With flat roads, country lanes and rolling hills, West Sussex is a great place to get out on a bike. Whether you’re only just discovering the thrills of on-road cycling or simply don’t know where to begin, we’ve put a beginner’s guide together with the help of our friends at Stan’s Bike Shack.
If you’re looking to start out, the first thing you will need to invest in is, of course, a road bike. A common misconception here is that you need to spend a lot for a good bike, but you can find a good-quality, serviceable bike for much less than you think. Your local bike shop and some of the main high-street providers are very experienced and able to advise on a good bike to get started, and you can also find mechanics at places like Stan’s that will help you get fitted out and set up.
Before you can think about heading out on the road, you need to make sure you have the right kit. It’s of the upmost importance to ensure you have a helmet and wear it properly – by this we mean keeping yourself properly strapped in so that it doesn’t slip to the side. The team at Stan’s suggest buying the best you can afford because, at the end of the day, this is your head we’re talking about.
Next, there are some essential bits of equipment to ensure safe and comfortable rides. Lights are a must, even in daylight. These are inexpensive to buy, but it’s good to try and get hold of ones that can be charged with a USB port so you won’t need to carry batteries. These are ideal for the basics, but if you intend to cycle on the road at night-time, you might want to invest in some stronger lights that can throw beams onto the road. You’ll also need to carry a spare inner tube with you in case of any flat tyres, and a small pump which you can generally fit in a pocket. A bike mechanic will be able to show you how to change it, and generally someone within a cycling group should know how to do this. You can also find excellent bike maintenance and repair resources with websites such as Made Good.
Whilst Lycra isn’t essential, it’s important to wear comfortable, padded shorts and clothing that is breathable. If you’re wearing the right kit, you will be protected from the elements, come rain or shine (or snow!). For cooler temperatures, arm warmers and gloves are very helpful, and small, folding pack jackets are good for preparing for all weathers.
It’s a good idea to wear an ID bracelet in case of any emergencies and carry a phone for obvious reasons. It sounds simple, but if you’re joining a group of cyclists, make sure you know who everyone is and exchange phone numbers in case anyone should fall or become lost.
Sooner or later, you may wish to consider clip-in pedals and cleats to support on-road cycling. Essentially fixing your feet to the bike, clip-ins can increase the potential amount of force exerted and also help improve blood flow around the body on longer rides. However, it can be difficult to master the clip-in setup when you are new to on-road cycling, and using this system means you won’t be able to use your bike for casual rides or trips to and from town or work – so it’s important to consider how you want to use your bike first.
The idea of cycling out on the roads can be daunting, but Stan’s recommend getting comfortable on flat and paved grounds first. The Downs Link is a good place to get started, with easier gradients and plenty of places to stop for a rest, but be cautious of wet chalk and flint on the route that can create slippery conditions.
Once you’re feeling more comfortable in the seat, head to a cycle meeting point such as Stan’s Bike Shack to embark on a group ride. Here, you can also spend time ensuring your bike is roadworthy by checking the pressure of your tyres, and get help from some of the visiting bike mechanics.
There will always be experienced cyclists within the group that can guide you with hand signals and riding information, as well as assisting with inner tube changes. The routes involved are often quieter roads and lanes that allow for groups to ride at the same pace, starting off together and coming back together.
An easy mistake to make when out and about is thinking you’re hydrated when you’re not. Cycling in the wind can be misleading in that you feel cooler, but you must keep hydrated and always carry a drink with you.
For longer rides, keep snacks with you and expect to make a few pitstops to recharge your energy. Energy bars will help to keep you going and hydration tablets will replenish potassium and sodium levels.
When it comes to endurance, the team at Stan’s say it comes down to what you’re aiming to achieve but, ultimately, getting comfortable with cycling and doing it more and more is what will help you build up to longer stretches. Apps such as Strava encase all of the stats you need to track your progress, and you can even use this to plan out your own training.
If you’re interested in training to build up your speed or endurance, many cyclists have trainers that work to improve their efficiency, and others take on time trials to assist progress.
Ultimately, the key reason for getting out and cycling should be fun, which is what the team at Stan’s Bike Shack love the most about it; getting out, enjoying the views and finding groups of other like-minded cyclists – plus, enjoying an excellent cup of coffee at the Shack, of course!