Back in the saddle – and what a day!

July 31, 2008

I’m back from biking in Switzerland and enjoying biking in Alice Holt Forest again!

It’s been a busy day. Earlier today, we had a visit from the cycling fans at the Independent Living Group – a bunch of adults with learning disabilities who have really launched into cycling with us. The ILG guys have made so much progress, we ventured away from the forest centre today for a short ride through the woodland. Well done to the guys who came riding!

Then later we had a visit from a gentleman who recently started riding with us – cycling is really helping him keep fit and healthy following his stroke.

And as if that wasn’t enogh to fit into one day, we’re about to go riding again! Tonight is the second of our Forest Discovery Rides. The last one was so much fun, we’re doing more (check out my earlier blog post). Rebecca and Leonora are coming tonight. They’ll be on the tandem, so if you live on the Hants/Surrey border and you hear screaming, do not be alarmed!


Postcard from Clive

July 25, 2008
Postcard from Clive

Postcard from Clive

More Forest Discovery Rides!

July 17, 2008

Our Forest Discovery Ride was so much fun, we’ve decided to do more!

On Thursday 31st July and Thursday 14th August we’ll be gathering at 6.15pm ready to get rolling at 6.30pm.

We’ll meet by the cafe area at Alice Holt Forest, on the A325 between Farnham and Bordon. Nearest station is Bentley. We’ll then set off on a laid-back, relaxed ride – a few short miles round the woods.

Everyone will be welcome, including anyone who has not ridden for a while, anyone who is nervous about cycling, or just anyone who likes to take things easy!

We’ll be able to offer cycling advice to make your ride stress-free and enjoyable.

If you’d like to come along, let me know on 07717 721511 or

More information is on the CTC website.

See you then!

Forest Discovery Ride 2

A Lovely Evening Ride in Alice Holt Forest

July 16, 2008

Last night was the first of our Forest Discovery Rides – a relaxed spin around Alice Holt Forest with some help on hand for anyone who’s new to cycling or returning to riding after a few years away.

And what a great evening! Nine riders came along, all looking forward to the ride. Some had not ridden for 20 years, one lady was recuperating after an operation, and some had simply got out of the habit of cycling. All appreciated a lovely evening perfect for a bike ride.

Forest Discovery Ride 4 Forest Discovery Ride 1

We rode for three miles, before we offered the chance to split into two alternative routes – one heading back to the car park and another loop adding 2 miles to our route, making 5 miles in total.

Helen Wallace, from the Forestry Commission, was on hand to guide us around the forest and Paul Stanley, a keen local cyclist, volunteered to help everyone with friendly advice on easy cycling.

Forest Discovery Ride 3 Forest Discovery Ride 2

The Forest Discovery Ride was so enjoyable we will certainly be doing something similar in future, giving a regular opportunity to ride the forest with likeminded people. Watch this space for more news!

Buying a Bike – an Easy Guide

July 16, 2008

Last night we had the first of our Forest Discovery Rides. This was a great evening, and I’ll be posting more about that later.

But in the meantime, here’s something that may be of use to some of last night’s riders. Several of those who came along were asking for advice on buying bikes, so here are some pointers.
Firstly, check out the useful pages on the CTC website.

Also, I’ve scribbled down some of my own tips for anyone who may be in the market for bike. These are my own opinions, not those of CTC, but I hope they are useful. Let me know if you have any questions.

1. It doesn’t matter which make you buy.
More than any other question I get asked, the most frequent is “What’s a good make?”. But it’s also the question that matters least. There are many good bikes out there, made by many companies. And to be honest, as long as you have a realistic budget, and you don’t go for inappropriate gimmicks, it’s very hard to buy a bad bike. Unless you go for the wrong size.

2. It does matter where you buy.
So much more important than the brand you buy is the shop you buy from. Ask where friends bought their bikes. Shop around. Which bike retailer seems to be the most genuine? Who seems to ask the right questions about you and your riding? Who would you feel comfortable coming back to with a problem or a query? See if anyone is willing to throw in a few extras (helmet, lights, a lock, maybe) but don’t be greedy – a saving of £25 on accessories is arguably not as valuable as the reassurance of buying from a local shop you like and trust.

2. Choose your weapon.
The make may not matter, but the type of bike certainly does. Be realistic about your needs. Fast and speedy road bike? Versatile street/hybrid machine? Or rufty tufty mountain bike? If in doubt about what you’ll be doing, veer toward the off-road end of the spectrum. It’s easier to adapt a mountain bike later to make it speedier on the road than it is to convert a road bike for off-road duties.

3. Don’t be afraid to spend a bit of money.
A few times, friends with a fair bit of money in their back pockets have asked for my opinions on new bikes costing under £150. For a new bike, £150 is really not much money to spend at all. In fact, the quality is likely to be so low that they would be put off cycling for life. If you’re looking to buy a bike on a budget, then consider the fact that at that level, an extra £50 or £100 can make a world of difference. Upwards of around £300, bikes start to become the kind of machine you can ride on a regular basis with some feeling of enjoyment. If this seems a lot, check out secondhand options.

4. Don’t forget secondhand options.
If you’re struggling to afford a decent new machine, then yes, there is always the secondhand market. For the price of a brand new pile of shiny creaking scaffolding poles, you can find a perfectly good pre-owned bike. The usual warnings apply as with anything bought secondhand, especially via the internet. If you find a bargain, be sure that the bike you’re buying is the right fit and size for you. The only way to be sure is to visit the seller for a test ride. The best bike in the world fails to be so if you can’t ride it comfortably.

Ask about the history of the bike, and ask to see receipts. If you suspect a bike to be stolen, the honourable thing to do is to walk away. Bike thieves are a certain special kind of scum. Their customers are not much better.

5. Getting the right size is the most important thing of all
Use this three-step guide to getting the right size:

i) Goolie clearance – first check you can stand over the bike with room to spare. You’ll need a few inches for off-roading, If it’s too close for comfort, try a smaller size.

ii) Seat height – Next, adjust the seat to the correct height (see 6). If you can’t get it high enough without exposing the ‘Max insert’ mark on the seatpost, try a larger size.

ii) Reach – arguably the most important thing to check. When you’ve sorted the seat height and you’re sat on the bike in riding position, do you feel comfortable? Does your weight feel nicely balanced between your hands and your bum? If you feel too huddled, try a larger size. If you feel too stretched, try a smaller size. But bear in mind, if you’re checking out a sportier bike than you’re used to, a bit of stretch might be part of the bike’s design. Go for a test ride to settle in.

The main rule of bike sizing: Ignore the nominal size classifications the manufacturers use. On one brand of bike, you may measure up as a 19”, as opposed to their alternatives of 17” or 21”. On another make, you may feel comfortable with an 18”. Some bikes have abandoned this way of sizing in favour of the S,M,L,XL system. Whatever bike you’re looking at, size up each different model from scratch, assuming that one marque’s idea of a ‘Large’ or a ‘17”’ is very different to another’s. It invariably is.

6. Correct seat height might be higher than you think.
Forget what you learned at school all those years ago about being able to touch the floor with both feet. If you use this as a guide to seat height, you’ll be nursing very sore thighs and bulging knees after a couple of miles. For most riding, the best seat position is one where, with the pedal at its lowest position and your heel on the pedal, you have the very tiniest amount of bend on your knee – virtually straight. If you feel more confident with the saddle an inch or two lower, especially off-road, then that’s fine, but you will lose some pedalling comfort. You should never ride with the seat too high – if you’re rocking your hips or you can feel your legs stretching to reach, lower your saddle immediately.

7. Handlebar height – Don’t worry, be happy.
Your handlebar height is rarely very adjustable. But that’s OK – it doesn’t need to be. If you’re feeling strange about the fact that you can’t lift your bars to a height that matches your saddle, then don’t be alarmed – it’s quite normal for your bars to be lower than your seat. A proportion of your weight should be borne by your hands – not just your saddle. Don’t think of handlebars merely as some kind of steering accessory.

8. Test Ride, every time.
Don’t ever consider buying a bike without a test ride. Whether you’re going for new or secondhand, you can never tell if a bike is right just buy sitting astride it. Any decent shop (or reasonable secondhand seller) will accept some kind of security (credit card, cash sum or small child) as deposit while you go for a spin. When you test ride, try to pick a route with climbs, descents and corners that will give you a reasonable impression of the bike’s fit and comfort. If it ain’t comfy, don’t buy it.

9. You don’t need suspension.
Suspension is fairly new on the scene. Just a few short years ago, it was seen as an expensive novelty. Don’t assume that just because your riding may take you over a few bumps, suspension is vital. Most decent mountain bikes costing anything over a couple of hundred quid will have front suspension. This is no bad thing, and helps to make the ride smoother and more comfortable. But unless you’re spending an amount approaching £1000, I would think twice before you opt for rear (or ‘full’) suspension. On sophisticated bikes, rear suspension is great. On cheaper models, it’s a heavy waste of money that detracts from the quality of the rest of the bike.

10. Helmets are optional, but recommended.
It’s not compulsory to wear a helmet. If the idea of wearing a helmet is putting you off riding a bike, then fine – get a bike, ride helmet-less and enjoy yourself. But think about it. A helmet costs £25. And it gives you an 80% better chance of surviving a head impact. I wear one, and I’d recommend all my friends to do the same. And if you’re going to wear one, take a few minutes to adjust the straps for a proper fit. There’s nothing quite as useless as a helmet perched on the back of your head with the straps swinging down like a hammock.

11. Don’t fear the gears.
Most bikes these days will have between 14 and 27 gears. But it’s not the quantity that counts – it’s how you use them. Don’t assume that the higher the gear, the faster you will go. Get used to spinning your legs in nice fast even circles – each revolution taking much less than a second. Then adjust the gears to suit your legs – not the other way round. If you’re pedalling with a discernable left-right-left-right feeling, or you can feel yourself rocking from side to side, you’re very likely to be in the wrong gear – change down and be kind to your knees! If your bike has gear shifters on both sides of the handlebars, and you find yourself confused, then go easy on yourself. Leave the left-hand shifter in ‘2’ and do all your changing with your right hand, with continuous pedalling that eases for a stroke or so after each shift to allow the gears a chance to change.

12. Use your balls.
Pedal using the balls of your feet: the widest part. Try not to pedal with your heels or the centre of your feet. If you’re wearing high heels and you find that the pedals naturally seem to fit at the back of your foot, then don’t wear high heels.

13. Women’s bikes.
Historically, manufacturers who offer ‘women’s bikes’ have been supplying traditionally-shaped frames with dropped crossbars – handy for riding wearing a dress or long skirt. Like you do.

Serious female cyclists would avoid these anachronisms in favour of a standard, or ‘gents’ model. But things have changed. Most of the major bike brands now offer women’s bikes that look at first glance like regular machines. The difference is in the detail. These bikes will typically be shorter, to accommodate smaller arms. They’ll often include other details like smaller brake levers, shorter cranks, women’s saddles and softer suspension. Check them out – they’re often worth a look. But don’t assume that a women’s model will necessarily fit you just because you’re female. Test ride standard bikes alongside these women’s versions and go with whichever feels most comfortable. Try not to be swayed by the pink flowery designs that often decorate these girlie bikes.

14. Disc brakes – Good or gimmicky?
As with suspension, disc brakes are a feature which has made mountain biking more comfortable for many people. Discs are more powerful than other braking options, which means you’ll need less effort to achieve the same braking effect, so no more tired fingers after long descents. Other benefits include longer maintenance-free running time between services, an easier ride home following a wheel-wobble-inducing incident, and more life from your wheel rims, as discs don’t grind away at your wheels like conventional brakes do.
But, just like suspension, all these benefits come at a price. Cheap bikes with disc brakes will often be sporting the worst examples of this technology, with more weight, poorer durability and worse performance than rim brakes on an equivalently priced bike. If you’re looking at a disc-equipped bike for less than around £500, check out the V-braked equivalents. You could be in for a surprise.

So there we go. My 14 commandments. Can anyone think of anything I’ve missed?

Originally posted at my personal blog, 1000 Thoughts or Less.

Forest Discovery Ride – See You Tomorrow!

July 14, 2008

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s Forest Discovery Ride at Alice Holt Forest. (Tuesday 15th July)

At 7.00pm, we’ll be meeting for a relaxed, traffic-free stress-free ride on the woodland paths of the the forest.

I’ll be providing assistance and advice on anything to do with cycling. And Helen, of the Forestry Commission, will be on hand to guide us around the varied, sights, sounds and smells of the forest.

This will be the perfect ride on which to rediscover your cycling legs if you’re out of the habit.

If you’d like to come, either just turn up at 7.00, or call me on 07717 721511 to let me know you’re coming.

More information on the Forest Discovery Ride at Alice Holt Forest.

See you tomorrow!

All Weather Cycling: Bring On The Tandem!

July 10, 2008

As anyone in the south of England will confirm, yesterday was a typical English summer day: It poured with rain from morning ’til night.

As I arrived at Alice Holt Forest, I wondered whether I’d be getting phone calls from my participants, cancelling their cycling sessions. I should have known better!

First to arrive was Nick. Nick rides with me about once a week. Our tandem rides have become part of his weekly routine and he is really enjoying a return to cycling while he deals with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis. The rain was no barrier as we put in a good lap of Alice Holt’s 3 mile Family Cycle Trail. We got covered in mud and had a good laugh.

Later, Leonora arrived with her mum Rebecca. Leonora is visually impaired and at the age of 11 is now too old for the ‘tag-along’ she used to ride behind Rebecca’s bike. With a bit of help, Rebecca and Leonora have really taken to tandem cycling and yesterday’s off-road adventure through the puddles and trees was so much fun. Leonora has reminded me that cycling is about so much more than what you see. There’s the effort of the hills, followed by the sensation of freewheeling downhill; the communication with your fellow riders and the feel of the weather. Yesterday’s rain, puddles and mud just added to the fun.

If you’d like to ride with us, whether or not you have any kind of physical, sensory or learning impairment, or if you’ve just not ridden for a while and are feeling nervous, just get in touch with me at or on 07717 721511