Fionntra’s Rough Guide

Starting – Children, Adults and Over 50’s – Learning to Balance.

The quickest, safest way to learn to balance is with a balance bike. These are produced for children. No cranks or pedals. The older child and adult can use this method too. The importance of this way is that it needs no supplementary support and no special equipment. Basically all you need is a scooter with a seat.

This can be achieved by taking the pedals, or better still, the chainset cranks and pedals off a bike and lowering the saddle until the riders feet are flat on the floor and knees just slightly bent. A ‘preloved’, cheap bike or even discarded one with working brakes will do the job. Re:Cycle may be able to help source one. Helmet and gloves are desirable safety clothing and so too are knee and elbow protectors.

Choose a pathway with a very gentle down-slope or flat path. Get someone to gently start you, holding and supporting the saddle behind the rider who scoots using both feet alternatively. Use them to prevent falls too. Learn to use the brakes too.

This replicates the very beginnings of the modern bicycle, the hobbyhorse. When you can coast with your feet up without support it is time for pedals and practice. Just plain pedals, no clips. The hobbyhorse can go surprisingly quickly when you get the hang of it!

Restarting – over 50’s, overweight, recovering from and managing illness.

If you can balance a bike and ride it, this is what I suggest you try. Whatever you think your fitness is, whether you are well, are overweight or have a medical condition, the first start is at the Doctors.

Visit the Doctor and tell him/her you want to start cycling again and ask if it is OK. Before you go it might help if you know your resting heart rate. First thing in the morning when waking is a good time to check. Find your pulse and count it against a watch for ten seconds and multiply it by six. Take the doctor’s advice.

Fionntra’s Suggested Restart Programme.

This was the programme that suited me. I puffed getting upstairs and was well overweight. I spoke to the doctor about cycling. He said, “Good idea, low impact, good cardio exercise and better fit and fat than thin and not! Be sensible about it and take it steady. Think about diet too”.

One of the first challenges of restarting cycling after a long break, about 25 years for me, was cocking my leg back over a saddle. I couldn’t. So it was a kerb side start. It is still awkward but getting easier now. Then there is getting a suitable riding position. As a re-starter, your bike may be OK as it is, but check it out any way.

Get someone to hold you on the bike. Sit on the saddle and put your heels on the pedals and twiddle the pedals gently backwards. The leg needs to be straight without being over-extended as your heels rest on the pedals at the bottom position while sitting squarely on the saddle, not wobbling side to side in the process. That is as good a start point as any. Adjust the saddle height until you can do that. Make sure the bike is safe and everything works. If it isn’t get it fixed. Better still learn a basic check so that you can determine any problem and fix or adjust it yourself.

Get on and ride. That’s it! But use the ball of your foot on the pedal obviously.

A simple Restart Programme for the unfit that worked for me.

The first step. The 1 mile out and 1 mile back routine.

Choose the flattest 1 mile from your house. Ride the mile out and see how you feel. If out of breath stop and admire the view until back to normal. Turn round at your mile point. Rest if out of breath until normal and then return home. Stop to admire the view if you get out of breath! Put the bike away until tomorrow. Repeat daily if you can for a week. You will have accumulated 14 miles and spent about 2 hours on the road. Missing the odd day or two doesn’t matter but do 7 rides before the next step up.

You will soon gather the rule is to stop and admire the view wherever you are if you get well out of breath and then wait until you have fully recovered before you restart. Don’t overdo these early rides. If you haven’t been on a bike for a few years you haven’t used the muscles. Don’t make it painful for yourself. Don’t put yourself at risk. Be prepared to walk. I always carry a phone and emergency details and contact. Just in case.

Second Step. Double up distance.

After a week or so you will be ready to step up, ride further and double your distance. If you feel the need of a companion for a solo ride ask around, there may be someone in the same position as you and riding with someone can be supportive for both of you. Try to do three 4 mile rides. Remember my rules for rides – stop and admire the view.

You will have done 26 miles in total so far and you may be getting bored, but by this time you will be amazed at the change in your fitness and I bet there won’t be many view stops! It’s double up time again.

Third Step. Breaking free

After this reintroduction period and at least 26 miles in total, pottering round the town, getting used to the traffic and keeping safe it is time to try the National Cycle Route 54 on the 10 mile or so round trip to Fradley Junction from Lichfield, a drink at a cafe and a return home. Use my rules. My first effort needed 3 stops outbound and 4 homeward. Try to do 2 of these rides in a week to achieve doubling your weekly mileage. Or a couple of round the town rides plus one to Fradley Junction.

After two or three 10 mile trips there your basic fitness will be improving rapidly and you will be ready to be more adventurous. Try the flatlands west of the A38 and the Mease Valley lanes with only one steep climb to try at Lullington. Stop and admire the view on your first go. Don’t try too hard. Listen to your body. You are on the way.

Want a challenge on the way home? Try Darnford Lane from Whittington to the City. Two nice hills. Stop and admire the view. Sometimes it really is worth looking at! Review your progress too. Look back down the road and see how far you’ve come.

Getting comfortable.

When you have been out the road a few times perhaps it is a good idea to review your riding position. Get an experienced rider have a look at you. Often the saddle is a little low. Mark the seat pillar/pin with a pencil and unloosen the bolt or clamp securing it. Raise the saddle by say 5mm increments until it feels most comfortable when pedalling with the ball of your foot on the pedal. Secure the bolt/clamp securely. Repeat until comfortable. See if it helps.

You can also move the saddle forward or back and its angle to make it more comfortable for you and you can move weight and body angle at a later date if you decide to break free. Don’t be afraid to fiddle and try changes but do note them! Pencil or permanent markers help.

Work rates for this programme.

Work rate is age related. There are recommended calculations as a basis. These can be found and followed for the serious on the web. If the Doc gives you limits for health reasons follow them. You may need a heart monitor. If I get well out of breath I slow down because I know for me personally that the edge of breathlessness is not to be exceeded for too long or I will need to stop and recover or I will exceed my limits. It can happen very quickly. Be aware and listen to your body. Stop and admire the view. It doesn’t have to be a competition or a race.

Where next?

Well to stay fit, some miles every week or else your basic fitness will reduce. Alongside the improvement in your fitness there are some beautiful views to enjoy around Lichfield and you can get to them entirely under your own steam. Cycling is good for your brain as much as your body. Enjoy it.

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