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Free and easy cycling hacks to make every ride better

Nick Soldinger
4 Jun 2018

How limes, old newspapers, traffic lights and Mr Sheen can all improve life in the saddle

The best way to get better at cycling is to ride more and train better. But there are other ways that each ride can be improved, and it's not just about getting faster.

Here we've listed 23 ways that you could make each ride that little bit better.

1. Double up your bar tape

You can make your ride a helluva lot easier on your hands simply by wrapping two lots of tape around your handlebars to soak up road noise.

This is a trick that’s been used by pros for years – particularly those who take on the dreaded pavé of the Spring Classics.

A cheaper– but no less effective – option is to wrap an old inner tube around your bars underneath your existing tape.

Obviously remove the inner tube and cut it down to length first before applying.

2. Sleep on an empty(ish) stomach

‘Denied fuel for five hours, your body will start burning its own fat,’ says fitness expert and author Bob Harper.

‘That means if your dinner was at 8pm, you’ll be burning fat by 1am. The lack of carbs in your bloodstream will also let your body produce the hormones it needs for better sleep.’

The theory is backed up by sports scientist and cycling coach Dr Allen Lim, who says, ‘The best pros go to bed a little bit hungry.

'When you go to bed moderately hungry, you lose about a pound a week.’

3. Go for light-coloured clothing

This is another one for when the sun (finally) comes out again. Avoid cycling in dark-coloured clothing in hot weather.

Opt instead for light colours which will reflect the sun’s rays rather than absorb it, which is what darker colours do.

And when we say clothing we mean tops (jerseys etc) never shorts. White shorts for a cyclist are just plain wrong.

Why? Because they show up any dirt instantly, including any leaks your body may choose to spring on you mid ride. Ewww... 

4. Don't forget the sunscreen

Tan lines are all well and good but long hours on the bike when the sun reappears can leave you with sunburn, so apply before you ride and take some with you for when your sweat has washed it off.

Using mini shampoo containers of the type you pinch from hotel rooms (we all do, don’t we?) is one way to transport them.

Another is to get a contact lens case (you can buy packs of four for less than a fiver on Amazon).

Fill the left eye case with sun cream, the right one with lip balm, and stick it in your back pocket.

5. Use traffic lights as motivation

Traffic lights are good when they’re green, awful when they’re amber, and rubbish when they’re red. So turn them to your advantage and use them as a way of getting some fat-burning, anaerobic-fitness boosting sprints in.

If you’re approaching a set of lights and they’re still green, sprint to and through them – you’ll more than likely hit a red or amber at the next set, where you’ll be able to get your breath back.

Unless, of course, you sync it just right and hit a ‘green wave’ – in which case you’ll be sprinting till you honk your breakfast up!

This does, of course, rely on other road users obeying their signals or not turning across you, so is a training technique that should be approached with care and at your own risk. Obviously don't skip through reds, either.

6. Use your old inner tubes for stretching

Another great use for seemingly done-for inner tubes is to convert them into improvised resistance bands for pre- and post-ride stretching exercises.

You’ll help keep your muscles supple, add to your eco credentials with some instant recycling, and save yourself a few quid into the bargain. Which is a win-win-win!  

7. Always have some duct tape with you

Good stuff, duct tape. It can be used to remedy any number of sticky in-the-saddle situations from patching up torn waterproofs or busted mudguards to providing an emergency fix for a slashed tyre.

Simply wrap a piece around your seat post or your on-board pump and forget about it until the day you need it. 

8. Never leave home without a spare mech hanger

All-too-easy to bend or break, a spare gear hanger – also known as a replaceable dropout – is useful to keep about you.

Usually made from so metal, your bike’s gear hanger is designed to break under stress to protect more expensive bits of your bike such as the rear derailleur and frame.

In fact, something as simple as using the wrong gear can cause it to snap. There are many types of hanger and as they’re usually specific to your frame, sourcing a replacement can be tricky.

So pre-source one from your local bike shop if you don’t already have one and take it with you.

9. Be sure to stash a plastic fiver

Those new plastic five-pound notes may look like play money but they actually make for great temporary patches.

Should you find yourself stranded at the roadside with a big slash down your tyre wall, you can use the note as a temporary boot on the inside of the tyre to get you out of trouble.

If you don’t have a fiver on you, an energy bar wrapper will do the job just as well. Just take the energy bar out first, eh?

10. Hold onto your valve caps

Next time you change your tyre, don’t ditch the valve cap that comes with the new inner tube. Why? Because if you snip the top off you can use it as a rough-and-ready Presta to Schrader valve converter.

If you’re in a tight spot you can use it to top up your tyres at the nearest petrol station.

And if you’re out of money or don’t want to break into that plastic fiver, try to find a Sainsbury’s garage rather than an Asda or a Tesco, where they won’t charge you for the air.

11. Keep some zip ties handy

Zip ties aren’t just for cuffing crims, they’re great for saving cyclists, too. They do all manner of jobs in an emergency, from anchoring a broken saddle to its rails, to serving as a makeshift seatpost bolt, or standing in for a missing chain ringbolt.

They’re light and cheap and will hold things together should your ride turn the shape of a pear.

12. Pack some split-links

These smart, snap-together chain links make re-joining a broken chain much easier.

Ideally, the damaged link should be removed with a chain tool but you should be able to break apart a snapped link with the screwdriver on your multi-tool.

It’s not ideal but it will get you home. Just type ‘split links’ into Amazon if you don’t own any – yours for a couple of quid.

13. Use your stem as a cache

And where do you put all your emergency supplies (zip ties, fivers and so forth)? Simple. Make sure that you never leave home without your emergency kit on board your bike by stashing it in the body of your handlebar stem.

That way, should your bike come a cropper when you’re out on the road, you’ll always have the necessary bits and bobs to rescue your ride.

14. Ride with wider tyres

If you’re currently riding on 23mm tyres and your bike has the clearance to take some wider rubber, consider upping the width to 25 or even 28mm.

Running wider tyres with slightly lower pressure can help transform the comfort of your ride, particularly relieving neck and hand pain.

15. Always look to maintain a steady pace

Pros ride a lot at a steady pace to build and maintain endurance – and you should too.

That means riding in Zone 2, with your heart rate at about 25-35% below maximum. If you ride without a heart- rate monitor, you can judge it by your ability to hold a conversation.

Manage one and you’ll be in the right zone, start gasping and you’re riding too hard. That doesn’t mean ride super-slow, but maintain a steady, moderate pace – it will seem almost too easy at first but on rides over two hours, you’ll know you’ve been on a bike.

16. Use furniture spray on your frame

Everyone likes their bike to look its best. But if you’ve just given your beloved a wash and scrub only to discover you’re out of showroom polish, then a tin of Mr Sheen or even a supermarket’s own-brand furniture polish will do just as well.

Not only will it make your bike gleam but it’ll restrict the amount of dirt that a aches itself to your frame when you next go out for a spin.

It also saves you forking out for dedicated showroom sprays, and when you’re done you can give the living room a once over with it, too!

17. Squeeze fresh lime juice into your water bottles

Limes are amazing. A study in 2000 found that adding lime juice to food had helped curtail a cholera epidemic in Guinea-Bissau in West Africa.

OK, so you may not be at risk from cholera but as the flavonoids in lime juice has a proven track record as a powerful anti-bacterial agent it’ll help keep the inside of your bidons clean.

It’ll also add a zesty tang to metallic-tasting tap water, while providing your immune system with a dash of vitamin C. And all for 30p a go from your local greengrocers. Bargain!

18. Use newspaper on your shoes

Once you’ve finished your ride and you take off your shoes, remove the footbeds, and then stuff sheets of crumpled up newspaper inside them.

This will soak up any rain or sweat the shoes have absorbed on your ride. You’ll be surprised how much moisture paper can absorb this way, so check them after a couple of hours and replace the newspaper if necessary.

That way you’ll be putting your feet into nice, dry shoes the next day, not something that feels like a trout’s mouth!

19. Make your zip-pulls longer

Do yourself a favour – go to amazon.co.uk, type in ‘zipper extension’ and pop a pack of cheap (we’re talking less than a fiver) zip cords in your basket.

When the postie puts them through your letter box add them to the zips on your jacket, saddle bag or jersey pocket to make opening and closing them easier when your hands are deep inside winter gloves.

20. Use talc on your inner tubes

By dusting down your inner tubes with baby powder before installing them you’ll reduce your chances of suff ering a puncture.

The powder makes the rubber’s surface slippery, so the tube and tyre are less likely to stick together, reducing friction in the process. It will also make fitting the tubes easier – which is never a bad thing!

21. Use your phone as a map

Unless you’re still rocking an old Motorola clamshell, your phone will more than likely have the ability to take screen shots off that internet thingy.

So snap a map or a route you want to follow on Google maps and use it to navigate offline when you’re out on the road. You’ll save your data allowance as well as your battery.

22. Save big efforts for the end of your ride

Smashing out intervals is all well and good at the start of a ride, but you’ll gain more from them at the end when you’re tired.

When you’re in a glycogen-depleted state, more intense efforts are likely to make your body more efficient at burning fat and improves mental toughness, too.

As sports psychologist and author of The Only Way To Win, Dr Jim Loehr puts it, ‘Toughness is the ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your skill regardless of the circumstances.’

So dig deepest when you least feel like it and you’ll set new, improved limits for yourself.

23. Freeze a bottle before a hot ride

Next time you go out for a long, hot ride (we appreciate this may be still be a ways off!), pre-freeze the liquid in one of your bidons.

Leave it for the last part of the ride, by which time it’ll have melted, and you’ll have a long, cool, refreshing drink to see you into the home straight.

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