Many of us habour an ambition to cycle to work or take a spin at the weekend (saving money, getting fit, swapping a sweaty train for fresh air - the reasons are endless), but negotiating cars, buses and bike lanes in the midst of city traffic is a daunting prospect.
That's where Victoria Pendleton comes in. The Olympic and World Champion track cyclist and the face of Cycletta has shared with Stylist her expert tips on how to get started with cycling, from building up confidence to cycling etiquette and safety concerns.
For those who fancy joining Cycletta, a series of women-only mass participation bike rides on traffic-free roads, Victoria has also included advice on how to train for big events.
Read Victoria's top cycling tips below:
It's all about the bike
It doesn’t matter whether you are racing for an Olympic title or riding to the gym, paying attention to the choice and set up of your bike makes cycling fun and most importantly comfortable. Choose a bike that tells people something about you and does the job you want it to do. Choose a cruiser bike if you are riding short distances and want to be relaxed. You can go for a single speed retro-looking bike if the roads are flat near you, but if you have lots of hills, make sure you have gears to make the gradients more bearable.
Building up confidence
The best time to go out for the first time is on Saturday or Sunday mornings when the roads will be quieter. Wear bright colours and, where possible, go out with a friend. Groups of people are more visible and you are likely to feel safer. Use maps or internet sites (such as CycleStreets) to plan your ride, or you could try driving it first. Where possible, stick to the cycle paths (particularly in London where the routes are mapped out well) and try stay close to the left hand side of the road, where cars will be expecting you.
Any good ride starts with feeling safe. To begin with, you should get your cables and brake pads checked at your local bike shop. It's usually cheap and you can ensure that all your nuts and bolts are done up tightly at the same time. You can also get them to set up the saddle height and handlebar height for you and choose a saddle that suits you. Once you begin riding, always have a spare tube and pump to hand and make sure you know how to use them. Also don't be scared to use your bell - it is a great way of attracting attention to yourself on the road. Practice maneuvers like looking over your shoulder and hand signals before you go out on a major road. Finally, it's essential to wear a cycling helmet - it's the only way to protect yourself in the event of an accident. Try a few out to make sure you have the right shape and fit.
What to wear
Cycling clothing is now fashionable, well-tailored and a style statement - you don’t have to wear lycra to get on a bike. However, it is a good idea to make sure your clothing on your legs is close-fitting. Obviously, pencil skirts and stilettos are a no-go, and Maxis will be tricky - plus, you don’t want oil all over your best dress. Leggings or three quarter length trousers are best, or you could wear shorts if you're feeling confident. Skinny jeans will usually suffice for a ride to work. You may want to bring a mini wash bag with you, with a hairbrush, a bit of makeup and some perfume, so you can freshen up when you arrive at your destination. Carrying a lightweight fold-up waterproof jacket is also a good idea, in the (let's face it, likely) event of rain. You don't need to wear cycling shoes, but it is important to try and use firm soled shoes. Ballet pumps are too flexible and may give you foot cramp.
You will find it easier if you know the gears on your bike, so be prepared and think about what gear you need before getting to a hill or a muddy patch. It is important to practice your gears in a safe environment - remember there is no need to know what gear you are using, just which way will make your bike lighter and which way will make it heavier. For cycling uphill, a lower gear is generally more efficient and vice versa. For flat surfaces, a medium gear usually works, although crank it up if you feel like giving your thighs a greater workout.
Rules of the road
Be confident and be aware of traffic, particularly at traffic lights when traffic may turn left across you. Use signals and ensure you stop at red lights and be courteous to pedestrians. In some cities and towns you may become part of the morning peloton. Lots of riders are riding in the same direction to work, so say hello and make new friends to ride with. If you have gears, pick the right one in plenty of time to get up a hill and roll along comfortably on the flat (see above).
What to carry
Use a bag that works on your bike - this could be a stylish rucksack or a bag called a Musette that you can sling on your back. Carry your shower-proof jacket, a spare inner tube and a short fold-down pump and importantly, have a lock to keep that cherished bike safe. In case you stay somewhere a little later, have a good set of lights in your bag so you can clip them on and stay safe in the dark. Also, remember to take your heels if you want to swap them with your flat-soled shoes when you are done cycling.
Training for a big event
There are no short cuts to any form of training; plan it out, listen to your body, work hard a couple of times a week but allow yourself easy exercise sessions as well plus plenty of recovery time. Train on a weekly basis, starting on Monday with a brisk walk after work to clear your head. On Tuesday, take a spin class at your gym or engage in some other kind of challenging physical activity. Wednesdays can be used for Pilates, or an alternative form of strengthening exercise. Thursdays can be used for a spin class or another form of cardiac workout again, with a day of rest for Friday. The weekends can be used for getting down to business, by hopping on your bike. Most of all, enjoy the freedom that cycling gives you. You are getting everywhere under your own steam, whilst toning up and getting fit!