Accessories!

If you know me – which, I’ll forgive you if you don’t, as we’ve only just met – you’ll know that I consider accessories to be the most exciting part of any venture. Buying a new games console? Better make sure you have those extra controllers and some blimming good games to play on it! Planning a party? Theme your decorations and tableware! Packing a lunch? Bento it up!

So, when it comes to bikes, I am seriously excited about this new opportunity to accessorise. And how! From baskets to panniers, gloves to helmets, there’s a whole world of stuff with which to pimp your ride, and I’m going to be covering some of the cutest things I can find, as well as documenting my search for the perfect accessories for me.

Beginner’s Quandry: What to Wear?

Okay, I admit to being shallow. I know there’s more to life than what you wear, but anything I do invariably revolves around clothes. I’m going to use an excuse here and say that working from home affords me no opportunities to dress nicely, so any time I actually venture out the door for any kind of occasion, bar a trip to the supermarket, I get excited.

But when it comes to riding a bike, especially if you have no experience of it, what the heck do you wear?

The cyclist's uniform

This is about all I knew about cycling clothes about a month ago. Tight-fitting lycra. But you know, there are a few simple rules that I learned simply by being on a bike for one afternoon.

1.) You don’t need special clothing to ride a bike.

2.) If you want to wear a skirt, wear one – just give a bit of thought to your underwear, maybe wear some shorts underneath, and think about whether your bike has a drop-bar or not.

3.) Capri trousers are great for cycling, because they keep you cool and there’s no chance of your cuffs being caught in the moving parts of the cycle.

4.) Jeans aren’t a great idea, unless they have a forgiving fit. They’ll probably want to shimmy down your bum, and restrict your leg movement, especially skinny ones. Also, they will make you sweat.

5.) What you wear on your top half is really down to you. A good idea is to look for a top with extended length, particularly down your back, as you’ll be leaning forward and a short top will ride up a little. Floppy long sleeves could get in your way.

6.) Layers are good, in case you get hot or cold, but think about what you’re going to do with any items you take off. If you tie a jumper around your middle you not only create a sweat swamp as the material makes you hot, but you run the risk of having the dragging parts fall into the chain or wheel. If your bike doesn’t have a basket or panniers, you could take a bag – but again, you could end up with a sweat patch on your back if you’re carrying a backpack in the heat.

7.) A light, waterproof jacket may well save the day if it starts to drizzle. I am no expert on this, because I’ve been wearing one for years that my mother-in-law rescued from the lost and found at her secondary school. But it doesn’t have to be a special cycling jacket – just think about length all the time. Is it long enough to protect my back if I’ll be leaning foward? Is it so long I’ll run the risk of it being caught somewhere?

8.) Footwear – a real quandry here. I know some ladies that bike in heels and look awesome doing it. In fact, heels are great because they naturally allow your feet to slot onto the pedals and make it harder to slip off, plus they give you a platform to stand on when you stop in traffic. However, if you’re a beginner, it might be an extra difficulty you don’t need right off the bat! Ballerina shoes and similar flats are totally fine, but if they have floppy soles you may find it harder to pedal, and if they have a loose fit, they may slip off. For my first ride, I wore a pair of trainers, which worked out very well as they have a hardish sole to make pedalling easier, and they have a built-in grip on the treads that works well with the bumpy grip of the pedals.

Needless to say, unlike some other sports, you don’t need a special sports bra to cycle, unless you’re going to be pedalling in a very vigorous manner!

That’s me in the middle – and this is what I wore for my first ride. Trainers, long shorts and a long top with adjustable sleeves. Simple, not very exciting, but certainly not lycra! I rode a hired bike for this trip, and hilariously I was completely colour co-ordinated – my trainers were blue and white, my shorts were blue, my top was blue and white, and the bike was blue and white. Have to make an effort, after all!

Hythe to Bucklers’ Hard

A lot of my friends have bicycles. In fact, if it wasn’t for Rachel, owner of a delightful Trek mountain bike, I don’t think I would have had anything more than a passing interest in biking at all. Once she bought her bike, it wasn’t long before her twin sister Lorraine, picked one up, and now I have four friends who have bikes. So they decided to plan a trip from Hythe (using the ferry) to Buckler’s Hard and back, a round trip of about ten miles or so (I think it wound up being more like eight in the end!).

After rediscovering my love of cycling last year at the Sky Ride, I wanted to join in, and so I arranged to hire a bike from a shop near the ferry terminal (and a good job I phoned in advance, because they weren’t open on a Sunday, the day I needed it, and the guy had to come in especially for me – what a sport!). He asked me where I was going and I explained the trip – then he asked me if I was cycle fit, because I guess that’s a ways to go if you’re not.. I had no idea if I was, but told him that I cycled on my exercise bike quite a lot and was pretty confident. I think the longest I’ve ever cycled on that thing was 100 minutes, because the counter goes up to 99 and I wanted to see what happened when it ticked over… Anyway, that’s a different story!

I have to say, cycling after a long break feels really intimidating. Even more so if you need to cycle in traffic. Even if you’re a confident driver, as soon as you get on that saddle the roads become roaring death-traps, full of cars ready to mince you into pieces. Luckily, the trip was down relatively quiet country roads, and the only time I got slightly nervous was when I cycled past a foal (giving it wide berth, I have to add!), which got startled by the group and started to gallop along the verge right beside us. I was concerned that it would run in front or bash into one of us, which could have turned into a nasty accident, but luckily it slowed down and stopped after a little bit. Hopefully it learned not to be scared of bikes in the future!

If there’s anything that’s going to get you enthusiastic about cycling, it’s a leisurely trip in the sunshine through some beautiful parts of the countryside near you. You get to see so much more than you would in a car, and have the added bonus of actually exercising whilst doing so – therefore more than earning yourself a slap-up pub meal halfway through. (But maybe not the two servings of ice cream I had both to and from the pub… sigh.)

I was also pleasantly surprised at how fit I was from all my cycling on the exercise bike. Turns out I must have had the resistance turned way up, because cycling up a hill was a pretty familiar feeling for me! Cycling on the flat was like heaven. A couple of my friends were struggling, but I guess the more we go out for trips, the fitter they’ll get – and the more ice cream we can eat! Right?

So, it was this trip that convinced me I really needed to buy a bicycle. The only question was really – which one?

New to biking

Sunday Ride

Image by Josh Koonce via Flickr

I’ve always enjoyed cycling, especially when I was a kid. One of my happiest memories was cycling round and round my block on my bike (pretending to be a train for some reason…), but as an adult, as I guess a lot of us do, I stopped cycling so much, and now I don’t even have a bike.

I currently work from home and so I don’t need  a bike to commute. When I used to work the other side of town, I briefly flirted with the idea of cycling, because I had to catch a bus that took an hour to make what should have been a 20 minute journey. Unfortunately, I live at the top of a hill (which leads to another hill), so it’s very off-putting to think about travelling up it first thing in the morning. Also, at the time I was considering this, the weather was awful and it was really dark in the mornings. And, I was totally broke. My dad took me to the tip and we found a bike which was rideable (for £5!), and we got a helmet and some lights from the local bike shop, which cost about ten times more than the bike itself. The bike was pretty hard to ride, but to be honest, it wasn’t until I tried another friend’s bike several years later that I realised just how hard to cycle it was. Anyway, I told my boss I was cycling to work, and he was pretty keen that I didn’t, citing how dangerous it was and how tiring it would be. When I say pretty keen, what I mean was he basically said ‘No way’ and suggested one of the other guys from work give me a lift. Not wanting to make a fuss or try to circumvent him, I quietly nixed the idea, secretly glad I wouldn’t have to face that monstrous hill, and carried on commuting by bus.

Fast forward to last year, when my friend Rachel got a Trek mountain bike. It was summer, and I saw adverts for the SkyRide, which is where they shut down the roads in city centres across the country so that cyclists can take over the streets and generally have a blast. We did a couple of laps, her on her fancy bike, and me on my dump-cycle. I noticed she was having no problem tackling even slight hills, whereas for me it was like trying to pull a tractor on the back of the bike. So, we swapped bikes – what a revelation. I could actually cycle and it felt effortless. (Meanwhile, she could barely get mine going). I have to say I cycle on my exercise bike a lot – at one time, on average an hour a day at least four times a week – so I have no problem with fitness. I could have cycled around the city all day but eventually we had to go home… Even so, it was that that really made me realise that the enjoyment I got out of cycling wasn’t lost to me as an adult.

So, all it really took was another nudge to get me into the right direction…