6 tips to start cycling and improve your heart health

Whether you’re looking to avoid public transport, get more exercise or improve your heart health, there’s never been a better time to take up cycling. Emily Ray looks at the first things to consider before you put foot to the pedal.

1. Think about the kind of bike you want

various styles of bicycle in a  row

Road, mountain, electric, folding… there are so many types of bikes to choose from, it can be a little overwhelming to decide which one is best for you. The best way to choose your bike is to think about the kind of cycling you’ll be doing.

For instance, if you’ll tackle tricky terrain on off-road trails, a mountain bike may be right for you. Road bikes are lightweight with thin tyres and are good for cyclists who’ll be sticking to roads or paved cycle paths and want to focus on speed. Meanwhile, commuters may value the convenience of folding bikes which can be easily taken on public transport and tucked into luggage racks.

Some people find the upright positioning and taller frames of Dutch bikes more comfortable. These bikes are both stylish and traditional, and are typically used for more leisurely, urban cycles. Electric bikes have a motor to offer some assistance while you pedal. Some people who find cycling too strenuous have found that electric bikes have helped them keep on cycling. There are also specialist bikes available, which can be particularly useful for people with disabilities or balance issues, such as adult trikes or hand-cycles.

If you’re still stuck, many people find it helpful to discuss their needs with cycling specialists in a bike store. They will be able to suggest the best type of bike for you, and you’ll also be able to take some on a test ride to see what feels most comfortable.

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2. Try a hire bike scheme

row of hire bicycles

Hiring a bike could be useful if you’re not sure if cycling is for you, or whether the cost is worth it for the amount you will use the bike.

One of the most famous hire schemes is the Santander Cycles in London (commonly known as ‘Boris Bikes’), where you can rent a bike from £2 for up to 30 minutes.

Live outside London? Brompton Bike Hire is a nationwide scheme where you can hire a folding bike from £3.50 per day (with a £25 annual fee). After registering online and reserving a bike, you will be able to pick-up your bike from one of over 40 docks across the UK, including cities and towns such as Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Portsmouth and Exeter.

3. Start cycling somewhere off road

senior couple cycling 

If you are new to cycling or want to build up your confidence, try biking around quiet back streets or somewhere off-road, like a park, to begin with. Once you feel confident enough, you can start branching out to cycling on the road.

4. Get training to become a more confident cyclist

cyclist navigating a traffic cone

Many people find cycling on roads can be a little scary at first. Luckily, there are several organisations that offer free courses to help build up your confidence.

  • Several London boroughs offer free Cycle Confident courses to suit people of all abilities. They also have group cycling sessions for families as well as bicycle maintenance classes.
  • Bikeability courses are available in every local authority in England for children and adults.
  • They also have a Welsh arm of the charity, called BikeAbility Wales, which offers cycling training, skills sessions and road safety training.
  • In Scotland, check out the Cycling Scotland course.
  • In Northern Ireland there are training courses available with Sustrans.

5. Get kitted out (if you want)

man in basic cycling kit

Apart from a bicycle, you don’t need loads of equipment to get started. You may find it useful to invest in some clothing – a lightweight rain jacket is a good starting point, and can come in handy even when you’re not cycling. But depending on how much cycling you’re doing, you don’t need many or any special clothes. In cold weather, gloves might be useful. Some people find padded cycling shorts or under shorts useful, especially for longer rides, but others manage fine without.

One thing you should consider buying, though, is safety equipment, including a helmet and, if you’ll need to leave your bike anywhere, a good quality bike lock. Look for the Sold Secure rating so that you know the lock you’re buying will be a deterrent against thieves. You will also need to buy some lights if you plan to be cycling at night.

6. Get cycling with others

couple cycling in countryside 

Many people feel more motivated cycling with other people. Now that lockdown restrictions have lifted and the weather is warmer, it could be fun to go for a bike ride with your family or some friends.

If you prefer to cycle alone, tracking your rides with a cycling app on your phone can help keep your motivation up.

  • Discover 7 free cycling apps which make it possible to track your ride, plan routes and interact with other cyclists.

Published on the BHF website

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