You Can Do It – Put Your Back In To It

They say you can do it if you put your back in to it but at the moment I am having issues with my back so that saying is not for me right now, but what can I do to change that?

I have had a bike fit but recently I have been having real issues with my lower back when cycling.  Tingling even to the point of numbness.  Not a terrible pain to stop me in my tracks but more of a dull ache that is uncomfortable and causes me to shift around in the saddle hoping the change in position helps.

So what could be causing it?  According to British Cycling there is no one issue but it could be related to poor mobility, conditioning or bike set up.  They have some great routines I have started doing for both:

Both of the above take just over 15 minutes in total so should be easy for me to include in my training and hopefully see some good benefits.

I have also found some great cycling specific yoga sessions online, including this one from GCN.

As I said I have had a bike fit and the set up on my bike is comfortable so I have spoken to some people around me who are more knowledgeable on the subject.

I have changed my training schedule and replaced my previous gym sessions with CrossFit, which I love and is great but I perhaps need to focus more on my core.  A physio I know suggested that the tingling and numbness would indicate it could be nerve related so I will be investigating that further with them.

Back issues on the bike are often related to a weak core and therefore improving core strength can see massive benefits.  So what sort of exercises does that include?  Things like:

  • glute bridges
  • planking – all variations including forearm, straight arm, with a leg lift, side plank and adapting to include the thread the needle exercise too
  • tabletop leg press
  • lying lateral leg lifts
  • cat/cow
  • supermans
  • scissor kicks
  • boat pose
  • single leg crunches
  • kettlebell swings
  • deadlifts
  • bent over rows

Back pain when cycling is also the biggest issue for most cyclists and according to Cycling Weekly:

‘Given how hard your legs work on the bike, it’s natural to assume that when an overuse injury strikes, it’s your knees that will be most vulnerable. Surprisingly however, the research says otherwise. It seems the biggest culprit is not knee pain in cyclists – it’s lower back pain.’

It can also arise from pushing big gears, especially when climbing, and anyone who has cycled with me knows that I am guilty of this and it is a running joke to shout cadence as my husband does to remind me of this very fact!

Cycling Tips have an article on lower back pain when cycling and their finishing quote just about sums me up.  So many people say will you stop cycling after an accident or injury – absolutely not!

‘Unless you want to swap your road bike for something with a bell and a basket, you need to be able to tolerate a forward-flexed position. The exercises described above are designed to help you achieve that position for longer and with less discomfort.  They’ll also help you improve your performance on the bike. Outstanding.’

So watch this space and I will let you know how I get on and if you’ve experienced something similar get in touch and share your tips please and thank you!

Hello Fresh

Back in June last year I completed a trial of Hello Fresh for Healthy Living London.  You can read the review here.

I was sceptical.  If I am honest I was thinking it would take some convincing for me to be converted.  Why was I sceptical?  I am a self confessed food snob and I was worried the food would not be fresh and it would be boring recipes that I would soon get bored of.  But I was happy to be proved wrong

Following the two week trial I was really impressed!  I even purchased the cookbook for my grandparents.  I then signed up to continue with the meals and over eight months later I am still a fan.

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I like being able to choose in advance what I want to have for upcoming weeks and that I can put on hold if I am on holiday and resume once back.

I found I got stuck in a rut before using Hello Fresh where I would be so busy with full time work and training alongside a family including a dog and often settle for a bagel for dinner and wonder why I woke the following morning wanting to eat everything in sight.

I genuinely haven’t had a bad meal since subscribing to Hello Fresh.  I have had an item missing and phoned and the customer service was great – very apologetic, credit added to my account that is then taken off future orders and sorted quickly.  For a period I did notice the portion size of the fish and sweet potatoes seemed to be getting smaller plus carrots seemed to be quite bendy but I provided some feedback and haven’t had a problem since.

It works perfectly for me and my family.  I have a husband, son, dog, full time job and train at least four times per week.  Being able to open the fridge and simply pull out a bag with everything I need and follow a clearly laid out recipe card step by step is a saving grace.  My husband and son also don’t eat meat and that has not caused a problem either – we always ate more fish than meat anyway but found the recipes easy to adapt and if I picked a meat one could almost always divide and do him a portion with some fish I would buy or vice versa.

All of the meals are created by the Hello Fresh chefs and nutritionists so I know what I am eating is good for me.  I don’t need to worry about portion size as you pre determine how many people you are cooking for.  It also keeps it interesting – in the time I have been having these meals I have not yet had the same one twice.

And all the packaging is recyclable and the bags and boxes come with cute little messages encouraging you to do just that and recycle them.

If you are tempted check out the website here and if you use the code LISATHA you get £20 off your first box too!

The only person I couldn’t convince was my step dad.  He said he is not keen on all that origami they sprinkle over everything – I think he meant oregano ha ha!

 

Sore downstairs? Yep I am going there!

Sensitive subject I know and a real pain in the arse (excuse the bad uncle jokes) but yes I am really going there.  It is a cycling truth for many so lets talk about saddle sore!

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I can’t talk on behalf of the men out there (though my husband assures me this is an issue for men also – sorry husband) but will be coming at this from a woman’s perspective (and I should note that this is based on my cycling experience and as with most things others may identify and some may not) and I think those reading this will probably fall into the following three camps:

  • don’t cycle and are thinking seriously she is actually talking about this, what is wrong with her?
  • totally get it and are thinking please let me in on the secret of never getting saddle sore again (spoiler alert is that I don’t have this and am looking for it myself)!
  • cycle and have no issue (b*stards the lot of you – spoken with pure jealousy as I do not fall into this camp but wish I did)

So what is saddle sore?  Well basically it is what it says on the tin, a sore undercarriage which is an uncomfortable by-product of cycling in different areas for most but from where your body comes into contact, or consistent pressure, with the saddle when riding.

There was an article in much of the news last week about para-cyclist, Hannah Dines, who revealed that she had undergone surgery after years of cycling caused swelling to her vulva.

I realise this is an extreme and the example is not in any way intended to scare monger but shows that this issue can range from slight soreness to much more serious consequences.

So what can be done to help?  There are several things actually:

  • saddles – a good saddle can make all the difference and a good supplier will also offer a saddle fit as part of the service to ensure you are getting a saddle that will suit you.  I recently purchased the Specialized Mimic saddle following a recommendation from a friend and the concept store in Chelmsford offer a fit as part of the service and you can use the saddle for 30 days to make sure it suits you.
  • go commando – this was one when I was first told that I wondered if I was being wound up but it is true with padded shorts there is no need for underwear so take those knickers off as it can cause friction and chaffing.
  • padded shorts – I don’t cycle without these, for comfort more than any other reason, and again personal preference comes into play here – some people don’t like the chamois pad, some prefer a thicker or thinner pad and so you need to find those that suit your needs.  Also wash them after every use – again yes I am going there, you are not wearing underwear, you are working up a sweat so lets keep it clean people and avoid any further causes for soreness.
  • chamois cream – again personal preference and some people don’t like using it but I personally find it helps to stop chaffing.  I found once I started I couldn’t stop.  Many friends from my tri club use sudo cream as it doesn’t wear off in the water, however, I have heard other opinions that thick creams like this can clog pores.  I was recommended using doublebase cream/gel by the lovely Lucy from Paddle Pedal Pace and it is fab – not a cycling specific product but the best I have used so far!
  • bike fit – I am an advocate of a good bike fit and some minor adjustments to your saddle position and height can make all the difference!  If you suffer with loss of sensation or numbness it may be that your position is not right.
  • core strength – this one is so important for cycling and think about it in relation to soreness, the more stable you are on the bike will have a huge impact on your cycling experience.
  • rest – if you have sores or swelling then rest and let it improve before you continue on the bike and potentially make it worse.

At the weekend I attended the London Bike Show with the amazing Lucy from Paddle Pedal Pace and our other halves, and Casquette had a stage with a number of talks over the three days including one that covered this very issue.  When I saw the description how could I not attend?

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Want to know what’s really behind saddle sore? Well, it’s probably a clit or labia thing, but no one seems comfortable saying it out loud. Until now. We bring Maria Olsson (Rapha chamois designer); Doctor Jane Sterling (consultant dermatologist at a vulval clinic practice); Jasmijn Muller (endurance cyclist and saddle sore sufferer) and Jenni Gwiadowski (Saddle Library curator and founder of the London Bike Kitchen) together to talk candidly about saddle sore – what it is and how you can deal with it.

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Dr Jane Sterling is a vulva specialist and for the Rio Olympics worked with the ladies GB cycling team and spoke about changes they made to see improvements for the ladies on the team.  Aside from right size kit, what padding can be improved ie the chamois, avoiding excess friction, she also worked with them on how to look after skin during and after cycling.  These are simple things everyone can look into.  She also touched on how pubic hair is important as it creates a layer of air and reduces the friction on the skin.  She noted how all hair removal causes some damage to the skin and that combined with hours of cycling is not the best combination with ingrown hairs being an issue for many.  Damp friction makes the downstairs environment post ride necessary for cleaning but the advice was to use a mild moisturiser perhaps with an antiseptic to maintain a barrier function and if issues arise then allow time to recover.  Interestingly Dr Jane also spoke of how the menopause can affect all of this and how estrogen treatments can help.

Jasmijn Muller is an all round awesome lady who currently holds the record for 1,828km on her turbo trainer on Zwift in 62 hours, 4 minutes and 30 seconds.  I cannot even comprehend being on a static bike for that long!  She also recently took part in BikingMan Oman, an unassisted ultra cycling race, and finished the 1,050km in 45 hours 37 minutes as 1st woman and 9th overall.  Jasmijn is also very open about the troubles she has had with getting sore and the operations she has had on both her right, and then later, left labia.  She noted that most of her riding is done in the time trial position and this did not help.  She also touched on the cleaning aspect, like Dr Jane, and explained that a lot of soaps remove the natural anti bacteria that are there to protect us.  So what has she found that made such a huge difference?  Saddle mapping testing, which she got done at Sigma Sports and highly recommends.  She has also worked with an osteopath who is also a pilates instructor for exercises to help with movements to isolate glute functionality, such as shoulder bridges, which she demonstrated.

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Maria Olsson is the design manager for Rapha and explained how they spent 3 years researching, alongside Nicola Roberts, a physiologist who works with pro athletes, to perfect the chamois used in the Rapha kit and set themselves a huge challenge to make the best chamois for women.  Maria spoke about how a bike fit and saddle is key but just as important is the position of the chamois being in the right place in the bibs, and they prototyped and wear tested over 15,000 miles in the saddle.

I was also listening to the talk with the lovely Tarsh, also known as Iron Tarsh, and the lady behind the brand Stomp The Pedal.  Tarsh also spends hours on the turbo trainer and I asked her what her secret was and she said it is her bib shorts.  Tarsh meticulously researches and spends a lot of time ensuring the products she adds to her brand are products she would purchase herself and is proud to bring to market.  If she is not happy with it, you won’t be seeing it being sold by Stomp The Pedal!  I will be trying these and let you know if these are the key to my comfort.

And just to lighten the mood and not quite saddle sore but related and applicable to my fellow female cyclists – after a long ride when you reach for that mint tea tree shower gel – don’t! (those that know will know why).

Benefit of a Recovery Ride

How good is your recovery?  You hear of people going for recovery runs and stretching but the same should be applied to the bike also.

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British Cycling have a whole section on their website about how to recover from cycling that can be found here:

‘If you have done a hard training ride or event, going out for a recovery ride the next day can enhance the recovery process. Ride for 30-60 minutes on a flat course, keep your bike in the smaller chain ring and spin easy.’

My cycle club, Romford CC, offer a beginners ride that more seasoned riders use as a recovery ride on a Monday evening so this serves the perfect purpose for me to add as part of my training schedule.

Your recovery ride should be the easiest ride in your training schedule and yet this should not indicate that it is not just as important as other rides on your plan.  Your body needs to repair muscle fibres that can be worked hard on longer/harder/faster rides.  This in turn allows you to return and be stronger, progress quicker, reduce risk of injury and all of this in turn improves motivation – win win!

How hard should you go on a recovery ride? It is simple:

  • make it easy on yourself!
  • pick an easy route
  • don’t extend the time spent on it – absolutely should not be a long ride, probably a maximum of an hour and a half
  • set an easy pace – if you work off heart rate then you should aim for about 60% of your maximum heart rate – think conversation pace
  • pick an easy gear – don’t over exert yourself with a heavy gear that requires more from the very leg muscles you are trying to help recover
  • cadence – if you work off cadence (I do as my husband likes to scream the word cadence when I am going too slow from a heavy gear, which is often) then you should be increasing your cadence from the norm ie if you usually average 90 RPM this should be approximately 100/105 RPM for recovery
  • power – if you work off power then think about reducing it for recovery to approximately 50% of your FTP

Most people will go harder than they should – I know I do sometimes.  It is easy to do especially if in a group or if you pick what would be an easy route for you, to suddenly up the pace and therefor gears.  Don’t.  That completely undoes the good work that will come from a recovery ride.

An alternative is of course the turbo or rollers for a short spin of the legs and using the same basis as above will give the same result.

In addition to all of the above some other areas that will help include:

  • sleep – a regular sleep pattern with around 8 hours of sleep will help
  • drink – not gin sadly, but ensuring your fluid intake is good will prevent dehydration which will effect performance and slow down recovery
  • nutrition – have that protein – it will aid with rebuilding muscle tissue

I saw a quote recently that read ‘Ride Hard, Recover Harder’, which are wise words!

And if you don’t want to get back on the bike for the recovery you can always look at yoga, foam rolling and other forms of stretching as active recovery.

 

Guest Post – My First World Lymphedema Day

This is a guest post from my husband Brett.

Today, 6th March 2019, is World Lymphedema day and most of you reading wouldn’t of ever heard of this, this includes myself until recently.

January 2019 was the time i finally got a diagnosis of a condition I have been suffering with for the last 8 years, since 14th March 2011. This is called Primary Lymphedema.

For further information on all lymphatic issues this website is a great reference.

Lymphedema (LE) has a primary and secondary status in the UK and this is how it is determined:

  • Primary lymphedema is a rare, inherited condition caused by problems with the development of lymph vessels in your body.
  • Secondary lymphedema can occur when any condition or procedure damages your lymph nodes or lymph vessels. This can be surgery, radiation treatment for cancer and infection. Infection is most common in tropical and subtropical regions and in developing countries.

At this time I had some swelling in my left ankle which I thought was a result of an injury from running, which i had just started to do. I kept an eye on this and a month later I still had it and now I was unwell. I had a temperature of 39.1c and couldn’t even get up. Lisa had enough and dragged me to the doctors who straight away said that I have cellulitis in my lower left leg and off to the hospital I went. (Cellulitis is a very common bacterial skin infection which gets extremely hot to touch and is very painful).

My condition got worse and worse and as I had been untreated for so long it was tough for the doctors to treat successfully. After 4 days I still wasn’t responding to IV antibiotics and daily I was visited by surgeons in preparation for amputation, as they where concerned it would manifest into a flesh eating disease and if it got to this the survival rate is very low.

They wanted to try one last antibiotic, as it was so strong I needed to be isolated into a separate room away from all the other patients. Thankfully we saw results in the next few hours and It was incredible how fast it worked. Leg saved and this was the start for a very long and frustrating 8 years.

Since that first episode I have had a ‘flare up’ 8 more times and the story is always the same. I either have a trauma to my left leg and this can be a cut, blister or even a bout of athletes foot and then the tell tale signs start. I get either very tiny red dots on my leg, extreme pain in my groin where the lymph node is swollen and fighting infection or a temperature of 39.1c – it doesn’t matter in what order I get these I always end up with all of them.

The picture below shows top left me cycling 45 miles and the remaining pictures are the four days that followed with me being unable to walk.

The trouble is the bacteria in my leg spreads so quickly I have a couple of hours to get to the hospital, but knowing these signs help.

I have had a break from flare ups from June 2015 – July 2018 and now it has started again.

I now had more than enough of this and decided to seek private medical advice and within a matter of a month I had the answer I have been looking for after so many years. The NHS really did their best in looking after me but as this condition is classed as a rare disease and disorder not many doctors or nurses know the signs or have the knowledge to treat it effectively. Every time I went in as an emergency, except once, they saw me quickly and treated me extremely well.

I was lucky enough to be seen by Professor Peter Mortimer at the Parkside London hospital in Wimbledon. He, without a doubt, changed my life with the explanation of my condition. The long and short of it is that my lymph nodes on the left side of my groin do not work and this causes the lymphatic system in my left leg to fail. Now I know what you are thinking is that why do I have primary and not secondary LE and the results of my tests showed that my right side groin lymph nodes are ‘weak’ as well so it was something I was born with and these infections have brought it to light.

Now having this condition I do have issues to deal with. I have to wear compression wear everyday and my leg swells to at least 50% more than it should.

The other thing Is that this is a condition not many people understand or have ever come across before and don’t have an idea of what the issues are so I will try and educate the best I can.

  • swelling can come and go in a matter of hours or last for days
  • it’s painful – not a sharp pain more of a big bruise when swollen
  • the pressure it causes is unbelievable and feels like my leg is going to burst
  • flying is not pleasant at all
  • leg is heavy

They are the most common feelings for me.

Currently I am having my leg wrapped twice a week to control the swelling in preparation for a medical grade compression garment that I will have to wear for the rest of my life. I am also on medication for this.

To manage this condition I have made many life changes and this has really helped and these include major diet changes (no meat only fish), lots of veg , no dairy and lots and lots of exercise and I can not recommend this enough. The exercise has seen me, over the years, complete multiple sporting events as I will not let this condition dictate my well being or life.

The biggest difference is the unconditional help and support from Lisa (Fat Girl Fit) and her willingness to do anything to make me as comfortable as possible. I wouldn’t be able to do this without her.

The Importance of a Bike Fit

Having recently purchased a new bike (insert happy dance here) I was keen to make sure that the set up is correct as my training increases and in turn the mileage.  The main reason for this is to ensure I am comfortable in the cycling position but also to help with limiting any injuries and making sure I am cycling efficiently.

This is not the first bike fit I have had and previously I suffered with a knee issue and also pain the lower back and it is amazing what some simple adjustments can do.  If you are thinking what can it do well the answer is wonders and I say this from first hand experience.

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Comfort really is key when taking on endurance events especially and knowing I have a 300km ride in the middle of this year I was keen to make sure my set up was correct not only for the event but all the miles I will need in training.

Hand in hand with comfort is also efficiency.  Sounds odd?  Not really, because if you are comfortable in your cycling position you will be more efficient with your endurance in turn.

There is nothing worse than getting injured.  We have probably all suffered whether it be a little niggle or a full blown injury that can even see you out of action for quite some time and whilst a bike fit will not guarantee that won’t happen, it will limit and prevent injury.  This is because the fit will ensure your body is aligned in the correct way.

A good bike fit can make your riding feel as though it is on a brand new bike!

I have had all of my bike fits done at Yellow Jersey Cycles in Billericay by Nathan.  Nathan is a Retul (as used by British Cycling) certified fitter.

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There are other ways of bike fits being conducted but the benefit of a Retul fit is that it uses 3D technology and this means the measurements are accurate to within a millimetre.  As their brand mission states:

‘Retul stands for being the most technically advanced bike fitting and product matching technology available on the market.’

So what happens during a bike fit?  It is a thorough process that takes roughly 1.5 to 2 hours and includes the following:

  • To start with there will be some basic tests to observe gait, flexibility and discuss any injuries and also goals.
  • You will then hope onto your bike and have little pads attached to various parts of you (wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle, heel, and toe) and this will provide the 3D image to the fitter as you cycle to show and provide real time information from each pedal stroke.
  • There are certain parameters that each element should be within and the fitter can then identify those that sit outside that range and make the necessary adjustment to the bike set up.
  • This is repeated for each side of your body (and if you are like me the little platform that is moved around to give the fitter the best view is probably the scariest part – I did once fall off a turbo trainer lets remember!).
  • Once the fit is complete and both the fitter and you are happy a specialist tool is used to create a map of your bike measurements and this with the 3D results provides the fit details.

Voila!

The worst part?  Peeling off those sticky little pads that are attached!

Most fitters will provide you with this information so you have it for reference for future use.

Group Cycling

As part of the British Cycling One In A Million campaign I have been sharing lots of stories not just from myself but other inspirational women and it has naturally generated discussion, which is great!

I also shared a picture on my social media last week discussing the phrase ‘on your right’ and again there were some comments that made me think I would write this post.

Until I started cycling and joined a club I was unaware of the cycling etiquette that plays a huge role in group cycling.

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I am a member of Romford CC and we follow the guidelines laid out by British Cycling, which covers everything from Code of Conduct to hand signals.  Most clubs should provide this sort of advice to their members and it doesn’t take long for this to be something you don’t even think about when group cycling.  In fact I recently went away for a weekend hiking in the Peak District with a group of friends who for the most part were cyclists and as we walked and cars approached we would comment ‘car back’ and ‘car passing’.  Yep we are that sad and what is worse is that we also laughed (we are also clearly hilarious).

The photo I earlier referred to was saying how my cycle commute is largely on a dedicated cycle path though as it is only wide enough for two bikes (one in each direction) there may be the situation to overtake and in doing so I should on your right to alert the person in front not only of my position but also my intention to overtake.  It is not an aggressive shout but for safety.  Anyway, another cyclist asked my why I had said that and that they’d heard it before but being new to cycling wasn’t sure if it meant they were to do something and said it was interesting to them to understand and learn all the nuances.

So why did it prompt this post?  Well for two reasons as I became aware that although I know the group cycling etiquette that others may not and also because it was commented that the lingo could be a bit alienating for those not in the know, which is a fair point.

So what sort of things are covered when it comes to group cycling etiquette? Here I share some:

  • Ensuring your bike is in good working order – standard.
  • Communication – key to any group cycling, in fact I would say not just a group per se but key to riding any more than as a solo cyclist.  Some calls I will often hear whilst cycling will include slowing, stopping, gravel, car up to warn of a car approaching, car back to warn of a car behind, car passing to warn that a car is overtaking and clear to let others know that it is clear to the left or right.
  • Never overlap wheels – quite simple, if your wheel is overlapping the wheel in front slightly and they move to avoid an obstacle for example there will more than likely be an incident as the wheel in front will likely take yours out!
  • Formation – despite common misconception the Highway Code advice says you should never ride more than two abreast. It also says you should ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends. You should always factor in the road conditions and should go into single file when necessary.  There are many diagrams online that illustrate how it is actually easier for a car to pass a group of cyclists who are two abreast as opposed to a long line of single riders, however, as noted earlier common sense should be adopted depending on the circumstances.
  • Be aware – it is all too easy to just follow the wheel in front, but as a cyclist in the group you have to accept the responsibility of being aware of your surroundings and other road users and pedestrians. Also good to be aware, especially down country lanes, of walkers and running that will be on your side of the road coming towards you.
  • Be consistent – what I mean by this is that a consistent pace is much safer when in a group and this is not the place for speed intervals for example.  Sudden increases and decreases in speed and power will result in erratic braking and is just not safe for group cycling. The term hold your line is often said.
  • Horses – not everyone is aware but it’s important to pass horses steadily and safely and alert the rider so they are not startled either. It’s important not to freewheel as the sound it creates can often startle a horse.
  • Mudguards – I love an obstacle run and being covered in mud but not everyone does especially on the bike and so mudguards are courteous to have especially in wet and winter conditions so the riders behind are not sprayed.
  • Don’t use tri bars – unfortunately for some tri bars and group cycling do not go well together in terms of safety.  Why?  When riding a time trial (TT) bike or aerobars you do not always have the same control and cannot react in the same way without easy and quick access to the brakes.  This is not an uncommon rule within a cycling club.
  • Helmets – although helmets are not a legal requirement most clubs adopt a rule of no helmet, no ride.
  • Lights – you must have front and rear lights, lit, clean and working properly, when cycling between sunset and sunrise.  You cannot have a red light at the front of your bike or a white light at the rear and with regards to flashing lights, regulations now allow flashing lights, provided they flash between 60 and 240 times per minute.
  • Abide the rules of the road – as a cyclist you are a vehicle on the road and should abide the same rules within the Highway Code.

Here I share some of the hand signals:

  • Stop – hand raised straight up in the air
  • Slow down – hand gesture to the side gently moving up and down
  • Pointing downwards (sometimes done in a circular motion) – this is done to make riders behind aware of a possible obstacle in the road be that an item or a pothole for example
  • Pointing behind your back – this indicates that there is an obstruction ahead and riders should move in the direction you are pointing, for example a parked car to the left you would point behind your back to the right to alert fellow riders behind to follow suit in the same direction
  • Indicate – if you intend to turn left or right ensure you indicate for awareness of all other road users.
  • Thumbs up – manners cost nothing and it is always nice to thank other road users in certain situations.

More information can be found on the British Cycling website here.