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24 things we wish we knew when we started cycling

If only we'd have known all this in the beginning...

It’s hard to say how many years of cycling experience we have cumulatively in the RCUK office. In fact, there’s a few who’d rather not confess to the amount of years they’ve spent riding at all for fear of revealing their ‘real’ age.

Regardless of when we started though, there are more than a few things we wish we’d known when starting out that could have saved us some tough lessons, a few quid and a little bit of embarrassment along the way too.

Here are 24 things we wish we knew before we started cycling – some we’re happy to admit, others, well… don’t judge us!

Always take a spare. If you don’t you’ll learn the hard way how much fun fixing punctures isn’t

Always take a spare tube and basic tools (and learn how to use them)

Don’t let a flat ruin your ride because you didn’t carry any tools to fix it – it could result in you taking the dreaded and expensive ‘taxi of shame’ all the way back to your starting point. Even more important, don’t let being unable to change a flat result in you sheepishly flagging down another cyclist or taking it into the bike shop and paying someone else to do it for you at £8 a pop. Pun intended.

It hurts!

Ever heard someone describe a supposedly easy task as ‘just like riding a bike’? Well it turns out riding a bike ain’t that easy. It’s difficult, and it HURTS! Before long you’ll learn every gradient change on your local roads because you’ve etched them deep into your thighs, calves and glutes!

But it’s incredible fun

Call us masochists if you like, but we cyclists actually enjoy being in pain a lot of the time because of the awesome rewards that come back out of that suffering.

Take enough food and drink with you

The struggle against bonking is real. You may think the dreaded ‘bonk’ is some kind of bicyclist’s boogie man, but you’d be wrong. Everybody bonks at least once and it’s a truly hideous experience. Imagine going ten rounds with Tyson Fury, then having to ride a bike the remaining 25km home from the hospital. Uphill. On a bike with square wheels. That’s what bonking feels like. The only way to avoid this horrible experience is to always carry enough food and drink with you to keep your body fueled.

Commuting can be the best part of the day, not the worst

Once you start cycling you can replace phrases like this:

“Oh God, the traffic on the way in was absolutely awful today.”

“My train was delayed by an hour and I didn’t have a seat so I spent the whole journey rammed up against a hairy man’s armpit.”

With:

“Absolutely smashed it today on the way in, got a new personal best time and everything. I LOVE commuting!”

Don’t ride in the gutter

…while some of us are riding in the stars! Seriously though, stay out of the gutter – it wrecks your tyres, has an inconsistent surface which might cause slips or spills, and it gives you nowhere to go should something unpredictable happen in your path.

Commuting can be far more fun on a bike that it ever was in the car or on the bus

 

Learn to ride assertively

The first point to make is that ‘assertively’ is not a synonym for ‘like an aggro thug’, despite how other road users may behave. Riding assertively is about making the right choice to keep yourself safe on the road and that means giving way as often as it means holding your ground. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress by accepting that you have as much right to be on the road as everyone else. Regardless of whether you pay ‘road tax’.

Invest in good lights

Back when I began cycling I was riding my bike home from work without lights and a pedestrian yelled, “Lights, dickhead!” at me. It was the single most British piece of advice I ever received, and also some of the best. If you don’t have ‘em, get some bloody good lights – they could save your life.

Don’t wear underwear underneath cycling shorts

Just don’t. Trust us. It’s not comfortable and it’s definitely not attractive.

Good lights are worth their weight in gold, although admittedly that wouldn’t be much gold. But they will help to keep you safe

N+1

Which brings us to probably the single biggest expense that you’ll encounter as a cyclist – the bikes themselves. It’s widely acknowledged that the right number of bikes is always N+1, with N being the number of bikes you currently own. Got a roadie? Buy a winter training bike. Got one of those? Time for a fixed-gear. There’s nearly as many types of bike as Team Astana had scandals last season – so you shouldn’t ever be able to run out.

Join a club, it’s fun!

Trying to find people to ride with can be difficult when you’re starting out and we wish we’d joined a cycling club sooner. While some people have a perception that clubs are elitist or a bit fussy and traditional, the reality is quite different. There are hundreds of different clubs, from women-only ones, to tiny village ride groups, to mega clubs with hundreds of registered riders.

Showers at work are a godsend

Nobody wants to be the smelly one that everyone avoids sitting next to in the Monday morning staff meeting, so showers at the workplace will quickly become an essential criteria when you’re searching for a new job. Oh, and you’ll always want to keep a spare set of undies at the office to avoid those days.

Part of being a cyclist is always needing just one more bike…

You can eat SO much more after a ride than you ever thought possible

Two pizzas? Nobody could eat two WHOLE pizzas in one sitting, could they? Wrong! After a big ride with loads of elevation and some nasty wind, you can easily eat two whole pizzas, a packet of biscuits, seven slices of ham and still have room for couple of Magnum ice creams. If only we’d known all along that cycling is basically just an excuse to eat.

Cycling mates are the best kind of mates

Nothing bonds two people together like slogging through a windswept, rainy ride around the local hills. Throw in a few punctures, a near-miss with a herd of cows and a hilarious incident with a group of ramblers and you’ve got yourself a friend for life.

People may not understand your choice of hobby

“You get up at 5am to go riding in the rain… why?”

‘You rode in THAT weather?!’ (Pic: Sirotti)

CHAFING SUCKS

We used to snicker at marathon runners for putting tape on their nipples before a race. Not anymore.

You don’t HAVE to wear Lycra (or shave your legs) 

Despite popular perception, shaving and spandex are strictly optional in the sport of cycling.

Strava will consume your life

Once you discover the little orange app, your life (and your local area) will be transformed into something equal parts playground and gladiatorial arena.

Scared you may already be incurably hooked? Check out our list of symptoms of Stravaddiction.

Careful, Strava can be addictive…

It never gets easier, you just go faster

At the beginning, sometimes it feels like you’re pedaling in treacle and that you’ll never make it up that hill near your house without getting off and pushing. Sadly, the treacly thing never goes away, but you will make it up that hill one day.

The word ‘waterproof’ is relative

There is no overshoe on the market that will actually keep your feet dry on a stormy day in January. Yes, we know it says ‘100% waterproof’ on the packaging. This means nothing.

Car drivers are not always the most ‘aware’

From turning left into bike lanes without indicating, to passing you way, way too close – you’re going to have a few close-run things along your cycling journey. The best way to avoid this? Assume nobody can see you (ever) and ride your bike accordingly.

Just because it says ‘waterproof’ on the label doesn’t mean you’re going to be 100 percent dry

Cyclists are not always the most ‘considerate’

The old cyclists vs drivers thing rubs both ways with plenty of two-wheeled traffic causing havoc because they’ve done something especially thoughtless or profoundly stupid. Watch out for each other out there and try to steer clear of the numpties.

You will get addicted…

“I’m just planning to use my bike to ride to work a couple of days a week…”

Sound familiar? That’s how it always starts, but as soon as you realise just how awesome it is to ride a bike, you will be hooked. Probably for life.

…and it could be expensive

Once the addiction gets its hooks into you, you’re going to want new equipment and clothes and that means going shopping. The problem is, they’ll always be another jersey, another pair of bibs or another pair of cold-weather gloves that catch your eye…

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