Once upon a time riding a bike was something I did to get to a friend’s house. Said friend lived colossal distances away. About 200 of your adult metres.
We would go on bike adventures that strayed a massive 500 metres from our homes. We were 7 years old and bikes were something to play with. Not exactly what you might call a cyclist.
For many this is where our relationship with the bike ends. A tiny minority stick with their two-wheeled friend but most progress to sex, drugs and rock & roll before er, progressing to cars, a mortgage and buying bikes for their own kids.
Yet an increasing number of us are rediscovering the humble bicycle. This makes me happy. Although I’ve always cycled, mostly as a commuter, I followed a similar journey myself many a year ago.
Cycling begins as a crazy notion of going for a bike ride and before you know it you’re wearing Lycra, carrying bananas on your back and riding insane distances.
Here then are the seven stages of becoming a cyclist. Which stage are you at?
Stage 1 – First Time Cyclist
For some it will be commuting. For others it will be a seemingly mad charity ride. Some rediscover the bicycle for fitness and others are cajoled by their weird friend who wears revealing clothes and disappears every Sunday morning.
My story began in 2010. I was commuting daily by bike when my brother invited me to ride a sportive with him. Sure I said, not thinking much of a 90 mile ride that was “around Reading” as I was told, or the exhausting Chiltern Hills, as I now know better. If I can ride 10 miles a day surely I can ride 90 was my thinking. Muppet.
Worried my £35 ebay bike wouldn’t make it, I bought another second-hand bike on ebay for £650, which at the time felt like a substantial amount of money (still does in fact). I gave no consideration to bike frame size, components, brand or anything much. I simply liked the colour. This bike is still my best bike today.
With no training, I set off. Boy, did I hurt and struggle on that ride. The bottom bracket on my newly acquired bike gave out within the first ten miles and so I crunched and slumped my way to the finish line!
First Time Cyclist key characteristics
- Rides any old cheap bike you can get your hands on
- Rides in jeans
- Cannot change from the big ring to the little ring without dropping the chain
- A penchant for homemade cycling gear – a bin bag with a hole in it is considered waterproofing
- Only thing they measure on a ride is how far they ride and how numb their ass is (very)
- Rides as the crow flies where possible. Direct. ‘A’ roads are good.
- Takes no food and water on long rides (anything over 20 miles at this stage)
- A puncture is a life changing event – what the hell am I supposed to do? I neither know how to fix this puncture nor do I have the tools
- Willingly signs up to monster sportives without the fitness and then worries about it but completes it anyway
- Thinks ‘cycling gear’ begins and ends at a ‘bike’
- Avoids hills or walks up them
- Never cleans bike or lubes chain
- Average speed of 14 mph
- Top speed of 15.5 mph coasting downhill
- Tyre pressure is measured using thumb test. It’s always good.
- 60 rpm average cadence (what’s cadence?)
- Pre ride nutrition: burger and beer
- Ride nutrition: burger and beer
- Post ride nutrition: burger and beer
- Overheard before a ride: Why am I doing this?
- First thing they do after a ride: complain about their sore butt
- Cycling season: August and bank holiday weekends
Stage 2 – Beginner Cyclist
After my sportive I began riding moderate distances at the weekend in search of more cycling freedom and er, speed. My range soon hit 50 miles and I believed I was ready for anything. My bike felt like a smooth speed machine compared to my rusty commuter bike.
I rode 100 miles from London to Southend and back. In my jeans. It was a very hot day and I thought I was pro eating very sticky prunes from my er, backpack. My jam sandwich was also not in the best of condition. Still at least I was taking things seriously enough to bring along some Lucozade.
Adventurous, I set off on a three-day ride from London to the Norfolk Broads and was introduced to the concept of a headwind and riding in the rain. My backpack was not very aerodynamic. It was also very difficult to read the handwritten directions on my arm or use the soggy paper maps printed out from the internet. Despite stopping at every junction for directions and breaking the front dérailleur (damn you ebay!) I somehow made it home.
Beginner Cyclist key characteristics
- Bike repairs are conducted with either a hammer or a screwdriver
- Being prepared is remembering to buy Lucozade. The ‘Sport’ version not the ‘ill’ version.
- Discovers the joy of B roads
- Cycle clothing is wearing shorts
- Backpack is the equivalent of very roomy jersey pockets
- Paper maps and getting lost are part of the adventure
- Gets more punctures in a day than most do in a year due to pinch flats
- Half of the contents of the shed are carried in backpack
- Bonks for the first time and vows never to cycle again
- Bike maintenance is inflating the tyres and spraying WD40 everywhere
- Average speed of 14.5 mph
- Top speed of 21 mph pedalling downhill, oh yeah!
- 65 rpm average cadence (what’s cadence?)
- Pre ride nutrition: Toast and a sip of Lucozade
- Ride nutrition: Jam sandwich and Lucozade
- Post ride nutrition: Fish and chips, more Lucozade
- Overheard before a ride: This’ll be easy
- First thing they say after a ride: That wasn’t easy and boy my thighs are red raw from those jeans
- Cycling season: May – August, weekends only
Stage 3 – Amateur Cyclist
With loads of miles in my legs (about 300!) I was ready for anything. After a short winter break (September to May) I psyched myself up for the ride of a lifetime. My grand plan was to ride from London to Spain. In two weeks. Solo. To this day I do not know where this notion came from. It just felt like the right thing to do.
Enjoying my second year of cycling I had learnt a lot of cycling lessons the hard way. I bought a set of cheap Lycra shorts and a jersey. After much deliberation and confusion I even took the massive and scary leap of buying shoes that would fix my feet to the pedals. Going clipless was a terrifying prospect.
The big cycle tour? I made it to Spain in ten days, riding on average of 100+ miles plus each day on a bike ride I will never forget. The man with the hammer and I became close friends and this was the ride from which point I knew I was a cyclist. Fantastic.
Amateur Cyclist key characteristics
- Knows to take spare innertubes on a ride. Preferably five of them.
- Backpack is replaced by panniers for cycle touring
- Believes himself to be a ‘bike engineer’ because he changed brakepads
- Falls off bike very slowly when stationary at traffic lights (damn you new clipless pedals)
- Thinks being aerodynamic is sitting up in a tailwind
- Has learnt how to drink water whilst still pedalling. Still dribbles down chin though
- Masters the art of the snot rocket
- Can now brake without skidding
- Rides no handed eating a banana and pretends to be pro
- Finally understands why bike handlebars have drops
- Worried about slow cadence without really understanding why
- Eats peanut butter sandwiches and bananas
- Has a Garmin for directions and measuring average speed and distance travelled
- Average speed of 16 mph
- Top speed of 33 mph downhill
- 85 rpm average cadence (must work on that)
- Pre ride nutrition: 2 rounds of toast and a coffee
- Ride nutrition: Peanut butter sandwich and water
- Post ride nutrition: As much food as you can find
- Overheard before a ride: I’m aiming for 16.5 mph average speed today
- First thing they do after a ride: Check their average speed
- Cycling season: April – September, weekends only
Stage 4 – Proper Cyclist
After riding over 1,000 miles in ten days, I barely cycled again for the remainder of 2011. Resting of course. Come 2012 I considered myself a fully fledged cyclist because I owned one set of Lycra and could cycle clipped in to my pedals without falling over.
Dedicated, now I was cycling every weekend and cycling 100 miles became routine as my average speed (still my yardstick) crept up to 17 mph plus depending on the length of my ride. I developed a taste for hill climbing for some unknown reason and began seeking the biggest, steepest hills I could find. A sense of competition hit me and now I was riding hard round local cycling routes to measure myself against others.
Proper Cyclist key characteristics
- Has developed a Haribo addiction – thanks Wiggle!
- Strava becomes a thing
- Rides tyres pumped to Max PSI
- Has a ‘system’ for applying chafing creme
- Begins to log elevation gained as well as average speed
- Has named bike
- Discovers layering is the key to keeping warm
- Rides roads not on a map, stubbornly refusing to change route no matter how bad the surface
- Talks about gear ratios way too much
- Still can’t index gears
- Bores others with talk of monster rides
- Diet is all about carbs and prone to overeating
- Riding with a hangover is endurance training
- Has bought a massage stick but is not quite sure what to do with it
- Runs up escalators because it’s good training
- An interval is riding as hard as you can, everywhere
- No longer needs map for local roads but still gets lost
- Every ride with another is a race, even his girlfriend
- Average speed of 17 mph plus
- Top speed of 56 mph rolling down a very steep hill with panniers
- 90 rpm average cadence (cracked it!)
- Pre ride nutrition: 3 rounds of toast and a coffee
- Ride nutrition: Lots of horrible energy gels
- Post ride nutrition: As much pasta as you can eat
- Overheard before a ride: Are my thighs getting bigger?
- First thing they do after a ride: Check segments on Strava
- Cycling season: April – December, weekends only
Stage 5 – Avid Cyclist
I’m now well and truly a cyclist. There can be no denying it. My year round tan lines don’t lie. As far as possible I plan my life around riding. Holidays near famous climbs. Nights out combined with rest days. I study the weather more than sailors and read more maps than a budding boy scout.
My Lycra collection rivals that of the Marvel Comic archives. I wear cycling specific everything. I’ve got different clothes for different weathers, glasses with different lenses, shoe covers of varying insulation. And let’s not even talk gloves.
I finally understand watching cycling on TV and even enjoy it. My bike collection grows and I take more than a passing interest in mountain biking, track riding and cyclocross.
Avid Cyclist key characteristics
- Returns to B roads because they are quicker
- Obsesses about the correct tyre pressure
- Looks the business. Kit always matches
- Spends longer planning the perfect route than riding it
- Has two bikes
- Has moved best bike from shed to bedroom
- Thinks The Rules are a thing
- Finally learns how to index gears
- Spends an inordinate amount of time concentrating on the perfect pedal stroke
- Refuses to drop into the small chainring because he’s strong, even at 26 rpm on steep hills
- Says ‘chapeau’ a lot, much to the annoyance and confusion of friends and work colleagues and the bloke behind the bar
- Films and measures every ride, including the pootle to the shops
- Off the bike, wears shorts on cold days to show off calves and cycle tan
- Eats gels for lunch and sips on electrolytes throughout the day
- Heart rate monitor is worn more than it should be. Obsesses over HR rate
- Average speed of 18+ mph
- Top speed is still 56 mph as I’m no longer crazy
- 98 rpm average cadence (too high but I don’t know this yet)
- Pre ride nutrition: Porridge, lots of the stuff, and a coffee
- Ride nutrition: Malt loaf and bananas, and water
- Post ride nutrition: As much food as you can find
- Overheard before a ride: A solid threshold and endurance ride awaits
- First thing they do after a ride: Stretch, shower, eat
- Cycling season: Every day, rest is an alien concept
Stage 6 – Serious Cyclist
A few years later and I discover the joy / pain of cycle training programmes. I learn to speak a new language full of acronyms to describe the various interval sessions I’m now riding weekly.
I have a spreadsheet with every ride for the next 12 months mapped out. I have targets. I am a machine, a scientist, my own coach. I’m way too serious about the whole thing.
At this point competitive cycling should be introduced but that’s not for me. I ride for solitude, for space. I just like to do that as quickly as I can.
I’ve finally discovered the joy of rest and not always having heavy legs. I can ride in zone two without the temptation of nailing every stretch of road. Speed is no longer my concern. It’s all about power now. And panache. I’m invincible. Although I’m still working on my pedalling ‘technique’.
Serious Cyclist key characteristics
- Touches thighs more than he should to check how they’re feeling
- Spends more time riding indoors than out
- Talks about the same road in the Alps only they have ridden whenever you mention a climb
- Has carbon everything
- Measures resting heart rate more than he should and often quotes low numbers out loud to amaze nobody but himself
- Skinnier than when he was 14
- Spends an inordinate amount of time lying on floor with feet raised high
- Spreadsheets dictate his life ride
- Actively seeks headwinds
- Calls any day not riding hard a recovery day and any day not riding a rest day
- Obsesses about carb and protein ratios
- Drinks coconut water and pretends to enjoy the taste
- Constantly worried about form and fitness even though he doesn’t compete
- Has 23 cycling caps
- Says things like bidon, anaerobic, lactate threshold. A lot.
- Ignores all numbers except for those measured in watts
- Cleans bike thinking it will make him quicker
- Obsesses about weight, has cut brake pads in half on hill climbing bike to save vital few grams
- Talks about riding with panache to anybody who will listen
- Is not sure what riding with panache actually is. Riding with one eyebrow raised perhaps
- Average speed: who cares? My FTP is 298.
- Top speed of 56 mph downhill, still
- 92 rpm average cadence (after much experimentation)
- Pre ride nutrition: Eggs, toast and a coffee
- Ride nutrition: Soreen, bananas and water
- Post ride nutrition: Protein and carb blend, nutrition drip
- Overheard before a ride: This will be a steady state ride with a bit of endurance and anaerobic thrown in to lift my FTP
- First thing they do after a ride: Analyse and pretend to understand the 37 lines on the post ride graphs in Golden Cheetah or TrainingPeaks
- Cycling season: January – December. Days dictated by the spreadsheet.
Stage 7 – Seasoned Cyclist
The natural resting place of all cyclists. No longer kids himself he’s training for anything and just rides. Swiftly, after all these years. Enjoys overtaking younger cyclists who don’t seem to understand how someone on a touring bike with panniers is overtaking them. Uphill.
Considers himself a plodder, only because he has learnt not to chase everything that moves. Has no ride plan other than to get lost and enjoy the scenery. Looks forward to the mid ride coffee almost as much as the post ride coffee.
His GPX is his brain, riddled with routes he’s been riding for years. Rides often and rides far, not that he’s counting.
Seasoned Cyclist key characteristics
- Can repair most things on the bike using a cable / zip tie
- Remembers mechanical gears
- Bike is what others call vintage but he thinks is still relatively new
- Ancient steel bike is in better condition than your three-week old carbon racing machine
- Never seen out of breath
- Uses bike to get everywhere
- A short ride is 75 miles
- Cadence remains the same no matter what the terrain. Smooth
- Always takes waterproofs, just in case
- Knows every cafe within a 115 mile radius
- Point to any spot on a map and he’ll have a story about a bike ride on those roads
- Wears cycling gear even when not cycling
- Large saddle bag is essential kit
- Flask of coffee replaces bottle of electrolytes
- Thinks being aerodynamic is waxing his beard
- Has more bike tools than your local bike shop
- Average speed? As long as it takes
- Top speed: see above
- average cadence: see above
- Pre ride nutrition: Whatever I fancy
- Ride nutrition: Cake
- Post ride nutrition: Whatever I like
- Overheard before a ride: I’ll amble over to the lanes and take it easy down to the canal
- First thing they do after a ride: Check images of the scenery from their ride. All 57 of them.
- Cycling season: Whenever I feel like it. Which is most of the time
So where are you at in your cycling development? Beginner or pro?