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A Beginners Guide to Cycling - On the road with Deano

Former professional, UK cycling legend and now Assistant Manager for the JLT Condor team, Dean Downing writes exclusively for Leigh Day, on his tips for people who are new to cycling.

Which Bike?

There are so many bike brands on the market nowadays, some have a long and illustrious history in the cycling industry and others are very new to the market, just how to choose the right bike has never been more daunting, but also, there has never been so much choice.

What matters is getting the right bike for what you want it for. So the first question to ask yourself is what type cycling are you going to be doing?

Are you going to be riding on the road, on off-road tracks and paths or on very off-road tracks? There are bikes for all surfaces and types of trails and it’s important you choose the right one for the job!

Road bikes have thinner wheels and drop handlebars, they are highly responsive and perfect for riding on the road as you’ll go further, faster.

Drop bars look daunting but the trick is that most of your riding will be done on the ‘hoods’ of the brake levers, it really is a more upright position than many people expect with easy access to brakes and gears if the set-up is right.

A hybrid bike for trails, canal paths, or for a more upright position on the road which puts the qualities of both a road bike and a mountain bike together, larger thinner wheels with straight bars, ideal for commuting or trail riding but not so good for speed or for longer road rides.

Mountain Bikes are not built for being on the road at all, they have thicker tyres and are built for off-road riding, they can make road riding feel like you are riding through treacle but put them over rocks or down ditches and they are brilliant fun and perfect for those conditions.

Top Tip: Your first bike doesn’t need to be that expensive bike. A good quality Carbon bike (lighter and with a stiffer frame than the old steel frames) can be bought for between £500 - £1000.


Everyone’s cycling experience is individual to them and the best advice I would give is to find your local bike shop and speak to someone about what sort of bike you need and sizing, this for me is the most important thing to think about when buying a bike.

If you are 5ft 8 you don't want to be riding around on a 56 cm bike that you bought off the internet because it was a good deal and looked nice. It will be very uncomfortable and put you off cycling right from the start.

Speak with the experts, it’s worth it in the end. Then it’s down to your own budget to dictate the bike you can afford.

Accessories

Think about the parts of the body which touch the bike – feet, bum and hands – get these right and you’ll enjoy cycling much more.

Shoes

There are nearly as many shoe brands as there are bike brands on the market, it can be very difficult to choose one from another. It’s the same for Professional teams.

Many pro teams wont have a sponsored shoe deal on the team, mainly due to riders all having different shaped feet and not being comfortable in one specific brand of shoe. So, you have to think the same. 

Don’t just rush out and buy the shoes that your favourite rider uses as your feet may need a very specific shoe. Some cycling shoes are very stiff with bucket carbon soles, where as some have very soft leather uppers, which can sometimes flex a lot more when putting the power through the pedals. Some are very thin in width, whilst others provide an extra wide choice which is ideal for people with fallen arches (flat feet).

You are going to be generating all your power through your feet, you need to make sure they are treated like royalty. So you need to find the right one for you, again they don’t have to be expensive, but I would invest time in going around and trying some different brands.

Look for sizing charts on the websites of brands, and the internet may have some useful forums to find out which shoes are best for your feet based on other people’s experiences.

Also think about inserts, some running and cycling shops provide custom made inserts which can help if you find you are getting aching feet.

Again, it’s about finding a shop which has the time and the stock to take you through the choices and offer the advice you need for your cycling adventure.

Top Tip: Make sure you invest in a good ‘track pump’ – an upright pump which will get your tyres inflated to the right pressure and do this before every ride to get the most out of your bike.

Shorts – its all about the padding

This is often people’s most common cry when they start cycling, my bum hurts. The fact is, it does, but the good news is this goes away and the right pair of shorts can lessen the impact.

The amount of pressure on your behind can also be alleviated by a good fitting bike, the arms have to do some of the weight bearing work, but the bum and saddle does need thinking about.

Buying the right pair of shorts is important, it’s not just about the padding, the fit of the short has to be right too. Over the years I have used many different brands of shorts and some have had great padding and terrible fit some have fitted beautifully but the padding, terrible!

Buying the most expensive pair of shorts out there doesn't mean they will be the best for you. Some of the best shorts in the world are made to be a tight race fit for the lean racing snakes, which in turn will have a light padding. A pro cyclist has a very well trained sit bone and can cope well with a light padding.

If you are new to the sport you may have to think about shorts that a little more suited to your own requirements.

Clothing

The materials for cycle clothing have come on in leaps and bounds over the past few decades, it wasn’t too long ago when cycle clothing was made out of wool, not the smart and light merino wool now favoured by some brands, but heavy wool which when wet could double your weight!

Lycra changed everything and it defines cyclists to most non-cyclists. The reason why we wear it is that it doesn’t restrict movement and can keep you warm or cool, whatever the conditions.

However, not every cyclist wants to wear the super hi tech fabrics that the Pros are wearing and not all cyclist wants to be seen in wild colours and patterns. If you find a brand that you like, it fits your own body shape and you are happy with it, go with that. 

There are plenty now for all body shapes and types of riding, just make sure it is comfortable and warm and I would recommend that you use layers, as this will give you much more chance to be dressed right for the conditions. It is much better to be too warm on a bike than to be too cold. Also, I forgot to mention, you have to look good hey.

Top Tip: Always take two inner tubes and 3 tyre levers with you in case of a puncture – watch this space for our forthcoming video guide on how to change an inner tube when you puncture

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