In Praise of Saddles (it’s not pants!)

The most common complaint I hear about is a sore backside or “numbness” from cycling.   This can often lead to demotivation and reluctance to get out on your bike, in fact I know a few people who have jumped on a bike for the first time and after 20 miles swear they will never do that again. The causes of these “pain in the backside” issues are usually caused by one or a combination of a poorly set up saddle, the wrong type of saddle, wearing inappropriate clothing or simply riding too much too soon.
Let’s looks at each of those in turn.

Firstly, the saddle position.  It should be horizontal, not tipping back or tipping forward, but level. If you set it so that the nose (the front) is pointing down you will tend to slide down, not only putting strain on the arms and wrists, but you will constantly try to slide back, rubbing the inside of your thighs; like-wise if the nose is pointing up then your nether regions get a pounding, so make it level.  The saddle also needs to be at the right height for you, there are numerous rules of thumb and mathematical formulae, such as setting the height 109% of your inside leg measurement (from the top of the saddle to the pedal axle when in the 6 o’clock position) – a reasonable starting point to begin with, however, if you are just starting out and don’t have the budget to get a professional bike fit I recommend a visit to your local bike shop who can get you at least set up there or thereabouts and correct any issues.  So why is is saddle height important? You will find that if the saddle is too low, your knees will tend to push out, you will lose power and this can cause knee strain (the knee should move up and down with minimal lateral movement). If it is too high, you will need to rock your hips at the bottom of each stroke, and this movement is likely to cause back pain and again knee pain.   Another indication of a saddle being too high is that when your foot is on the pedal at the bottom of the stroke it should be level, if it is pointing down (tiptoeing) the saddle needs to be dropped.  If you are out for a ride and want to change the saddle height, my personal rule of thumb is that fine adjustments should be done in no more than 3mm increments.   Bottom line, see your local bike shop or professional fitter.

Wrong saddle type. So, when you look at modern road saddles they look more like arrow heads than the saddles of days gone by, but it really is horses for courses.  A padded saddle is great for those gentle rides to the shops or picnic, you’ll see some padding on off-road and mountain bikes, but for road and touring bikes, you need a solid saddle.

Why ? you may ask.  The answer is that road saddles are designed on the premise that cushioning comes from a combination of the bike frame, the wheels, the saddle stem and in higher priced saddles, titanium rails, but not the saddle seat itself.   Secondly, the speed at which you pedal is much higher on road bikes, and the rides generally longer in time/distance than say commuting, meaning that you should have as little contact and resistance as possible between you and the saddle, thereby avoiding abrasions or chaffing inside the thigh, so yes, less or more!  In addition, the market has matured such that there is a huge range of saddle designs; including those that have a

cut-out running down the middle, or long nose, or short nose, how flexible you are, and because the width between your sit bones (the technical term is the ischial tuberosity bones) which are the bones that bear your weight when sitting is key, the choice of saddle design is important. Note that this will be different between men and women (a women’s sitting bones are wider apart than the man’s).

A professional fit or use of for example Selle’s IDMatch system (at good local bike shops) can measure the width and help point you in the right direction.   If it sounds confusing, don’t fret we can help and we will also point you towards your local bike shop to ensure you get the right choice (good dealers will lend you a “test saddle” you can use to check if it is right for you).

Inappropriate pants. To be straight upfront, all pants are inappropriate. In my blog on Lycra and the alternatives, I made the point that cycle shorts are so effective because not only does Lycra wick away sweat, dry quickly, but lycra shorts are designed to have no seams, with padding that is usually made from an anti-bacterial material, so gives you the optimum comfort and fit.  If you wear pants with them, you will sweat, you will chaff, you will get sore. To those of you thinking of putting off Lycra to begin with, wear loose fitting shorts or jogging leggings, but rather than your normal pants, get some padded pants from your local bike shop, an online store or shop such as Halfords. You won’t regret taking this advice.  Bottom line (forgive the pun), as soon as you can, get into lycra shorts, avoid bright colours, black is best.  For the ladies, try brands such as Velovixen, that have in-built skirts, other brands such as Pearl Izumi and Santic have similar designs.

Riding too much too soon. This is the killer; I cannot tell you how many times I hear (also from young fit people) stories of woe, where they bought or borrowed a bike for a charity ride, or simply to try out cycling as a means to get fit, and after 20 miles couldn’t sit down on the saddle and were sore for days. This is totally unnecessary. When I started cycling I limited myself to 10 miles, and stayed at that level for weeks before trying to do 20 miles. The first time I did 20 miles, I knew I’d done the extra distance/time in the saddle, but having taken the time to build up to that distance, I avoided saddle soreness.  Before I forget, for longer rides use a good quality chamois cream to avoid chaffing, it makes a huge difference if you are riding more that 50 miles.   You may prefer to apply it before any of your shorter rides, it might seem weird at first, but go for it, you’ll feel the difference after the ride.

In conclusion, assuming you have the right saddle and it is fitted correctly, you wear the right clothing, then gradually build stamina “in the saddle” it is easily possible to do a 4 hour, 5 hour, even 9 hour ride, and with comfort.   You just need time in the saddle, the body adapts in the same way as walking a long distance or running a marathon, the body is an amazing thing!  The good news is that our plans start with just 20 mins in the saddle at low intensity, and you slowly build up time and distance. This progressive approach guarantees success, minimising the chances of developing soreness where it hurts most.

Want to know more, contact us at www.cycleforfitness.com, and when it comes to saddles, get back your grin factor!

Cycling in sunshine: the pleasures and perils

 

In one of my previous blogs I wrote about cycling the rain, with a few hopefully words of wisdom based on my own experiences of the do’s and don’ts. Sitting here basking in 30 degree wall to wall sunshine, it would be remiss of me not to address the similar pleasure and perils of cycling during a hot summer’s day.

So to begin with, you draw the curtains (or whatever) and smile at a cloudless blue sky, the birds are singing, bees are humming and the world is spinning on a slightly more relaxed axis. Life is good.

What better way to enhance that feel good factor than by jumping on the bike for a ride, after all you’ve spent weeks if not months wrapped up in cold and wet weather gear, had to clean the muck off the the bike after every ride or looked earnestly out of the window and then at your “summer bike” pondering on whether to face the lashing rain, cold winds, icey roads or snow filed driveways. No, it is time to get the summer gear on, and ride your best bike, it’s going to be brilliant, what could go wrong ?

Rule 1 : Hydration.  We talked a little about this on our Calais to Montpellier adventure entitled “16 Days in France”, where we certainly learnt a lot of lessons, and perhaps after reading this you’ll stop by that slightly tongue in cheek prose. So, rule number one is that when riding in summer you will need plenty of water, aim to drink 1 litre per half hour and supplement it with electrolytes when the temperature gets above 25 degrees. You may lose 4-6 litres per hour, with the heat sapping your energy faster than you think, dangerous dehydration is always a possibility.

Before I took this leason to heart I would find my mood getting gradually lower and lower until it was very dark, every pedal was an effort, each mile a slog rather than a joy. So now, I make sure I take small but frequent swigs as this is better than one or two large but infrequent gulps. If I start feeling my mood lowering I grab the water bottle, and replenish at every stop.

The danger when cycling on a sunny day is that the sweat is being wicked away from you and the breeze keeps you dry….through rapid evaporation, trust me you are sweating ! So use as I mentioned before, use electrolytes as you’ll need to replace salts and minerals during the ride and possibly afterwards.

Okay, so the inevitable part, yes it is okay to have a small beer on a long ride, stay within the law and your own tolerances. I find either a light ale or shandy is best in the heat, however it is far better to earn that beer after the ride, such righteousness is hard to come by.

Rule 2 : Suncream. I don’t really need to say too much, you all know this and have had it beaten into you, but make sure you put it on and re-apply frequently. In particular, a large dose of sunblock on the face, neck and ears, and especially the nose is essential. If you are folically challenged, as i am slowly becoming (no comments from the back), wear a bandana, it stops your skull frying or getting a lovely set of tan lines from the gaps in the helmet. A bandana also stops sweat running into your eyes and your neck being burnt.

Rule 3: Sunglasses. My advice is to use as good a quality pair of cycling sunglasses as you can afford. A couple of points to note: (1) look to get polarised lenses as these help you see better any obstacle and the road surface especially in dappled sunlight (e.g riding through tree lined roads); (2) do not skimp on cheap imitations – I face planted the road a few years ago and even under that extreme situation the lens did not shatter and go into my eyes; and (3) wear the arms of the sunglasses outside the helmet straps, not only does it look cooler, in the event that the glasses get knocked (see 2 above) they will fall off (you will want them to do this).

Rule 3: Tyres and Inner Tubes. As it gets hot and rubber expands, any cracks and cuts can become more susceptable to causing punctures. Not as big a deal as the first rules, but always check your tyres (and general safety of the bike), it just makes sense. I would also advise not to put more pressure than you normally do in the tyre, you are not going to go faster, it’ll be just a harder ride experience for a day that should be full of smiles.

Rule 4: Traffic. For some reason during the summer, other road users become a little less patient, and a little less tolerant…it’s either because they have a beer to look forward to, their aircon isn’t working or they as holidaymmakers or visitors and so are less observant of the road, or they are dazzled by the sun or less able to see in the dappled sunlight in the trees. So, expect more of the unexpected, it may be just plain envy that you are having a fantastic ride out in the sun while they are baking in their cars.

Rule 5:  Remember this is Wellbeing.  Finally, although not really a rule, when you see come across a special view, vista, flower or one of life’s beautiful moments, stop and take a photo or selfie, then post it, you’ve earnt being a little smug today and these photos will remind you that the hard work you’ve put in to getting there ws worth it, and in the winter you can look back at you achievements with pride and as little motivators to keep going on your journey to fitness and wellbeing.

I hope these little snippets are of use to you, and happy to expand on them if you’d like to contact us www.cycleforfitness.com.

Let’s talk about rain

So last night as a summer storm passed across the UK keeping me awake with the rain lashing down like stair rods, I began to think about what impact rain has on our motivation to keep to our training schedules. The good news is that with a few minor precautions and a little preparation, riding in the rain is not only possible, it can be…liberating.

Let’s consider Safety first, and in no particular order:

1. Some of the most common of mistakes relate to tyres. While a slick tyre is just as good as a treaded tyre on a bike in the wet (it’s about getting the maximum footprint), having too high a pressure will reduce the amount of rubber that makes contact with the road, hence is less grippy. You can go lower than you might think from the tyre recommendations, 80psi is typical. Secondly, tyres need to be in good condition. If they are worn or have sustained damage, then you are more prone to punctures because of gravel, sharp stones, thorns, etc being washed onto the road surface. My advice is to always take two or more spare inner tubes when riding in the rain…and as you are likely to get very cold quickly, it is better to replace a puncture rather than try to glue a repair by the roadside.

2. The next safety items are lights; make sure you have fully charged both the front and the back, that they are clean and work. It may sound condesdending, but use them….you need to be seen.

3. The third safety consideration is anticipation. When riding in the rain you need to be even more alive to situations and road conditions. You will have less grip, which means extra care is needed when cornering; brake well before entering a bend, keep smooth, do not brake in the turn and look to get the best line ahead of time; less grip means your are more likely to skid the back wheel or wash out the front. Avoid riding over manhole covers, white lines as these are extra slippy and avoid puddles as much as possible as these may hide potholes and other obstructions.

4. Fourthly, keep seated as much as you can. When you stand up, not only is your centre of gravity higher (i.e. you are less stable), your body weight is shifted forwards the front, which is more likely to result in your back wheel losing traction, especially up a steep gradient.

The second set of considerations relate to Comfort. It’s about preparation. I have ridden in rain, being both prepared and unprepared, and the latter is a miserable experience.

1. Clothing. For light summer rain a lightweight jacket is usually sufficient, choose one that is breathable to avoid overheating. For colder or more prolonged downpours a heavier jacket is recommended.

2. However it does not stop with the jacket, you should invest in overshoes and waterproof socks. These will keep your feet dry for a period, but I have never found them 100% waterproof – if you want to have that certainty, buy a pair of waterproof cycling shoes.

3. Mudguards will keep the majority of the spray from the road from splashing onto you. When considering which to buy, look at the amount of space (clearance) between the tyre and the frame/forks so that the mudguard does not rub or interfere with the wheel, and secondly look for mudguards that have Secu-Clips or comply with the European Standard EN14764; these will snap in the event of the mudguard getting caught and hence prevent locking the wheel. If mudguards are not to your liking, at least use an “ass-saver”, these attach direct to the saddle and stop spray going up your back and soaking your…you get the picture.

4. Wear long fingered gloves to keep your hands warm. If it is cold I also suggest wearing silk under-gloves, trust me, they work.

5. Keeping your head dry is important as most helmets have lots of vents. In my experience it best to wear a riding cap with a peak to keep rain out of your eyes…there are many on the market.

After the ride, your bike needs to be cleaned, preferably with a non-solvent cleaner and do not use a pressure washer, ever. Take extra time over the chain, gears, the brakes, the wheel rims and reapply lube and grease….if you do this straight after the ride it will save hours of labour later. Check the condition of the brake pads, they wear quickly in the rain and may need to be replaced at more regular intervals. If you have ridden in prolonger rain, turn the bike upside down and drain any water from the frame, deflate the tyres, pinch the tyre away from the rim, hold it horizontal and allow any water to drain away.

If you take notice of the above, then training in the rain does not have to be a chore. The good news is that the www.cycleforfitness.com training plans are self paced, so when the going gets wet, you can either wrap up with your cocoa, or be prepared and get out there !

Continue reading “Let’s talk about rain”

Lycra and the alternatives….

The first time I put on lycra in order to ride a bike was back in 2010, and it was a little daunting to say the least.

My rides at that time were limited to a 45 minute stretch over 10 miles around a few roads close to home. Because I was at the start of my personal fitness journey, the sight of me riding down the high street in lycra drew a certain degree of ridicule from people that I knew. I didn’t care, I thought that it was better to have your friends poke a little fun at you rather than being sat on the couch doing nothing, slipping what seemed inevitably into type 2 diabetes.

I tried to compensate by wearing a bright yellow waterproof jacket to cover up, but unless it was below 5 degrees I became overheated and uncomfortable pretty darn fast.

However I soon lost weight and my confidence soared. As a result of this experience, all I can say to those people worried about how they will look, there are some exceptionally good alternatives to Lycra. I hope the below will give you a few suggestions and help ease your mind on what to wear for your first few rides.

Before we explore the alternatives, why does lycra remain the stalwart clothing material of choice for cycling? The reason is that it is simply the best material for exercise (which involves lots of stretching), keeping you cool in the summer, warm in the winter, dries super fast if you encounter any showers, and for cycling is aerodynamic, it doesn’t flap around slowing you down.

In considering alternatives, tweed and denim is out, but thankfully the materials used for cycling clothes expanded dramatically over the last few years; you can now buy all kinds of garments in different materials that equal or surpass Lycra in certain circumstances. If you are worried about having to wear lycra, my suggestion is to wear clothing made from synthetics such as polyester or nylon, both are good for hot sunny days, however if the budget can stretch a little further my personal choice would be a natural fabric such as merino wool, or clothing that use a combination of both lycra and merino; at the high price range end you could opt for bamboo for a jersey, which is good for people with sensitive skin due to its natural anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, but as I mentioned before, at a cost. Whatever you choose, in addition to Lycra, there’s a lot of very stylish cycling clothes out there that are visually appealing irrespective of size, and they feel fantastic to wear.

Therefore, you do not need to be a slave to Lycra. If you are considering starting out on your journey to fitness and wellbeing through road cycling, my advice would be :

1. Wear lycra shorts (or bibs or leggings), and a merino jersey to give a more casual look that feels great and performs well in most conditions of heat, cold and wet.
2. In terms of colours, wear black or pastels with a little splash of colour and a tasteful motif. Less is more. Avoid white shorts.
3. Unless you ride for a team, stay away from the “team jersey” look.
4. In terms of what to wear under the shorts, the golden rule is nothing…that may seem counterintuitive, but the padding on most shorts is anti-bacterial and the wicking will keep you dry in the most important area and prevent you getting sores and tenderness. Trust me on this.

At Cycle for Fitness, as part of the service we will provide you with a telephone consultation that almost other things, will cover what you need to wear and what to avoid. Subscribe to www.cycleforfitness.com now and we can begin your journey.