• Always wear a helmet and make sure that it’s fitted correctly. On a bicycle, you’re extremely vulnerable and unprotected from all sides. It takes one slip, one bump, one moment of distraction to end in a very painful disaster.
It’s not just about skill; pros can also suffer some very nasty falls. They’ve ended up with broken hips and fractured shoulders — both of which healed after several months of care. The helmets have cracked each time because of the impact of the fall, rendering them useless for the future but they did their job — they protected the cyclist’s skull.
You can always find second-hand helmets at Sunday bazaar. New helmets can be bought from Safewell (Boat Basin, Karachi), The Hardware Store (Defence, Karachi) or you can order them online from Facebook.com/ShahCyclingMart.
• Wear comfortable, close-fitted clothing with breathable fabric. Baggy trousers or yoga pants are a big no no, predominantly because they will get caught up in the chain of your bicycle. Shorts, capris and tights work best.
Wearing flip-flops or sandals can prove to be dangerous because you run the risk of one of your feet slipping on the pedal. Keep it simple: stick to cycling shoes or regular sneakers only.
Protect your body from the elements: wear sunblock when outside and try and cover your body as much as you can.
• Because of the constant pressure you’ll apply on the handlebar, it is advisable that you invest in a pair of cycling gel gloves. If you can’t find any, go to a regular store selling sports goods and buy padded gloves — they’ll serve the purpose of cushioning your palms and prevent your hands from bruising.
• Hydrate. Because cycling burns calories at a very fast rate and constant exposure to the elements will leave you feeling weak and dehydrated, it is very important to make it a habit to continuously drink small amounts of water throughout the day and carry at least two bottles of water while on a ride.
In some cases, dehydration may be severe so always carry one bottle with Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) or Oral Rehydration Tablets (ORT) mixed with water prepped and ready for consumption.
Basic rule of keeping yourself hydrated: don’t wait till you’re thirsty to have water.
• You never know when or where you might end up with a flat. Unless you want to walk several kilometres with your bicycle, you’ll be smart enough to learn how to change a tube and fix one too. Essential items to keep with you on all rides: a puncture kit and a small portable pump.
Puncture kits are available at Lighthouse and at the same markets you would’ve bought your other gear from. Bicycle tubes for both mountain and road bicycles are available at Lighthouse as well.
You don’t have to wait till you get a puncture to practise how to fix it. Keep practising at home until you get it right.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 9th, 2014