Nicole Cooke offers cycling tips

Every cyclist needs a bike, the gadgets and gizmos to make it look, feel and ride better, and the basic skills required to handle it comfortably and confidently. Cycling, however, is a combination of (wo)man and machine, so never overlook the importance of the rider. It’s vital that you get your body into the right shape to match your ambitions, and that you maintain it with an appropriate routine …

Don’t overdo it

The key is to push yourself enough to make improvements, but not so much that your body can’t cope or you no longer enjoy it. Your reward from cycling might be winning races, achieving challenging goals, or just the thrill of cruising through the countryside, but if it stops giving you that sense of achievement and fun, then you need to take a look at your approach.

Get the right bike

It’s vital to get a bike that suits your needs, so go to a good bike shop and get yourself set up in a good position with the help of people who are trained to do it. Get that right and you will end up confident, comfortable and in control.

Remember to rest

Whether you’re following a serious training schedule, or just gradually increasing the distance and pace you ride at, the processes involved in becoming a fitter, stronger and faster rider are the same. There are two elements to the training process: the stress and the recovery – and both are vitally important.

There must be enough stress to encourage the body’s adaptive processes, but not too much to cause serious damage. The recovery is the time when the transformation takes place, so don’t skip it or you risk having the opposite effect to the desired improvement.

If you’re a complete novice, or returning to cycling after a long period of non-fitness, then make sure you’re healthy enough to begin increasing the amount of exercise that you’re going to do. If you’re in any doubt, consult a medical adviser first and possibly have an appropriate health check.

Join a cycling club

I’d definitely recommend finding a club; you’ll end up with people around you who you can learn from and who will help you, and groups you can go riding with.

When I started I rode for the Cardiff Ajax cycling club. There was a lot of support, encouragement and camaraderie, and structure to riding and training, with evening time trials and sessions at the Maindy cycling track in Cardiff.

People have different goals and motivations, so you have to work out what is suited to you. Everyone is different: some people recover quickly, some are better suited to higher speed or a longer distance. A plan shouldn’t be a millstone round your neck but a route map, especially if you are beginning cycling. The important thing is to turn cycling into a fun challenge rather than getting overwhelmed by a training schedule.

This is an edited extract from Nicole Cooke’s book, Cycle For Life (Kyle Cathie, £14.99)

How to get your kids involved

During the supremely successful Beijing games, Britain’s cycling performance director, Dave Brailsford, called for his sport to be placed on the national school curriculum, as swimming is. Cycling, Brailsford pointed out, is an important life skill as well as a sport, a simple way to give children freedom and a healthy family activity.

Parents feel, not unreasonably, that the nation’s roads are not safe for their children, but there are answers. Nationwide, there are schemes such as the National Cycle Network ( and the National Byway (, which direct cyclists towards traffic-free roads. Mountain biking, BMX and track cycling are all ways of riding a bike away from traffic, and also provide good pathways into competition.

Getting a bike for a wannabe Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton isn’t difficult either. Many of the bigger manufacturers offer scaled-down racing models, while some of the most interesting children’s bikes on the market at present are the brainchild of West Midlands company Islabikes ( These feature components and frames that are sized to suit growing bodies.

There is currently a surge in the number of children racing bikes. British Cycling is pushing for the construction of more cycle-racing circuits such as the one that opened last year in Solihull. British Cycling is also beefing-up its Go-Ride scheme, which offers cycle training and racing activities for children nationwide using off-road circuits. Visit for more information. William Fotheringham

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