03 June 2015

Ride London training: Getting started with cycling

So in February, this happened:

Ballot success! I'd watched Ride London the last couple of years (it began in 2013, a legacy of the London 2012 Olympics), and had always fancied doing it. I'm not quite sure why, because I am NOT a cyclist. At least I wasn't at the time. I think it was the combination of the incredible route, the freedom of riding down traffic free streets, and the endurance challenge of riding 100 miles that captivated me. I entered the 2014 ballot and was unsuccessful. I entered the 2015 ballot expecting a successive rejection but ended up getting a place!

I was really excited when I found out I had a place. But I also felt slightly sick. I was less scared of the prospect of the endurance element (having done a marathon in October last year, I knew I could push myself to my physical limits), it was more the prospect of having to become a proper cyclist. Or at least get to the point where I could just about pass for one. For a few years now, I've considered myself a runner: so to have to become something else entirely was a bit daunting. Running is so unintimidating because you need very little kit - as long as you have a good pair of running shoes you are good to go. And the only technique you need is the ability to put one foot in front of the other. Cycling is a different matter. You're sharing the road with a lot of vehicles much larger than you, you need to constantly be thinking about signalling and manoeuvring, just as you would do when driving a car. You also need a fair bit of kit to be both safe and comfortable: more than just a pair of shoes. My initial list for the basics I needed to start cycling looked something like this:

Bike lock
Padded shorts
Jersey (with back pocket to store bits & pieces)
Cycling gloves
Cycling shoes
Puncture repair kit
Spare inner tube
Bike cleaning kit

That's just for starters. I still haven't got everything (cycling shoes and cleaning kit, I'm looking at you). Some of the bits and pieces I managed to get quite cheaply (the cycling gloves I bought from Lidl), but it still all adds up. It turns out that cycling is quite an expensive hobby.

Oh and of course you need a bike. Luckily I already had one of those, but whether it was fit for purpose for a 100 mile road race was another matter. I'd had the bike set up to my specifications already (ensuring the seat is at the right level for my height, handle bars are at the right level/angle etc). But it's a mountain bike, so not suitable for such a long ride on the roads. After a bit of research, I quickly realised that the easiest way to get it closer to what I needed was just to get it fitted with road tyres, which are slick and narrower, and so allow me to move more quickly and efficiently on the roads. Thanks to the fabulous Blue Door Bicycles for fitting those for me.

As well as getting the kit I needed to get on with cycling, one of the most important elements for me in the process so far has simply been getting comfortable with being on the bike. I'm trying to get to the point where hopping on a bike feels as natural as going for a run. I'm not sure it will ever feel just as natural, but I'm definitely getting closer.

One thing that has really helped me with feeling comfortable on the bike was some lessons with Cycle Confident, which I would recommend to anyone who's a bit rusty on the bike or not used to cycling on roads. I think they offer free lessons to residents of most boroughs in London. They are one to one lessons and so they can very much tailor them to what you want to work on - be it bike handling, technique or how to ride safely on roads. Living in London you're always going to have to navigate some road unless you live right next to a park.

My first proper training session which I did at the end of May (I'm starting to think I may have started training a bit too late!) looked like this:

A cycle to and from Dulwich Park, with several loops of the park thrown in. I'm hoping to get faster than this first effort, because at 10mph Ride London will take me 10 hours!! Luckily the actual route is a lot flatter than where I live, which is surrounded by hills, so hopefully that will help. The only really big hill on the route to contend with is Box Hill, which takes up just a small proportion of the entire route.

So far it's been quite a steep learning curve, but I've really been enjoying getting out on my bike, especially now that the weather is warmer. For anyone else starting to get into cycling, my top tips would be:

1. Get a bike fit, so that you have the correct riding position - your local bike shop can do this for you

2. Get some lessons, especially if you haven't cycled for a while or aren't used to riding on roads

3. Get the essential kit so that you're comfortable & safe

4. Get on your bike as often as you can: no journey's too short!

I'll aim to post another update before the big day. I'm hoping to go on some group rides for some of my longer training sessions - it would be good to have company and ride with more experienced cyclists.

Are there any other novice cyclists out there doing Ride London this year? How is your training coming along?


  1. Awesome to get a ballot place! I watched this last year and it looked amazing. Good luck with the training - my experience of cycling is limited to Boris Bikes so this sounds v brave!

    1. Thanks! Last year the weather was so bad that they had to cut the route short to 80 miles... so I'm hoping for more favourable conditions this year. I've actually never used a boris bike before - I'm too much of a wuss to cycle in the very centre of London!