We could be SHEroes, me and you.

Social media can be a big time thief but sometimes you accidentally come across something, like an event, you would have missed otherwise.

A FB friend’s update showed up in my feed: “going to Take the Stage event”. As she is a great cyclist and a triathlete who recently competed in the Chicago World Championships representing team GB I had to look into it. It was taking place at Look Mum No Hands cycle shop and café in Old Street and this was the description:

A strong group of female cycling ambassadors including Marianne Vos, Hannah Barnes, Lauren Kitchen, Lucinda Brand, Manon Carpenter, Rebecca Charlton, Juliet Elliott and Marijn de Vries will launch one of the most unique and important initiatives in the history of ”women’s” cycling.
sheroes
Now even if you are not a hard core women cycling follower you must have heard of Marianne Vos at least! She is a 28 year old Dutch cyclo-cross, road bicycle racer, mountain bike racer and track racer who has been called “the finest cyclist of [her] generation”.
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I couldn’t miss that opportunity hence even having no clue what they were launching I decided to go. Lara was running an hour or so late and I didn’t know anyone but when did that stop me, huh?
I arrived there and positioned myself strategically next to the front and a big screen. Within minutes I was chatting to Helen, a mature cyclist in her 50s who rode a secret Twitter ride with Marianne in London last year. As we were chatting away the press and women sports journalists were milling around and then low and behold! The camera got pointed at my new friend and me and we were being interviewed by a YouTube TV channel! Helen, we are famous!
Finally all the ambassadors were brought in – all the big names in women cycling. Wearing frocks and heels 🙂 What is the initiative then?
The point is to get more women into cycling, create a virtual and an actual community. Some women would like to start cycling but they don’t know where to start. They are a bit intimidated by cycling clubs thinking they are not fit enough to ride with stronger women and even more intimidated by riding with men. Or maybe there is no club where they are. What was your experience when you first started cycling outside? Did you go it alone?
This initiative provides support for women cyclists in 3 ways. Number one is the website here. I think the name Strongher is brilliant and quite powerful. You can get loads of helpful advice, blogs, stories, learn about events etc.
Second is the app that will be available soon on both iPhones and androids. They haven’t talked in detail about it but in a nutshell you would be able to link up with women in your area and get a ride buddy, amongst other things so please keep your eyes peeled.
Finally they are organising women focused rides. These can be found on the website.
I think the whole initiative is fantastic. And having some SHEroes to talk about it and promote it was a great idea.
I couldn’t miss the chance of taking a cheeky selfie with Alex Dowsett:
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Sometimes you may not realise when you inspire someone to try a sport. I was so happy and proud to get my friend Nick into running years ago. He has completed many races since, including a marathon. These days I have a few friends, some of them take my classes (that would be you Lara and Maria), who inspire me to ride outdoors and who I look up to as cyclists. Believe it girls, you could all be sheroes!
One of mine is Sara Storey the inspirational Paralympian cyclist who is exactly my age. What this girl has achieved in two totally different sports is outstanding. What about yours?

It’s getting hot in herre so take off all your clothes!

We have all been there both as instructors and participants: an indoor cycling studio with an insufficient or broken air con system. Or a non-existent one. Or one that is set up to a temperature that is way too high for 45 people riding bikes.

Tony, who you learned a bit about in my last blog, recently picked up on that and asked me to write about it. We aim to please, so Tony here it is.

Anyone who has ever been to an indoor cycling class knows how warm the studio feels a few minutes into the class and how hot it gets half way through. And it generally does not matter how big the space is or whether it is full or not. Yes, it will partially depend on WHAT PROFILE people are riding and HOW HARD they are working. But the main WHY is simple: cycling is a strenuous cardiovascular exercise that by its nature raises the body temperature.

Hence even if the studio feels really cool when you walk in and you even resort to keeping your long sleeve top on or you towel over your shoulders, within the first few minutes of the warm up you notice the difference.

Now if you ask 5 random people in any indoor cycling class how they feel about their studio being not ventilated properly or getting really hot really quickly I guarantee you will have responses varying from: “that’s the nature of the class”, “it should feel really hot, shouldn’t it?”, “if the mirrors steam up that mean we are working really hard!” to “I feel like I can’t work as hard as I know I can if it’s too hot”. So which on is it?

IS IT THE CASE OF THE HOTTER THE BETTER THEN?

You know heat will raise your HR (heart rate). The important thing to understand is that that increase in HR has nothing to do with working harder. It makes your body work harder at the same power output just to deal with the heat.

Say what? Basically if you trained on a bike with a computer where you could see the power output in Watts and your HR, if the room was so hot your HR would raise as a result, you would sweat more and feel more tired (no doubt) but your Watts number would stay the same or lower.

What I mean is that your PERCEPTION may be that you worked much harder than usual! But the numbers will prove that you actually produced the same OR LESS power or if your focus is calories, you would have burnt the same number of calories (OR LESS) as in a class with air con on, lower HR and not feeling spent.

Let me say it this way: the higher HR may actually mean YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO WORK OUT HARD ENOUGH, SO IT REDUCES YOUR ABILITY TO TRAIN AT YOUR FULL POTENTIAL.

The misconception that the higher HR the better is the reason why many people love taking classes where they are encouraged to ride at crazy speeds (over 120RPM) without much resistance. It raises their HR significantly, making them sweat buckets hence the conclusion they draw is: this is a great workout. These ideas mainly thrive in places where bikes have no consoles and people don’t question their instructors.

If they had numbers in front of them they would see that higher speed makes the HR go up but all the important numbers down. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s much less comfortable to work up a sweat going at 80-90RPM with a decent resistance than 100-120RPM when it’s the bike that is riding you rather than the other way round… Yes, I have said it.

A good quality certification will cover the issue of thermo-regulation and the dangers of body overheating. That’s why I found it shocking that some boutique studios market “Hot Cycling” classes where they purposefully raise the studio temperature to seemingly make you burn more calories.

The argument for taking these hot cycling classes are that you warm up faster and sweating profusely will get rid of toxins in the body. I would say you risk mild cramps (unless you hydrate properly) and also unless you allow long cooldown and stretch, if you just run out of the studio like many people do, your muscles may just seize up which never feels nice.

I have made the joke: “Welcome to Bikram cycling!” a few times when we were faced with no air con from the start but I would not try telling my participants that this class would make them work harder due to the temperature of the studio.

Quite opposite: apart from reminding people to keep hydrated I have been known to change the class profile either half way through or from the start. I cannot expect people to do sprints or go for a HIIT class when there is simply not enough oxygen in the room to perfom these at the level required.

To quote an article from a medical professsional on from WebMD: “If the body can no longer cool itself, it starts storing heat inside. The core temperature begins to rise and you put your internal organs at risk”.

You may say: “Gee Izabela, you are exagerrating!” Well, if we are talking about a recreational rider who really is not pushing themselves that hard and not training to higher HR or power zones then maybe. But if they have high blood pressure issues or are pregnant, the risks are real.

You may say: but people cycle outside in high temperatures all the time! Yes, but if you have ever done that you know that the actual movement creates cooling airflow. Let me remind you: in indoor cycling class your bike is stationary.

MY ADVICE:

  1. Remember that higher HR does not automatically mean harder work. HR is body’s response to what you put it through and not a measure of your effort.
  2. If you are or may be pregnant or suffer from high blood pressure and the studio is too hot, please let the instructor know.
  3. Hydrate and listen to your body.

Look mum! No hands!

This post is inspired by what I have been seeing quite a lot of in my classes recently and also by a vivid discussion on one of indoor cycling instructors’ forums.

It’s about riding a bike hands free. A seemingly innocent topic that got a lot of instructors very agitated and if I am honest, it does rub me the wrong way sometimes when I see it in my class too. Why – you ask?

First, let’s discuss the issue from the favourite perspective: keeping it real. Which basically means, if you don’t do it outside, you don’t do it inside. But if any of you ever rode a bike outside, as a kid or teenager, or even watched kids ride bikes you know they DO do it. It’s not easy and it’s a kind of “right of passage”. It simply means you’re good! You are cool.

I have done it. I would sometimes ride almost all the way from school hands free! And (don’t tell my mum) I would take the two very dangerous turns downhill hands free too. Oh the thrill of it! It allows you to feel the bike. You realise how important little shifts in your body position are. You can actually turn hands free! I loved it.

You would also do it on a long ride to take a break and rest your back a bit, stretch a little.

Pro cyclists do it when they need their hands free: to eat, adjust helmet, glasses, take off an extra layer of clothing. Actually anyone who ever rode outside knows that it’s annoying to have to stop to take the jacket off only for the wind to change 5min later when you have to stop again to put it back on – waste of time unless you can let go of the handle bars and do it while riding.

http://www.active.com/…/articles/how-to-ride-with-no-hands

Therefore various benefits include: rest, balance/core work and practicality.

Now let’s move indoors. Rest? Sure. Especially if you are new to cycling and you find the normal position uncomfortable. I actually encourage little breaks where you roll the shoulders back, shake off you hands – a lot of beginners tend to squeeze the handle bars causing the shoulders to rise and the whole upper body to stiffen up.

I do however discourage sitting up for 30 sec or more at a time or doing it every minute. Why? As we are on a stationary bike when you let go of the handle bars you do not cause the core to engage in a more beneficial way – the bike doesn’t move, you do not need to balance. Pedalling technique suffers a bit as well, especially if you do it on a “hill”. And if you let go with too little resistance you are more than likely to be bouncing uncontrollably.

Mainly though, you are robbing yourself of a workout as sitting up significantly diminishes the power you are able to produce: you are not working as hard as when you are holding onto the bars. If you train on a bike with a power meter, try it: watch the Watts in both positions.

Now as an instructor you always look for reasons why people do things in a certain way, especially if it’s not something you do during the class so there must be other reason. I see 4 of them.

First, as mentioned above, stiff upper body due to squeezing the bars too tight. This can be trained over time.

Second, bad bike set up which is making riding uncomfortable. This can be easily fixed.

Third, issues that cannot be spotted unless the participant discloses them. It can be for example a chronic neck problem which again can be remedied by raising the handlebars slightly. Someone on the forum mentioned a participant who had the habit of sitting up a lot. It turns out he had a pacemaker and even with the handle bars higher than normal he found the position uncomfortable for longer periods of time. So as you can see there are exceptions to every rule.

Fourth, and that is my own observation: those unwilling to work hard do sit up A LOT. Mainly because when you are sitting on a bike for 45min, unless you are pushing hard enough to make it uncomfortable and raising your heart rate, it is plainly BORING. The only variation would be to sit up, look around trying to spot the clock praying it will show it’s almost over…

To sum up, sitting up hands free on an indoor bike for a few seconds to have a drink, a stretch etc is fine and is not dangerous. Longer or frequent periods in that position are just inefficient.

Now going hands free whilst STANDING is a totally different matter. Nobody would do it outdoors and you definitely shouldn’t do it indoors. It DOES NOT work your balance and core more – the bike is not moving so you do not really practice that skill. It puts unnecessary pressure on your knees and lower back, your pedal stroke is no longer circular and smooth plus you run a risk of losing your balance and leaving your teeth on the bars.

Exaggerating? This is what happened to me in June during my last class before the Tour of Cambridgeshire race. We were climbing out of the saddle and I let go of one hand to make a motion: keep your bum back and your bodyweight on your legs, when my cleat came loose and my foot came out. To prevent myself from falling I had to grab the handle bars quickly and trying to do that I jarred my index finger into the bars. My hand swelled up for a few days. Two months later and I am waiting for an x-ray results as my finger is not fine. I can’t shake hands with people as squeezing it is very painful, I can’t write with a pen without wincing and lifting a mug or a kettle causes discomfort too.

Consider yourselves warned 🙂

Should I or shouldn’t I?

When I was growing up in Poland everyone was cycling. A bike was on top of the list of gifts we would get for the first communion. I got mine and it was beautiful. I just realised it was red, just as my current one!

My mum’s younger sister took it upon herself to teach me to ride. The preferred method in mid 80s was to wedge a long stick behind the saddle so the “instructor” would hold on to it without touching the actual bike and just keep you balanced.

I don’t remember every detail of that lesson but I remember the universal things every kid says whatever country they are from when they get on their first bike: “Just don’t let go OK? I will tell you when to let go OK? Are you holding? Are you sure?” and you were pedalling on that tarmac road – no helmet or padding. Who has even heard of such stuff back then? And as my aunt’s repeated: “Yes. I am. I am still holding. No, I won’t let go. I am holding. I am holding” faded away I came to realise SHE WASN’T HOLDING ANYMORE! That promptly made me lose my balance even though I have been doing great over the last whatever meters… Oh, the joys of learning to ride the bike.

I spent all my school years, so from the age of 10 to age of 15, cycling regularly. We had this green bike with no gears – you would pedal forwards only. If you moved backwards that was the break. Mind boggles. And then we added a blue one that would pass for a hybrid in those days. That one had gears and it was considered posh.

After that I did not cycle outdoors until 2010. When I got on my friend’s bike I was scared but then shocked that you don’t forget a skill that you have learnt but not used for around 16 years!

But back then I was into running. Until my disk went that is. After the surgery when I started walking and sitting properly again it was time to get back into exercise. Running was out of the question so I started indoor cycling classes again. I used to love them before my back problems. I started slowly with 15min at a time. And a set up that I would call a cruiser bike. You get the picture.

Then as it was helping me so much and there was so little else I could do I decided to do the teaching qualification. And the rest is history. 2.5 years and over 600 classes taught.

Around a year and a half ago came the idea of getting a bike. My red Pinnacle Warhorse arrived via cycle to work scheme with a condition from my managing director that I would not cycle to work 🙂 So I didn’t. I took it around Norfolk over Easter 2014:

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then Sussex in summer

That's my family behind me :)

That’s my family behind me 🙂

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and Holland at Easter 2015:

Pinnacle Warhorse

Pinnacle Warhorse

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I managed to squeeze 8 days in Spain too which was magnificent!

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With Nacho the Guide

With Nacho the Guide

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This year you have already heard of my Tour of Cambridge. I don’t know if anything else comes in between but in November I am off to cycling in South America. Nicaragua, Panama & Costa Rica so expect a long entry on that one.

So to answer the question above: yes, you should get a bike this summer.

Tour of Cambridgeshire. What they don’t tell women about cycling.

I can’t believe it has already been a week since the Tour! Last Saturday we were just having a nice dinner fuelling before the Sunday big race: 81 miles or 128km, approximately.

It was the first ever Grand Fondo in the UK – Tour of Cambridgeshire. Fully run on closed roads. First day was time trial and on the second day over 5,000 cyclists of various abilities raced against the clock and the winds of Cambridgeshire.

As the race date approached suddenly taking part didn’t sound like such a great idea. And I did not have time to put in enough outdoors training, I mean miles, at all. All I could rely on were the 7-8 indoor classes a week and about 20-30 miles over the weekend in Richmond Park.

Now I have explained in my bio that I am really new to this outdoor cycling malarkey. Yes, I have spent last two Easter breaks cycling with friends across Norfolk and Holland but that was lovely. No rush, no race, frequent pub and bar breaks included. Life was beautiful.

I did do a long 56 miles ride last year – Nightride London to Brighton for British Heart Foundation. My friend Jana made me sign up with her and then couldn’t do it so I was a lone warrior on my red Pinnacle Bike with panniers, struggling up those awful hills including the Devil’s Dyke from midnight until 5:45am.

That was the longest distance I covered in one go. Until last week.

Now a lot has changed since last year: I have become a stronger cyclist and have cycled more outdoors. I have also finally changed my pedals and started wearing SPDs when outside. I am telling you, even though I have been using the Specialized shoes indoors for over two and a half years and I know full well how much difference they make, it was still a shock to the system when I finally put them on for my usual weekend loops around Richmond Park.

If you have ever cycled there you know that if you choose to go anticlockwise you face two short but steep hills. I have been frustrated for so long when riding in trainers using pedals with no cages, that I could not conquer these hills. And the times I did, I had to get off as I was completely out of breath.

The first time I did these two wearing my old Specialized friends I had a big grin on my face: I finally could use my strength and pull my knees up instead of only pushing my legs down. Result!

The downside of wearing cleats outdoors is remembering that you are wearing them so you unclip in time to get off but I have had no problems. I was ready for the Tour!

There was the question of the bike though. Hybrids were allowed but Lee, my training partner, and my sister were both telling me my bike was too heavy for such a long ride. My sister offered hers. Still a hybrid but I can lift her Hoy with two fingers. I contemplated it. For a long time. Finally I decided against it: better the devil you know. My bike has 24 gears, hers only 8. Her frame size is different and the saddle squeaks.

That was it. I was going into the battle on a warhorse. Heavy cavalry. None of the carbon wheel rockets.

On the morning of the Tour we arrived onto the massive car park already filling up with cyclists. Boy did they look professional… Serious bikes costing an equivalent of my quarterly wages, carbon wheels etc. They started pulling out the special thingys to fix their bikes onto next to their cars so they can warm up riding them while stationary. I have only seen these things on TV before… And then we took my Pinnacle out of the car and the silence fell over the car park. Not only it’s a hybrid but it still had the rack mounted for panniers. I looked like Marty who just came into the future! Thankfully Lee discreetly took the rack off to make me feel a bit less self conscious.

We attached our time chips, pinned our numbers to the tops and applied copious amounts of sunscreen as the weather was marvellous and it was only 9am. We still had 3 hours to the start.

TOUR11

TOUR10

As it was my first ever proper race I decided to invest £60 into the official Tour top with my name on it. It was beautiful and it arrived on time. Medium size. Medium only if you are a borrower though. Hence not willing to risk my breasts bursting into the open at mile 40, I decided not to wear it and opted for a new top that I bought at the event.

It is lovely, isn't it?

It is lovely, isn’t it?

I also had to buy a new pair of gloves – as seen above. Why? Oh, it’s just that my right hand was so swollen it wouldn’t fit into the old pair. Yes, last 5 minutes of my last indoor cycling class before the race we were climbing out of the saddle. Suddenly my cleat came loose and I lost balance. To save myself I fell into the handlebars jarring my index finger badly. Great!

When I saw St John’s ambulance crew a day before the race they just said: ice it and get as much ibuprofen in as you can. So I did turn up to the race properly doped up on painkillers and hoping they would not be doing blood tests…

Around an hour before the start we proceeded to form an orderly queue to the start line. A very, very, very long queue.

Yes, over 5,000 riders

Yes, over 5,000 riders

About 6 trips to the toilet later – just in case – we were off. I said goodbye to Lee who is much more experienced and who I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with and I was on my own. Well, with 5,000 or so others. But some of were cycling teams, some just groups of friends.

I was OK on my own. I stood out on my Pinnacle. The handlebars could not be hidden. Putting on a face saying: “Oh, shit, did I take the wrong bike with me?! Oh man! I knew that would happen!” didn’t work. Neither did the look “This is not my bike. I just found it on the side of the road”. So I adopted the Minority Pride approach: Yes, this is a hybrid. Yes, it weights 3 times as much as your bike. Yes, the tires look like from a motorbike but I can handle it. I am a pro. I am an indoor cycling instructor. And like Tina Turner said before me I was “gonna do it rough”!

I have never ridden on closed roads before and for the first 20 miles I kept expecting a car to pass by. Especially that when you have trains of 4-6 cyclists passing you by at around 20-22 mph they do sound like an approaching car. It was great to actually experience riding with some semi-professionals. Sun was shining, the roads were mostly flat. What else can you ask for?

And then I saw him!

Yes! I wasn't alone! There were 3 of us I believe among 5,000 using hybrid bikes.

Yes! I wasn’t alone! There were 3 of us I believe among 5,000 using hybrid bikes.

My heart quickened – there were more of us! “This is how you do it!” I shouted to the guy. “Damn right!” was the response. Over the course I actually got thumbs up from some serious pro racers saying: “I can’t believe you are doing the Tour on THAT and you are already that far!”

First feeding station was next and I was doing great. On schedule. No problems. I called my sister to let her know all was fine and I was back in the saddle.

Around mile 40 I was in high spirits. My legs were fine even though my right adductor was beginning to feel like it was going into a cramp. But what really started bothering me was my nether regions. yes, my WOMAN AREA.

This is one of the main things I need to vent about OK? And before you freeze in “No, she wouldn’t, would she?!” expression – I will not be posting any pictures of that area but what follows in the next paragraph will be quite graphic but it has to be said. Women who just venture into long distance cycling need to be told!

I noticed in one of my training rides around 30 miles long that my legs, HR etc were all good, my bum in the padded shorts was comfy but my front was anything but. It was so uncomfortable and sore that I could not continue my ride that day. I decided to ask for advice. Next day I was teaching a class where two of the regulars are women triathletes (both of them were doing the Tour). I went straight in for the kill: what do I do to make it possible to ride 80 miles.

Lara gave me a knowing smile and recalled that in one of her first long races she had to stop she was so uncomfortable THERE. She went into the medics and said her bits were getting so destroyed she would have to stop the race. The nurse said: Rubbish! Loads and loads of Vaseline. Failing that look for a ripe banana and mash it before you apply it! Before you go “Ewwww!!!” – if you have never felt like you were on fire down below (cystitis) and at the same time going to tear into pieces, hold your judgement. Suddenly mashed banana sounds like a genius idea, believe you me.

So here I was: I knew it was going to happen so I applied Vaseline and some lady cream to prevent any major damage. Boy did it fail… Ladies, if you ever needed a motivation for completing a long distance race as fast as you can – THIS IS IT!

After about 2,5 – 3 hours second feeding station stop. Loo. Jeez! Fire! Fire in the hole!!! More cream applied. Back in the saddle. That continued until the end.

Oh, but not before I crashed spectacularly into a nettle bush. How? Nothing too dramatic. I stopped to stretch. Came to a stop. Forgot to unclip. Went onto my left side like a log. I was actually laughing at myself and thinking – lucky me, this didn’t even hurt! On Tuesday (2 days after the race) it turned out it actually did. Massive bruise on my hip and dead weight left shoulder just proved that the numerous ibuprofens that I took to numb my right hand started to wear off…

My last 10 miles were the slowest ever. I struggled. My leg was crumping but all I could think of is that I could not sit in that saddle any longer! I wished there were hills so you could work out of the saddle.

Then there it was. The finish line. 6 hours after the start with 5:20 of actual riding, the rests were stops.
TOUR1

Lee and my sister were waiting for me. They took care of my bike when I went to the loo again. Well, I hobbled like John Wayne, more like. I just wanted these padded shorts off and ideally wanted to go commando! All the way from Peterborough to London. Man! I could not continue I swear to God.

The saga continued for the next 5 days. I was so sore and uncomfortable I thought my nether regions would never look the same again. Or feel. I just wanted not to feel them all the time. If a man approached me in hope of intimacy I would kill him with my bare hands.

Will I do such a long race again? I think it’s like with childbirth – if you give yourself enough time to forget, at some point another 80 mile race will sound like a good idea again. But not yet.

For now, tomorrow I am going to check out a proper racing bike. I am told they have got saddles with a groove in the right area, if you catch my drift. I am also going to up my training so I can slash at least 30 minutes from that kind of distance. But main thing, I will keep researching for ways to deal with this burning problem we as women face when cycling for hours at a time. Any advice will be most welcome!

Taking the outdoors in and indoors out – what is this blog all about?

Hello and welcome to my blog. I have been toying with this idea for a while. Every time I have got some thoughts after an indoor cycling class I have just taught or a teaching experience I would love to share with my participants or fellow instructors, I find that FB is not always the best place to put anything too lengthy. Not to mention Twitter! Hence I decided to give blogging a go.

This blog will have two sides. First, my take on indoor cycling as an instructor – so advice for people taking the classes both from the technical point of view and more general stuff from the group exercise perspective. I will be reviewing cycling programmes, giving my opinion on indoor bike types etc. and talking about challenges I set in my classes from time to time.

The second part will document my journey as I venture into the world of outdoor cycling, carbon wheels, Vaseline, least damaging saddles, Garmins, Strava and battling the winds on the hills of Richmond Park or occasionally Westerham Hill or Crystal Palace. Or more recently in the Tour of Cambridgeshire. I am only at the start of it so it will be great to have you on the journey.

I will also be reporting from more leisurely trips here. The ones taken on my trusted Pinnacle hybrid bike that took me around Norfolk, Sussex and Holland so far. Plus tales from cycling holidays using locally rented bikes: Spain already in the past and South America coming next in November 2015.

I am ready. I usually start my classes like this:

I am Izabela. we have 45min workout to do so let’s do it! Relax your upper body, your neck, roll the shoulders back and down, lean from your hips forward and get your hands comfortably on the handlebars. Resistance nice and easy but make sure you stay in control of your bike. Take a deep breath in and let’s go!