A novice-cyclists guide to taking part in Cycle for Life
I live in one of the most exceptionally beautiful places in France.
Nearby is the Canal du Midi; stunning, mysterious and tranquil all at once. It’s also flat! I had been thinking that I would try to get back on 2-wheels this year, and the cycle ride for Cancer Support France presented me the opportunity to do just that.
As a younger person I cycled several kilometres a day to school (although they were miles in those days!) then I learned to drive and the bicycle started its long and unappreciated life gathering dust.
So let’s be clear - I am not a confident cyclist. I don’t like hills or traffic and I’m not competitive. I don’t have a Lycra filled wardrobe and my bicycle is old and heavy.
My idea of cycling needs to include lovely scenery, friends and LUNCH. I mean let’s face it, if something’s worth doing then it’s worth sharing - right?!
Embarking on a personal challenge I’ve signed-up for the full 200km for CSF’s Cycle for Life 2017 - for me that’s a very daunting distance, and 4 days seems an extremely long time on a saddle.
Based on all that I’ve learned so far, here’s my guide to taking part in this fabulous event and a novice cyclist’s version of what you need to know.
#1. Don’t panic!
There will be plenty of people that have never done anything like this before, and the ones that have will be helping you out and encouraging you every step (or should that be pedal?) of the way. There's something very encouraging about taking part in an event like this within a group. I wouldn't go off cycling on my own, but this is very different.
#2. The gear
If you don't already have a bike then for a nominal sum you can hire almost everything you need for the day. However, in addition to the wheels, and as far as I’m concerned, the next item of essential gear here is ...
- Padded shorts - oh yes, No.1 on the list. I never thought I'd own a pair - EVER - but they're not expensive and you'll be so glad you've worn them you'll actually forget about them on the day. Which - trust me on this one - is far better than the other way around ...
Other stuff ...
- A bicycle bell - it may sound old-fashioned but on a narrow canal path you really need to let unsuspecting pedestrians know you’re heading their way … It’s also a French legal requirement - though I'm not sure how many people know that
- Shoes without prominent laces - or anything that will protect your toes without risk of entanglement. Your feet are there to pedal and the last thing to be worrying about when there’s steering and gears to consider
- A bottle of water, preferably within easy reach on the bike, sunglasses and sun-cream - it can be hot here (really hot) in June
- A decent fitting cycle helmet - there’s really not much point in having one that slides all over the place
- A charged mobile phone - just in case
- A camera - because there are just so many beautiful places you’ll be ever grateful for the memories you capture along the way
- Money for lunch and 'refreshments' ... ahem, this is France, after all ...
#3. The distance
If you think you can’t cycle 40km or more, I know exactly how you feel so ;
- Practice by starting small and slow - just a few Km at a time and make plenty of stops to enjoy the views
- Keep hydrated - not enough water plays havoc with your energy levels
- Have a goal - that LUNCH idea can really work if you need an incentive to get somewhere, or use an app on your phone like Strava or Runkeeper to keep a track of your progress, distance, speed and calories (bonus fact: LUNCH calories can then be confidently cancelled out ...)
- Find a cycle buddy - you’ll be surprised how many people taking part in this event are not ‘good cyclists’ - find someone to do a few practice rides with and then sign up together, it will be such a lot of fun for you both
- Forget maps and navigating - that’s all being taken care of, just turn up, join in with the group and enjoy it - it will be a fantastic experience you’ll remember (and probably tell people about) for a very very long time!
Me (and the dreaded padded pants) will see you at the start point!