Cycling (any ride that lasts over an hour) is on the up globally, as well as in India, and for good reason. More people are aspiring to get into shape for different reasons and cycling is often preferred over other activities, such as running as there is less impact on the body, particularly the back and legs. That being said, cycling can cause it’s share of problems, if the rider has an incorrect posture or if the saddle (seat) is not at the optimum height and angle.
One of the first things to figure out before starting cycling is the kind of equipment you want and this is where a lot of aspiring cyclists doubt their interest levels. Unlike swimming, where one basically needs a good suit, goggles and cap; cycling can drive you to despair with the choices you have to make. In recent years, the availability of cycles has increased dramatically and a good one can set you back quite a bit, so it’s important to make a good choice.
Most cycles are either made of aluminium, alloy metals and at the higher end, carbon fiber. The weight goes down dramatically with a carbon fiber cycle, which potentially increases riding speed. Here are the broad categories of cycles available today, which are mostly terrain dependent:
- Road – A road bike or ‘roadie’ can be identified by its handlebars and the thickness of the tyre. Roadies have dropped handlebars which give riders a more aggressive posture. The other identifier is that, road bikes have thin tires usually ranging from 20-25 mm. A thing to note is that the thinner the tire, the faster it is because of reduced rolling resistance, though there are some tests which show that 25 mm tires are faster than 23 mm tires (but that’s a discussion for another day).
- Hybrid – Hybrids can be identified again by the handlebars and tires. The handlebars of a hybrid are straight, while the tires are fatter than those of roadies and are usually between 28-34 mm. If you are a newbie, it is probably best to pick up a hybrid first before graduating on to a road bike, if ever.
- MTB – Multi-terrain Bikes are the ones with straight handlebars and the rugged looking tires. If you are a newbie to cycling beware of getting this cycle unless you specifically want to do off-roading. Legions of new cyclists have bought MTBs because of the rough-and-tough look but since they are relatively more difficult to ride on roads (fatter tires have higher rolling resistance), they are quickly put in the closet only to make a brief reappearance to fulfil a New Year’s resolution.
It is critical that a prospective cyclist buy the correct cycle size (depends on the rider’s height) because it could have an adverse impact on the body, as well as ride quality. Most cycles in the market are geared though there are a few ungeared bikes for the brave ones. Gear changing is usually specific to cycle brands but the rule of thumb is that the lower gears are for inclines and the higher gears are for straights and descents. The front and rear gears can be used together, but beware of getting your gears crossed (high front gear to low rear gear and vice-versa).
Buying a cycle is only the start and there is a laundry list of critical items to have. The helmet, water bottles, saddle bag, puncture kit, tool kit, spare tire tube, air pump, sunglasses, front and rear lights and, of course, proper cycling apparel are crucial. There are also specialized cycling shoes (used with special pedals) but for a newbie, regular running shoes with regular pedals will do just fine. One should also have degreasers, greasers and other cleaning products to ensure that the cycle, as well as, the drive-train is kept clean. There are other accessories like cycling computers, however, one must watch out since the want list can get very long and very expensive.
Do’s and Dont’s
As you start cycling you will obviously get a better feel what to watch out for, however here are some pointers to start you off:
- Avoid urban areas – Motorists in India unfortunately rank low on civic sense and do not care for cyclists. You and the cycle are fragile and there is no point to risking your life. Go out of the city and discover how nice it is to cycle in low traffic roads, not to mention less polluted areas.
- Ride in groups – Riding in a group is just common sense, as it is just safer for you. On a personal note, beyond safety, I have made a number of good friends among the cyclists I ride with.
- Hydration – Given that India is a hot country, you are more often likely to sweat a lot during your ride. Sweating means your body is losing critical fluids and we need to keep replenishing them. Drink water even if you are not feeling thirsty. The rule of thumb is to drink anywhere from 500 -750 ml of water an hour but that depends on climatic conditions and body weight. Also make sure you drink water (300 – 400 ml) before the start of your ride. One should mix electrolytes with water to replenish minerals being lost; low electrolyte count can lead to cramping. The best electrolytes products are the ones you can get at medical shops; avoid sports drinks because they are essentially sugar water.
- Carbohydrates – Carbs have become such a dirty word and if you plan to exercise while having a low-carb diet you are done for. Carbs are the primary energy source during exercise and it is critical to ensure that the body has an adequate supply of it. If you are planning to do a ride that is over 3 hours, ensure that you have an elevated carb diet on the previous day. Be sure to carry energy bars during your rides – cycling burns calories real fast and not having an energy source can be debilitating.
- Start slow – Know your limits. If you are newbie you should be comfortable doing short rides before graduating to longer ones. The effort needed as one rides longer is non-linear.
- Stretch before riding – Like any exercise, it is paramount to stretch before cycling. A list of useful stretching exercises can be found here.
- Stay safe – Always wear your helmet while riding – your life depends on it. Be extra defensive while riding your cycle. After all you don’t want to go head-on with a larger vehicle. Watch out for Curious George’s who pull their vehicles close to the cycle to have a look at the cycle.
- Enjoy yourself – Make this enjoyable, something you’ll want to do for the rest of your life, not another chore to tick off on the weekends.
Our workout series aims to help you figure out the right fitness regime for your body and mind. Now we want you to get your whole family in on it. As part of this series, we previously covered: swimming, rowing, running, a guide to picking the right shoe, a three-week campaign to get you out on the road and how to mentally condition yourself to get going.
About the Author:
Sunil Rongala is based in Hyderabad and can often be seen tackling the hilly terrain outside the city on the weekends. He loves his life even more since he discovered cycling and plans to continue enjoying this sport for as long as possible.
Photo Credit: Image 1
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