Last year on May 30th 2020, just as the lockdown opened, I decided to pick up a long-lost hobby again, cycling. 11 months into the hobby I finished 5000 Kilometers and was fitter, lighter, and happier than I ever was. I thought of sharing my cycling journey along with you wonderful folks. They include tips on how to start cycling, things you might need in your rides, getting the maximum out of your bicycle, how to use the hobby to create a fitter you, my experiences in cycling and some crazy stories.
Note: These are my personal experiences and they could be different from other cyclists.
Getting Started with Cycling
With so many bicycle options available today, there is no single answer to this question. I would suggest going to a few bicycle shops, test riding a few bikes, and pick the one you enjoy riding the most. That being said, here are a few pointers that might help you pick a cycle.
- The more expensive the bike, the more the maintenance: Expensive bikes naturally come with more expensive components. This makes your bike better, no doubt, but also adds to the maintenance costs. If you are new to cycling, I would suggest an MTB or a hybrid bike around the 25-35 thousand INR (or 500 USD) budget. You can consider upgrading your bike depending on your cycling journey. I ride a Scott Cross-trail bike. I can pretty much ride this bike on most trails and it behaves very well on the road as well. So I am very happy with my ride.
Road bikes are great for speed and long distances but can be pretty unforgiving, difficult to ride initially, and are expensive as well. If riding fast is your forte, then you can consider this. But you’ll have to plan your rides out to miss any bad roads and be careful to not hit any of the big potholes that most Indian roads are plagued with.
There are folding cycles as well, ideal for the daily office commuter and to cycle when to drive away on your vacation. You could test ride one of these as well to check if they suit your needs.
You could also rent a few bicycles, take them on a ride and see which cycle suits you the most.
- Choose the correct frame size: Take help from the friendly bike cycle salesperson to help you choose the correct frame size for your height.
- Gears vs no gear: If you live in a city where the roads go up and down like Bangalore and want to ride distances greater than 10 km, I suggest you get a bike with gears so that it will easier on the legs.
Single gear bikes are great too and easier on the pockets.
If you just want to do short distances around the neighborhood single speed (gearless bikes) are great, cost lesser, can give you a good workout, and have very less maintenance costs. But for longer distances, they can be difficult to ride and need more strength and stamina.
- The current situation: After the initial lockdown, bicycle sales increased rapidly and most of the bicycle stores ran out of stock. So if you get your hands on a good bicycle, consider yourself lucky and go for it.
Tips on How to Become a Good Cyclist
- The right seat height: Use this site to calculate the exact seat height and position. Keeping your seat too high or low can be uncomfortable and lead to Injuries. The correct seat height is approximately till your waist when you stand next to the bike. This helps you get the maximum force into your pedals.
- The right foot position: The way you place your foot on the pedal also matters. You should pedal with the balls of your foot, also called the metatarsal. This is the best way to cycle.
- The right body position: Maintain a good body position to minimize unnecessary pains.
Relax your shoulders, bend your elbows slightly, engage your core muscles, and keep your back straight to maintain a neutral spine position.
- Regular maintenance: This is something that I am guilty of not doing. Give your bicycle a nice clean once a week and check tire pressure as well. Lubricate the chain every 100-150 KMS or whenever you ride in the rain and clean the chain every 300-400 KMS. You can look up Youtube videos on how to do these. This can increase the life of the bicycle by a lot. I recently had to replace my drive train (chain, jockey wheel, gears, and everything) because of bad maintenance. This costs quite a bomb too.
If you follow all the tips, you should look like this girl:)
Getting the Maximum out of your bicycle
Use the bicycle for daily commute: Bicycles were originally made as a mode of transportation, so it serves that purpose the best. Use your cycle to go to the shop, to go meet friends, to go grab a drink, and for other daily purposes. Riding a little every day is a great way to enjoy cycling.
Join a riding group: Look for cycling groups around your neighborhood and join them or create your own little cycling group. There is always safety in numbers, you can help each other in case of punctures, breakdowns, or other calamities. It is also a lot of fun to meet other cyclists and make new friends. I ride with the Procycle guys often and with the Cycleword guys sometimes. Both are based out of Bangalore, India and are brilliant groups to ride with.
Invest in good riding gear: I suggest you invest in the following gear to help enjoy your rides more.
- Riding shorts – Cycling can be a pain in the butt at times, I mean literally. Good cycling shorts, the padded ones, help a lot to keep the pain in the @ss to a minimum:).
- A good Helmet – Keeping your head safe is the most important thing. I know of many cyclists who could have lost their lives due to accidents and were saved by their helmets and others who could have been saved from being seriously injured if they were wearing one. So please invest in a good helmet.
- Gloves – They help a lot in case of bad roads and I personally sweat quite a bit, so the gloves help in keeping my handlebars dry and provide better grip.
- Tracking gear – Invest in a nice smartwatch or an App. It always helps to measure your riding distance and time. Get a smartwatch like a Garmen, Iwatch, or any other brand that might suit you. An App (like Strava) will do this as well.
- Puncture kit – If you are planning to ride long distances away from the city, they can help. There are times where I have pushed my bicycle up to 10 km looking for a puncture shop on solo rides. Around the city, I think it would not be too tough to find one.
- Lights and reflectors – They become a necessity if you plan to ride out in the night.
- Hydration: Hydration is required in case of any cardio activity. Get a bottle cage and a sipper or a hydration pack. At least carry a liter of water on your longer (50 KM+) rides.
I think the following things are a waste of money:
I’ve seen many cyclists investing in the these, but I personally think they’re a waste of money:
- Gel seats: They always lead to bad riding positions and flatten out after a while. The best cycling seats are always hard. For protection, please invest in a pair of good padded cycling shorts/tights.
- Modern plastic mud-guards – They offer very little protection in case of rain or slush and become loose on the trails very easily. If you want full-proof protection, go for the Indian steel mudguards which are there in our legendary bicycles. But they are quite heavy.
Some of my unforgettable cycling moments
- There was this time a friend and I were doing a trail behind the Bannerghatta national park. While hitting the trail we came face to face with a Tusker which had strayed out of the national park and had come into some the fields. We cycled as fast as our legs could take us when it started showing signs of aggression.
2. We were doing a night ride to Mysore. We came across this intersection along the road near Kunigal where some people had recently lit a pier and the splinters were still burning. There was nobody at the fire but there was a very loud moan from nearby. We could not figure out if it were an animal or a human. My friend asked if we should slow down. I asked him to pedal as fast as he possibly can:). That was a very scary experience.
The final verdict
Cycling can be a great way to reduce carbon footprint, keep yourself fit, move around town effeciently, a great skill to have, and is a fun hobby. I think everyone should try cycling to check if it is their cup of tea. It has transformed my life quite a bit and it definitely has the scope to transform yours as well. Happy riding:)