The road-bike scene is just as full of veterans as it is beginners. There are sportives almost all-year round up and down the UK that cater for all abilities, and road cycling clubs — once the preserve of hardcore racers — now actively welcome beginner members, offering shorter alternatives to the Sunday morning 60-miler.
So whether you’re a complete newbie, are dusting off your old bike after time off, or are just looking to take your riding to the next level, there’s never been a better time to pull on the Lycra and get cycling. We look at the top reasons why life is great on the road.
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1. Healthy body
As hobbies go they don’t come much healthier than cycling. It’s a fantastic form of exercise and, unlike running, doesn’t put huge amounts of pressure on your knees.
A review of into the health benefits of cycling by the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that cycling up to or more than 3.5 hours per week reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by about 20 percent and by cycling and participating in other sports for more than 3.5 hours increased this figure to 40 percent.
With obesity now affecting 27 percent of UK adults, 38 percent of US adults and 28 percent of Australian adults, finding fun ways to keep yourself and the family active makes a lot of sense. Cycling not only helps to keep your body fat down and lower your cholesterol, but can help you maintain healthier bowels and get better sleep.
2. Technological advances
When the first Tour de France was held in 1903, riders pedalled 17kg steel bikes with wooden rims and one gear across stages averaging 400km.
Nowadays, for less than a grand, you can get a great aluminium frame, 22 gears and some top-notch components, all of which would be more than capable of tackling a Tour stage or two.
3. Comfortable kit
As well as the bikes, the kit has also come a long way. And now there’s no need to suffer over long distances, as there’s so much top-quality clobber on the market.
From padded shorts to breathable lightweight jackets, whatever the weather there’s a material out there to keep you warm, cool, dry, comfy and, most importantly, happy.
4. Governmental gains
Having wised up (somewhat) to the fact driving a car is not a healthy or sustainable way to get from A to B, the government in the UK is trying to make cycling more achievable.
The Cycle to Work Scheme allows you to buy a bike in 12 monthly instalments directly out of your gross pay packet, reducing the tax you pay. In 2014, more than 180,000 people in the UK took advantage of the scheme, which is available for bikes worth up to £1,000.
5. Wannabe pro
Very few football fans get the chance to play at Wembley and only a handful of amateur tennis players get anywhere near Centre Court at Wimbledon, but cyclists are different.
Unlike most sports there’s nothing to stop cyclists from heading out to the famous climbs where the pros compete. Whether it’s the Tour de France’s notorious Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux or Col du Tourmalet, or Box Hill of London Olympic road race fame, the choice is yours.
6. A beautiful mind
The physical benefits of cycling can often grab the headlines, but there are also huge mental gains to be had from riding your bike.
Getting regular sunlight has been proven to increase levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin, while being outdoors has other proven benefits, such as improving mental health and relieving stress.
Studies have also found that exercise can reduce levels of the body’s ‘stress hormone’, cortisol.
7. Charity challenge
It’s incredible how quickly your mileage threshold increases on a road bike, before you know it you’ll be clocking up 50 miles without thinking.
From here the temptation to push yourself will undoubtedly become strong and you’ll soon be looking for bigger challenges. Raising money for charity is a great way to harness this desire for miles and there are plenty of big rides out there. Pick your chosen charity or event and target that goal.
8. The right track
Sustrans has created 14,000 miles across the UK while EuroVelo’s routes across Continental Europe total 28,000 miles. Meanwhile, the USBRS boasts more than 8,000 miles of bike routes.
All of this will help make travelling long distances by bike much easier — and makes touring a great summer holiday option.
9. Winning ways
For riders with a competitive edge, there are plenty of opportunities to get out there and test yourself against fellow riders (or the clock).
New sportives and gran fondos are popping up all over the place with plenty of female-only events and beginner-friendly distances to choose from too. You can also use training software or tracking apps such as Strava to track your progress or target particular goals.
10. Travel and training
The average UK commute by car is 16.7 miles, which is essentially the distance of a perfect training ride.
Even if you only cycle one way, you’d still be getting more than your recommended daily dose of 30 minutes of light exercise. For quick-fire fitness results try some short intervals on your way home, too.
11. Save the planet
Transport is Europe’s biggest source of C02 and joint biggest in the US. So even if just a few of your journeys are by bike instead of car then your conscience (and the environment) will feel that little bit cleaner.
12. Hit the club
Joining a cycling club is a great way to meet new people and it’s now easier than ever.
British Cycling has more than 1,700 registered clubs up and down the country and, despite their reputation for being ultra competitive, they’re now a lot more open to beginners, offering different rides according to experience.
British Cycling’s Go-Ride programme has meant that more than 350 clubs have opened their doors to young riders and children.
USA Cycling also has a searchable list of cycling clubs.
13. Roads less travelled
Once you’ve got to grips with the road there are plenty of new directions where you can take your cycling.
If you like the tarmac moving quickly beneath your wheels then why not try out a time trial, or if speed is your thing perhaps a velodrome could be the place for you.
In winter months the cyclocross season takes over parks and trails and provides cyclists with a great way to get off road and enjoy some mud.
Beyond this there are plenty of mountain bike disciplines to choose from, each one more grin-inducing than the next.