of this blog so be careful with your scrolling if you don’t want to spoil the fun.

Here goes then. Good luck!

 

WOMBATS, ECF, LBS, OEM, VAM, ERD, CV, YACB, CX, LT, ITT, NOS, GC, ASL, LT, OLD, TA

 

Answers in

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3

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2

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1

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WOMBATS – Women’s Mountain Bike & Tea Society
ECF – European Cyclists’ Federation
LBS – Local Bike Shop
OEM – Original Equipment Manufacturer
VAM – Velocità Ascensionale Media (in English: average ascent speed)
ERD – Effective Rim Diameter
CV – Classic & Vintage
YACB – Yet Another Cycling Blog [completely made up]
CX – Cyclocross
LT – Lactate Threshold
ITT – Individual Time Trial
NOS – New Old Stock
GC – General Classification
ASL – Advance Stop Line
LT – Left Turn
OLD – Over Locknut Dimension
TA – Through Axle

 

Let us know in the comment section how you got on and if you found out anything interesting on the way!

What to do if you want to ride your bike but can’t

Some days we just can’t ride our bikes. Maybe it’s an injury, maybe the roads are icy, your bike’s in need of repair or you are just resting for a big ride the next day. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of cycling related pastimes to keep you entertained.

bike-balloons

Doodle-a-bike

Doodling is not reserved for boring lessons in school or whilst taking a long phone call. Doodle away with your wildest imagination. Doodle a whacky bike, a bike with too many wheels, a bike that flies, a bike that rides on something that replaces the wheels or just a normal bike; you will be surprised how many people can’t draw a normal bike without one in front of them.

Read our blogs

Well, you’re reading this blog instead of cycling anyway, so why not read our other blogs too? Of course there are also plenty other sources of cycling related material that will quench your cycling thirst.

Plan a routeroute

Perhaps you’re planning your next cycling challenge or thinking of trying a new commuting route. Or maybe you just started cycling and don’t know the most favourable routes to destinations. Plan some routes in your off-bike time. Use a paper map, online resources or discussion with cycling buddies.

Bike maintenance

Your bike needs your TLC or it’ll start crying (or at least making funny noises) before throwing in the towel completely. Don’t be that person who rides around with a squeaky chain. Check out our two previous blogs on how to breathe new life into your bike again and the must haves for home mechanics.

Visualisation

Close your eyes and think about where you could have been cycling. Is it a busy buzz around town, on rolling hills or gentle glide along the seaside? I guess you could call this day dreaming. Call it meditation and you might get away with it at work.

Watch other people cycling

If you can’t do the visualisation thing then why not watch other people cycling? You can do that on the computer, TV, at a race or just standing on the street corner.

Self reflection

What are you even doing not riding your bike? Do a serious evaluation what’s stopping you. If you are injured, think about how to avoid injuries; if the roads are icy, is it time to consider a move to a different country?; if your bike is broken, then I will refer you to point four of this blog; if you are resting for a big ride the next day, then read point three and start packing what you need for the ride.

cat-and-bike

Here’s a cat visualising cycling. What do you get up to when you are desperate to ride your bike but can’t? Let us know in the comments section.