By Alex Ballinger published
Cycling is for everyone – that’s the beauty of it.
Anyone with access to two wheels can jump on a bike, breeze around the city or country and enjoy all the delights the velocipede can offer.
That being the case, there are also some pretty key things you learn if you don the lycra a few moons earlier than the stereotypical road rider.
The (often mis-)perception is that cycling is reserved for those advancing in years, but on rare days you might catch a glimpse of the mythical creature – a cyclist in their mid-20s.
While running around interviewing pros at a recent cycling event, a flattering member of the public asked "are you training to be a journalist?", to which I responded "no, I am one."
They then explained that I was young for a cycling journalist, which set me thinking about the nuances of the cycling world for the younger generation.
Here are a few things you learn pushing the pedals before your prime.
The first thing you might notice riding bikes in your younger days is that friends won’t necessarily be as excited about the miracle of the bicycle as you.
I’m the only one of my friends who rides road bikes, which can make me the butt of A LOT of jokes at the pub.
It doesn’t help that my mates ride mountain bikes, making me fair game for a ribbing in their eyes.
Among those who don’t ride bikes at all, cycling just seems an eccentric hobby that they’ll just have to look past, like taxidermy.
Oh and prepare for plenty of people asking ‘why?’ when they uncover that you decided to ride 100 miles for fun on Sunday.
Cycling is not always a welcome universe for anyone hoping to save a few pennies, which makes it testing for those who don’t own many pennies at all.
Many riders in their 20s will know the hardship of the twin ambitions of trying to kickstart a career AND trying to keep your bike above the standard of roadie ridicule.
When (more financially viable) club-mates compare their state-of-the-art whale technology carbon rims, you might have to slink off into the background to avoid admitting how much your wheels actually cost, or that you got them from Gumtree.
Over the years you can build up a pretty decent array of quality kit, enough to pass the preliminary peer exams at least, but that leaves you praying that nothing breaks and holds you back on the road to cycling’s upper classes.
Even then, winter is always coming and leaves you with the age old dilemma – do you buy a winter bike, ride your best through the bleakest months, or just pack it up and accept your fate until spring?
You’re never fit, you’re just young
Cyclists and excuses are a match forged at the dawn of time.
Weather, illness, injury, the tools, - we’re never far away from a justified extenuating circumstance when our form falls a little short.
Every once in a while you put in a good show when out on the tyres – maybe a Strava top ten or taking the win in an unofficial bunch sprint – which leaves your road-mates grasping for an excuse about their own performance.
When you’re a whippersnapper, there’s one excuse that trumps all – youth.
Older riders will always be keen to remind you of your fresh legs and lack of greys when it comes to a decent performance – you’re never fitter, you’re just younger.
Not in your prime yet
And of course you need your own go-to excuse.
There’s a lot of debate around the peak-age for performance, but as a younger rider you can explain away all poor form by reminding everyone that you haven’t hit your prime yet.
I tell myself daily I’ve got a few years left to hit the apex – I’m looking at my early 30s, but that is subject to change without notice.
Finding a club can be hard
Choosing the right CC can be a key step in the training, riding and improving process.
Testing your form against the best and brightest your local area has to offer is always a rewarding challenge, more so than riding against the clock or trusting the KoM of a rider who may or may not have benefitted from the Vauxhall Zafira they were driving.
Riders younger than the average might have to look a little further to find a club with a decent mix of ages.
Of course there is zero problem riding with a group from the older generation, but it’s also nice to ride and train with folks closer to your own age, which can often be a tricky find when considering cycling clubs.
You should be better
Simon Yates celebrates after stage 20 of the 2018 Vuelta a España (Sunada)
This is something pretty much every cyclist in the world tells themselves at some point, but there is an added dimension for the mid-20s rider.
I’m exactly 20 days younger than the phenomenal Yates brothers, Britain’s rising stars in Grand Tour racing – an awkward reminder of how much better I should be.
Of course circumstance is everything and the chances of me being a professional cyclist were a grand total of zero per cent, but you can’t help but notice the birth dates of the most talented in the world, most of which are your age or younger.
This is the best you’ll ever look in lycra
While your form will (hopefully) continue to rise on the cycling graph, there is one axis that is perpetually in decline – how you look in lycra.
The stresses of life wreak havoc on the cycling physique and your mid-20s are likely the high point in aero-fitting clothing.
Make the most of the sleek lycra aesthetic while you still have the stomach for it.
Riding with a hangover
This is obviously a detail that affects every corner of the cycling world, but riding with more alcohol than oxygen in your veins is something the mid-20s cyclist can take in their stride.
Carbo-loading for the Sunday ride with a 4am kebab, pulling on your kit after three hours of sleep, it’s a familiar routine for the poor self-control of youth, especially twinned with the peer pressure of friends who wouldn’t ride 60km anyway.
The hangover is also a blessing for my dad, as my booze-hindered leg and lung capacity allow him to drop me at every opportunity.
Enjoy it while you can - your hangovers are at least 75 per cent more brutal at 25 than at 18, and it’s all downhill from here.
Alex is the digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter and now as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output.
Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) and joining CW in 2018, Alex has covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.
Away from journalism, Alex is a national level time triallist, avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.
'If you can achieve something like this, then other things in life can seem quite easy': Local hero outlines the joy of ultra-endurance events
From Cumbria’s highest passes to motorway McDonalds stops - video showcases the rollercoaster reality of a 60-hour ride in all its unglamorous glory
By Michelle Arthurs-Brennan • Published
Record rides: Tommy Godwin’s 75,065 miles in a year
vans Perhaps one of the most incredible records ever set on two wheels retold by Dave Barter.
By Cycling Weekly • Published