This is not a story about a bike professional. It’s about the highs and lows of my cycling past time, someone who bought a bike in their late thirties and continues to cycle into their forties. However, don’t mind the age thing as I discovered. Many of the strongest cyclists I know are much, much older than me and so age is never a barrier to getting out on a bike. Since I bought my first proper road bike in 2009 I have cycled approx 50,000km on it and others.
My own cycling story began way back when I use to cycle to school every day. When I went to college this went away but I kept up an interest in cycling by working in a cycle store during my summer holidays. Cycling took a big break when I got my first full-time job in my mid-twenties. Exercise, in general, took a back seat as I was having too good a time. I have no regrets, some great memories with great friends. I have wondered if I took up cycling earlier could I have been a better bike racer but it does not matter as I am where I am.
I was a very avid golfer prior to getting back into cycling. It would not have been unusual to see me out playing 3 or 4 times a week. I loved the sport and I played off a handicap of 11. I remember coming home and thinking back on every shot I took during a round and what I could have done differently. My golfing interest came from my late Dad, he loved playing and we played many a golf round together. I have not turned my back on golf and I do plan to return. Don’t think I will play as much and I just need to work out how to fit it in.
What Type of Bike Did I Buy
In August 2009 I read an article on the new bike to work scheme. I figured that it was worth getting a decent bicycle and if it did not work out I could sell it and not lose any money. I did some research and I bought a Boardman Team Carbon, pictured left for €1200. It cost me less on the bike to work but it was still a big purchase. Of course, I needed to get bike shorts, helmet and a few other bits and pieces so the initial investment was around €1500.
In 2009 I was 36 years old and my first daughter Katie arrived into the world. I was not exactly leading the healthy life. Loved my pints, fast food, and the odd sociable smoke. I was not overweight but I had weight in all the wrong places. I just felt that buying a bike would get me out more.
My goal when I bought the bike was to someday cycle 100 miles. It seemed like a massive challenge at the time. The first few spins on the bike were painful. I cycled maybe 50km and ended up with sore hands, wrists, and arse. If you are new to cycling be prepared for sore bits. I did not get a bike fit done for a few years and it may have helped if I was properly set up. However, you cannot get away from the sore bits as cycling puts pressure on many areas and you just need to stick with it and you will get immune to it.
One of my first targets was 60km. 50km seemed to bring numb hands and pains so hitting 60km (with a break) looked like a decent target. I think I got there after around 2 months of a weekly cycle. The next big one was to cycle 100km and I think I achieved this after 6 months. The 100km came out of nowhere, I was out with a group and I was near home having cycled 80km and I decided to continue on and break the 100km mark.
In 2011 I bought a time trial bike frame. When I was in college I worked in a bike shop during my summer holidays so I know the basics of bike mechanics. I used this knowledge to build up a TT bike. A time trial is usually a solo event where you try and cover a set distance in the quickest time possible.
One of my goals for time trialing was to break the 1-hour mark for a 40km time trial. I achieved this in July 2017 when I clocked 58:51 during the Connacht time trial championships. Time trialing is a great event as it is you against the clock. No cyclists to hide behind. A TT bike is not a necessity but on flat courses, they are the fastest option.
Joining a Cycling Club
Clubs are the backbone of the cycling scene and community. The accumulated years of know-how and expertise within any given cycling club can be huge. You don’t have to sign up and join a club straight away to ride with one. Most clubs will let you come on a ride or two before requiring you to join, so you can find out of you enjoy their company. Contact the club secretary to find out exactly how this works for any particular club.
Benefits of joining a bike club include:
- Get to cycle in groups and get comfortable with close proximity cycling with others.
- Learn skills from other cyclists. How to behave on the road with safety in mind
- Discover new routes
- Develop your fitness. Group spins can mean longer spins.
- Get access to club cycling kit. Some clubs may also have discount options at local bike stores.
Clubs have personalities so finding one that matches your interests is a great way to meet like-minded riders. Some clubs are just about riding; the Sunday club ride is the focus of the club’s activities. Others are centered on racing.
You need to pick a club to meet your requirements. The obvious one is to pick the closest to you but if you plan to go racing pick one with an active racing element. I joined Annagh Wheelers a few years ago. The main reason behind this decision is that the club had plenty of cyclists matching my abilities and they participate in racing events.
The picture to the left was taken at the end of our 2018 Mizen to Malin challenge. Around half our club members are present so we are not a big club as you can see.
The more you cycle, the more you learn about bikes and the nicer upgrades you see on other bikes. My first major upgrade was wheels and I bought a set of Mavic branded wheels for something like €400. I actually did need something as my rear wheel became faulty. That was followed by a carbon seat post with a fancier saddle. In parallel to this, I did the color matching, parts and clothing had to match the color scheme of the bike which made things more expensive.
Recently I bought a secondhand set of carbon wheels as I wanted a spare set for a Mizen to Malin cycle challenge. I also bought a basic power meter and I would love to have another. It just seems to be never-ending, always more gadgets or upgrades crying out for your hard-earned money.
Don’t be afraid to sell stuff you are not using either. Recently I sold a cyclocross bike that I was using mostly for road cycling. I sold that a bought a secondhand Canyon road bike. This road bike is a major upgrade on my Boardman and I use it a lot which is better than having a cyclocross bike which I was not using.
Cycling can lead to other fitness activities
Many people (like myself) take up cycling to get fitter. Once your fitness increases you may find other activities like running become more accessible. Around 7 years ago I decided to do a bit of jogging. I wanted to keep my fitness levels up during the winter months when the poor weather makes it harder to get out on the bike.
I was never a great runner but I got to a point where I could compete in duathlons. My best 5km is around 20mins and my best 10km is 41:32. A duathlon is an event which typically has two runs with a cycle separating them. One of my highlights to date was winning the over 40 section of the 2016 Ireland West Duathlon series (5th overall).
Running\jogging is a good way to keep fitness levels up. For me, it is an option to get out of the house when cycling is not possible.
Over the years I also tried different cycle events. Around 5 years ago I bought a mountain bike. Enjoyed some of the off-road stuff but I found my skill levels were way for the really technical circuits. I sold this and bought a cyclocross bike which is half road bike and half mountain bike. I participated in a cyclocross league and again my bike handling skills let me down a bit. However, I made some improvements and I look forward to going back to it. My plan is to buy another mountain bike and use it for both cyclocross and mountain biking.
Becoming a better cyclist
While getting out on your bike does make you stronger and a better cyclist in some areas, there are many other ways to develop your skills and strength. Cycling with more experienced cyclists is one way but be careful. I have been out with cyclists who had decades of experience but had some bad habits like half wheeling or bad overall group etiquette.
One of the best things I did was a group coaching camp in Spain. It was organized by Padraig Marrey who is a local coach and accomplished cyclist. During the 6 day camp Padraig covered everything from group cycling to racing strategies. I learned a lot on this and it was nice to get away from everything as my Dad had passed away suddenly a few months previously.
Cycling abroad also gives you the chance to experience big mountain climbs and their fast descents. I plan to do a few more of these in the future.
I have also started to include some gym work into my winter training. I definitely found that I was stronger in the early part of the year coming off a winter of gym work. Don’t just show up and start lifting weights. Speak to a coach and get them to design a training plan for you. Cyclists will have a much different plan from someone wanting to bulk up muscle mass all round.
Challenges and Setbacks
As I mentioned previously, I ended up with a lot of sore things when I started going on longer cycles. For me, most of these pains and aches went away once I did more and more cycling. However, persistent pains and aches can be a sign of a bad setup on your bike. Make sure you get a proper bike fit done if you experience this.
Other challenges can be simple things like taking a drink on your bike or eating a bar. If you are not used to it, it can seem dangerous and difficult. There is no easy solution here, you just have to keep practicing. One thing I recommend you do is to practice grabbing your drinks bottle, taking a drink and then replacing your drinks bottle without looking down. This is an important skill. A lot of crashes are caused by cyclists looking down when locating or replacing their drinks bottle. Anything can happen when you take your eyes off what is happening in front of you.
Other setbacks can be more mental. At some point, you may feel you are getting fitter and stronger and decide to take on a charity cycle. During this, you may find it is a struggle to keep up with other cyclists. Do not worry about this. Do your own thing. The main thing is you are challenging yourself and it will make you stronger. If you ever go bike racing you will experience the same thing.
Isn’t cycling dangerous. What about crashes?
Some setbacks can be more serious like a crash. I was involved in a bad crash during a charity cycle a few years ago. A cyclist lost control in front of me and he brought me and the guy behind me down. Ended up with a lot of cuts and bruises and I was off my bike for a few weeks. After something like this, it can be easy to think the sport is too dangerous. Thankfully they are rare events. My lesson was to keep away from erratic cyclists and to be more vocal with them. Point out mistakes or bad habits to people.
You can be unlucky and hit a pothole or something and get brought down. There is also a lot of reporting about cycling fatalities. It is never nice to read about this. Cycling has become really popular. More cyclists on the road result in more incidents. Bad crashes are rare and don’t let them put you off. Mind yourself and don’t get overconfident and take chances.
Mizen to Malin, 50,000km, and my first race win
I have used Garmin bike computers for many years which has given me lots of data from my cycles. Sometime in May this year (2018), I clocked up over 50,000 km of cycling since I got my first road bike.
On June 02nd this year my cycle club took on a challenge to cycle from Mizen Head to Malin Head in less than 24 hours. This was a huge success and all 13 cyclists completed the challenge in 23 hours and 23 mins (581km).
I focused on doing more A4 racing after the Mizen to Malin challenge. My first result came in the Donamon GP where I came third. Next came two frustrating races where I got my positioning wrong coming near the finish. At times it felt that racing was not for me but like many times in life you have to keep trying. Make changes and focus on strengths.
I finally took a win at the Brian McNamara Memorial A4 race. I went into that race with a big hunger to get a result and I attacked a lot during it. Made sure I was near the front for the uphill sprint and no one came past me. This result got me promoted to A3 and I am looking forward to the longer races. It was something very positive for what had been a tough year, my mum had passed away from cancer in February.
Racing is tough, you have to outsmart other cyclists and keep some energy for the finish. You definitely need to listen to a coach. Some racers hide in the bunch all day and then go hard for the sprint. This tactic does work but you need bravery, luck, and a damn good sprint. Other racers favor breakaways, they don’t win too often but it can happen.
In conclusion, I can say that buying that road bike back in 2009 was one of my better decisions. It took a while to get going but I have some brilliant memories and fitness has improved.
Going forward I plan to do more of the same plus a few new challenges. I fancy taking on a few Audux events in 2019. Audax is a form of long-distance cycling – riders strive to complete lengthy and often arduous routes within specified time limits.
My kids are also coming to an age where they can get out for longer spins and so I plan for more family days out. We have already done the Castlebar and the great western greenway in Achill.
If you are interested in taking up cycling go buy a bike on the bike to work scheme. Go for a few solo spins, join a club and try a charity or sportive event. Who knows where the journey will take you.