Of all the roads, riding along a main road is not my favourite.
I discuss my cycling a lot with friends and in the last week I’ve actually had the same response from a few of them . . . it’s been mentioned that whilst they’d love to start cycling, riding along main roads really puts them off, & this is a concern that I totally understand.
I think most cyclists would agree that the best routes are those that wind through the quiet country roads. Even the cycle path I find a bit hectic – it can become very busy, with people – and people, especially the little kind, are unpredictable! An obstacle in the form of a child on the cycle path literally turns me into the most nervous cyclist; you never know quite what they’re going to do – which way they might dart, and so I always approach with what’s probably over-the-top caution. Then there are the dogs, other cyclists, joggers . . . It’s just too much. Country roads are wonderful and they’re pretty much yours – you might have to share with the odd car or horse every now and then, but generally it’s an open road that is yours for the taking! Unfortunately, to get to such roads, riding along a main road is often a requirement.
I was never necessarily scared when on a main road, I just wasn’t relaxed. I think my fear was that I was just going to get in the way or something, maybe still with the view that the roads belong to the cars. It could be for this reason, but whenever I turned onto a main road I felt like I had to ride at a much faster pace – like “you’re not on the cycle path now, let’s get to pedalling!” – I did, and to a certain extent still do, feel this weird sense of pressure.
Then there are the road obstacles; cars are the obvious ones, but it’s the pot holes that are your real enemy. I have yet to master the pot hole situation – I either; notice them too late and so bump along directly over them, see them, but too late to adjust my route accordingly… and so bump along directly over them, or I’ll see ahead that my partner is pointing at something, only to get to where he was pointing and bump along a nice long line of them, all whilst trying to see what he was pointing at! If I manage not to go over them, I just end up scratching my face along the hedgerow as to avoid cycling out any further into the road. It’s generally an uncomfortable experience whichever way it happens. I recently asked my partner what the best thing to do was, I know I should be going around them – out into the road, but I worry again about the traffic. He advised to simply signal that I’m coming out, before then doing so – sounds simple enough but I think for this to work, I need to be processing my surroundings far more in advance than I currently am!
Even worse than a main road and some pot holes, is a main road that is going downhill. My ‘fast pace on the roads’ rule does not extend to a downhill main road, no no. The breaks go on and I piddle down slower than the turtle that won the race. ‘Cautious Cathy’ all the way. I am trying to improve my pace on the downhill’s, as I really do take the slowness to another level, and for no logical reason – I’ll be frank and admit that I am honestly just scared to go fast downhill! & this fear does nothing for my average speed!
A few weeks ago I had to tackle some rather busy main roads whilst out with a friend. I was nervous initially as prior to this ride I’d only ever cycled with my partner. It was great though and I realised I am actually far more confident on the roads than I use to be; elements where my partner would normally take the lead, such as alternating between being at the front and on the wheel, riding side by side, and pacing each other etc, all came far more naturally than I anticipated they would, showing me that I have in fact learnt a lot over the last 10 months.
Roads are obviously a big part of road cycling, but it is a daunting experience to begin with. You do feel very exposed when you are not use to it, which of course you won’t be until you start to cycle regularly. My gaining confidence on the roads has come simply through riding them. I was lucky to have someone to learn from, but if I hadn’t, I would have definitely taken a road safety course. Joining a group ride, where you can learn the ropes from other, more experienced riders, is another option if you are starting out.
For the sake of comfort, do try to succeed where I often fail . . . avoid the pot holes!