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Prepare Well to Ride Well!

The weather has finally turned warmer but it's still occasionally wet outside so I thought I'd share some tips on how to stay comfortable and safe on a bike during the summer months.

If you have been putting in the miles over the winter you'll be looking forward to going out for some longer rides. If you've not ventured outside much on two wheels during the cold season you'll need to build up your fitness gradually. Either way you want comfortable clothing designed for your particular type of ride. Even an experienced cyclist can get caught out. Let me explain.

Last weekend I went for a ride around North Down. I wasn't quite sure how far I'd go but the general idea was to ride from Bangor via Helen's Bay over the Craigantlet Hills, then cross the Ards-Dundonald dual carriage towards Moneyreagh, hang a left somewhere towards Comber, skirting Scrabo Tower into Ards, then across the peninsula to the Irish Sea and back to Bangor via the A2 coast road. This would work out to somewhere between 80 and 100km.

The temperature when I left at 7am was a comfortable 10 or 11 degrees so I wore a pair of Planet-X bib shorts and a cycling jersey. About 2 1/2 hrs into the ride I felt the pad of the bib shorts start becoming uncomfortable as it bunched up. Moving around the saddle alleviated the discomfort somewhat. From that point on there was a lot of fidgeting on the saddle and I realised that I had to cut my ride short if I wanted to avoid getting saddle sore. As I was now bang in the middle of the peninsula I abandoned my original plan to head down to Cloughey and instead aimed for Donaghadee. I made it home ok, having covered 72km, but I learned my lesson: think about not only your route but also the length of time that route will take to complete.

My mistake was not dressing appropriately for the ride. Cycling gear comes in different flavours and quality levels. Those Planet-X bib shorts sport a pad that is ok for a couple of hours but anything longer than that and they start causing problems. More expensive gear is more comfortable to wear because the fabric, cut, pad, zippers, seams etc are all of better quality and designed with more care. You often (but not always) do get what you pay for... Having said that, I also have a number of less expensive garments I happily wear because they are perfectly fine for the type of ride for which I would use them. I just forgot to give a bit of thought to matching my gear to the length of the ride last week-end.

Early on a Northern Irish summer day you may need to layer up. When I set out I wore a very thin windbreaker jacket for the first 45 minutes or so to keep my core temperature and my arms warm as I warmed up. That jacket folds up into its own pocket and takes up about as much space as an inner tube.

Be visible. A front and a rear light are useful because they make you more visible and alert drivers as you go through an underpass or ride in the shade as you pass under trees.

Think about how much nutrition you pack and how much liquid you carry with you. I had carried only one 750ml water bottle (I have two water bottle cages on my bike). By the time I reached Dee I had only a couple of swigs left and had I done the longer loop I had originally planned I would have had to refill somewhere. Not a big deal, but something to keep in mind. I carry my food supply in my jersey pockets. I ate everything, including a gel that I had packed as an emergency ration. In the future I will keep an additional gel in my toolkit, just in case. Bonking in the middle of nowhere is something you want to avoid at all cost.

I almost forgot...: check your water bottles. If, like me, you lace your water with hydration tabs, clean your water bottles carefully after each ride. I tend to retire my water bottles after a couple of seasons as even with diligent cleaning there comes a point when they will have accumulated a black residue that is almost impossible to remove entirely, even if you put the bottle tops into an ultrasonic cleaner. If you shop wisely you can pick up good quality bottles from High 5 for about £8 for four, including a small selection of gels and hydration tablet samples.

Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. If rain showers are forecast, take some sort of waterproof layer with you. A wet jersey and a stiff breeze can make for a very uncomfortable ride. Castelli's Gabba jersey is legendary for a reason. It's now in its sixth iteration and has been in production for about 15 years. If you're riding in the rain, consider wearing booties over your cycling shoes. Personally, I hate riding with wet socks! Don't forget to give your bike some TLC after a wet ride. It will roll much better the next time you use it...

A cycling cap under your helmet is useful to keep any rain out of your eyes and shade them from the sun. Wraparound glasses (they don't have to be cycling-specific) do keep windblast out of your eyes during fast downhill sections.

Don't forget to apply sunscreen. Some but not all cycling jerseys are rated for sun protection. Also, don't forget your nether region and apply some baby cream before your ride to minimise chafing. There are cycling-specific creams that smell nice but don't do anything that cheaper baby cream doesn't do.

If you haven't done so already, give your bike a spring tune-up (do an M-check at least) or have your local bike shop service it. If you have ridden it throughout winter, pay particular attention to the drive train: the chain may be close to be worn out. It will always be cheaper to replace a chain before it is totally knackered than to wait until it starts skipping. By that point there will be a high probability that in addition to the £20-£30 for a new chain you'll be shelling out and additional £30 or more for a new cassette and over £100 for a couple of chainrings...

For further tips, check our website.

Next week I will cover using shared use paths from both a cyclist's and a walker's perspective.

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