You’re either an indoor cycling instructor or an enthusiast, so you are already aware of the health benefits of cycling; however, there is nothing that can replicate the fresh air and scenery of the great outdoors…even if, like me, you live in a large metropolis!
Whether you’re cycling to work, to the gym, or to the shops, the humble bicycle is an easy way to get around. In London, where I live, it is the fastest mode of transport, door-to-door, and even a well-known motoring programme was forced to admit that the bicycle was quicker across the city than public transport, a car, and even a powerboat.
Whether you’re riding for training or just for fun, preferably outside of the city limits, it is a better way of seeing the countryside than when travelling by public transport. The beautiful scenery is a backdrop, whereas in a vehicle, it’s barely noticeable (that is, if you’re concentrating on the road ahead!). On foot, your distance is limited. On a bike, you are interacting with the environment around you, fully aware of it and able to appreciate it more. For example, cycling outdoors will give you a greater insight into the weather, and how it has many shades of grey (which type of rain would you like with that, Sir?), and able to distinguish the subtle changes as you transition from one season to the next.
OK, so I’ve convinced you to give it a go. Here’s what you need: 1 bike, 1 helmet (not an option…get one). That’s it! Everything else is optional and designed to make you faster, more efficient, more comfortable, etc. But, to travel from point A to B, all you need is a bike.
For short journeys, any good working bike will do. You might have an old road bike, a shopping bike with a basket on the front, or a cheap mountain bike that you could use. If it’s been gathering dust for a while, do consider taking it to your local bike shop to give it a quick once-over to make sure it’s roadworthy or maybe even give it a full service to bring it back to life. If your bike too far-gone, they’ll be able to advise you on whether it’s worth repairing or buying a new one.
Buying a bike
If it’s your first time cycling, shopping for a bike can be a bewildering experience, with dozens of different types, hundreds of manufacturers, and thousands of frame and accessory combinations. The first thing you must do is ask yourself what style of riding you are most likely to do and on what type of road. Here are the main types of bike available:
These have lightweight frames, thin wheels, and often have dropped handlebars. They are predominantly for use on tarmac; they are not suitable for using off-road, although they can cope with battened-down dirt roads with suitable tires. They can also lack the ability to add mudguards or a rack, which means you can’t use them for commuting or general use. Even within this category, there is a huge price range. In general, the lighter the bike you desire, the more you will pay for it.
Mountain bikes (aka MTBs)
MTBs are immediately obvious from their sturdy wheels with big knobby tires and are capable of crossing almost any terrain. They usually have disc brakes that decrease your stopping distance to nearly instantaneous; many will have front-end suspension, which can be regulated to make softer (for rough terrain) or harder (for tarmac) and almost all have flat handlebars for a more upright riding position. Due to the higher friction from the knobby tires, they are much slower than a road bike but, if speed is not your issue, you can swap the knobbly tyres for slicks, add a rack for panniers, and you can use it for commuting over the worst of potholed roads.
These are a cross between a road and a mountain bike. They usually have sturdy wheels (with slicks, or smooth tires unlike mountain bikes) and flat handlebars similar to those of a MTB, and often come ready equipped with racks and mudguards as they are usually for use in commuting or getting around town. However, you can also get hybrids at the other end of the scale, with very light frames and thin wheels, i.e., a road bike with flat handlebars.
There are many more types of bikes, including track, fixed-gear, single speed, folding, cyclocross, downhill MTB, etc. Eventually, you may get to the point of having one bike for each type of riding you do, maybe even more; it is jokingly said that the ideal number of bikes you may own is n+1, with n being the number of bikes you currently own!
Whether you buy a brand-new bike or opt for second-hand, my advice has always been to buy the best that you can afford. Go to your local bike shop to see what they have available, what they can order, and get their advice on sizing, etc. Only when you really know what you’re doing should you buy a bike online; it’s very much like buying shoes online, where finding the right fit is even more important. There are far too many stories of people buying used bikes online (or even from a friend) and as it turns out, they stop riding because the bike was such a poor fit to start with. Don’t make that mistake and get well-fitted.
If you’re fairly new to cycling outdoors or haven’t done so for a while, make sure go to a traffic-free area, such as your local park, and practice riding; get used to looking over your shoulder without veering left or right. You’ll need this skill when you need to check traffic behind you. Get comfortable with riding one-handed so you can make hand signals without losing your balance. After you’ve polished your maneuvering and signaling skills in a park, consider joining a group to improve your riding skills; they’re not just for children or for elite riders. Many bike stores will host group rides and will label the rides according to average speed. If you are new, start with a group targeted to beginners, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You may find some great camaraderie with group rides, and perhaps even find someone who would be willing to train with you.
Before you start cycling in traffic, do make sure you check the local rules and regulations that are applicable as a road user and as a cyclist specifically.
Riding outdoors is one of the wonderful things about what we do in indoor cycling classes. I don’t believe turning our students into cyclists should cannibalize your indoor cycling class numbers much. Sure, when the weather is beautiful, more people might be outdoors (especially on weekends); but it’s always that way, isn’t it? And besides, they may miss your class to do other things outdoors when it’s gorgeous, so you might as well turn them on to the joys of riding a bike. Think of it this way…if you turn your indoor riders into outdoor riders, they are far more likely to stay committed to training with you indoors when the weather is less than pleasant, and/or if they are constricted by busy work schedules. It’s easier for many busy working cyclists to get a great workout in your 45- to 60-minute cycling class before or after work than it is for them to try to get on their bikes during the week (at least, very often). As a new cyclist, they can now see the benefits of proper training more fully than before. So, in a sense, you are creating an even more committed client when you introduce them to outdoor cycling!
Now, get on your bike!
Great article, Robert. I’d just like to add that there are instructional resources available which will help new (or retuning) cyclists master some of the issues which frighten and/or concern them. In Canada CAN-BIKE is a terrific supplier of short courses on low speed handling, mechanical basics and riding in traffic. The League of American Bicyclists offers similar information in the United States. I am sure that there are other related programs in the States and other countries.
And I’d like to echo your point about class numbers. I routinely lead outside rides for my indoor students. We have had many people take up cycling for the first time and several of them have now acquired multiple bikes! The number of cycling vacations has risen and others are routinely commuting by bike. A coach can’t ask for more than those sorts of substantial life changes.
I can’t think of a single instance where I have lost a rider to the road. In fact, my classes have attracted some pretty serious outside riders specifically because they know about the work I do outside the classroom.
A long-time rider of mine recently mentioned they made the jump to outdoor riding. I had noticed over the past few months her indoor riding style had changed for the better. The physical changes were noticeable as well. Maybe i will eventually lose part of this client’s participation to outdoor riding, but indoor riding is still a vital part of training. And if as instructors, you give your clients a real ride, the cyclists will attend. But even more important, let’s think about the change the client’s approach toward fitness and health. A cycling club may be just the first step. The possibilities are endless.
As coaches, it’s important to remember that we are there for our student’s health and wellness, and that they are not there for our egos. I feel like there is so much ‘ego pumping’ going on in regards to the state of indoor cycling in NYC these days. Yes, there is a business side. But com’on NYC, why can’t we just keep it real?