The current craze among Londoners in lockdown, and I’m sure this also applies to people everywhere, is to strap on their helmets, hop on their bike and do their very best to add cycling to their lives. Therefore, I thought it best to speak to those who know about cycling more than anyone else, Imperial College Cycling Club (ICCC). Dominic Butcher, who is ICCC president, and Mark Ridge, who is club treasurer were able to have a quick sit down (obviously over Zoom) to chat with me. Recent research ,looked at by Mark, showed that a million more people have started cycling as a sport or leisure activity compared to last year due to COVID. ICCC has, of course, been in place many years prior to this lockdown, and they have given some advice to new cyclists, as well as telling me what the club is like. The club has been quite lucky and hasn’t been particularly affected by COVID. In fact, it grew by roughly a third this year. Normally, while not in lockdown, the club organises everyone into groups of 6 people: there are multiple routes that can be done, different speeds, and overall is quite flexible but it ensures that you always have somebody to cycle with. They say that cycling in groups is a great way to get better: it pushes you to get better and challenge yourself. It also helps you find different routes that you might not have found by yourself, and gives you motivation to cycle with regularity. It also makes you a much better commuter as other members can point out small tricks and tips and it makes you more comfortable to cycle around other people. Finally, they say it’s a great way to socialise and meet new people who have a love of cycling and are always looking to help younger riders.
The cycling club has also gone on some lovely cycling trips to destinations outside of London and even the UK. They went to Dartmoor previously, where they stayed in a small cottage and enjoyed exploring the area, even though they admit it was cold. They have also previously gone to Gerona in Spain, where they were able to explore completely different sceneries, ranging from the coast to the mountains. By next July, pandemic allowing, they are hoping to do a summer trip around the Alps. They say there are a couple reasons to start cycling and specifically ICCC. It’s a great way to keep fit and has the individual element where you’re competing with yourself, but you also ride in groups where you can socialise in a safe manner, which is especially craved during this time period. As much as everyone loves living in London, we all love the chance to escape the city once in a while, and cycling is a great way of doing that; in half an hour, you can be out of what feels like London proper and explore some new and more rural areas.
Always wear a helmet and don't go through red lights
It may seem daunting to join cycling, especially when you look at the prices of some of the bikes the pros use. But, ICCC say that we are very lucky that we live in London; there are many second-hand stores that sell great bikes for beginners, and as the ICCC president said with a smile, “as long as you’re going forward, you can’t go wrong”. There are also plenty of opportunities to hire bikes and equipment if you aren’t sure about committing. As a new cyclist, you want to know how to get better and faster as effectively and quickly as possible. They say that possibly the best way is to do interval training, however, that is difficult to do around London, and doing it indoors can be gruelling and very boring. At the end of the day, if you are cycling around areas of London that have hills, you will naturally be doing interval training anyways, so there is no need to prioritise that. As long as you keep cycling, you will get faster and better, which is a great feeling.
For those just starting out cycling, they had two main pieces of advice: always wear a helmet and don’t go through red lights. You should use the road as you would want other people to use the road, so always try to be friendly with all road users. In London, crossing a red light seems culturally acceptable, and even though sometimes it may not feel particularly dangerous, it annoys other road users. Also, these users are the people that need to give you, and all other cyclists, space when riding, so you don’t want to get on their bad side. In addition to this, I asked them for a couple of suggestions for new riders which may not at first be intuitive. Firstly, now that we are coming into winter you have to make sure you’re wearing the right kit. They say, if you aren’t leaving the house a bit too warm, you’re doing it wrong. It is much better to have to take layers off than to be freezing. Secondly, check the weather. You don’t want to be caught in the rain without a rain coat: it can get very cold, very quickly. In line with that, if it is a particularly cold day, be careful of ice. Thirdly, replacing an inner tube is a good skill to learn and practice before you have to do it in the rain on the side of the road while shaking with cold. Fourthly, prepare for it getting dark early; make sure you take enough lights. They also stress the importance of taking food and water with you; you can run out of energy very quickly. On your first ride, or the first in a new area, plan your route. Make sure you are comfortable with the roads you will be going on. There are many applications to help you do this, like Strava, MapMyRide, and Commute. However, if at any point you do end up on a road you don’t want to be on, don’t try to get off the road quickly. Take everything slowly and stay calm so that you are in control. Also, there is no shame at all in getting off your bike at any point if you are uncomfortable.
Overall, as a result of the pandemic and its resulting restrictions, now is a great time to start cycling, as it is less busy than it normally would be on the roads. Hopefully this chat with ICCC has made you consider cycling, and with it, relieving some of that Imperial work-related stress. Personally, over the last month or so it has been a great help to me both mentally and physically.