My perception of bikes
I have been riding bicycles my whole life. My home town, Karditsa, is the most innovative Greek city when it comes to bikes; everyone owns at least one, people cycle instead of driving a car, and there are riding lanes for cyclists across the whole city.
My riding style is smooooooth
I considered my riding quite decent as I could cycle from home to my high school in under 12 minutes…record speed! I could also ride with one hand while holding an umbrella with the other (cool) and climb pavements without having to step off the bike (super cool), and successfully avoiding big holes on the ground (extra points!). My style was smooooooooth. Ok, my sister could ride with no hands but my style was better (hope she is not reading this).
A whole new world – the cycling world!
Until I met Toms; and realized that people can actually do much more on a bike. I will never forget the first time I saw him. Very tall (1.95cm), with a lean, well-shaped body, no hunching forward and very controlled, smooth movement. You see, I couldn’t figure out what kind of work out would give a tall guy such a physique. Was he a dancer? Nope, not really. It turned out he was a 4X MTB rider (at that point I had no idea what 4X is).
Well, he introduced me to the exciting world of cycling. I already knew events like Tour De France (pleeeeease… you thought I was that uneducated?) but it turned out there are so many other things out there. Downhill, BXM, Freestyle, this, that… so exciting! I started learning terms like back flip, front flip, bunny hop, whip (which apparently is different to kick out, right, right?) and that the different parts on a bike are as many as the stars; pretty much endless! You can also disassemble and reassemble a bike with your own hands, no bike shop required. Wow!
I started getting into that whole thing and even enjoying events like the 2013 BMX European Championship in Riga, where I had the chance to see the two time Olympic BMX Champion, and the Nitro Circus show in Birmingham. I managed to cycle along the BMX track in Ventspils, Latvia as part of my training (it’s not funny… I am really trying here) and have even started riding the red parts of tracks like the ones at Cannock Chase, where I almost died of exhaustion the first time I went.
What I have learned about bikes
Here are some of the things I discovered in my new venture:
- Stopping the bike with just the front break, especially if you are riding relatively fast is a very, very bad idea. My experience says (not that it has actually happened to me, I’m just saying) that doing so will send you flying up in the air, and if you are lucky enough you will get away with just a huge bruise on your thigh (not that it was my thigh).
- Learning to switch the gears properly is crucial; that’s why they are there anyway! Try to climb up with a heavy gear and you might find yourself rolling backwards. Changing the gears correctly gives you power. Yes, you can actually climb up without getting five heart attacks in a row.
- You can change the flat tyre yourself, yes it is possible! Actually, there are a lot of things that need to be done to keep a good bike in the best possible condition. Learning the basics is very important. It will save you money and embarrassment when going to the bike shop and telling them with a bubbly attitude that “my pedal fell off…can you please help me Mr. bike man?”.
- You need to feel comfortable to pee in the woods. Mountain biking and toilets don’t really go together. My worst nightmare ever! I mean, for guys, it is so easy, no one will even notice. Being a girl, though, I need to take several steps and precautions to complete this task successfully. Find a spot which is well hidden from public view; somehow it ends up being the steepest and muddiest one. Drop the pants and try to lower the bum to the perfect angle. Not too low as the grass and whatever is coming out of the ground will start tickling, and not too high as you will probably go for the shoes. Once you get this part right, everything takes its natural course. If you by any chance have forgotten to bring tissues, don’t use the leaves! Shake it, shake it, shake it, and you are good to go!
- There is a difference between tricks and technical riding. For example, a back flip is a trick while jumping on a rock or riding down the stairs at the city centre and scaring people off is technical riding.
- Riding on the mountains is fun! Overall, riding off road is a wonderful experience and gives you the ability to see things you normally wouldn’t. If you are lucky enough like me, learning to ride technically will give you great satisfaction; same way kids feel when they have managed to eat the whole ice cream without dropping it on the ground.
Stretches to do after riding
Riding is definitely lots of fun but at the end of the day you’ll probably feel that not everything is quite in place. Here are eight yoga positions that will help you release the tension and make you feel as good as new. We do want to be able to ride again the next day, right?
- Downward facing dog
- Upward facing dog
- Low Lunge – bending the back knee will give you a deeper stretch
- Twisted Lunge
- Hero pose
- Forearm stretch
- Bow pose
- Child’s pose
Elongates and puts back in alignment the spine, stretches the whole back of the legs and relieves lower back tension. Keep your hands straight, send your hips high and gaze towards your knees. Try to send as much of your weight as possible towards your feet and let the heels fall towards the ground. It is also used as a transition to move from one posture to the next.
This position will help you expand the chest and shoulders, stretch your hip flexors and distress the lower back. Make sure you press your shoulders away from your ears and lift the chest towards the sky. Push your hips forward, as close to your palms as you can and lengthen from the crown of your head. You should be feeling your whole back working balancing out hunching forward during riding.
An excellent way to stretch your hips and quadriceps. Lower your hips as much as you can and keep sending your pelvis forward. This way, you will be able to stretch without putting your lower back in a vulnerable position. If your heel starts coming of the ground you need to place your foot further forward. Keep your chest broad and shoulders and neck soft avoiding leaning forward. Lengthen from the crown of your head and lift the back foot off the ground for a deeper stretch.
Stretches the hips and relieves sciatica pain. Lower your hips first, lengthen the spine and as you exhale twist to one side bringing the elbow out of the opposite knee. Make sure you twist your whole core instead of just moving your hands. Inhale and lengthen from the crown of your head, exhale and try to twist a bit more. The shoulders stay away from the ears and the head follows the movement of the body.
Kneel down and bring your feet further apart. Lower your hips and if you can’t sit all the way down place something under your hips to support them (for example a rolled jacket). The more you lean back, the deeper the stretch is. Don’t forget to lead from your navel back and make sure your knees are glued on the ground. If at any point you feel sharp pain you need to come out of the posture.
A good grip during your ride is essential but in most cases the forearms get quite sore. Here is the most effective way to release the tension: kneel down and place your palms on the ground turning the fingertips towards your knees. You should be feeling the stretch across your forearms. The further away from your knees you slide your palms the deeper the stretch will be. Be careful not to overdo it. Keep your shoulders and neck soft.
You will be able to expand your chest and shoulders and fight the back and neck tension coming from the riding position. You will need to activate the muscles across your whole back. Focus on keeping the chest open and your shoulders away from your ears. Roll your shoulders back and press your shoulder blades forward to allow expansion of the chest.
Everyone’s favourite position, releases lower back tension and offers a general sense of relaxation. Let your hips fall heavy towards your heels and you can start by walking your fingertips towards the opposite direction. A variation to completely relax your neck and shoulders would be to place your palms facing up next to your heels and melt towards the ground.