There are a lot of ways to get into cycling, and finding some local events can help you enjoy the sport, keep fit and meet new friends. Whether you’ve cycled all your life or you’re just starting out, we’ll take you through some of the basics you’ll need to know to get the most of your cycling adventures.
Types of cycling events
Depending on the type of exercise and challenge you want, there are many types of cycling events you can do, and there will definitely be one to fit your needs.
Road races, as you can probably guess, take place on the roads. This means the surfaces will be smooth, and speeds fast. There are some that will be quite flat, whereas others may challenge you with tricky uphill and downhill sections.
These can be done individually or as part of a team, and can range in length from just a few miles to hundreds. Others may be time or lap based, where you can see how far you can go in a certain time.
The most famous of these is the Tour de France, which takes place across multiple locations across a number of weeks. Before to jump straight into something like that, check out our listings for local events to get you started.
Sportive’s are very similar to a road race - they usually take place on roads, and across smooth environments that are easy to ride on. The main difference is that a sportive is not a “race” in the traditional sense. Instead of being first past the line, there are no winners and everyone measures their success by completing the whole course within the time limit.Because of this, sportives attract a lot of cyclist as they are a bit more of a relaxed environment, with your only real competitor being yourself.
There are many types of off road cycling events, including mountain biking, BMX biking, cross country and downhill.
Off road cycling requires more technical ability than other types, as you will encounter many obstacles, fast paced cornering, and will need to brake often to keep the bike stable.
These types of courses can be anywhere - down hills and mountains, through forests and woods or on purpose built dirt tracks. They are tricky, but exhilarating, and you won’t regret giving this type of event a go.
Cyclocross can best be described as a combination of all the above - the course normally include road sections, wooded areas, dirt tracks and other obstacles.
There are also often sections where you will need to get off the bike and carry it around an obstacle before jumping back on and continuing with the race. Because of this variety, cyclocross has become very popular and there are now many different events that take place throughout the year that you can take part in.
So you've chosen they type of event you’d like to do - now what about the bike?
Road bikes are designed to be lightweight, and ridden of smooth road surfaces. They will often have tyres that have very little, if any tread pattern and the wheels are normally very skinny.
The seat is normally quite high, with ‘drop’ type handlebars that will cause you to lean forward quite a lot when riding. There are normally fewer gears when compared to a mountain bike, and do not have suspension on either wheel.
Because of their design, they are only suitable for riding on good roads. The lack of suspension, skinny tires and fewer gears makes them impractical for any sort of off-road use. However, if you are going to sticking to roads, these are the fastest way to get around.
The opposite of road bike in almost all ways - heavier, designed for off use and featuring much larger wheels - these things crave dirt and trails.
Most will feature front suspension, and many now come with disk brakes on the wheels. The tires are normally much fatter, and most will have a knobbly tread to increase traction on dirt tracks. Many also feature more gears than road bikes, but are not as efficient on roads.
While you can use a mountain bike on pretty much any surface, their weight and tires means you won’t get as much speed on smooth surfaces as you can on a road bike. They also feature a upright cycling position, rather than having you leaning over, which reduces their aerodynamics too.
Cyclocross bikes are most like road bikes - light, lean and fast - burn feature wheels and tires that allow them to taken off-road and into a variety of environments.
You still have drop handlebars, a front leaning position, and as many cyclocross races require you to dismount and carry the bike, they normally are lightweight and easy to lug around.
As an all-rounder, cyclocross bikes offer the best of both worlds - fast, and able to go off road. However the seating position is designed for racing, so if you just want a relaxing ride you may not find it very comfortable.
BMX bikes are small, and designed specifically for small tracks, stunt or trick riding. They are popular due to their small size and can be used on pretty much any surface.
However their small wheels means they can’t offer the speeds of others bikes, but they are really good fun to ride.
A Hybrid bike is a road bike designed with comfort in mind. They use skinny, slicker tyres to keep moving fast, but have upright straight handlebars so your seating position is a lot more relaxed.
They typically will have a larger, more padded seat, a heavier frame, and some will also offer front suspension to deal with potholes and speed bumps.
When it comes to racing, they can offer more comfort for any less intensive rides and events, but they won’t be able to keep up with most road bikes.
When it comes to clothing, you’ll want to find something that offers comfort, whilst also helping to wick away sweat keep you cool.
If you’re riding longer courses, cycling shorts that have padding might become your best friend. Many people experience discomfort down below due to the shape of a bike saddle, so anything that provide a bit of cushioning will make all your riding experiences more enjoyable.
You’ll want to get yourself some protective gear too, especially if going off-road. A helmet is always top of the list, but consider gloves, knee and elbow pads, and maybe even shin pads if you’ve got metal pedals.
A pair of sunglasses will help too, but you’ll want to look at some riding glasses if you’re going at fast speeds - the wind will cause your eyes to tear up quickly if they’re not protected. You might also want to look into clip-on shoes and pedals too - these will keep your feet from slipping off the pedals, whilst still being easy to slip on and off.
Biking can be hugely enjoyable, but it’s not without its risks. The most common accident - coming off your bike - can easily be made safer with a helmet. Off-roaders might also consider padding around the body, as the floor can be littered with rocks, sticks or other dangerous things you don’t want to land on.
If you’re going on-road, and want to practise, you’ll need to keep yourself safe from other road users. Cars can be a threat, but bigger vehicles with poor back and side vision may not see you at all. Whilst many drivers will argue that you should stick to the side when you’re on the road, this can be dangerous due to grids, potholes, puddles, curbs, parked cars and pedestrians, so staying at least a metre or more out is often safer.
Ideally you should be given just as much room as any other vehicle, but this is often not the case. Before making any lane changes or going out into traffic, always look around to make sure it’s safe, and signal to say what you want to do Even if you have the right-of-way, you’re not protected by a two-tonne metal cage like a car driver is, so a second look will always help.
When you buy a bike, there are some things you’ll want to get along with it to make the overall experience better. A basic set of tools to loosen or tighten things is a must, as is a puncture repair kit just in case.
If you’re going to be storing the bike outside at any time, you’ll want to get yourself a bike lock too. While a sturdy bike lock is useful, nothings is really going to stop a determined thief - so maybe look at getting some bike insurance or check if it’s covered by your home insurance.
Saddle bags, tyre pumps and water bottle holders can also be attached for carrying small items. The accessories you’ll need will largely depend on what type of cycling you’re doing.
We have picked out the best cycling events taking place in 2017. We have lots more listings availbale, just click on the 'Cycling Events' tab at the top of this page to find them.
Cycling Weekly 125th Anniversary Ride
Organised by one of the UK's best cycling event providers (UK Cycling Events), this event is 125 Miles in distance which was for their 125th anniversary in 2016. The event was so popular they have decided to run it again this year. Featuring a 23% climb and a timed lap at the Oulton Park Circuit it's our top pick for 2017.
Find out more about the event here