Life & Living

The extra mile…

Rachel Gilbert explains why we should all get on our bikes.

Fitness has always been an escape for me. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t heavily involved in a sport of some type. In recent years, I took up triathlon and quickly got addicted. Cycling has become my favourite of the three disciplines in triathlon.

During the earlier stages of COVID and lockdown in England, I set myself a challenge to explore north Norfolk more by bike. I would set out riding and only take roads I had never been down before. Sometimes this ended in flat tyres on gravel roads, but mostly in unforgettable views and a bad cycling tan. 

One day towards the end of the summer, I set off in the early morning to combat anxiety. I didn’t stop riding until my brain slowed down. By the time I stopped I had ridden 103 miles, and I felt so much better mentally.

I love the freedom and empowerment cycling brings me, and the friends I have made through the sport. I want to share this joy and make cycling accessible to everyone — anyone can do this sport and love it. 

Cycling really is the most versatile sport — in addition to being a basic form of exercise, it is also transport, can teach basic mechanic skills and is a great way to escape. I find there is nothing more freeing than chucking on my helmet (please always wear one) and heading out for a ride. Here are some tips for how you can get out exploring on wheels.

Getting started

I will repeat it again before going any further — please, please always wear a helmet. Besides that, no special kit is needed, just a helmet and a bike. I recommend wearing closed top shoes at all times as well, safety first!

Depending on how far you plan on riding there are a few things to consider. Whether you are going at a leisurely pace, or really stomping the pedals, you are burning energy. Pack a bit of fuel in a rucksack or your pocket — my go to is a flapjack — and some water.

Although recent evidence would suggest otherwise, Norfolk can get very sunny, and unless you want to return from your ride looking like a double lolly, wear some sun cream. On the opposite end of the scale, consider taking a waterproof.

Before you set off, make sure your tyres are pumped up, and it might be wise to carry a spare, especially if going on the roads for some distance. It is easy to pick up small stones or flint on quiet Norfolk roads.

What bike should I get?

In my book, any type of bike will provide for a great day. If you already have your own, fantastic, get out there. If not, consider hiring one for the day. Best to try a few options to see if cycling is for you, or hiring is a great way to avoid dragging your bikes on holiday when you already have limited space in the car!

If you are looking to go off-road, a gravel or mountain bike are going to be solid options. The mountain bike will be more sturdy for the less experienced cyclist but will be slightly heavier and harder work.

For on-road cycling, Norfolk and Suffolk both have some fantastic routes for road bikes. If you would like to go a bit further but haven’t quite built up the fitness yet, an E-bike could be a great option for you. There are a variety of settings from full assist to partial, where the motor will only kick in if you drop below a certain speed and need a little help. E-bikes are a great way to keep a group together if some are less-experienced cyclists.

Where can I go?

It is widely agreed that the best rides end with coffee and cake so I can highly recommend starting or finishing at a coffee shop. A favourite amongst cyclists near the north Norfolk coast is Black Apollo Coffee House in Holt.

Another way to enjoy cycling is to include an ice cream or pub stop somewhere along the way. I like to cycle the coast road and stop for an ice cream in Hunstanton or Sheringham — a great way to explore the area. My favourite pub would definitely have to be my local — The Dun Cow in Salthouse — which has a big garden, plenty of room for a hungry group of cyclists.

If you are a family looking for something on closed roads, Holkham Park is the place to go. There is a cycle hire with options for family members of every size and age. You can hire bikes for a couple of hours or the full day, with plenty of time to explore the park and the surrounding nature reserve before returning to the park for a coffee in the courtyard cafe.

The past year has been so testing but it really did encourage so many people to get outside and enjoy fresh air activities. Whether this was you or not, I can’t recommend cycling enough. It is such a fantastic way to explore, get some exercise and learn some new skills.

Gather up some family or friends, pack a picnic and get out there on two wheels. Be sure to give me a
wave if you see a nice blue and orange bike pottering around the north Norfolk coast.

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