How to Ride Where You’re Going Without Looking Like You Have

Rusty with her bike

We’ve recently cut down to one car and I’m enjoying the push to travel by bike. It’s a good time of year to ditch a car, when the sun’s shining and the daylight hours are long. You’re unlikely to arrive at your destination soaked by rain, splattered in mud, with frostbitten fingers.

Even in good weather it can be difficult to figure out what to wear, especially if you want to avoid the fully-clad lycra look. If you’re in the saddle all day you definitely want to have padded shorts, but when your bike is just your gas-free way of getting around, it’s nice to dress for your destination and not your ride.

I am by no means an expert in this department. It wasn’t until I looked at this photo that I realised how desperately I need some new cycling shoes (I’m tired of looking like a Smurf.) But, there are a few tips I’ve stumbled upon along the way.

1) Put a lid on it.
Helmets: not for protecting your skull but simply to keep your hair in some semblance of order. We might complain about helmet hair, but mine looks far worse when it’s battled with the wind unhindered. A plait is a good option for long hair, plus emergency bobby pins. (This is mainly for the kickass Mary Poppins vibe gained by having emergency hair slides in one’s bag.) Helmets are also handy off the bike, to carry as a mild excuse for a haphazard appearance.

2) Pedals, meet shoes.
It’s worth having your foot somehow attached to your pedal, be it with SPD shoes (minus the Smurf look) or with good old-fashioned toe clips. It makes stopping and starting at junctions much easier and generally improves your pedal power.

3) Don’t be a snail.
No one wants to arrive at their destination a sweaty mess. Carrying all your gear on your back will pretty much guarantee it. Getting a pannier/ saddlebag/ bar bag makes the ride easier and it won’t crease your shirt.

4) Be a snail.
Go slow, enjoy the breeze, stop for that IG photo, use your lowest gear up the hill.

5) Take your granny’s advice.
Wear a vest, so if you do work up a sweat going up that hill, your shirt is safe.

How to Ready Your Bike for Winter

Winter bike derailleur maintenance

Rainy days are here again, with dark afternoons and stormy winds thrown in for good measure. It’s tempting to leave the bike in the shed and travel everywhere in the warm dry car. But there’s something pretty fantastic about sailing around on two wheels, no matter the weather.

That classic phrase ‘no bad weather, just bad gear’ certainly applies to bike riding. Here’s my 5 Top Tips to keep you pedalling through the puddles.

Bike work bench

1- Check your brakes
Look at your brake blocks. Are they still nice and fat, or warn to a thin bit of black paper? Do they line up nicely with your rims? New brake blocks are affordable and essential, and your local bike shop can fit them quick. Wheel rims can get gunked up, so it’s worth rubbing these down with a bit of steel wool. You don’t want anything to slow down your stopping.

2- Grease is your friend
I’m always surprised by how often I need to oil my chain. This is particularly the case if your bike lives outside. Dribble the chain lube (no sniggering please) on to the main cassette (the stack of cogs on your back wheel) as you pedal backwards.

It’s not just the chain that needs oiling. Buy a can of GT85 to spray your pedals, bike lock, and any other exposed mechanics (but keep clear of those wheel rims!)

Parts of bicycle photo collage

3- Love your wheels
Wheels need the occasional bit of tlc. They can become bent by barrelling through potholes or hopping up and down pavements. Your bike shop can true your wheels for a small fee, and you’ll notice it helps your bike roll much better.

If you want to spend a bit more, consider buying some new tyres, preferably with kevlar or puncture-proof inserts. Consider how much tread you need, depending on whether you stick to the road or venture in to the mud. Remember that nobbly tyres will make riding on the roads much harder work.

4- Light up the sky
I hate neon. I don’t care if it’s had a fashion resurgence, it still makes me cringe. But, I’ve realised that it makes a huge difference when you’re on a bike. Drivers notice fluorescent yellow, which is particularly appreciated at busy junctions! I also like this helmet band; it doesn’t look too naff, but it is super-visible. And get some lights! Nuff said.

5- It’s gonna rain
You might as well just embrace it. If your fingers and toes are toasty, you can tolerate any amount of wet weather. Add overshoes and gloves to your list. Take a full change of clothes (yes, even pants – noone wants to have a wet bum all day) and plenty of plastic bags. Of course, you want the rest of your belongings to also stay dry. You can get a range of waterproof rucksack covers (choose the neon colours!) or a proper pannier that will keep your stuff clean and dry.

Tom and Derek working on bicycle

Tom and I visited my dad at the weekend who kindly worked on our bikes. If you don’t have such a mechanically-minded family member, then book your bike in for a service at your local shop. Many offer a winter-ready package that includes these basic checks and more. If you can get these things sorted, you’re well on your way to a merry winter of riding.

And if you liked this…

IW Randonnee 2014

Bikes on the Cowes launch

Blue skies and spring flowers peppered this year’s perfectly sunny Isle of Wight Randonnee.  The few puffy clouds and breath of breeze made conditions perfect. We sailed through a morning out east, whizzing round corners with other riders, and bingeing on tea and flapjacks at the Bembridge checkpoint.

Tom borrowed a speedier bike than his usual Dawes (thanks Dad!).  His super-skinny tyres urged us on and we rode faster than any previous year.

With so many cyclists on one route, there’s always someone to slipstream or overtake in a rash moment of enthusiasm; but everyone gave each other plenty of room (bar the one gentleman who swung wildly in to the middle of the road, almost causing a lycra-clad pileup.)

Tractor at Hunyhill junction

Yellow field in East Cowes

The sun shone shone all day and, thinking back, I don’t know how I didn’t find the excuse to have an ice cream. Next year I must remember to stop at Compton Beach for a Mr Whippy before the big climb up the Military Road.

People cycling the IoW Randonnee photo collage

Books, Bikes, and Bread

Dawes bike against a fence at Newtown Creek, Isle of Wight

There are so many good things that begin with the letter B: bacon sandwiches, beach walks and bumble bees, to name a few.  Tom and I spent far too much time adding to this list, but there really are a lot of good B words!  No matter the length of the list, the top three remain the same: books, bikes, and bread.  What could be better than working up an appetite with a whizz around on your bike, followed by a slice of hot buttered toast and a good read?

Book shelves and book stacks photo collage

We filled our weekend with all three, riding out to a photography exhibition at Dimbola Lodge, finishing off some recent reads, and baking a buttery banana bread.  There are no photos of the banana bread.. it seemed far more important to simply dive in and eat it.

Do you have any B words to add to the list, or suggestions of another letter I have seriously overlooked?

Just Say Yes

Bike on Freshwater Down, Isle of Wight

Yesterday was very nearly a pyjama day.  It was grey and uninspiring, and I ached a bit from too much of this yoga challenge.  We’d had the Cycle the Wight event in our calendar for months, but bed on a Sunday morning is a hard thing to quit.  I’m so good at saying ‘Nah’, ‘Maybe next time’, or ‘I’ll think about it.’  Sometimes thinking is a really bad idea; what if we just said Yes?

I waved Tom off at the door to cycle the 100k route on his own, and got back in bed.  But knowing that he was off playing outside without me kind of ruined my lazyman buzz.  It took me all of five minutes to regret my hasty ‘No’ and start tearing around the house looking for lycra, socks, and other sundries.  I sent him a quick On My Way! text and raced down the hill.

It was a perfect autumn day: still and clear, damp and earthy. I was glad I’d made it out of bed.  Those grey days always feel uninviting, but they’re really rather lovely once you’re out in them.  After an hour of hard pedalling (Tom had a fast bike and a half hour head start) I found him sat on a hilltop bench, munching on a banana and grinning at me.  We spent the rest of the day riding this familiar route, having a grand old time.

A last minute mad-dash change-of-heart is not the best approach to a long-distance ride. My legs were tired after that first 30k hard push.  But I had a perfect autumn day out in the fresh air with my man.  I’m at risk of missing all the fun if I automatically say ‘No’ to a challenge.  So, I’m going to try to say ‘Yes’, ‘Definitely’, and ‘When do we start?’ before I have the chance to come up with a decent excuse.  We’re likely in for plenty more uninspiring grey mornings this autumn, but if we just head outside we may find they’re all still pretty fabulous.

Tom holding up his bike