If your riding feels stale, try these 10 tips to reignite your passion for cycling.
Getting a few good sportive finishes under your belt, commuting by bike every day of the week, improving your time trial results can all fire up your riding and just make you want more.
But even this can become a bit humdrum. If your riding feels more like a wet weekend than a sunny getaway, it’s time to shake things up a little. Here’s a few suggestions…
1. Try something new
Get out of your comfort zone and give another type of cycling a go. With Britain’s success in track cycling in recent years, the velodrome seems a logical place to add variety to your cycling.
“Try track cycling,” says Andy Tennant, track cyclist with team Madison-Genesis. “Feeling the G-force when you go smashing round the banking on the black line is amazing. It’s also a social thing and you will develop a new group of friends who you may be able to ride with on the road.
“There are taster sessions at most indoor tracks and you advance from there. I started on the outdoor track scene; these are much longer and bankings aren’t as steep. The instructors will teach you all the skills which will help you to enjoy it more when you get on the indoor tracks.”
Velodromes aren’t the only tracks you can try, either. “Cross-country mountain biking can be a fun alternative to road cycling,” says Olympic cross-country cyclist Oli Beckingsale. “Getting away from the traffic and the same road loops will be a refreshing change, and there are trail centres all over the UK which are a great place to start.”
You can find trail centres at MTBtrails.com, and beginners’ track groups and places to try BMX and cyclocross on the Britsh Cycling website. And don't forget to check out Mountain Biking UK and What Mountain Bike magazines.
How about a different kind of cycling? Cyclocross perhaps?
2. Go touring
Take a few days off work, pack your panniers and get out on the open road. This doesn’t need to be expensive. You can easily convert your road bike into a tourer by swapping your regular tyres for a tougher, puncture-resistant pair, such as Schwalbe Duranos, and fitting a seatpost rack such as Topeak’s QR Beam Rack if your bike doesn’t have dedicated mounts.
You can camp or stay at B&Bs (check out www.bedsforcyclists.co.uk), head off on your own or take a break with a companion. Either way you will be guaranteed some bonding time with the bike and the chance to experience something new. The Cyclists’ Touring Club offers information for anyone wanting to try touring, as well as route maps and guidelines and the option to sign up for touring holidays across the world.
Former cycling around the world record holder, Vin Cox, knows a few things about touring. “You never know what sights you’ll see or characters you’ll meet during a day’s touring,” he says, “but you can be certain that you will see new and beautiful sights, and meet interesting strangers. So while you’re doing great things for your body, your mind is learning what a beautiful world we live in and how nice people can be.”
3. Pleasure and pain
Turbo training can be a bore. With nothing to stimulate your senses other than the pain in your legs, motivation to continue can wane. Liven things up with training videos from The Sufferfest, whose videos we have previously reviewed.
As Sufferfest founder, David McQuillen, says, “If you’re bored on the trainer, you will not work hard. So, we create a storyline and use pro race footage that gets you immersed.”
Video footage pits you against the pros in events such as the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix, all set to a backdrop of carefully selected tunes and training instructions interspersed with encouraging/taunting messages to spur you on: “Chew the stem! How’s that stem taste?”
As the name suggests, these are not easy workouts, but the directions ask you to train to perceived levels of effort, so just push as hard as you feel comfortable – or uncomfortable – with.
4. Get into photography
You’re often out in the countryside with some amazing scenery, so why not take your camera with you and take some amazing pictures too? It’s a great way to ensure that you actually start looking at the world around you instead of just seeing a hazy blur of green and blue as you whizz by.
This ties in perfectly with slowing down your ride (see tip number 9), as you won’t be able to gaze around searching for the perfect shot like you’re the next David Bailey if you’re churning out intervals, or focusing on the road to avoid potholes and traffic. Here are the best photography tips from the art staff at BikeRadar.
If you're cycling through fantastic scenery, take some time to admire it. Or even better – take a picture.
5. Go nude!
Ever wondered what it would be like to be in the middle of the city centre, completely starkers – and not in the middle of an anxiety dream? Take part in the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) and you’ll find out!
Held in cities all across the globe, the WNBR is a protest against oil consumption and car culture, promoting civil liberties and freedoms. The point is to deliver a cleaner, safer, body-positive world.
A spokesperson from WNBR says the reaction you get is half the enjoyment: “Onlookers, after the initial surprise, cheer and wave in a way that just doesn’t happen if you’re marching down the road with a banner! And the look on car drivers’ faces as we pass is a picture. I’m sure most of them have never paid as much attention to bikes on the road before!”
As well as causing a stir, the liberating feeling of being unclothed in public creates a great buzz. “The rides always have a carnival atmosphere, which is a good start for any protest. I’m tempted to say it’s probably the most fun you can have with your clothes off, but… it’s definitely the most fun you can have protesting on a bike!”
6. Enter the Brompton Challenge
If your commute is part cycle, part public transport, chances are you’ll have invested in a folding bike to alleviate the stress of trying to find trains that accept full-size cycles. If so, why not put your small-wheeled skills to use at the Brompton World Championship that takes place every year in July at Blenheim Palace?
Everyone who competes has to be fully suited and booted, to replicate the busy commuter environment (and make the whole event look a bit more comical).
“The Brompton World Championship is a great reminder to us all what these bikes, and cycling, should be about: having fun,” says Brompton’s managing director, Will Butler-Adams. “Yes, it’s a race but it’s hard not to have a grin on your face as you fly around the track with 700 others all wearing jacket and tie.”
7. Use a trip-recording app and compete
Cycling can be a solitary pastime. To add an element of excitement and competition, sign up to a ‘social fitness’ site that allows you to share your routes through an app, or through your cycle computer, compare your times and monitor your progress.
We recently rounded up the best cycling apps for Android and iPhone users. The Facebook and Twitter of the fitness world are Strava and Garmin Connect; these tell you when you achieve personal bests, King of the Mountains, or when you climb up the leader board on a certain stretch of road.
“What makes social fitness fun?” asks Michael Horvath, CEO of Strava. “I think it’s the camaraderie, training with your friends even if you’re by yourself. Solo rides become more motivating when you can compare yourself to others, share the story of your ride and get kudos on your workout. Every ride can be a group ride, and that’s just more fun.”
8. Play bicycle polo
Are you more of a team player than a solo artist? Then perhaps it’s time to get your mallet swinging…
“Bike polo is a fusion of team sports and cycling,” says Kevin Walsh, founder of the leagueofbikepolo.com. “Not like the ProTour teams of professional bike racing, where there’s a leader and a bunch of domestiques doing their leader’s bidding, but a team of equals with a common goal in which they share equally the rewards.
“Many bike polo players are cyclists, but have a history of playing football, ice hockey, field hockey, rugby, or other team sports, where the goal of the team trumps the goal of an individual player.”
It’s also great for boosting your bike handling skills. “You learn good balance and being able to hop around on the spot,” says Walsh. “With practice you might pick up bunny hopping over the ball to get in on your mallet side or to get into position as goaltender, and maybe even wheelie turns that are more like BMX manoeuvres than anything else.”
Getting into bike polo is pretty easy. Many towns and cities have clubs – search Google or Facebook – and they often have an open door policy so you just turn up and have a go. You can use any bike you like and you can usually borrow a mallet.
9. Slow down
“There are many reasons to cycle, and getting fit is just one of them,” says Cycling Plus columnist Rob Penn.
“Not every ride has to be a training ride. I’m a great believer that if you spend all your time looking down at your Garmin you are missing the point. If you don’t look around you might just as well be on the turbo.” Sometimes, we should all slow down and enjoy the view.
“The beauty of the bike is that you can stop at any point to peer over a gate or watch leaves fall from a tree. You get the chance to see the seasons change,” says Penn. Stopping also provides you with the chance to recover, by giving your body time to rest, and to eat and drink.
Admittedly, slow cycling takes longer, but if your riding time is constrained by family commitments, this is a way of combining the two. “I love cycling with my boy,” says Penn. “It forces me to slow down and take in the scenery and enjoy the ride at his pace.
"And there is no greater pleasure in the world than watching the enjoyment on your son’s face as he freewheels down a hill. And then following him down yourself…”
10. Do it for charity
Signing up to an event or challenge can give you real incentive to train. “Committing yourself to a multi-day challenge event is an excellent way to keep up your motivation towards training,” says Peter Robinson, director of events at Global Adventure Challenges, which organises charity events and adventures across the world.
“Dedicating the time to train makes riding the event more fun. Riding for a charity that is close to your heart, or a loved one’s heart, encourages you to push yourself further.
“During your preparation you will feel your fitness levels soar, your ‘best times’ reduce and your distance increases… this is an amazing feeling of accomplishment and, what’s more, you are not just doing it for yourself. The tougher the challenge, the tougher the training, the greater the reward.”