|Cycling is more fun with some mates|
|Early mornings and fresh air – you can't beat it|
Fun, fresh air and exercise
There's much more to riding a bike than just fitness and 'conspicuous consumption'. I mention the latter because I often wonder when I see so-called Lycra monkeys riding past me whether they do it more for effect than anything else. They invariably have a top-of-the-range racing bike, they wear all the Lycra gear and those awful clip-on shoes and they're obsessed with 'precious grams'. On one level that's fine, I mean each to their own and all that, but on another level, hold the phone, as it's not about having all the right gear and pretending you're Bradley Wiggins. No, cycling is first and foremost about having fun, getting plenty of fresh air and exercise and ending up miles away from where you live, sitting on a bench in the middle of nowhere with a pal, sipping tea, munching on a BelVita Milk & Cereal biscuit and setting the world to rights.
Being a big kid at heart
It goes without saying, of course, that I'm a bit of 'big kid' at heart and always have been. I remember bikes when I was a kid. They were the focal point of my young life. My mate Alan and I used to build our own bikes in his dad's garage. We used to spray the frames with metallic paint, add some cow horn handlebars, nobbly tyres and a tracking cog and hey presto! Mountain bikes before they were actually invented.
There's something spiritually enlightening about riding a bike. There's nothing better for the soul than getting up at the crack of dawn and leaving the house as the sun rises. Riding in the fresh, early morning air is revitalising and gives you time to think and organise your thoughts. A few years ago my dad passed away and while I tended to bottle things up a bit around the house and in front of friends and family, the ride enabled me to let go a bit, once I was alone on the B269 or the Pilgrims Lane riding towards Chevening.
Find some riding mates
Early morning riding means less in the way of traffic, which is always a good thing. But don't ride alone if you can help it. Cycling is a sport to be enjoyed with other people so find some mates, cycle regularly together, work out a few different routes and destinations and maybe even set up a blog like this one. Alright, it can get a bit obsessive – I'm often criticised for spending miles too much time writing blogposts, but remember this: a blog is a record, a cycling diary, and if you keep it up you soon build a huge record of where you went and what was discussed. With this blog I often look back to see what I was doing in, say 2011 or 2013 and it's all there in black and white.
|My job is to provide the team with a decent cup of tea|
Once you've picked your cycling pals, make sure you all have a specific job to do. In our case that's the simple bit: I bring the teabags, the hot water and the milk; Andy brings the BelVita biscuits; and Phil makes a tremendous sausage or bacon sandwich and is also well known for his exceedingly good cakes and pastries – we all have a role to play.
|My bike – impractical yes, but I love it!|
Be wise when it comes to choosing your bike. I've said it before and I'll say it again now: my bike isn't really practical for what I do with it. It's a dirt jumper, which means it should be used for jumping dirt, but it's not. I ride mainly on the road and should probably own a more sensible hybrid bike with 24 gears. I should have mudguards (but don't) and if I'm honest I'm getting a little fed up with hydraulic brakes. They might be the bee's bollocks in terms of safety, but block brakes – for me at any rate – are easier to replace and repair. Gears are always a problem and seem to be constantly going wrong and as for punctures, well, what can you do – other than bring with you on every ride some leeches or a puncture kit, a small bicycle pump and a spare inner tube for those awkward occasions, normally when the weather is freezing cold. You'll also need a few tools and a decent rucksack in which to put everything.
|Check out the clobber – no visible Lycra!|
And going back to clothing, you don't have to pretend to the world that you're a sponsored cycling superstar, any old trousers and jacket will do: at the moment I'm wearing a disgusting pair of Tesco ASBO special grey tracksuit bottoms, a cheap hooded top and a rust-coloured jacket with breast pockets in which to store my phone and digital camera – Lycra is unnecessary, hence the name of my blog – NoVisibleLycra.
Record each ride
And if you do start a blog, don't forget to take a photograph of every ride you embark upon. Check out this blog. Invariably each post is illustrated with a photograph taken on the day. I always feel a little bad if I forget to take a snap, but I haven't always remembered.
Don't be out all day
Lastly, don't spend all day on the bike. We get up early and we're out for about two to three hours – just enough time to ride to where we're going, stop for tea and a chat and then ride back. Any longer (unless you're on a charity challenge of some sort – like the London to Brighton) takes up too much of the weekend.
Try not to miss a ride
We aim to get out on Saturday and Sunday morning. There's nothing worse than the feeling we get when we miss a ride, but it happens and the key is not to let it get you down. After a while, however, you won't be able to miss a ride because it'll make you feel so good about things. In short, cycling is very good for you, not only in the fitness sense, but in the spiritual sense too; so get out there and buy yourself a bike or dust down that old machine hidden behind the gardening equipment in your shed or garage.
|Keep an eye on everything, especially the road ahead|
Lastly, let's make no mistake, cycling is – or rather it can be – very dangerous if you don't keep your wits about you. Always ride responsibly. My key advice to anybody is simple: be aware of what's around you at all times, listen out for cars as these days they can be very quiet, especially if they are hybrids. Also, never drift. Ensure that you ride in a straight line and during the summer months keep your mouth shut – you don't want to swallow a bee or a wasp!