Getting into road cycling is often daunting for beginners, particularly those based in London.
In this Q&A we speak to Yewande Adesida (Yewie) who, having started cycling in 2016, is now racing for the sprint team SES Racing. As a recent convert to cycling, Yewie is keen to help others in and advocates for better representation of women and people of colour within the sport. She was one of Cycling UK's 100 Women in Cycling.
As a recent convert to cycling, Yewie she clearly remembers what it was like to first clip in. In this article she shares more about her journey into racing, as well as her favourite cycling routes in North London and road cycling tips for beginners in London.
1. Tell us about you and how you got into cycling
I switched over to cycling from rowing in 2016 with the intention of racing on the track. I had spent six years as a rower and decided I wanted to try something different when I finished my undergraduate degree.
Track cycling was a sport that was suggested, alongside Olympic weightlifting and athletics. I had done some cycling as cross-training and I wanted to keep lifting weights, so track cycling seemed like a good choice!
I had been thinking about switching to cycling quite a while before I did it because I had no idea how to get into racing and was too scared to pick a cycling club to join. I was lucky to meet a member of Velociposse at a track session in early 2017, who invited me to join. It was there that I found out about the Women’s League at Herne Hill Velodrome and was encouraged and supported to take part by other club members. This led to my first track race in April 2017 – I was hooked from there!
It was in 2020 when races were cancelled as a result of the global pandemic, that I started venturing out solo on roads closer to home and enjoying a side of cycling that didn’t involve competition.
Part 1: Cycling in London
2. Where are you based? What's the riding like?
I’m based in London (north of the river!) but it’s only really been this year that I’ve spent a bit more time cycling out of North London into Hertfordshire with the lack of racing or time on the track.
Closer to home there are some quiet back roads which can be good for an easy recovery ride, but not much more.
I find it quite easy to head up north out of London and ride in Hertfordshire which has some quiet lanes and pretty stunning views which make up for the hills you may come across.
3. What are your favourite North London cycle routes/climbs?
One of my favourite bike routes is one I found on the Dirty Wknd website which is just over 60km. I head out from home and join the route in North Finchley. I don’t particularly like climbing, but I think this route has a good balance and there’s a lovely village shop in Little Berkhamsted around halfway which is a great stop. Plus the covered bus stop across the road makes for a great place to sit out of the wind! You can find it on Strava here.
When I commuted to work I would head down Highgate Hill (the same hill as Swain’s Lane) and then dread the return journey, but I realised if I was able to get a clear run with the lights on the way back up then it wasn’t too bad! You can find it on Strava here.
When you're first starting out, finding a friendly local bike shop or cycling group (more on those below!) and getting their tips for great local routes can also be a good way to get going.
4. What’s your favourite easy cycling routes in North London (and why)?
If I want a ride that’s under an hour then I’ll do a small loop close to home that takes me through residential areas that aren’t too busy on a weekend morning. I like it because I can go out and spin my legs, while not encountering too much traffic or too many hills! It’s either that or head to Regent’s Park if I want something a bit longer with a stop for coffee and cake!
During the most recent lockdown, I discovered another Dirty Wknd route that takes you around the city. Even though it's titled as a "Lunch Spin" I used it on Sunday morning and loved how quiet the roads were. I thought this route was great because it was flat(!) and because I was able to check out some of the landmarks in London while I was on my bike.
5. Are there any good cycling clubs in North London?
The first club I joined was one just for women called Velociposse. It is based in East London and it is such a great environment for me to build my confidence and skills on a bike before getting into racing or not. Whether you want to race or just ride socially I’d recommend it for any woman who is looking for a fun, supportive environment and access to coached skills sessions to progress their cycling.
There is also the Women of Colour Cycling Group – most of the members are in London but there are others based across the UK too. Representation is important and often women of colour don’t see others that look like them and may feel alone in the sport. This group provides a network and safe space for them to connect with other women that look like them, whether to go for a ride or to just have a chat.
6. What are your best tips for road cycling beginners in London?
Don't feel it's necessary to pay to join a club straight away. Many offer intro rides so you can get a feel for riding in a group and getting to know other riders.
If you already know someone that cycles, then ride with and learn from them. I used to (and still do) worry that I’d slow someone else down on a ride but if they’re offering to go for a ride with you then they’re happy to ride at a pace you feel comfortable with! I think that’s really important to remember. Not every ride needs to be a smashfest.
Failing that, figure out when the roads are quiet near you and use that time to practice positioning yourself on the road, so you feel more comfortable and build confidence for when you head out on future rides.
If you’re willing to travel by tube (yes you can take your bike on the tube!) or car then you have a much larger choice in where you can ride in London – the first place I cycled was in Richmond Park, getting there and back by tube. Even when I was on my own I felt comfortable in the park because there were a lot of other cyclists too, I didn’t have to worry about traffic lights or turning right across traffic.
I cycle a lot now in Regent’s Park too – it’s also got a bit of a cycling community to it. If you pick the right time then it’s not always too busy. Even though there are lights to contend with, it’s a much flatter terrain than Richmond and a shorter loop which is nice if you want something easier. People tend to use the inner circle for practicing skills as there is a lot less traffic there compared to the outer circle.
A final option is to try a closed road circuit like Lee Valley Velopark or Redbridge Cycling Centre where you don’t have to worry about traffic and can just focus on skills.
Part 2: Tips on road cycling for beginners
7. Tell us more about your experiences when you first started cycling
I did a bit of cycle commuting in my final year of rowing as it was much easier to get to university on time after morning training, but it was quite a short commute and the first time I did it I followed a couple of friends (you might be starting to sense a theme here!).
I was probably more nervous about riding in London when I switched over to cycling. Suddenly I had a much further distance to travel to get to cycling sessions.
Riding across London seemed terrifying to me so when I joined Velociposse I would take my bike on the tube or overground over to East London which meant I had a much shorter distance to ride to any meeting points.
I was scared of cars, making my way through traffic and getting lost. This meant that I rarely rode solo and would meet up with someone as I didn’t feel comfortable riding on my own and didn’t really know many routes. Joining that club was incredibly helpful for building my skills and confidence on a bike and connecting with people who I still ride with now after leaving the club.
Getting a Garmin that allowed me to upload routes and follow a map gave me much more confidence when it came to using my bike to get to places in London, but it wasn’t until we were put into our first lockdown in March 2020 and we were forced to exercise solo, that I started riding outside of the capital on my own.
Traffic doesn’t bother me so much now, sometimes I feel quite smug being able to weave my way through the cars. As for aggressive drivers, it still does bother me but I know how to position myself better on the road to take up space, which helps me feel a bit more confident when heading out.
8. Do you think cycling training plans are helpful for beginners? Did you use one?
I think it depends on your previous sporting background. For example are you totally new to sport generally or are you a beginner cyclist that is used to structure from another sport?
A training plan can be off-putting for some, but it could be a good idea to have a routine of going to a group ride, skills session or yoga class once a week and then building up from there.
I didn’t use one initially, I just enjoyed riding as and when. When I started to take racing more seriously, I moved towards a structured approach. I think as you start riding more, having a training plan can be good to make sure you’re factoring in recovery as well as increasing the stress you’re putting on your body.
9. Beginner cyclists often worry about what kit and cycling clothing they need. What do you recommend?
Invest in a pair of padded cycling shorts! You want to be comfortable while riding your bike and that might go with a saddle change too.
However, don’t feel like you have to have all the gear straight away. Things like proper cycling shoes, clipless pedals and full on lycra bib shorts can follow later - to start off with flat pedals and a basic pair of padded shorts will do.
I repurposed a lot of my old rowing kit (e.g. leggings over padded shorts and using the outer layers over cycling kit) so that’s an option if you have other sports kit.
I find a gilet to be a really versatile piece of kit that you can wear most of the year– normally they’re packable and they’re good for keeping your core warm.
10. Any final words of wisdom/road cycling tips for beginners?
Seriously, make sure you enjoy riding your bike, whether that’s riding with friends or planning a great coffee stop.
A few things to remember for your ride
As well as the bare essentials like a helmet and an emergency repair kit/puncture repair kit (spare tube, tyre levers, multi tool), always carry an extra layer for when you stop (planned or unplanned).
An emergency snack is also a good shout – coming across a closed café or having to ride a further distance is not ideal, but having something to keep you going will make it a little better!
Changing a flat tyre
On the subject of repair kits, don’t feel you need to know how to repair everything that could go wrong with your bike. Chances are you won’t be going too far from your door early on and can always phone a friend, call a taxi or hop on public transport…
That said, it’s worth finding out how to change a flat tyre - not just in theory, but actually give it a go at home so you can be confident you’d know what to do if it happened while you were out.
Road bike tyres can be quite hard to get back on the rim, so try out those tyre levers from the comfort of home!
Buying road bikes: tips on where to start
Buying a road bike can be a minefield and also a lot of money to spend.
If you’re unsure about getting a road bike then trying one out at a road circuit (like the ones I mentioned earlier can be a good start). Or if you’re lucky enough to have a cycling friend or someone in the family who rides bikes they might be willing to let you try it out.
If you are sure about getting a bike, the best thing is to be informed – ask cycling friends for advice, speak to a local bike shop, have a look on forums etc. before purchasing one so you know what to look for.
The Cycle to Work Scheme can be a good way to purchase a bike but you can also go second hand – that’s how I got my first road bike. It doesn’t need to be fancy! I raced and won road crits on an aluminium frame bike that I spent £500 on and people I raced against certainly had nicer and lighter equipment.
The main thing is to get started and leave upgrading and spending too much money until you know you’re hooked!
A big thank you to Yewande for taking the time to share her insights. If you've got any questions for her or us, just drop them in the comments below!
cycling Box Hill, Leith Hill and friends