With current lockdown restrictions in the UK set to be in place for a while to come, I’m entirely grateful that we remain allowed to exercise outdoors, albeit with strong advice to ‘stay local’. For many cyclists however, especially those used to covering more miles on varied terrain, there can be tendency to feel a bit restricted, a bit stir crazy even. The list below is no instant fix, it is however a little selection of things that I have been trying/found helpful in attempting to remain motivated, fit and vaguely sane. They are also about having fun (hills excluded) and enjoying the ride. After all, that’s why we do it right?
- Adopt a hill
One thing that staying local has taught me is that the area in which I live is essentially flat. Not Netherlands-style flat but pretty close. In a normal world, for good riding on the road or mountain bike, I will head out of town or drive a distance to get some more varied and challenging routes done. Now that isn’t an option I have learned to get to know and love (sometimes) my local hills. There’s nothing of length but there are a surprising variety of short and steep ones out there, quite often clustered in the same area and it’s these roads that have now become my go to for the necessary evil of hill-rep sessions.
I actually like not having to travel far to get these workouts done and, on a dry day it’s more motivating than cranking out the same thing on the turbo trainer. After a brief warm up ride to the nearest hilly streets I can complete circuits on generally quiet residential roads on a variety of gradients, with enough choices to do reps in a variety of locations. Ok, it doesn’t make me love hills any more but it still achieves that warm, smug workout afterglow coupled with a very short ride home afterwards.
2. Snoop down snickets
Snickets, ginnels, alleyways, wynds – whatever you call those little passageways that you find – go down them. My immediate neighbourhood is pretty urban but it’s the kind of non-street planning that has built up organically over time. There are no grids and few straight roads, just 200 years of people building houses wherever a house will go. In consequence there is an endless rabbit warren of little pedestrian passageways which link roads, to estates, to parks, to rivers and more. Normally when riding my well-worn routes (i.e the quickest way out of town) I would thoughtlessly bypass all these tempting little paths, but now, what better chance to explore. Now, a little gap between bungalows has become like a portal to another world, nipping between narrow walls to pop out into the unknown – a tiny park or green space, a cull de-sac of million pound real estate or once, by mistake into someone’s back garden! Oops.
Over the past months I’ve worked out several new rides where I hardly touch an actual road, meaning I can reach the beach or a park almost entirely through a network of snickets, many of which I never knew existed.
3. Unlock the urban playground
Urban, hard-surface riding was never something I wanted to do on my mountain bike. After all, mtb is all about trails, mud, rocks, tree right…? No so. Since distance riding is now restricted and the winter rains/increased pedestrian traffic have turned many trails to mud soup I’ve discovered the appeal of concrete and tarmac as a playground. I’m not talking Danny MacAskill style tricks, our hospitals have enough to deal with right now – but for practicing skills, you can’t beat some good road furniture. For example, curbs make a great starting place for learning drop offs. Empty car parks also provide a great arena for practicing manuals and corners. Last week I was proudly celebrating the ability to lift my front wheel an inch of the ground with an audience of bored local youth on bmx bikes. After observing my lacklustre performance they demonstrated how if should be done by wheelie-ing off in perfect formation and hooting with laughter. The practice continues.
Other discoveries include the fact that speed bumps are perfect to launch off and grab some air, whilst a good flight of steps is an excellent lesson in positioning and control. There are also a surprising number of little pump tracks tucked away in fields and parks too (I’ve found at least 3 to date), some formal affairs, some more homemade but all a great workout.
4. Go backwards
Ok, not literally, but I can’t be the only person who is set in their ways when it comes to having usual riding routes? And most of the time I ride those same route the same way round. It’s simply habit but I discovered that just switching direction makes an incredible difference. It makes it a whole new ride in fact. It’s amazing the things that you don’t notice when you only ride in one direction, with our limited field of vision we can’t see everything so we tune at least half out. Go the other way around your favourite circuit and see the scenery change. Also, that small hill that you buzz down without noticing, suddenly gets pretty steep the other way. Equally the incline you usually slog up is actually a fun descent. The path that you’ve ridden dozens of times without thinking about suddenly has you stopping at each junction questioning if you’re going the right way. Mixing it up really can be as simple as just going in reverse.
5. Discover your boundaries
With the need to stay local for exercise there’s been much discussion on local bike forums around adhering to local boundaries. With that in mind, and as a fun exercise I decided to do just that and plotted (as accurately as possible) the boundary of my borough based on local council maps. It’s a not insubstantial 25 mile circuit for the mountain bike with a fantastic, varied terrain of seafront, river, gravel paths and heathland. Living near the radius of that circle, I’m also never more than 6 ish miles from home. And of course I can reverse the route too!
6. Play Deliveroo
Finally, no I’m not advocating a job as a delivery cyclist (although not a bad idea), this one is about motivation. With dark, wet cold days upon us the desire to cycle outside can be severely hampered. Personally, sometimes I find that having a reason, however tenuous, to layer up and pull out the bike is the key factor that helps me make the leap from warm sofa to frozen fingers. With this in mind I have taken to ‘delivering things’. Periodically I go through phases of baking and when I do, there is usually way to much produce to consume at home. Now, who doesn’t like a delivery of homemade cake? So jumping on the bike to deliver cakey-care packages to people feels like a good reason to go out and I’m suddenly motivated. Ditto if I need to return books I’ve borrowed or that tool that’s been sat in the shed for ages. You want it back – no problem I’ll drop it round. Christmas cards were a great motivator, especially when coupled with reindeer antlers attached to my bike helmet but bike-delivered birthday cards are also keeping me busy. If all else fails you can always borrow something and then return it. The great thing is it’s a reason to get out, it’s the opportunity to wave at/interact with the people you care about from a safe distance and, if you are delivering cake, a sure fire way to make them smile.
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It’s the story of a forty-something woman with no clue in life and no cycle touring experience. What she does have is a sense of adventure, a second hand bicycle and a skirt and the idea of riding across Canada….the wrong way.
Available on Amazon in e-reader and paperback formats.