We've been busy getting geared up for this year’s London to Amsterdam event. During a short break from event preparation we met up with former footballer and first time L2A cyclist Matt Holland who had some questions for our Head of Events and resident cycling enthusiast Andy Sallnow.

13 Feb 2015

Matt Holland for Men United

So Andy, now I've signed up which kind of bike should I choose for London-Amsterdam?
Without any doubt, the best bike to use for the 140 mile London-Amsterdam challenge is a road bike. Far better than the heavier hybrid and mountain bikes, road bikes (also sometimes called ‘racing bikes’, though not that often, these days) have thinner tyres and lighter frames, as they are designed to be as efficient as possible when cycling on tarmacked roads, as opposed to trails or poorly paved paths.

I see, what do I need to know about ‘Road Bikes’?
Along with the lighter frame, the thing anyone new to riding a road bike has to get ‘to grips’ with, is the handlebars. ‘Drop’ handle bars visually resemble rams horns (slightly), and are designed that way to be more aerodynamic, as they force a more compact position on the bike, reducing the frontal area exposed to the wind (technical bit over). They give three different choices of hand position, which are ‘the drops’, ‘the hoods’ and ‘the tops’ – here’s a handy video made by GCN Cycling to explain each of them. Each position has a benefit, so take a look to see what’s best for different scenarios.

Anything else?
Yes – a couple of other handy points to keep in mind. Depending on which brand gears you have on your bike (Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo and FSA are the main ones), you’ll have to get used to different ways of changing your gears up and down. All modern bikes use gear shifters that are either around or connected to the brakes. Older or retro bikes still use ‘down tube shifters’, which are located underneath the handlebars, on the part of the frame that connects the handlebars to the rest of the bike. Once you’re used to riding a road bike and using your gears, the next thing to make cycling easier and more efficient is to switch to ‘clipless’ pedals, which allow you to connect your shoes to the bike (using specially designed - and compatible - shoes and pedals). This does take some getting used to, but uses your momentum more efficiently, so should be seen as an easy way to get better (without having to do any training).

Are there any other top tips you can give to first time riders like me looking to take on a challenge?

Yes, I’ve put together some top tips to help make the most of your rides.

Andy’s top five tips for beginners getting on your bike:

1. A bike that fits - choose your bike carefully. There are no sums or equations that can guarantee your bike fits well. Although they can help, you need to try it out in practice to make sure it actually fits you. Subtle changes can be made to saddle height and you can switch the stem of your bike, but the frame needs to be roughly the right size to begin with. Be wary of well intentioned gifts offers of friends giving you their bike on loan, as riding on a mismatched bike can cause injuries.

2. What your bike's made of - when buying a new bike, first ask yourself what you need it for. If you're more up for commuting to work and chilled out weekend jaunts in the countryside, then you don't need a 6.5 kilo Tour de France worthy masterpiece. Decent road bikes are available from £200 (or cheaper second hand), and typically the more expensive bikes only justify their high price tags by low weights, with a couple of kilograms making the difference between an £800 and £8,000 bike. Although carbon is the lightest frame material, it's also the most expensive. Cheaper aluminium and steel options can do the trick, and are even likely to feel more comfortable on longer rides.

3. Switching gear - you'll have a few options in the brand of gears you go for, as well as the gear range itself. The choices are the standard '53-39 tooth', compact, or triple chain rings (these are big rings of your gears, connected to your cranks, which connect to your pedals), as well as various gear ranges on the cassette (the cogs on the rear wheel). Compact and triple chainrings give the option of lower gears (less effort required per revolution), so consider those if you're planning on cycling in hilly areas, or if you just prefer to use lower gearing.

4. Spares and maintenance - always carry a basic kit of two spare inner tubes and tyre levers to help remove tyres. Changing an inner tube is not easy to being with, but it does get easier. The one benefit of getting a puncture is that it's the perfect opportunity to practice this art.

5. Get your mates involved - that doesn't necessarily mean tandems, although it definitely can. Do any of your friends cycle? Riding with others is a great way to get more out of cycling, and take advantage of the fact that it's a really social sport. Even if you're unlucky enough to have no cyclists - or wannabe cyclists - as friends, your mates can still get in on the act. Framing your training around riding to a friend's place that's pretty far away is a great excuse to a) see your friend b) have a bike ride and c) have some cake/brownies to celebrate.

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