Let's Go Riding! Getting Back On Your Bike
Posted on July 23, 2018
While it may be only the most committed of cyclists that brave the winter commute, for many of us our relationship with two-wheeled, self-propelled transport is limited to seizing the moment on a sunny weekend, dusting down our slightly creaky pushbike and heading out to the local park for a pootle round, feel the wind in our hair and, unavoidably, the chain grease on our shins.
With the surge in popularity of cycling over recent years, thanks to national sporting successes and a boom in bicycle usage for commuting, you may be forgiven for wanting to pay a little more attention to your trusty (or is that rusty?) steed and considering a slightly longer foray into the countryside.
After all, with our very own Tour de Yorkshire growing year-on-year in terms of both popularity and scale, there’s never been a better advertisement for seeing the length, breadth and gloriousness of our regional scenery under your own steam. If anything, it makes those pub and cafe stops much sweeter and, dare we say it, more necessary!
We saddled up with Charles Oxtoby, owner of the Ilkley-based Yorkshire Velo Tours which specialises in guided rides and tours around the region, to bring you some expert guidance on going about getting the most out of your bike, Yorkshire, and - most importantly - yourself.
“Your bike needs to be road worthy before setting off”, says Charles, “starting with brakes and tyres. It goes without saying that if you’re travelling on two wheels, being able to stop properly is essential.” The most important pre-ride checks include:
- Ensuring that the brakes engage with a moderate amount of pressure on the lever, tightening the cable if not.
- Aligning the brake calliper movement so that both blocks hit the rim at the same time.
- Giving tyres a thorough once-over for general tread wear and the condition of the sidewalls. Not enough tread and you’re courting a puncture; any cracks or splits from long-term storage and perishing mean you’ll need new tyres altogether.
- Pumping up the tyres to the appropriate pressure: narrow 23mm or 25mm road tyres will need something like 90-110psi, increasing with rider weight, whereas larger hybrid or mountain bike tyres will need substantially less, the larger you go.
“Other areas to check are the gears so that they change up and down correctly. The chain may need some lubrication if things have seized up over time and you should definitely make sure your main contact points (pedals, saddle and handlebars) are still bolted up properly and have no loose or wobbly connections.”
That said, a more neglected bike may simply have too many problem areas to resolve in one quick tune-up, or require adjustments beyond your experience: if this is the case, don’t hesitate to pay a visit to a properly qualified mechanic to get things done properly. It won't cost the earth for a routine once-over, but will make your ride profoundly more enjoyable - not to mention a whole lot safer.
Don’t overdo it
While clement weather might give you the inspiration to embark on your own 100-mile tour of the local countryside, it might be wise to take things easy at the start - at least until you get a better feel for your bike, the road and your level of fitness.
“The key to cycling any kind of distance is to build up the miles gradually and the ‘bike legs’ will come”, advises Charles. “Once you do feel in better shape to tackle a longer ride, a few basic preparations will pay off: eating and drinking regularly throughout rather than waiting to feel hungry or thirsty (or even planning in some cafe stops strategically) and taking appropriate clothing options to account for our changeable weather.”
Another aspect to remember is that should you indeed get rained on, moving at speed on a bike will only increase the chill factor and mean it’s even more sensible to wear decent layering and/or waterproof items. Charles’ warning is this: “you can get very cold, very quickly if you haven’t got suitable clothing, even in summer when the wind and rain can still whip up.”
In reality you should only really need a base layer, jersey and wind/waterproof jacket, which can all be purchased for relatively little and will last you years of riding.
God’s Own Country
We are without doubt spoilt for scenery in Yorkshire, and what better way to enjoy it than taking to the country lanes and lung-busting inclines on a bike. Charles is enthusiastic about the variation offered: “Whether retracing one of the testing routes of the 2014 Tour de France grand depart or just on a social cruise out to a pub, Yorkshire is a brilliant place to ride.”
With dedicated cycling holidays appearing all over the more exotic reaches of Europe like the Alps and Pyrenees, there's something comforting about being able to save hundreds on flights and accomodation and drive (or even ride) out for an hour or so into the best riding landscape this side of Mont Blanc.
The natural stomping ground of Yorkshire Velo Tours is the testing hills of the Dales with their dry stone walls and characterful sleepy villages, along with the more rugged North Yorkshire Moors. “When the heather is in bloom and you’re riding out to the coastal towns of Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay it really is spectacular.”
That said, even the hilly areas have more forgiving valleys, and there are much flatter stretches when you go further east so there are always going to be spots where you can roll along with minimal effort, making the region varied enough to cater for all preferences and abilities. Charles has a few locations he particularly recommends to form part of your route, or even a destination in their own right:
- “One of my favourite places is the Wharfe Valley as you pass through Bolton Abbey and head up to villages like Burnsall and Grassington. It’s a lovely bit of landscape and always brings a smile to my face.
- A definite hidden gem is when you go further up and take a left turn into Littondale, after Kilnsey Crag. Few visitors head up there, but you will be rewarded with a unique little valley that feels as though it’s miles from anywhere.
- Malham is always worth a visit, to see the impressive cove and limestone pavements which were featured in one of the Harry Potter movies.”
Making the most of your ride
It often happens that one of a limited few problems curtail a ride, or throw best laid plans into disarray, something Charles is well acquainted with. “As I mentioned, many an outing has been cut short as a result of a simple mechanical problem that could have been easily prevented with some basic checks beforehand, so always make sure your bike is sound before any ride.
Aside from that, many people newer to cycling think that proper clothing may not really be necessary but when you’re sat in a saddle for a considerable period of time a good pair of cycling shorts pays dividends!”
Another aspect to be conscious of, especially for the newer cyclist, is the wider cycling fraternity out on the road. “Remember that you’re sharing the road with a variety of other users, so a bit of common courtesy and consideration goes a long way.” This can include trying to ride in single file on narrower roads if you’ve been sat two abreast so that cars (or even other cyclists) can overtake safely.
Ultimately, there’s nothing like simply saying hello to your fellow cyclist. “More than anything it’s the people you meet along the way that make a ride, and you’ll find that most experienced cyclists will always give you a friendly greeting.”
Above all, getting back on your bike is a great way to see parts of our region you might not otherwise get out to, all whist enjoying the simplest and best things in life: fresh air, conversation with new people and taking your mind off the stresses and strains we all face from time to time. Oh, and did we say you might get fitter too?!
Should the cycling bug catch on, you could even take things to the next level. “Get together with some friends for more organised rides, or even try a cycling club”, suggests Charles. “A whole new world might open up to you!”