6 top tips for the novice cyclist

If you are taking up cycling for the first time or returning to the bike after many years, it can be daunting. Follow our top cycling tips to help you ride better and safer:

1. Gear
Cycling is like any sport in terms of gear, you get what you pay for. It is worth investing in the essential items for cycling. This includes:

2. Get a proper bike fit
Regardless of having a new or old bike it is important to get the bike set up to fit your body. Having a bike that fits properly allows you cycle more efficient and help avoid soreness after a cycle.

3. Know the rules of the road
Always cycle with the traffic and obey the traffic signs. Be alert to car and never cycle with headphones on.

4. Hydrate and fuel-up
Drink and eat a little and often to avoid dehydration and a drop in energy levels. When cycling you burn a lot of calories. Carry dry snacks such as granola bars, bananas and plenty of water.

5. Rest
After an intensive training session ensure you give your body time to recover and repair before your next training session. List to your body, if you are sick or injured take a few days rest from the bike. Taking a few days off from a training programme is better than been forced to stop for months due to injury.

6. Join a cycling group
You can get lots of tips and advice from other cyclists. In addition, cycling with a group can help you stay motivated on a long cycle.

Top Tips for Cycling in the Rain

When living in a country like Ireland it’s inevitable that rain is on the way!

Remember the following tips when cycling in the rain to ensure a safe ride.

Bike Tyres

It is a good idea to invest in a winter set of tyres such as gator skin tyres. These tyres have a thicker sidewall making it harder to puncture. It is also a good idea to use slightly wider tyres to offer more grip.

Road surface

The road surfaces will be slippery and more dangerous after rain. Avoid metal surfaces such as manholes covers, cat-eyes, wet leaves and painted traffic markings.

Bike Brakes

Bike brakes are much less effective when wet. Take it slower than normal and give yourself lots more time to stop.

Avoid potholes and puddles

Even little puddles can hide nasty things like potholes, nails, or glass, which can cause a flat tire or a crash.

Stay warm

Invest in waterproof clothing to keep you as dry as possible. Wear good gloves and overshoes as well as a waterproof jacket. Neon and bright high visibility colours are especially important in dark wet days.

Light up like a Christmas tree

Drivers may have problems seeing through wet or steamy windscreens when it’s raining. Put plenty of bright LED lights and reflectors on the front, rear, and sides of your bike to insure you’re seen at all times.

Winter Strength Training for Summer Cycling

We have teamed up with John Phelan, chartered physiotherapist and nutritionist who will be helping us get ready for the 2020 cycling season. In the first in a series of blogs John shares his views on strength training and how it can improve cycling performance.

“You expect me to lift something that heavy” and “how will that help my cycling” are two expressions expressed by some of my bike fit clients.  There are also those who don’t verbalise it, but I suspect they are thinking along the same lines as those who do! As a physiotherapist, I am responsible for keeping up with scientific research and relay this information onto my clients, with clear explanation, so that they fully understand and are therefore more likely to comply.  Numerous science studies have shown a significant relationship between strength training and improved cycling performance.  The purpose of this blog is to explain the connection as best I can, so that you the reader will see every reason to get stuck into some strength training over the Winter months.

Building muscle and why it’s important

Only right that I should start with my strongest card.  Resistance training builds muscle.  We are destined to lose between 3-5% muscle mass every decade after 30 if we don’t do anything about it.  Loss in muscle, called sarcopenia, is responsible for decreases in quality of life and lifespan itself.  If we strength train twice per week and ensure we are getting sufficient protein and recovery, we can stave off sarcopenia for as long as possible.

Cycling and strength training

If that frightening fact doesn’t convert you, then it’s time to bring your favourite past time into the mix.  Cycling is brilliant, but it has its weaknesses. As you well know, cycling is a non-weight bearing activity, making it great for early stage lower limb injury rehab but not so great for healthy bone production. Weight training gives a bona fide benefit when it comes to bone building.  Cycling pushes us to keep going, improving the endurance capacity of our muscles and raising our cardiovascular fitness like nobody’s business. BUT, it’s not proper strength training.  Here are a couple of definitions to help explain my statement.

Muscle strength is the ability to lift, push or pull something heavy with full force over a short time.  E.g a squat with dumbbells for 8 reps and the last 3 reps must be very difficult.

Muscle endurance is the ability to keep doing something over and over and over without fatiguing. 

Here’s the best bit

A recent study in Norway showed how strength training improved cycling performance, fractional utilization of VO2Max and cycling economy in female cyclists.  That all sounds very good!  Fractional utilization of VO2Max is defined as the percentage of your VO2Max that you can sustain for a sustained period of time.  If you are not sure what VO2Max is, fear not, it will be covered in a later blog.  The point I wish to make here is that strength training not only makes you stronger on the bike (handy for climbing hills and racing your club members to the nearest café) but it also improves your endurance capacity and cycling economy.  A win-win if you ask me.

The science of how

Trying to stay brief with this one, blogs are supposed to be easy reading!  I will attach a link to the scientific paper at the end of the blog for any willing readers to check out for themselves.  The female cyclists in the study followed a structured strength training programme over 11 weeks, at a frequency of 2 times per week. This caused a change in the lower limb (quadriceps) muscle fibres from type IIX to type IIA, which happen to be more economical and less fatigable than type IIX.  What some more? If I mention mitochondria, who understands what I mean?  They are the powerhouses within our cells.  It’s where our energy to move is made.  Since strength training increases muscle mass, then it goes without saying that it also increases your mitochondria count.  More mitochondria – more energy.

Right then, who’s in??

If you are completely new to strength training, I would advise watching this short YouTube video with Martin Evans, head of strength and conditioning for British Cycling.  He takes you through the basic movement patterns first, before you start to add weight and get stronger.

And the full scientific paper for all our science nerds. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275102845_Strength_training_improves_cycling_performance_fractional_utilization_of_VO2max_and_cycling_economy_in_female_cyclists

John Phelan runs a clinic in Cork by the name of Life Fit Physio. 

Wicklow 200 takes place on 7th June 2020 and is now open for registration.

Registration Opens 06th December!

Registration for the 2020 edition of Ireland’s longest running annual challenge ride, the Wicklow 200, will open on the 06th December, 2019. The 2020 event will be held on 07th June, 2020.

The Wicklow 200 – and its partner event Wicklow 100, take in many of the most iconic climbs in Ireland’s ‘Garden County’ in an event that is among the most arduous and most revered annual cycling events on the world calendar.

The event organisers, the Irish Veteran Cyclists Association, are busy finalising plans for the 38th edition of the event which has become a ‘must-do’ for bike riders all over the world thanks to the challenging nature of the course and the epic scenery encountered along the way.

Let the Sun Shine! Extra Daylight = More Road Time

Now is the time to reap your reward.

You’ve put the ‘hard yards in’ over the winter, going out in all weathers and, failing that, churning out the watts through a sauna fog of sweat on your home trainer. The kilometres have been carefully accumulated, the strength maintained and, perhaps, enhanced as the training starts to take effect.

Now, at last, and not a moment too soon, the clocks have sprung forward, there’s a stretch in the evenings that is positively grand and to go with it we’ve been treated to a little mini heatwave to kick start the final phase of preparation for the big day.

Cycling in the Wicklow Mountains. Photo: Stephen Murphy INSTA: @cyclinginireland

Even if the winter hasn’t gone precisely to plan – that cold that put your training back by a fortnight, the mechanical issues that kept the bike in the shed on too many days and even that little bout of SAD that prevented you from getting on the bike as often as you would have liked are depressingly familiar to all of us – now is the time to kick start the final push to glory.

With two and a half months to go to Wicklow 200 2019 there’s still plenty of time to rescue a slightly moth eaten training plan. What is that old Native American proverb? ‘The best time to plant a tree is ten years ago. The second best time is now.’

Even if everything has been going swimmingly (and if it has, celebrate it, because you’re almost certainly in the minority!), there is much to be done in the next 10 weeks and much that can be achieved.

The switch back to summer time opens up the delightful possibility of evening training and the chance to ride on the road more often than just those weekend spins is sure to offer a shot of motivation to both the training laggard and the super focused alike. Just remember to stay wrapped up well. The sun that fuels your enthusiasm is often accompanied by a biting east wind.

More than anything embrace the temporal adjustment and the climatic transition that partners it. As the weather improves, hit the hills to recce the key elements of the route for the big day.

Okay, let’s not delude ourselves that the good weather arrives with an automatic binary shift from the winter drudge. But you can be confident that there will be more opportunities to stretch the legs on the more remote and beautiful roads in the coming weeks and that can only be a good thing.

Enjoy the bike now more than ever. You deserve it!



Indoor Training – The Perfect Set Up

Only a fool learns by his own mistakes, as General Von Bismark once so sagely put it, or as we like to say, we’ve already figured this stuff out so you don’t have to. Here’s the ideal turbo set up that will have you scampering across the hall to interval heaven every second evening.

There are those who will declare with grave foreboding that turbo trainers are the devil’s work but to get the best out of a winter training plan in this part of the world, they have become an invaluable aid to the consistent application of a training plan.

Much like those people who gave up cycling because the first bike they bought was little more than an unreliable, heavy and inefficient ‘bicycle shaped object’, many have sworn never to ride indoors again after a brief and unhappy flirtation with the wrong turbo set up.

The better your environment for turbo training, the more likely you are to do the planned session. Reduce complication and inconvenience to the bare minimum and you’ll be on the bike before you even realise you don’t like turbos.


Get the best one you can afford. The new direct drive turbos are rightly lauded for the ‘smart’ capabilities that allow many of them to be controlled by the Zwift gaming platform (among other training applications) but the greatest advantage of (most of) them is the relative lack of noise they generate.
Direct drive turbos also do away with tyre slip and the need for turbo specific ‘trainer tyre’. They’re expensive, though, and you can still get a lot out of Zwift and everything you need from a quality training programme with traditional ‘tyre-on’ systems.


You need a bike with functioning gears, a comfortable saddle and.. that’s about it. Ideally one that you can leave in place permanently to minimise set up time and reduce the likelihood of talking yourself out of doing that session after work or before breakfast.
For many people, the turbo bike during the summer will be their winter bike and in winter it’ll be the ‘good’ bike. But an old hacker will do as long as you can replicate the set up: crank length, saddle height and top tube length.
Some people will put ‘tri bars’ on to replicate their TT or triathlon set up and try to get some useful training in the right position. For the vast majority of riders for whom that’s not a consideration, it’s still worth sitting on the bike in the way you will on the day of your target event.


It’s a proven fact (I think) that more than 90% of the people who will tell you that they “tried a turbo once but couldn’t handle the idea of spending more than 10 minutes on it” never used a proper floor fan to keep them cool. A decent fan is quite simply, and not to put too fine a point on it, absolutely essential to a proper turbo experience. Try to get one with a broad reach and, ideally, as quiet as possible. Some people recommend two fans. One on either side at the front on the diagonal but one should be fine.


You need somewhere to put your extras like a computer or tablet, a TV monitor, water bottle, training programme etc. Get one that goes over the front wheel so you can make it close to you and reachable but not too high, mind, so that the monitor/TV/computer/tablet will be at just the right angle to your face.


Unless you’re doing it wrong, and even if you buy enough fans to fly a zeppelin, you’re going to sweat when you’re on a turbo. Profusely. You’re going to need a towel to mop your brow in between efforts and to drape across your handlebars. And, if funds allow, try to get a sweat catcher to protect your bike. Over time and with lots of turbo use the salt from your sweat will play havoc with the bike’s paint, alloy and carbon surfaces. It gets into bearings and threads and will eventually reduce your bike to atoms. We exaggerate, but only for effect. Don’t mop up afterwards, keep it dry in the first place.


Things are going to get steamy in there so open a window before you start. It helps to regulate body temperature, too. You definitely won’t need a radiator on in this room…


You can buy a purpose made rubber mat from a bike shop or, our budget preference, get a cheap offcut from your local carpet shop trimmed to size. Regardless of whether your turbo is the new direct drive or the older noisier type, a mat underneath the turbo and the bike will drastically reduce the noise and help to keep the floor surface clean. If you’re operating upstairs in an apartment or house, it’s probably the first thing to buy…


Not strictly necessary but if you’ve got a spare pair of shoes which you can leave attached to or beside the bike it helps reduce the set up time. You’ll sweat in them, too, so a pair for the road and another pair for the turbo will be easier to get dry between uses.
A spare heart rate monitor chest strap is useful, too. It’s going to get very damp.
A pair of shorts, socks and a baselayer are all you’ll need after that. Many eschew the baselayer but it’s great for wicking sweat and keeping the place tidy. You might need a jacket for the first few minutes on a cold winter’s night but it’ll be off you long before your first effort.


Decent music can be a great boon to any turbo session that includes intervals. Some people say you shouldn’t have use any artificial stimulation that won’t be available on the day of the event but we’ve never had the use of a rider attacking from the group to chase while we were doing intervals indoors (except using Zwift, of course) so we think some decent tunes is perfectly acceptable to get you through those interminable threshold efforts. Make it ‘up tempo’, mind. This is not the moment to haul out Tanita Tikaram’s Greatest Hits. (Ask your parents…)
Hearing the music is another challenge. Heavy on- or over-ear headphones won’t work when you’re giving it socks in a sprint interval because they’ll fall off your head. And dangly cables can be very tiresome. Try to get some Bluetooth in-ear headphones if you have a noisy turbo or some well-placed Bluetooth speakers.


Zwift is all the rage and there are other gaming programmes in the pipeline that will offer endless distraction from the drudgery. If that’s not your thing, YouTube offers an endless supply of old bike races which are surprisingly effective at getting you in the right mood. Trainer Road, Training Peaks and other programs are designed to integrate with the tools you use to prepare for your goal and you’ll benefit from the use of a laptop, tablet or smartphone during your sessions for more than just checking facebook or Instagram.

New Anti-Litter Initiative for Wicklow 200

Wicklow 200, Ireland’s longest running annual challenge cycling event, has created a new initiative aimed at preserving the environment on the roads of Ireland’s Garden County.

The Love It Don’t Leave It campaign centres around the beauty of the surroundings the riders will be travelling through during the Wicklow 200 and its Wicklow 100 sibling on Sunday June 10th.

The anti-littering campaign is asking riders to ‘love Wicklow, don’t leave litter’ and will incentivise entrants to dispense of litter responsibly as well as introducing other initiatives aimed at acknowledging and preserving the natural beauty of Ireland’s most popular cycling destination.

Wicklow’s roads have been the training ground for cycling legends and current pros alike such as Tour de France heroes Stephen Roche and Shay Elliott as well as current pros Nicolas Roche and Chis Juul-Jensen. Wicklow has also formed the backdrop for some of the most beautiful images seen in cinemas and on TV around the world.

Therefore, the organisers of the Wicklow 200 have created the Love It Don’t Leave It campaign aimed at educating and encouraging riders to enjoy their surroundings without environmental impact.

On the day, riders can exchange gel wrappers and energy bar wrappers at the finish line for tickets in a prize draw.

In addition, the organisers have made a commitment to reduce plastic waste by using water tanks to refill the riders’ water bottles at the feed stations in Baltinglass and Rathdrum.

The organisers will also keep plastic food packaging to a minimum by ensuring that cakes and savoury items are not individually wrapped for dispensing at the feed stations and the finish line.

The Wicklow 200 organisers believe that the roads and landscape they travel through give so much to cyclists and it’s our responsibility to give something back to the countryside.

An extensive #LoveItDontLeaveIt media campaign will keep the aims of the initiative at the forefront of minds in the run up to the event.

Event organiser Alan Heary believes that the Love It Don’t Leave It initiative is a key component in getting the most out of the Wicklow 200 experience for riders and organisers alike.

“For everyone involved in Wicklow 200, the event is a privilege and it’s up to us to recognise our good fortune by returning the compliment.

“The Love It Don’t Leave It initiative is our way of showing the world that cycling in Ireland’s most beautiful county is an honour and we’re asking our riders to acknowledge that by retaining their litter to be disposed of in the proper way.

“The water tanks will dramatically reduce the amount of plastic waste the event generates and the packaging needs have also been cut by not individually wrapping each food item in plastic as was the custom in past years.

“We’re constantly reviewing our activities around the event and looking for ways to reduce our environmental footprint in Wicklow.”


Cycling in South Dublin and Wicklow – Q & A with Ian O’Riordan

Irish Times journalist, Ian O’Riordan has been reporting on sport since 1998 with one of his first breaks in journalism coming with his coverage of the 1998 Tour De France in Ireland. He has cycled every square metre of Wicklow in a lifelong love affair with Ireland’s Garden County. The former US scholarship athlete uses his bike for fitness more than ever and has produced a new guide to the best rides and routes in the, Cycling in South Dublin and Wicklow: Great Road Routes.


What inspired you to produce this guide to bike riding in Wicklow?

For as long as I can remember I’ve been somehow drawn into Dublin and Wicklow mountains. Perhaps the thing about
being born at the foothills of the Dublin Mountains is that they enter your subconscious at an early age and never let go. From an early age they also became my playground of sorts, thanks chiefly and fortunately to devoted grandparents who took us mostly willingly on Sunday walks up and around places like the Sugar Loaf, Djouce Mountain, and the Hell Fire Club.

At school in De La Salle Churchtown I sat in many a classroom that DubWickPIClooked directly out at the Dublin Mountains, and can remember becoming increasingly lured by a longing to escape into them, either by foot or any other means.When I started running as a teenager this opened up another avenue, as most Sunday mornings we would set off from Marlay Park and run up through Cruagh Wood and back, or sometimes all the way through Glencullen, where after many years abroad and in the city I returned to live.

It was by bicycle, however, that the Dublin Mountains truly revealed themselves in all their openness and glory, and by natural extension, the Wicklow Mountains, the largest continuous upland region in Ireland.

When long distance runs in the mountains became a little more of a chore than a pleasure the bicycle at first proved a worthy substitute and now, I think, a superior one. The distances are far more manageable and far less limited, and there is something uniquely intimate about cycling on mountainous or hilly roads, certainly a step closer to Mother Nature and all her seasonal personalities. After 12 years of cycling and discovering new routes, and encouraged by the good people at The Collins Press, this cycling guide emerged from the notes and maps and memories.

Can you remember your first bike ride in Wicklow?

Indeed, it was with my older brother Donal, sometime in the summer of 1986. He was 17, I was 15, and we drew a rough map of how to get to Glendalough, then rode over the Wicklow Gap to Laragh, and after a brief stop off in Glendalough, rode back through Roundwood and Enniskerry to the family home in Churchtown. It took us an entire day and the memory will last a lifetime.

What was your most memorable day riding your bike in Wicklow?

Hard to single one out, although as recalled in Route 5, the Glencullen-Laragh Circuit, one day in early June, a few years ago, having turned left at the Sally Gap and riding up towards Luggala, another cyclist suddenly appeared on the road ahead of me, tearing up the steep incline with a hardy look of determination – a sort of cross between Bill The Butcher from Gangs of New York and Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood.

He passed me in a speedy blur but a couple of minutes later I was thinking the resemblance had been a little too uncanny; later, when riding back up from Laragh, I passed him again, this time realising it was indeed Daniel Day-Lewis.

It was about a year since he’d won his second Oscar for his role as Daniel Plainview, and riding in the Wicklow Mountains like this was his way of retreating from all the trappings which usually come with a success like that.

I flagged him down to say hello and we ended up sharing the few miles back through Laragh, and he was thoroughly enjoyable company, recalling how cycling had always been his thing, especially in the early days in London, where he would ride around to various auditions, often showing up with splashes of bicycle oil on his hands and face.

Although by then into his 50s he also looked superbly fit, which of course anyone would if they cycled regularly through the heart of the Wicklow Mountains.

You’ve seen the route of the Wicklow 200. What advice would you have for first time entrants or people thinking of taking the plunge?

The best way to take on any long cycle such as the Wicklow 200 is to embrace it,  pain and beauty and all. I often think about and quite one of the original and still best cycling books, The Rider, by Tim Krabbé, which like On the Road and The Great Gatsby, is best read in a slow and continuous loop. To the last word it’s the perfect paean to all the pain and pleasure and the fellowship of the road bike.

From the opening paragraph, where Krabbé looks at the non-riders around him – “the emptiness of those lives shocks me” – it is by turns of the page subjectively arrogant and despairingly real. It was written in 1978 and reads even louder today.

“The greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure. That is nature’s payback to riders for the homage they pay her by suffering. Velvet pillows, safari parks, sunglasses; people have become woolly mice. Instead of expressing their gratitude for the rain by getting wet, people walk around with umbrellas. Nature is an old lady with few friends these days, and those who wish to make use of her charms, she rewards passionately.”

Just some things to consider, whether in the rain or shine, while ascending the Wicklow Gap, and racing down into Glenmalure.

Do you have a favourite of any of the rides you’ve detailed in your guide?

DubWickAProbably Route 4, Sally Gap-Luggala Loop, as it passes right over the Luggala Estate; On the last day of January 2012, I packed several boxes into the back of my Jeep Wrangler, drove the 25-odd miles into the Wicklow Mountains and across the Sally Gap, then checked into a small cut stone cottage in the heart of the 5,000 acres of outer remoteness that is the Luggala estate.

It was a nuclear cold winter’s morning. My family reckoned I’d survive no more than a month, my friends said no more than a week. Instead I survived more than a year, each day dreaming I had woken up in another world or another lifetime or somewhere in between.

Obviously your first love is athletics so what is it about cycling that really appeals to you?

Again, it’s the extra distance that the bicycle allows you to travel, while also taking in more of the surroundings. And dare I say the older and the wiser I become, getting out on the bike is a lot easier than getting out for a run, and you don’t have to lie down for the rest of the day.

Cycling South Dublin and Wicklow: Great Road Routes is available through Collins Press.

Entrants to the Wicklow 200 will also be in with a chance to win a signed copy.



You asked our expert coach Paddy Doran from Peak Endurance Coaching and he’s answered. In a varied career, Doran has coached everyone from top professional racing cyclists to ‘weekend warriors’ challenging themselves to finish the course.

With just under five weeks to go to the big day, here’s Paddy’s take on the two most popular questions we received.


Q: Where should you be with your training now for the 200? Or should you think about the 100 instead?

A: With around 4 weeks to go before the Wicklow 200 you should be:IMG_0279

If you feel you are not at the required level to complete the Wicklow 200 it is possible to make some increases to your training over the next few weeks. A simple guideline is to increase your amount of training (kms or time) by 10% each week for the next few weeks.


Q:  Are hills important in your training schedule at this point?

A:  Incorporating hills into your weekly training schedule is vital. The Wicklow 200 takes in some serious climbs, therefore, the challenge will require both strength endurance as well as good aerobic condition. Due to the length of the course your ability to pace yourself is vital.

If you go too hard on hills you run the risk of expending too much energy and going very slow. This is what racing cyclists call blowing up on a hill!

At this stage two hilly sessions per week will see improvements in your climbing ability.

Training Session 1

This will be a long spin incorporating long hills, probably best done at the weekend, as its duration should be between 3-5 hours if you are going to ride the Wicklow 200.

This should mainly be ridden at talking pace or 65% to 75% of your maximum heart rate if you are using a heart monitor. On hills the heart rate could rise into the 80% range so use your gears well to control the effort – a cadence of 70 to 85 pedal revs per minute on the long hills is a good guide.

Naturally you wouldn’t go straight into a 3-5-hour very hilly session if you haven’t been using climbs already. Progression is required from training on the flat to gradually introducing more challenging climbs

Training Session 2

This will be a shorter spin, duration 1.5 to 2 hours, which should include hills ridden at a slightly faster pace than Session 1 for a few minutes at a time.

This session should also include 2-4 x 10-minute efforts on flat or undulating roads. All of these efforts should be mainly ridden at an effort where your breathing would be deep but not gasping for breath or at 80 to 85% heart rate if you are using a heart monitor.

This session will improve your maximum cruising speed and help you to be more comfortable at reasonable speeds.

Energy Replacement

Aim to eat / drink about 60gms of carbohydrate per hour to maintain energy levels on training sessions in excess of two hours.

IMPORTANT: An increase in training also requires good nutrition, rest and sleep to assist in recovery.

We’ll be running the ‘Ask the Experts’ series in the final weeks leading up to the event. Our panel of experts includes Cycling Coach, Paddy Doran from Peak Endurance Coaching, Mental Toughness and Performance Coach, Alan Heary, and expert bike mechanics from Cycle SuperStore .

Just submit your question on our Facebook Page, Instagram, or Twitter, or by emailing wicklow200info@gmail.com and we’ll select a number of them each week which the panel will address in their regular post.

Descending Hills Safely

Paddy Doran, cycling coach with Peak Endurance Coaching shares his tips for safe descending.


Cycling Sportives

Every weekend there are countless legions of riders have the opportunity to challenge themselves any one of thousands of exciting cycling sportive promoted throughout Europe and beyond. Sportives, Sportifs, Gran Fondos, call them what you will, they are a great way to enjoy cycling. What could be better than rolling along the roads at an elevated pace in the company of people who love cycling?

Descending hills safely

Many of these events are very hilly like the great Etape du TourMarmotte or our own great event, Wicklow 200 and in the great tradition of physics, what goes up must come down. Long descents routinely follow long climbs and, for many, one of the biggest challenges on any sportive is the task of safely descending the various hills offered by the organisers. High, indeed very high speeds can be achieved depending on the gradient and to descend safely requires a certain amount of skill and a responsible attitude.

Number 1 goal

While cycling in general is a safe sport, accidents do happen occasionally. So your first goal when setting out on a sportive should be to complete the sportive accident free. Remember its not a stage of the Tour De France so seconds don’t matter so much.

Responsible Attitude

A responsible attitude will go a long way to helping you achieve your goal. It’s very easy to get carried away by the exhilaration of the speed and corners but every entrant needs to pay due regard to the safety of themselves and their fellow bike riders throughout what is often a very demanding day for all concerned. To avoid placing yourself and your fellow cyclists in danger always ride at your own speed on the descents. That is, ensure that you are comfortable with the pace you’re setting on the descents and ensure that you have the space and time to react to any unforeseen circumstances on the road.

Smooth is fast

Approach the corners at a controlled speed in good control of the bike. This will deliver a quick descent with less stress and fatigue than if your on the limit on every corner.

Pro cyclists

Take the best of what the pros do in the Tour De France like good lines in and out of corners and smooth braking. Do not attempt stuff like sitting on the crossbar or resting forearms on the bars to get more speed. THIS IS VERY DANGEROUS

Open roads

Remember you are cycling on open roads and the usual rules of the roads apply. Always cycle on your own side of the road. However be careful of riding too close to the edge of the road. There is often a lot of loose soil, stones there where your wheels can lose grip.

Competency levels

Everyone has different levels of experience and skills. Always descend and corner within your own level of competency, particularly if you’re not a very experienced cyclist. And respect other people’s level of competency if you are very experienced and a good descender.

Principles of Descending Safely

Understanding how to prepare for and descend the hills can increase your safety and enjoyment of your day out. Here’s a short video lesson from an ex professional cyclist.

Bike well maintained

Have your bike in good condition. Ten Bike Check tips

Hold bars correctlybraking-blog-600x437

Always have both hands on the bars and fingers in close proximity to the brake levers, especially  when
descending. Note how one cyclist is on the drops and one on the brake hoods but they are both using their brakes. Also they have their thumbs and fingers form a circle that gives a secure grip.

How NOT to hold the BarsDon-how-not-to-hold-the-bars

Your hands will most likely lose control of the bars if you hit a pothole with this hand position.  These falls usually result in facial injuries so hold the bars like the two cyclists in the previous picture.

Look Anticipate

As you will be moving faster on descents you need to be seeing any corners or obstacles well in advance of reaching them. So always look well up the road so that you have ample time to slow down.

More speed= > increased braking distancedescent-3-on-the-flat

As speed increases on descents stopping distance also increases. So always leave bigger gaps between yourself and the rider/s in front of you on descents. This will allow time to slow down safely if you must.


Brake in plenty of time when approaching corners. Practice using both brakes together and do your braking before the corners while cycling in a straight line.

Comfort zone

Aim to descend and corner within your comfort zone. If you feel you are beginning to move too fast always stay calm and gradually slow down.

Eating drinking on the bike

If you wish to drink or eat do it on the flat roads or just before you reach the top of a hill.  Preferably when you’re at the back of a group. Enjoy the coffee and cakes when you arrive to the finish safely. Join your local cycling club where you can learn lots of cycling skills.

Links to more tips Top ten tips for sportives here  Tips for the start  here

Paddy Doran Coach Level 3 Cycling Coach and Tutor