Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

Get started on the low impact, exhilarating sport of cycling

Starting any new sport can be a baffling experience. Lifelong cyclist Steve Thomas gives us the shortcuts to a great ride.
Sports fan Emma Woodcock, at the Al Qudra track near Bab Al Shams, cycles year round, even through the summer months. Antonie Robertson / The National
Sports fan Emma Woodcock, at the Al Qudra track near Bab Al Shams, cycles year round, even through the summer months. Antonie Robertson / The National

Cycling can be a lifelong competitive passion, or a great workout, and while some find their thrills in the downhills and mountain-bike parks, even more take to two wheels as an eco-friendly way to commute.

The health and fitness benefits of cycling are immense; low impact and fluid endurance cardio workouts that can be infinitely tailored, while great weight control combined with low-bulk, high-power muscular returns are prime.

The fitness element of cycling is just one benefit. A bike is a wonderful machine – it’s a relatively simple form of transport, the key to the open road, a social barrier crusher and a companion maker. There are few, if any, other sports or machines that can offer so much in one package.

Gearing up

There is so much information out there that when it comes to choosing and buying a bike and kit it can be overwhelming, although it doesn’t have to be.

You get what you pay for when it comes to bikes and kit – until you reach the upper tier of equipment, where huge price tags reflect minimal gains at best. If you want to do anything more than a small shopping commute once a week, then forget the bottom end of the price range; a heavy and clunky bike will probably put you off cycling for life.

Anything less than Dh2,000 will not be doing you any favours. How much you want or can spend is up to you but Dh2,000 to Dh5,500 will put you in the saddle of a bike that could (on a sliding price scale) allow you to soar around Yas Marina Circuit at night, or gasp in confidence over the great climbs of the Tour de France. Looking higher up the range is only advisable if you have an established level of experience and fitness.

Major brand names such as Giant, Trek, Merida and Specialized tend to offer a high level of value and proven backup, and picking a previous year’s model can often save you up to 30 per cent in costs for zero loss in performance. Second-hand is an option but new bikes give much better bang for your buck. You may well find bikes cheaper online, but sticking with a well-established dealer is worth the slight premium, as online bikes rarely come ready to ride, and your local bike shop will not be as happy to help out when things go wrong.

Determining what you want to use the bike for is essential; you may want a road-only bike, a touring bike, an all-rounder or even a full-on all-mountain downhill bike – and one bike does not fit all. If you are looking for a compromise bike for all occasions, then a hardtail mountain bike and a spare set of semi-slick tyres is a wise option. Refining your final choice is where experienced and reputable dealers come into their own.

Once you have your bike, you will need to invest in a few essentials. The first, of course, is a helmet. All helmets for sale should be legally approved, so fit and style should drive this choice. Be sure to find a well-vented helmet to deal with the heat.

A quality pair of cycling bib shorts is crucial (Dh220 to Dh367). These are to be worn without underwear but will make your ride much more comfortable. A well-vented cycling jersey (Dh150), UV protective sunglasses, a pair of clipless pedals (SPDs, Shimano Pedalling Dynamics, from Dh130), cycling shoes (mountain-bike shoes are ideal for beginners – Dh220 upwards), plus a pair of cycling gloves (Dh92), and you’ll be ready to hit the road in style and comfort.

Get set and go

Badly set-up bikes and the misuse of equipment are the biggest mistakes newbies make in cycling, and they could well tarnish your experience.

Your local bike shop should be able to help you set up your riding position, but as a rule of thumb your saddle should be parallel to the ground (not pointing up or down) with the height being set by you sitting on it while the bike is propped against a wall and with your heels on the pedals. Pedal backwards; at the bottom of the pedal stroke your leg should be fully extended (this will avoid knee and Achilles problems).

The key to your handlebar position is not to be overstretched, not to strain your neck and not to be too upright. Aim for about 30 to 40 per cent of your upper body weight to be supported by the bars.

Keeping relaxed and fluid on your bike is important, and largely down to gearing. The aim is to keep your pedalling rate fluid, be that uphill (at a slightly slower revolutions per minute – RPM) or on the flat.

Try counting the number of pedal revolutions you make on one leg in a minute. The optimum cadence for comfort and efficiency is between 80 and 100 RPM, which often seems fast to newcomers but is exactly what makes for efficient and injury-free long-term cycling.

Once you master these basics the freedom and benefits of that great open road or trail will be yours. A whole new and rewarding lifestyle will roll out before you and the benefits will be immense.

Updated: December 15, 2015 04:00 AM