Overcoming my cycling fears – by guest blogger, Kelly Black
I’d never been a cyclist, always preferring to use my own two feet for power and speed. I’d been late to learn to ride a bike as a girl (I think I was 9!) and I’d pretend to enjoy cycling as an adult when really I was gripping the handle bars until my knuckles were white, over every bump and downhill. Two years ago, it all changed for me when I contacted my fantastic local bike business called Roots Cycles in Doune and tentatively inquired about purchasing a road bike. It was my birthday coming up and it was time to face this fear head on. I also wanted to attempt my first Triathlon. I was comfortable with running and swimming but for a long time a Triathlon seemed like an insurmountable hurdle because I had a fear that was holding me back and that was cycling!
If you’re going to buy your first road bike I can’t recommend enough using a local bike business like Roots Cycles and getting properly measured and fitted. Comfort on your bike is paramount whatever your goals are. Also, if like me, you are a complete novice going into road cycling then you will want friendly, unintimidating advice about the best kind of bike for you and tips about how to get started and what equipment you will need. When I went to collect my new bike from Roots I was overwhelmed with how cool it looked. As an adult, I’d never owned my own bike before so it was a lovely feeling. However the first time I sat on it, those fears flooded in again. Could I really see myself racing on these thin tyres in a few months’ time?
My first ride was a test run around a local route that I run frequently and I am not kidding when I say I had run faster! But everyone has to start somewhere; every expert was once a beginner too. I reminded myself that small steps can lead to big changes and so, several times a week, I would just ride around the block, building up to cycling along the main road to the next town. This allowed me to get used to and confident with riding in traffic which I know can be a big barrier to taking up cycling for some people. As the weather improved I felt brave enough to try out longer routes.
Road cycling can be expensive. However, Roots took time to find the perfect bike for my budget, which was not unlimited! After buying my bike, I couldn’t afford much in the way of extras. However I’d say a decent helmet cannot be compromised on. A pair of cycling shorts with padding are also essential and I’m not being funny when I say that you must not wear knickers with these! The padding in cycling shorts is designed for comfort and protection next to your skin. I did eventually have to look into a ladies’ saddle as well when I started doing longer rides. Discomfort and saddle sore is a common issue for female cyclists and don’t feel too embarrassed to raise it with your local bike shop/business even if it is a male you find yourself dealing with. The new saddle along with padded shorts really has made longer rides much more comfortable.
I started off riding on standard, flat pedals as I wasn’t confident enough to clip in initially. After the Triathlon Roots persuaded me to try clipping in and my next purchase was cleats and shoes. I wouldn’t ever go back to flat pedals, but I don’t regret racing on flats for my first time.
Once I started cycling longer distances I did purchase a water bottle and cage. For shorter distances, water should be sufficient. For longer distances you will need nutrition as well but that is a whole other topic! Then I bought gloves and cycling glasses. Even in hot weather I wear fingerless gloves to protect my hands from rubbing and glasses obviously prevent sun glare but also protect your eyes if stones fly up towards your face and insects! Always take a phone with you especially if like me, you are not yet entirely confident mending a puncture. I do always carry tyre levers, a spare inner tube and a pump in a saddle bag though. I appreciate this all sounds a lot, but I spread out my purchases and bought cheaper where I could.
As the date of the Triathlon approached, I cycled the actual route a few times and went to a talk offered by the local Triathlon club on tips for the cycling section and the rules for Triathlon racing. Drafting (tucking in close behind another rider) is illegal in Triathlons and this reassured me greatly as I was still nervous about cycling close to others. I’d seen those horrific looking group crashes in the Tour De France, no thank you! Overtaking has to be done with plenty of space and within a certain time.
However I did want to learn to ride in a group so I went on my first ever group ride with the local triathlon club. As I walked over with my bike to where the group were meeting, all I could see were very fit, professional looking cyclists all decked out in club kit and of course all clipped in. I was the only cyclist on flat pedals! All I can say is, don’t avoid group riding because of your fears. You only get over this by taking the plunge and just doing it. Be humble and honest, that you know nothing but are keen and I can assure you that your local triathlon or cycling club will be delighted to show you the ropes and they won’t leave you behind. I was allocated to the easier group and the leader of this group could not have been friendlier and gave me some great technique tips.
I also went to a couple of transition practices where we practiced running mounts and dismounts on and off the bike. This is by no means essential for competing in your first triathlon though. Just try and stay calm and make sure you put your helmet on before you touch your bike because you will get disqualified if you try to ride without a helmet. By now I’d also got a GPS watch so I could monitor my speed and distance and it was such a buzz to see my average speed going up as the weeks went by. I managed to find a low cost multi-sport Tom Tom one, so again shop around and you don’t have to break the bank.
I was still breaking too much downhill, my cornering technique was ropey and my gear changing and choice was certainly not always perfect but I finally felt ready to tackle that Triathlon. Something I never thought I could achieve six months earlier.
I transitioned from the swim onto my bike without too much trouble and as I knew the route (this makes a big difference) I knew how to pace myself. The route was very well marshalled by enthusiastic club members who encouraged you on. It does not matter if you are at the front or the back of the race, people admire your effort.
In the end, the cycling section was my favourite part! I was pulled round by a few inspiring and incredibly fit female cyclists and it was such a thrill to have the confidence to get down on the drop handle bars and really go for it along the faster sections of the route. At one point I thought of myself only months earlier and how scared I’d been of racing on a bike. After a good running section, in the end, I finished first in my age group!
Now I love cycling and it is a big part of my life and through this year’s lockdown cycling has helped to keep me physically and mentally well. It’s not so much about racing in this time but the freedom, the scenery and the exercise. So now more than ever I am glad I took the decision to combat my cycling fears.
Kelly now works as a Personal Trainer - Kelly's Core Fitness - and can be found on Instagram as kelly_blackcroxton. Follow Kelly for accessible and inspiring fitness advice, tips and routines.