Helena is a fitness blogger and novice cyclist; below is her experience of joining our group rides in London. You can check out more of her blogs at the end. First published in June 2016.
Being a novice cyclist, I bought my first road bike 9 months ago at the ripe old age of 28! Throughout the autumn of 2015 I just used it for my 5km commute to and from work. Then January arrived and training needed to start for Ride London, so I began doing longer rides at the weekends, which consisted of laps around Richmond Park (3 was my maximum). I then managed to pick up a hand injury that stopped me cycling. I then tentatively got back on my bike, working on my hand strength and stamina. Over the past 5 weeks I have been building up my cycling mileage, strength and ability. As frustrating as it is feeling like the slowest rider in the world I cannot deny the progress I have made.
Five weeks ago a 50km ride was tough; today I managed 92 hilly kilometres and didn’t find it as tough as that first group ride. So what is it that has helped me get to this stage, and more importantly what will continue to help me grow and progress as a cyclist?
More mileage, perhaps; and yes that is key, but the thing that has helped me most has been cycling with a group. More specifically for me - Dirty Wknd. Here is why:
1. Follow the leader:
One obvious benefit is that you don’t have to think of a route, or know an area, instead you follow someone who has pre-planned the route, knows all the ups and downs and the best coffee/cake stops. This leaves you to focus on getting through the miles, how to fuel and generally get more used to time in the saddle. I would never have dreamt of cycling round Kent on my own (I’d probably still be there now), but following others opens up all kinds of locations, routes and beautiful scenery.
2. Get faster, Stronger, Fitter:
When you go for a bike ride on your own, covering a certain distance can be easy enough but pushing your pace can be difficult alone, you might not know how fast you are going, are you putting in too much effort that you won’t last the whole ride? In a group, even if you are the slowest there you will push yourself to try to keep up with the group, and this will quickly improve your overall strength, power and speed as you continually push yourself.
As with any sport, the social side is crucial. I didn’t have many friends who cycled until I started cycling with Dirty Weekend, now I am continuously meeting new people and making new friends I would never have met otherwise. I’ve even arranged to go on rides with some of the girls I met on a Dirty Wknd ride. Having someone to chat to, and share cake with, on the coffee stops is also a real bonus!
Big hills and distance all take their toll on your body; you can be the most determined person, but sometimes some external encouragement is crucial. A group provides this in copious amounts. Every other cyclist in the group will have been where you are now and understands what you're going through. This is probably the single most important thing, and the biggest surprise, being the slowest rider made me think I would just annoy the other cyclists, but if you find the right group this definitely won’t be the case.
5. Safety, Security and Reassurance:
As you grow as a cyclist and want to increase your distance it makes sense to go further away, no one wants to be doing 20 laps of Richmond Park, however beautiful it is. Cycling further away from home can be daunting and scary, especially if you don’t have someone at home with a big car that can come and rescue you if something goes wrong. A group provides a safety net, everyone looks out for one another, if something went wrong you know you have others there. Plus, when cycling in a group you are instantly more visible; some cars will still be ‘dickish’ and get aggressive, but for the most part they will give a group a nice wide berth.
6. Advice, Tips and Learning:
As with running the community is full of people with more experience who will give you tips and advice from pre/post-ride fuelling, to using your gears correctly and how to take downhill sharp bends. This advice, while to some might be trivial or seem obvious to me it provides valuable lessons that ultimately help me to conquer rides more quickly, efficiently and most importantly more enjoyably.
7. Pick the Right Group For You:
There is one key point though that will be the difference between enjoying group rides and improving and hating group rides and potentially quitting cycling. That is - picking the right group for you. As a beginner finding a group of similar level or that has a ‘no drop’ policy is important, or at least it was to me. You might not need that but if you join a group who are willing to drop you, you won’t reap all the above benefits, it might make you a stronger cyclist eventually as you will have to push much harder to keep up all the time, but you may also find yourself ‘bonking’, getting an injury from pushing too hard too soon or getting frequently lost and de-motivated.
Another big help has been the ride leaders at Dirty Wknd, whose guidance and coaching is delivered in such an encouraging and supportive way is priceless; the last thing you want as a novice is someone talking down at you like you are stupid – and trust me I’ve ridden with other people who have treated me like that. All of this is why I’m so glad to have found Dirty Wknd and I can't wait to continue improving my riding with them!
Check out Helena's blog - The Fit Advisor
Join us (and Helena) for a Dirty Wknd ride by clicking here. Just sign up on the 'register' link and we'll send you all of the info. If you're unsure about level, speed or anything else, just drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org