07 December 2022

Getting Started – Cycling

July 31, 2008

Cycling is a fast growing sport in the UK, attracting more women than ever before. It might sound obvious, but riding a bike is a great way to get from A to B, improve your fitness and enjoy your surroundings, all at the same time. It’s sociable, great fun and you can do it for your whole life. How many sports can offer all that?

cycling-11.pngYou can also enjoy a number of cycling events springing up all over the UK and even venture into Europe for some fantastic mountain events. With the recent Tour de France inspiring us and the Mayor of London declaring 2008 a ‘summer of cycling’ to encourage 1 million Londoners onto the roads, now is the time to dust off your bike!

What sort of bike should I choose?

If you don’t already own one, selecting the right bike can be a confusing process. There is a mind boggling choice of style, specification and price range to choose from. The main thing to consider before purchasing a bike, is what you plan to use it for and where you plan to ride it.

There are three main styles; a hybrid, mountain bike and a road bike. If you are completely new to riding, a hybrid will be perfect. As the name suggests, this is a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. With flat handlebars, they generally have slick (smooth) tyres so perfect for road riding, but also fine for some gentle country trails.

If, however, getting muddy is more your scene, then you should choose a mountain bike. Usually with suspension for bumpy ground and ‘knobbly’ tyres, they tend to be slower on the road, but great for all round use.

If you fancy a bit of speed however, then a road bike is for you. With drop handlebars, lightweight frames and skinny tyres, they are for speed queens who want to rip round the roads at a fast pace.

You must make sure the bike is a good fit. Most bike manufacturers now offer women specific frames. These tend to have shorter top tubes (also known as the cross bar) which are more suited to women and prevent us from having to ‘over reach’ to the handlebars, which is often the case on unisex models.

To ensure the frame is the right size for you, when you stand over the bike, there should be about 5cm distance between you and the top tube.

Shoes and pedals are an important feature of good cycling technique. Ideally, you wear ‘clip in’ shoes which allow you to pull the pedal up as well as push down. Initially, though you need to get confident on the bike, so start with normal flat pedals perhaps with trainers, adding toe clips when you feel confident and finally moving onto specific shoes and ‘clip in’ pedals.

It’s a great idea to go to a good bike shop such as www.evanscycles.com get measured and ask for their advice. They should offer free advice and help you choose the right bike for you. Make sure to ask them to set you up on the bike, so your position is correct and your saddle is at the right height. It’s not a bad idea though, to hunt out a second hand bargain until you’re hooked and want to move onto something more specific, but try to enlist the help of a knowledgeable friend before you buy.


Cycling can be dangerous, especially on the road as you are at the mercy of drivers. It’s essential (although not actually the law in the UK) to wear a helmet for safety. Look for one with a CE certification as a minimum standard and make sure it’s well fitting and sits correctly on your head. The front of the helmet must sit mid forehead, not perched on the back of your head, with the chinstrap fitting snugly.

Always tell someone the route you plan to ride and when you’ll be expected back. Carry a mobile phone and emergency contact details. It goes without saying that lights are essential at night and many people prefer to carry a puncture repair kit and pump. While this is a sensible idea, if you do get a puncture and have not yet mastered changing or repairing the inner tube, your phone will come in handy to arrange a pick-up. Whatever you do, don’t ride with headphones and make sure you stay ‘road aware’ using your ears as much as your eyes.


What other kit do I need?

If you are planning on doing longer distances padded cycling shorts are a must – making your cycling experience a whole lot more comfortable! Next on the list is probably a pair of cycling gloves, preferably with padded palms. Choose fingerless for summer, but full finger waterproof gloves are ideal for winter.

There is nothing worse than getting grit and flies in your eyes so a pair of sunglasses is a great idea – normal shades are fine, but you can also purchase cycling specific ones with changeable lenses. Grab a lightweight waterproof to stash in a pocket or attach to your bike in case of rain. And last but not least make sure you fit a water bottle cage to your bike to enable you to take essential fluids with you on your ride. Take a look at www.sheactive.co.uk and www.gearforgirls.co.uk for some great women’s cycling gear. Top brands include Sugoi (pictured above centre), Pearl Izumi and Gore Cycling.


Did you know that almost 75% of us live within 2 miles of the National Cycle Network? There are over 12,000 miles of the UK included in the scheme, offering everything from sign posted routes on quiet country lanes to traffic free streets in the city – both perfect for cycling. Check out www.sustrans.org.uk for the National Cycle Network Map, plus lots of ideas and tips on cycling.

What events could I do?

There are cycling events springing up all over the UK to attract beginners and hardened cyclists alike. Your best bet is to take part in an organised ‘cyclo-sportive’ (a timed event, although not technically a race, so very low key). These are generally quite lengthy but often organised by charities so ideal for beginners looking for a challenge and you get to raise money for charity at the same time. Have a look at www.cyclosport.orgfor ideas and events.

There are many cycling clubs all around the UK and you can find these at www.britishcycling.org.uk. They tend to be more suitable for roadies, so if you want to get into road riding or even racing then joining a club can be really beneficial.

Combining cycling with swimming and running is known as Triathlon and is the UK’s fastest growing sport. Once you feel comfortable on your bike, why not give it a go? The ultimate ‘all round’ sport allows you to achieve a unique balanced fitness regime. Triathlons are popping up all over the place and often offer female only ‘try a tri’ races or shorter novice events. Check out www.britishtriathlon.org for events and clubs near you.

When starting out however, enlist the support of a friend, partner or even children to ride with you, making cycling a fun, sociable activity. It will get you fit, provide you with toned legs and you can do it whenever you like, straight from your doorstep. Nothing can beat the feeling of wind on your face and the freedom of being on your bike. You can’t ask for much more than that!


www.shecycles.com – Website for women cyclists. Great tips for kit, bikes, training and events.

www.cyclosport.org – An event listing site for all organised cycle events in the world. Not just for the pro’s there are charity rides included. Something for everyone.

www.evanscycles.com The UK’s biggest chain of cycling shops. Get everything you need under one roof or online.

www.sustrans.org.uk – Detailing the National Cycle Network and lots of tips and ideas for leisure cycling.

www.britishcycling.org.uk – Clubs and events for road cyclists.

www.britishtriathlon.org – The national body for Triathlon in the UK. Events, clubs and training tips.

Sarah Russell, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Sarah is an International duathlete, triathlete and keen road and mountain bike rider. She has represented Great Britain in duathlon and lightweight rowing, has an MSc in sport science and is a qualified athletics coach. She has over 16 years experience in the fitness industry as a trainer, coach and writer and is passionate about sport, nutrition and being a mum to 2 active little boys. Contact her on johnandsaz@aol.com.

Photo credits: Gearforgirls.com, Dahon and Sugoi.

Related features on Sportsister:

Birds on Bikes cycling group

Inspirational female cyclist – Emma Davies Jones

Sportsister meets Victoria Pendleton, World Champion Cyclist

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