WHAT a little bike,” said a four-year-old as I cycled past him the other day. My little red Brompton tends to get attention – puzzled looks, smirks, and chuckles of “nice bike, mate” from the kids in the town centre.
Do I care? I do not. If I was cycling to look cool, then I would be pootling around Clerkenwell on a fixed-gear bike and wearing an ironic T-shirt. The reason that I started cycling was purely practical. At the start of December I moved to St Albans, a house a mile away from the Thameslink station. My office is about the same distance from the City Thameslink at this end. Bicycling both ways saves me about 20 minutes a day.
A folder was the obvious solution, and a Brompton was the best – you can fold it up and bung it behind the seats on the train. I went for the two-speed version, which is fine for central London.
As well as saving me time, my cycling has also helped me lose the little pot-belly that has been a permanent feature since I turned 30. Ten miles of cycling a week, plus journeys across town to meetings, is actually quite a lot of cardio. And time goes by far faster when you are watching for taxis and motorcycle couriers pulling out in front of you than staring at the metres tricking slowly upwards on a treadmill.
I’ve got three pieces of advice for the new cyclist. One, get some serious wet-weather chain lubricant – even in spring, rainy days can be guaranteed. Two, if you buy a new bike, get it from someone offering a free one-month service. Bikes are machines, and all machines have squeaks and teething problems. Get them smoothed out.
And thirdly, make sure you are visible. My fluorescent orange jacket has been mocked in the office – when I put it on people cover their faces and cry “my eyes!” as though I’m Indiana Jones opening the Ark of the Covenant – but when you are negotiating Old Street roundabout, you feel far less silly.
EXPERT VIEW | MARK ANTHONY, PERSONAL TRAINER
Cycling burns calories, boosts stamina and gets the heart rate up, and being outdoors also has psychological benefits. One of the most important factors is that it exercises the heart with very little shock to the muscular system. The heart will typically reach 80 per cent of its maximum rate even while your legs aren’t too exhausted, which makes it a particularly effective general exercise.
The key to getting started is motivation. Set a regular time to cycle and stick to it, rather than leaving it unplanned. When you get home make sure you do some gentle stretches too, and eat a meal that’s high in protein and complex carbs.
In two or three weeks you’ll notice an increase in cardioendurance, energy levels and lower body strength. All of the muscles are used in cycling but in particular the quadraceps, the muscles on the tops of the legs and the gluteus muscle group in your bottom. But your upper body also gets a workout at the higher intensities by stabilising your core when on the bike to stop you from rocking side to side.
Listen to Mark Anthony’s fitness podcast at www.markanthonysuk.com