Cycling Rites of Passage

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Posted: 24/03/2017 Print

Cycling Rites of Passage

Guest blog by Helen Russell,

Five Cycling Rites of Passage

If you are new to cycling then you should be aware that there are some rather unpleasant occurrences that happen to all riders at some point and are considered rites of passage.

Although an inevitable part of riding, here are some tips on how to mitigate the chance of these rites happening and what to do if they should occur.

Cycling in Berlin



  • Falling Off



You would be hard pressed to find a cyclist who has never ‘hit the deck’.  However, considering the fact that you are balancing on a piece of metal on wheels, falling off doesn’t happen that often and can usually be avoided.

Common hazards that can cause falls include oil, white lines on damp roads, potholes, ice and tram lines.

Make sure you look far enough ahead for any of these. Cornering and descending can be tricky, especially when they come together.

Always approach a corner at an appropriate speed and look where you are going, rather than at what is immediately in front of you. Slow down before the corner if necessary, ‘feather’ the brakes rather than slamming them on and don’t brake whilst cornering as this will increase the risk of sliding. If you do fall, try to tuck your head down, pull your elbows and knees in and try to relax as this will reduce the chance of injury

2. Not Unclipping

Carrying on the theme of falling off, one rite of passage that is usually more embarrassing than painful, is wearing cleats for the first time, or rather forgetting to unclip from the bike.

Cleats are on the sole of your cycling shoe and fit into the pedal, so that you are effectively attached to the bike.  A spring mechanism in the pedal means that you can clip the cleat in and out.

Often when learning to use cleats, cyclists won’t be able to clip out of the pedals quickly enough and topple over. Luckily this usually happens when you are coming to a stop so isn’t too painful. Unfortunately though, this often happens at traffic lights when there is a line of traffic watching your slow union with the asphalt!

Cleats have what is called various degrees of ‘float’, which allows for some lateral movement of the foot. The higher the float the easier it is to unclip, so as a beginner start with some float. Some manufactures have different coloured cleats showing the amount of float. For example, Look has white for no float, grey for medium and red for most float.

Check that the pedal spring tension is not too tight so that you can clip out quickly. If possible it is a good idea to practice getting in and out of your pedals on a turbo trainer to get used to the motion and the amount of force required.

3. Punctures

With the state of some of our British roads, punctures are inevitable at some point. However, you can take some steps to reduce the chance of hearing that hissing sound on a ride.

Make sure that your tyres are inflated to the correct psi level.  You might imagine that punctures are caused by over-inflating but under-inflating can also cause a flat. The manufacturers recommended level is usually printed on the tyre.

Punctures are a nuisance as all cyclists will know!

Look out for debris in the road especially at the sides - don’t ride too close to the kerb as this is where most debris lies.

Watch out for any shiny patches in the road as this could be glass. At this time of year, a common hazard is bits of wood from hedge cutting. If necessary and it’s safe to do so, ride close to the middle of the road, to avoid the cuttings.

Make sure you take a pump and spare inner tube with you on rides and practise changing a tyre beforehand so you know you can do it, if you get a puncture whilst on your own. If you do get a puncture whilst out riding and have trouble getting the tyre back on the wheel, then don’t be afraid to flag down a fellow rider to help.  In my experience, they are usually more than happy to help as we have all been in this situation!

4. Bonking

No, I’m not referring to your sex life but rather energy depletion due to a lack of fuel, causing the body to shut down, making it hard, if not impossible, to continue cycling.

More catchy than its official name hypoglycaemia, ‘bonking’ occurs when athletes fail to eat or drink enough carbohydrates resulting in depleted glycogen, causing low levels of blood glucose. The body can only store sufficient glucose for about 90 minutes of exercise, so if you are exercising for longer periods then you will need to take on board glucose for the body to keep going.

In an earlier Lucy Bee blog I gave some ideas on how to avoid bonking on long rides but in short, make sure you eat enough beforehand and take in food and drink whilst cycling.

Ideally, you should aim to have 60g of carbs every hour when riding. This can be made up of a drink, gels, and solids, or usually for me, a mixture of them all! There are some excellent recipes for flapjacks or energy balls in Lucy Bee’s cookbooks -  one of my favourites is the Refined Sugar-free Flapjack with Cranberries or the Lucy Bee Energy Balls.

5. Saddle Sores

I wasn’t sure whether to include this as a rite of passage as not all riders suffer from saddle sores. However, at some point, especially when going out on longer rides or when riding for successive days for the first time, it is possible that you will suffer from some discomfort.

Saddle sores are an irritation of the skin that usually occurs at the point of contact with your saddle and can be caused by chaffing, sweating, ill-fitting shorts or an uncomfortable saddle.

The most important thing is to get the right saddle. This is easier said than done as every cyclist you ask will have their own personal favourite, which doesn’t mean that it will be the right one for you.

Some cyclists find their ideal saddle immediately but for most it takes a bit of trial and error. The best thing to do is ask your bike shop if you can take the saddle for a test ride or negotiate a returns agreement so that it is easy to change if it doesn’t feel right.

Measuring your sit-bone width and looking at your riding style and where your pressure points are, can help you choose the right saddle.

There are a multitude of creams available to either avoid saddle sores or give some relief if you become sore. It is rare that I actually use them but in 2015 I rode the entire route of the Tour de France and definitely needed creams for both scenarios! The easiest thing is to apply the cream on yourself around the contact and chafe points of your saddle or you can apply the chamois to your shorts. A common mistake is to wear underpants under your shorts! This is a big no-no as pants will often cause chaffing.  Cycling short chamois are designed to be worn commando!

Hopefully these tips will help you avoid the more serious incidents but to be honest the best thing is to realise that some of these things will happen to you and just accept them as part of your cycling journey!


Helen is a former age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. In 2015 Helen was part of the One Day Ahead team which raised £1m for Cure Leukaemia by riding the entire route of the Tour de France one day ahead of the pros. This year she is moving to quadrathlons and will be targeting the British Quadrathlon Series. You can follow her on Twitter via @helengoth.

Helen has also written articles on Six Steps to Recovery from Your Workout, Triathlete Transition Training and Winter Training for Summer Results, Training Holidays with the Kids on Board and Fuelling on Long Bike Rides.

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