Island outdoors: cycling

In this issue, to celebrate to Isle of Wight Cycling Festival in September, we focus on mountain and road biking.

Cycling fever hit the UK in June with the staging of the opening phase of the Tour de France. It is set to continue on the Island with the Isle of Wight Cycling Festival, which takes place from 15th to 23rd September. The festival celebrates the Island’s hundreds of miles of cycle routes, including off-road trails and quiet country lanes. This network is regularly maintained, well signposted and suited to all levels and fitness abilities.

Mountain biking is a great way to keep fit. A 10-stone person burns about 450 calories during an hour in the saddle, and it strengthens the back, boosts the lungs and heart, tones the arms, and shapes the bottom and legs.

Mountain bikes are designed to ride on rough terrain, with wide, high-grip tyres. An entry level bike made by Giant, Trek, Specialized or Scott costs about £300-400. Mountain bike hire is about £10-20 per day. A helmet is essential; as with all extreme sports, there are risks – most seriously a broken wrist or ribs. But most spills are likely to result in nothing more than bruises and minor abrasions.

Some bikers prefer to use clipless pedals and cycling shoes. These, and other specialist equipment, are available from a number of bike shops on the Island; get used to these on the road before you hit the dirt!

Here’s a few more tips to help you stay in (rather than out of) the saddle:

• When going downhill, stand on your pedals and position your bottom about an inch behind the saddle – this keeps your weight towards the back of the bike.

• Stay in the saddle when you are cycling uphill.

• Cover your brakes – always have one finger poised over the brake so that you are ready for any hazard. But don’t jam on your front brake.

• Don’t look down – look as far ahead as possible so that you can change speed and dodge an obstacle before you reach it, rather than a second before you hit it!

Off-road cycling on designated cycle tracks and public bridleways is a great way to explore the Island. Serious mountain bikers will find the Island’s mix of chalky descents, rocky single-track trails and unforgiving climbs a real challenge. For a thrilling and technical ride, the rollercoaster route from Freshwater to Newport is unbeatable. Thrill-seekers looking for some serious downhill action should head for the many trails over the Southern Downs around Shanklin and Ventnor.

Those who take a more sedate approach to off-road biking will enjoy the Island’s spectacular scenery, and plenty of agreeable places for pit stops, and of course to have a leisurely drink and chat. The best guide to the Island’s off-road bike trails is the Isle of Wight OS outdoor leisure map, no. 29.

Road bikes range from basic hybrid models fitted with narrower tyres than all-terrain bikes, making them suitable for road cycling as well as some low-level mountain biking, to the latest racing bikes – thousands of pounds worth of extremely lightweight carbon fibre for the most serious and dedicated cyclist.

On road, the Island has miles of small roads for serious racing cyclists and quiet country lanes for recreational and touring cyclists to potter along. The Island offers many safe places for family cycling. Very young bikers can enjoy the experience from the comfort of ‘tag-alongs’ – mini-bikes that attach to the back of an adult model – and these are available for hire from bike shops. Popular family rides run through the Arreton Valley along disused railway lines, and from Freshwater Bay to Yarmouth alongside the River Yar.

Other well-established cycle routes include Cowes to Newport, Sandown to Newport, Wootton to Newport and Yarmouth to Freshwater, and there is a shorter route connecting Newport to the Mountbatten Centre. There’s also a well-signposted and easy to follow ‘Round the Island’ ride. Details and a route map are available from Isle of Wight Tourism by calling 01983 813818 or from one of the Island’s Tourist Information Centres.

Whether on or off road, there are plenty of great pubs and cafes along the way for refuelling as well as a range of options for cyclist-friendly accommodation. There are a number of cycle shops on the Island, offering parts and repairs as well as bike hire.

Wherever you are cycling, stay safe and make sure you are familiar with the National Cycle Network Good Cycling Code. On all routes, always cycle with respect for others, including other cyclists, pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, horse-riders or drivers, and acknowledge those who give way to you. Off-road bikers should follow the Country Code; respect other land management activities such as farming or forestry; take litter home; and keep erosion to a minimum.

If you are training for the Cycling Festival, start gradually, particularly if you haven’t cycled before or for some time. Always stop if you feel sick or dizzy, over-tired or in pain, and make sure you leave a gap of at least 30 minutes between eating and exercising.

The Festival will launch at Seaclose Park, Newport with a Cycle Show. Highlights of the day will include a mountain bike stunt display and the crazy ‘Sink or Swim’ Cycle the Medina event, which sees bicycle eccentrics create pedal-powered crafts on which they will attempt to get from one side of the river to the other. The Festival also features ‘Cycle the Wight’, a 65-mile road ride around the Island in aid of the British Heart Foundation, which takes place on Sunday 16th September. The ‘Hills Killer’ is an orienteering/endurance ride that takes place between Freshwater Bay and Sandown Airport. Details of these and all other Cycling Festival events can be found at: www.sunseaandcycling.com/cyclingcode.asp