Learning something new can be a little scary. As you venture outside of your comfort zone, you move into the great unknown and there's no way of being sure whether you'll love it or not.
Mountain biking is my primary cycling discipline. I love being outdoors, remote areas, shredding trails in some beautiful landscapes. Even the mud, dirt and grime have their place in my adrenaline fuelled "happy time".
However, I've been exposed to a lot more road cycling recently: chatting with athletes, watching the races and studying the beautiful bikes that are on offer. Feeling inspired by so many great riders, and having the opportunity to ride with others, I decided that it was about time I gave this road cycling malarkey a whirl, and consequently get over my fear of skinny wheels.
What better way to get started than with the new Boardman Women's Team Bike, it's beautiful and elegant in design, and the perfect partner to begin my journey with. I was fortunate enough to have British Gold medallist, and cycling legend, Chris Boardman, to hold my hand offering tips and advice for my first road cycle.
Like any other cycling discipline, finding a bike that's right for you and fit for purpose is your first step. It's important to ask yourself what you want to achieve on your bike, then narrow down your searches by budget, components, and even look.
Once you've got your road bike, it's time to set the saddle height. In mountain biking, I've become comfortably accustomed to a dropper post, meaning that I'm always manoeuvring my riding position. In road cycling, it's not so simple. So as a rule of thumb, the saddle height should be roughly in line with your hip when standing against the frame. Another option is to set the pedal at 6 o'clock, then rest your heel on it - your leg should be straight but you shouldn't need to rock your hips to reach it.
Chris recommends starting out with flat pedals rather than clipless. This allows you to have the movement of your feet without feeling too restricted or locked in.
"Get used to setting the bike up, until it becomes muscle memory"
Before getting on the bike and giving it my first push, I had to make sure the pedals were set up.
Chris explains the best way to do this is "stand on the left hand side of the bike, and rotate the right pedal to the front. This will give you the first down-stroke you'll need to get momentum going". Once my saddle was adjusted to the correct height, and the pedals were set up, it was time to hold the brakes and lean myself onto the bike. Et voila! I was ready to roll.
Chris has a simple but sensible recommendation for beginner riders: "Find a clear stretch of road to practise on, which allows you to make mistakes in a safe environment, clear of traffic".
When learning to ride a bike, or trying a new discipline, it's always best to be comfortable in your surroundings, and in my case, not have to worry about traffic.
My mountain bike has wide flat bars, so being faced with drop bars had me question: "What's the best hand position?". Although you'll feel drawn to holding the drop bars at the lowest point, and getting your race stance on, it's just as acceptable, and even recommended, to hold the handlebars on top. Especially when starting out.
To start off with, Chris suggested the gears should be set so that the chain is on the littlest ring in front, and the largest sprocket in the rear. Remember to pedal through when shifting gears to prevent any damage to the chain and cassette.
"Brake before an obstacle and before a turn. You don't want to find yourself braking in a bend"
Braking is a lot less heavy handed with a road bike, than on a mountain bike. By looking forward and assessing obstacles and planning your line, you can gently squeeze both brakes to slow your momentum. Upon approaching a bend, or an obstacle, brake in advance to adjust your line and navigate through the bend, instead of braking during.
My First Road Ride
Setting off felt wobbly, as though I was learning to ride all over again. This was due to the narrow bars that I wasn't used to which made the handling quite twitchy. Being in a more upright riding position felt strange, but not uncomfortable as I first thought.
After getting my position right, and the first few pedal strokes behind me, I started to enjoy myself. Pedal efficiency on a road bike is brilliant, without having suspension sucking up my energy, and the heaviness of an MTB, I felt as though I was riding faster without having to put in as much power.
It's important to avoid obstacles whenever possible with a road bike. Unlike us MTBer's, we aim for the potholes and drains to practise our manuals and test our suspension, but with a road bike these are the likely causes of falling off. Keep your eyes up while riding, and plan your line in advance.
Under Chris Boardman's watchful eye, and following his expert guidance, my first road ride was a success, and it helped me combat my skinny wheel fear. However, my next challenge now is how to ride amongst traffic...
Final Tips from Chris Boardman
When I asked Chris how I could improve my road riding skills, and gain confidence on the road with traffic, he suggested I check out what British Cycling have to offer: "All new riders should visit the British Cycling website and look for rides and groups in their areas. You can learn a lot more from watching, and riding with others."
There have been great efforts made by British Cycling with the #WeRide campaign to get 1 million women to ride regularly by 2020, and there are some brilliant schemes such as the hugely successful Breeze Network.
"Bike ability training is brilliant as it helps put you together with like-minded people as well. Perfect if you're starting out in cycling"
Bike ability classes aren't just for kids either, adults can take part as well. They are great for covering the basics of how to ride with safety, awareness and in good company.
My first road ride wouldn't have been such a success if it wasn't for Chris' guidance and support. Skinny wheels are nothing to be afraid of if you know how to ride, and how to prepare for obstacles.
I'll be looking for some Breeze rides in my area to gain experience and confidence with road riding, and although I don't think I'll be sporting the Lycra just yet, I'm excited to get back on the road bike and conquer my traffic fears.
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