Planning a bike ride

Planning a bike ride

Spontaneity is great. You can just hop on your bike and ride. But that can lead to all sorts of problems if you don't know where you're going and you're improperly prepared. It pays to do a little planning before you cycle off into the sunshine...

A local park, a distant hill with good views, visiting friends in another town - whatever your destination, cycling is an ideal mode of transport. It's economical and it's healthy ... but your journey will be much more rewarding if you do some planning before you set off.


Your journey will be much more rewarding if you do some planning before you set off

Where you ride obviously depends on where you live and the facilities such as parks, trails, roads, canal towpaths around you, but cycling is much more pleasurable on quiet back roads or tracks. Heading out of a city on the major dual carriageway is not what most people call fun!

If you're riding just for pleasure, plan a stop at the far point of your ride so that you can rest and relax for a while. You could carry a picnic and stop at a shady spot or find a café or pub. Beware though, if you find yourself a pub - especially on a hot day - avoid too much alcohol. The effects of alcohol after exercise are much more exaggerated due to your fluid loss (sweating) which is likely to impair both your cycling performance and your mental alertness.
 
Out biking
CyclingAvoid being too ambitious with your route at first. Distances that might not seem very far in a car can take on a whole new dimension by bike. You will become much more aware of gradients and the weather - especially headwinds! And of course, you have to ride back home too. If you are generally fit from doing other sports you wil have some crossover of fitness, but note that cycling uses leg muscles in a very specific way. Use a map to plan your route. If you can, arrange your ride so that you travel out into the wind (or do more climbing on the outward journey) so that your return will be a bit easier (wind assisted, or predominantly downhill) despite any tiredness.

Your Bike  

If your bike has been stuck at the back of your shed for ages, it is going to need a check over. See the maintenance section or have a bike shop check over the brakes, wheels, handlebars and gears and make sure that accessories are secure. It's no fun discovering that your brakes don't work when you're descending the first steep hill.

Accidents can happen anywhere and anytime, so it makes sense to wear a helmet all the time you are riding. Modern helmets are now lightweight, well-ventilated and comfortable - but they do vary in shape from one model to another, so do check that you get one to fit your head.

Your trousers or shorts should not be too baggy (otherwise they might catch on the chain or on the saddle). Fasten your shoe laces properly and tuck in any excess length to prevent them from getting caught on the cranks or chainrings.
Cycling top
Cycling topThe ideal tops for cycling have a long back to keep your lower back covered. Avoid cotton T-shirts as these will soak up sweat and be uncomfortable - you'll chill quickly when you stop too. Modern wicking fabrics will keep you dry and cool and work to wick any sweat away easily.

If you want to invest some money into some cycling kit, then choose some padded shorts (form a good bike shop). You don't have to get lycra ones like the racing men, there are plenty of leisure ones available now. These are shaped for sitting on a bike, with a higher back, reinforced seat and no uncomfortable seams.

Drinking

Until you get used to a level of exercise you are likely to find you will sweat much more than usual. Make sure that you counter this fluid loss throughout the ride, by carrying water or dilute squash with you (either in a bottle attached to your bike, or using one of the hydration backpack systems) and drinking regularly - begin within 15 minutes of the start of your ride.

Weather  

Check what you might need before going out - or indeed if you should be venturing out at all - through the weather forecast. Forget about the one-liner radio forecasts though, these are just not detailed enough for outdoor sports purposes. In the UK, unless it is very hot and dry and is going to stay that way, take a spare long sleeved top just in case the weather turns for the worse.

Roadside repairs

What do you do if something like a puncture happens when you're 'out there'? Well, you can either walk home or do something about it! It's worth mastering some basic repair skills. If you carry some tyre levers, a pump and a spare inner tube, it is only going to take a few minutes to sort out a puncture. If your bike is well maintained and you ride sensibly you shouldn't have many problems, but just in case you do the maintencnace section has some handy tips for most problems that you are likely to encounter.

It's invariably cheaper to replace worn equipment than to get a taxi ride home with your bike!

Don't rely on mobile phones to save your skin - you may not get a signal or your rescue service (friend, partner, parent etc) may not be available or know where to meet you. You may be able to hitch a lift or getting to the nearest train station is the next best option - and note that it's invariably cheaper to replace worn equipment than to get a taxi ride home with your bike!

Prepare yourself and you are likely to enjoy the ride much more:
  • Get your bike checked over before you ride
  • Use a map to plan your route
  • Don't be too ambitious - you have to ride back home!
  • Check the weather forecast
  • Understand how your bike works in case you need to make some repairs.

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