Get cycling

Pedal in the Park

The following information provided by Specialized gives advice on how to get you cycling safely and comfortably and includes information on:

Choosing a bike for you

Select a bike for your kind of cycling - The range of bikes available now can be quite daunting to a new buyer, so your first step to finding a bike is to understand your choices. Most bikes will fall into one of four simple groups:

Mountain bikes - These are the most versatile cycles you can buy - they'll go anywhere both on and off road and they're built to be durable. Most have front suspension, which improves comfort and your ability to control the bike on bumpy trails. Bikes with front and rear suspension are ideal for more challenging off-road riding or for simply reducing fatigue on big days out. Examples from Specialized - Hardrock, Rockhopper, Stumpjumper FSR, Enduro.

Road bikes - Skinny tyres, drop handlebars, a stretched out body position and minimum weight - these are what make road bikes fast and efficient. They're ideal for fitness rides, cycle club rides or for having a go at races or time trials. Examples from Specialized - Allez, Roubaix, Tricross.

Hybrid bikes - If you want the comfort of a mountain bike but don't intend to ride off-road then a hybrid may be the answer. These bikes come in many types - some have a very relaxed position that's perfect for cruising the lanes and towpaths, others are more sporty and closer to road bikes in the way they perform. Examples from Specialized - Expedition, Crossroads, Sirrus.

Specialist bikes - Every part of cycle sport has its perfect bike - from downhill mountain bikes to BMX to road racing or cyclo-cross. Some specialist bikes are great for a range of things, but not all; so get advice before you buy. Examples from Specialized - Epic, Big Hit, Tarmac, BMX.

Get the perfect fit for you and your bike

Getting a bike that fits you perfectly, or setting up your current bike properly, can make a huge difference to your cycling. Follow these four steps and you'll be riding further, faster and with greater comfort than ever before.

1. Saddle height - Sit on the bike with your heels on the pedals and cycle forwards. When your leg reaches the bottom of the pedal stroke, your knee joint should go fully straight, but without your body rocking sideways. Now when you move the ball of the foot onto the pedal you'll have a slight flex of the knee throughout the pedalling action. If you usually have the saddle higher you could damage your knee joints, lower and you're putting pressure on the knee and working harder than you need to.

2. Saddle position - Most saddles can be tipped up and down or slide backwards and forwards. Usually the saddle should be flat, although having the nose slightly down has been shown to ease lower back pain while cycling. To find the right fore/aft position get a friend to lean on while you mount up and get your pedals level. Using a plumb line check that the front of your kneecap is directly over the centre of the pedals.

3. Handlebar height - Look at the bike from the side to compare handlebar and saddle height. A good "all-terrain" position has the bars and saddle at the same height; Lower bars means a flatter backed, racier posture, higher bars is better for country cruising and downhill mountain biking.

4. Overall fit - Sit on the saddle and hold the bars, then get someone to look at the angle between your arms and body. If it's a right angle (90 degrees) then you're well sized up, although some people like a stretched out feel while others like to "move about" on a shorter bike.

If this fitting process reveals problems then you can change the handlebar position by fitting different bars or stem. Try not to adjust the saddle position because that's now right for you.

Designs for women

These are some of the key differences between regular bikes and designs for women:

Correct fit - Compared to men of the same height women usually have shorter bodies but longer legs. Bikes designed for women have shorter top tubes, bringing the handlebars closer to the body and giving the correct riding position.

Contact points - Saddles that are designed to fit women, handlebars that are the right width for women, grips that are narrow enough for small hands and brake levers that can be adjusted for easy reach - comfort at every contact point is essential in a well designed women's cycle.

Style - It would be easy to pretend that bike choice comes down to quality and fit, but that's simply not true. While men often yearn for the latest gadgets on their new bike, women want it to look as good as it rides. When everything else is perfectly tuned to the needs of the female rider, its only right that the finish is perfect too!

This doesn't mean that every bike designed for women is going to be right for you - you'll still need to go through the checks listed above, these designs are much more likely to give a good fit and a good ride for many years.

Kitted out to ride - what to wear

Riding your new bike should be a great experience, which means you have to be comfortable.

Fit to ride - Get into shape through cycling

Riding a bike is one of the healthiest ways to get fit - it's low impact, you're in the fresh air and it's sociable too. This simple training plan is ideal for someone new to regular cycling and can easily fit around a busy working week and preparing for their Pedal in the Park ride!

Month 1
Steady Rides (1 or 2 per week).
Your training starts with rides that last for up to 2 hours at a nice steady pace. These get your legs used to the cycling action and burn off fat without pushing your body too hard.

You need to train yourself to cycle with a good spinning action, turning the pedals at around 80rpm. You can check this with your watch by timing 15 seconds while counting how many times your right foot goes past the bottom of a pedal stroke. You're aiming for 20, any less and you need an easier gear. Don't be tempted to battle up hills in month 1 - use the gears and don't work too hard.

Month 2
Faster Rides (1 per week).
This is where you start working on your aerobic fitness through faster cycling. You could set out to ride for an hour at high intensity, or you could do a longer route but try to keep a fast pace up the hills.

Steady Rides (1 per week). A long weekend ride will be a breeze by now so enjoy it, and be sure to build in a good café stop to refuel.

Month 3
Intervals (1 per week).
Interval training is a tough but effective way to boost your fitness. Set out on your favourite 1-hour ride and go at a steady pace for 20 minutes to get warmed up. Using a stopwatch time yourself sprinting flat out for 30 seconds. When the sprint is over you should pedal gently for 2 minutes as you recover. Repeat the process 6 times.

You can make this harder by lengthening the sprints, shortening the recovery periods or increasing the number, but don't do that until month 4 because this is hard training. Intervals are great to do in the evenings because you only need to be out for an hour at most, so you can still enjoy your steady weekend ride, and maybe another fast ride in the week too.

Injury prevention

Warm up - Before embarking on any type of bike ride it is essential that you warm up first. The process of warming up should involve gentle exercise to raise your body temperature and increase the blood flow thorough the muscles that you are about to work. In cycling, the emphasis is on the lower body, however you must be aware that your upper body works quite hard, both climbing and descending. It is therefore important to warm up the whole body. Start by riding at a gentle pace, keeping the leg speed high and slowly increase the effort. Do this for 10-15 mins before you attempt to increase your effort level. Do not load your body with hard effort when it's cold, for example, going up a steep hill in a big gear. This is likely to cause over strain of the muscles and joints which could lead to damage.

Cool down - This is important after hard riding. Resist the temptation to get straight off the bike and collapse in a heap after you have ridden hard. Try and ride at low intensity for 15 mins in an easy gear on the flat to allow the circulation in the leg muscles to remove the lactic acid (a by product of hard exercise) that will have built up after hard riding. This will greatly reduce the amount of muscle soreness the next day and will help the muscles to recover for the next ride.

Stretching - Generally speaking, providing you have warmed up sufficiently and do not have any pre existing injuries, stretching should be reserved for after your ride. The purpose of this is to restore the muscle to full length and aid removal of lactic acid, which combined, with a cool down ride, will help to reduce the feeling of post ride muscle soreness and stiffness.

The key muscles to stretch are as follows:

Quadriceps (thigh muscle) - Stand on one leg and pull the ankle of the opposite leg behind you so your foot reaches your bottom. Make sure you keep your back straight and your hips square. Keep you bottom tucked under and knees together. You should feel an isolated stretch down the front of the thigh. Repeat on both sides, holding for 30-40 seconds.

Hamstring (posterior thigh muscle) - Place one leg out in front of you with the heel on the ground keeping it straight at the knee. Pull the toes up towards you until you feel a stretch behind the knee and in the back of the thigh. You can support you weight by leaning you hands on the opposite thigh. Repeat on both sides, holding for 30-40 seconds.

Calf - Place one foot slightly behind you keeping the knee straight, the heel down and the toes pointing forwards. Gently lean forwards from the hips until you feel a stretch behind the knee and in the centre of the calf muscle. Repeat this stretch with a slight bend in the knee, this time feeling the tension lower down at the back of the ankle.