Is cycling bad for my oral health?

cyclist showing his teeth

After a glorious summer on the pedals and with the temperature dropping ever so slightly I have found myself recently, nursing a dull ache coming from my chops.  Is cycling bad for my oral health? Is my bike to blame?

Sports drinks, gels and bars are bad for your teeth. This finding, from research just published in the British Dental Journal, is hardly surprising.  

Indeed, many cycling enthusiasts – even those that take the time to bake a home-made banana loaf or pilfer their wife’s carefully created energy balls – will likely take more interest in caring for their teeth than the population at large.

Sugary stuff is pretty hard to avoid. But we can sleep easy (once the lid is replaced on the tube), safe in the knowledge that those pre, during or post workout energy boosts have been safely brushed away.

Or not

“Elite athletes have high rates of oral disease despite brushing their teeth more frequently than most people,” the UCL scientists found.

Of the 352 Olympic and professional athletes in 11 sports, including cycling, 94% said they brushed their teeth at least twice a day, and 44% regularly cleaned between their teeth (flossing). This is far higher than the general population: 75% for twice-daily brushing and 21% for flossing.

I don’t know anyone who flosses, so maybe that’s a good place to start. But for those who are already doing that – as well as brushing, going to the dentist every 6 months, not smoking and eating healthily – the findings are a bit of a kick in the teeth.

Dr Julie Gallagher from the UCL Eastman Dental Institute Centre for Oral Health and Performance said it’s the gels, bars and drinks that are the issue.

“The sugar in these products increases the risk of tooth decay and the acidity of them increases the risk of erosion. This could be contributing to the high levels of tooth decay and acid erosion we saw during the dental check-ups.”

Now, these are ‘elite athletes’. As such, they may well be quaffing more sports drinks than your average Joe, or David. However, the fact they are seemingly doing all they can to protect their teeth and gums – and still have poor oral health must be hard to take.

Amongst those athletes, the researchers found:

  • nearly half (49.1%) had untreated tooth decay
  • the large majority showed early signs of gum inflammation
  • almost a third (32%) reported that their oral health had a negative impact on their training and performance.

So now they’re looking at introducing more hygiene habits – like additional fluoride use from mouthwash, more frequent dental visits and reducing their intake of sports drinks – to help the professional cyclists, runners, swimmers et al improve their gnashers. The results aren’t out yet, so what can you do?

Professor Damien Walmsley, scientific advisor at the British Dental Association, had this advice for readers of The Draft:

“Competitive sport requires considerable energy to beat the competition – but quenching your thirst by sipping on energy drinks for long periods amounts to constantly bathing your teeth in sugar.  The sugar-free varieties are just as damaging, as these drinks are also acidic which over time can strip the enamel of your teeth. This erosion makes teeth vulnerable to tooth decay.

 “I’d advise people to steer clear of ‘energy drinks’. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and perhaps consider more complex carbohydrates to sustain energy levels.”

For us mere mortals:

Start with a decent bowl of porridge before that long Saturday ride, providing slow release energy (maybe go crazy and add peanut butter – though be warned, it’s claggy so you’ll want to brush before leaving the house).

Keep hydrated, with water, which will also stop you getting ‘dry mouth’ (saliva helps protect your teeth). Then think about balancing what you need. If you are doing a session after work, think about the fuel you’ll need in advance, so you can go for the complex carbs rather than the last minute gel.

On longer rides, there’s a fair chance you could be over-fuelling, especially at the coffee shop stop. I’m also not sure where the science for the recommended intakes for energy gels comes from. One every 25-45 minutes – really? On whose advice: the marketing team? Can anyone carry that many gels on an 8-hour ride?

And for the commuters: you don’t need an energy gel on the way from Tooting to Westminster – however hard you ride.

Yellow Jersey Cycle Insurance policies can cover you while you are training, travelling and racing and offers up to £500 emergency physio and dental treatment as standard – click here to get your free quote.

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Hot weather cycling. Don’t let heat spoil your ride.

Europe is in the midst of an unprecedented heatwave, just as many of you will be heading there on holiday, or to race.

It’s crucial not to underestimate the effect high temperatures can have on your cycling. The average daily high in Mallorca last July was 34 degrees centigrade, and areas such as Andalucia in the South of Spain saw 39 degrees most days. This is more than enough to wipe out most of us, and there were days when the peak temperatures were even higher.  For the next couple of weeks, temperatures across mainland Europe are set to exceed 40 degrees centigrade.

The current heatwave is likely to push temperatures in the UK up to 25 – 30 degrees. It’s hardly doomsday weather, but more than enough to be dangerous if you are not used to cycling in it.

We look at how higher temperatures can effect your performance, the early warning signs of heat exhaustion, and how to keep yourself safe cycling in hot weather.

Hot weather cycling

Heat and Heart Rate

Sports Physiologist Dr Garry Palmer spoke to us about the impact of temperature on our body’s ability to do work, and how this affects heart rate.

His experiment looked at the effects of cooling while using an indoor trainer, but the results can be applied to a hot climate too, particularly while climbing when you don’t have the cooling effect of speed.

As the temperature rises, your body begins sending more blood towards the surface of your skin to aid cooling. If you are exercising at the same time, your heart needs to work harder to continue supplying your muscles with blood. This all leads to ‘greater cardiac stress’, and if there is one thing we can all agree on, the higher your heart rate goes, the more it hurts.

The solution? A sensible person would tell you to slow down.

Dehydration

As hard as you try to prevent it, higher temperatures are going to dehydrate you more quickly than you can take that water back on. As little as 1% dehydration can impair your performance by as much as 5%, and sodium lost through sweat can be linked to muscle cramping during exercise.

You are going to start sweating the moment you leave your fancy air-conditioned hotel room, and as you continue throughout your ride, it’s going to get more and more difficult to maintain your pace. When riding in hot climates, it’s particularly important to drink enough water and sodium to offset dehydration as much as possible.

One top tip is to take two large bidons; one from the tap, and one out of the freezer. By the time the first bottle is empty, the second will be thawed meaning you have cool water the whole way round your ride.

Sunburn

It’s stating the obvious really, but the only thing more ridiculous than a cyclist’s tan lines is the outline of bibshorts and jersey in your crippling sunburn. Make sure you have a little tube of suncream in your saddlebag or back pocket, and top up as you go.

Heat Exhaustion

We’re getting a little more serious now; heat exhaustion will seriously spoil your day if not your week.

If you aren’t replacing your fluids quickly enough, dehydration can lead to a decrease in blood pressure and blood volume. The symptoms include extreme tiredness, dizziness and nausea. It’s incredibly important to keep toped up with fluids and make a stop if you start to feel the signs of heat exhaustion, because if you leave it to long, you could find yourself facing…

Heatstroke

Your body is no longer able to cool itself, and your body temperature becomes dangerously high. In other words, you should already be on your way to hospital. Make sure everyone in the group you’re riding with recognises the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, and if riding alone, make sure you have someone to call if you get into trouble.

For more information on heat exhaustion and heatstroke, you can check out the NHS website.

Ultimately, as well as keeping topped up with water and sun cream, the best advice is not to go too hard.

I know it’s a bit like your mum telling you to wear a scarf when it’s cold, but you need to adapt your riding to your environment. Some of the newer Garmins are coming with thermometers which will add temperature data to Strava for you. You’ll have bragging rights even if it was a slow burn when your friends notice you completed your climb at 35°C.

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Celebrating amazing women in cycling for International Women’s Day

Back in 1984, a women’s Tour de France ran alongside the men’s event and at the end of the race, the winner of the men and women’s races would stand on the same podium, side by side. Who would have thought that possible when you watch today’s Tour where stage winners are presented their jerseys by women usually sporting tight dresses and high heels?

It appears gender equality in cycling has actually gone backwards; and the sad reality is that the event only lasted five years due to a lack of funding for the women’s side of the sport, something which is a constant battle at the pro end of women’s cycling with teams regularly folding and leaving hugely talented riders without a team to train and race with.

But it’s not just in pro cycling. Across the sport in the UK, more needs to be done to help get women onto bikes and to enjoy the same opportunities as men. A 2018 study by Sustrans found that men were twice as likely to cycle across a city than women yet four out of five women supported more investment in cycling… something’s not quite right there.

I could go on listing lots of ways in which women seem under-represented in cycling but I think you’d all just stop reading! So instead, and to celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow, we’ve looked at women who have inspired us all over the past year in some way related to two wheels. These women are an inspiration to us all, men and women alike.

Jenny Graham

If you’ve not heard of Jenny by now then where have you been? When she broke the current women’s record by more than two weeks by cycling self-supported around the world in 124 days, she made it onto almost every mainstream and cycling news channel. Jenny set off in June last year and covered 18,000 miles across four continents. It was an extraordinary achievement, especially for someone who was relatively new to cycling. It’s fair to say she will have inspired thousands to get out and explore more using two wheels.

She set herself the rules of:

“I’ll do it all myself, under my own power – no drafting

I’ll carry all my own gear

I won’t accept any outside support (deliveries only to public addresses or open homes, no vehicles of any kind meeting me along the way to provide supplies or assistance).”

Jenny started bikepacking comparatively late in life and only did an endurance race for the first time in 2015, so she is proof that dedicating yourself to your passion can reap rewards very quickly.

Victoria Williamson

Last week Victoria was competing at the World Track Championships in Poland, an achievement enough in itself. What was so special about this is that less than three years ago, while racing at the Rotterdam Six Day event, she had an crash so bad that she says her hospital discharge notes suggest she is lucky to even be alive. Just millimetres away from life changing paralysis from her neck down, she has spent the past two years fighting herself back to fitness again. It takes a strong woman, with an excellent support team of course, to not just overcome such a catastrophic injury but to come back stronger.

We salute you, Vicky, and we’ll be watching your journey eagerly as you start your journey to claim your place in team GB at Tokyo 2020.

Kristina Vogel 

One of the all time track cycling greats, having won two Olympic Gold Medals, countless World titles and many other National and European medals. But in 2018, everything changed for Kristina when she crashed while training, an accident that has left her paralysed from the waist down. Less than a year after this life changing accident, Kristina has fully embraced her new situation and is now proactively using her misfortune to inspire others. She has no regrets and is headstrong in her opinion that you should follow your dreams and not worry about the ‘what ifs’.

For the thousands of people out there who might be struggling with an injury or illness, no matter how big or small, she is fast becoming a fantastic role model to help people believe that they can do it, they just need to believe in themselves. There is no doubt, she is an incredible woman.

Lael Wilcox

I’d never heard of Lael Wilcox until someone pointed her out to me and said she needed to be on this list. How right they were… this woman is hardcore and is constantly breaking boundaries that are not defined by gender. How had I not noticed her before?!

Credit: Laelwilcox.com

Lael is undoubtedly the best female ultra-endurance cyclist in the world, almost by accident. She now clocks up 20,000 miles each year on her bike! Her first race she entered on a borrowed bike which she entered a couple of days before, casually winning it.

The next year she entered the Tour Divide a 2,745 mile mountain bike race that follows the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico. If that wasn’t enough, Lael decided to ride to the start from Anchorage to Alberta (adding 2,100 miles). She finished the race in a mind blowing 17 days, 1 hour, 15 mins, a new woman’s record. However, Lael was not content with this, and thought that she could do better so later that year, she cycled back and did it all over again 15 days 10 hours 59 minutes!

In 2016, she won the Trans Am bike race which runs from 4,400 miles from Oregon to Virginia. She was the overall winner – the bit I like the most is that she slyly over took the race leader on the last night, almost out of nowhere. That must have hurt!

She continues her success and now champions the use of a bicycle as a means to move and stay alive. She is still racing but now spends a lot of her time dedicated to getting more women onto bikes. She currently organises a bicycle adventure program for girls in Anchorage and runs scholarships for women to give them a helping hand to achieve great things on two wheels.

Rhoda Jones

At just 4 years old, Rhoda Jones became the youngest girl to ride Lands End to John O’Groats with her parents and older brother, Thomas. Rhoda’s never really know any different – she went on her first bicycle tour aged just 4 months in a trailer behind her parent’s bikes. However, this young lady seems to have fully embraced a love for life on two wheels and we think she and her family deserve a shout out for being so awesome!

Oh, and you may remember this lovely little girl when a video of her went viral when she gave thumbs up to a lorry for giving them space on the road (skip forward to around 2 minutes to watch).

Donnons des elles au vélo

These women are just awesome. Hell bent on showing the world that the women would be more than capable of riding the full Tour de France route, this French cycling club, mainly made up of pretty speedy amateur female cyclists, ride the full course just before the men take it on each year to try to demand a revival of the women’s Tour de France.

In 2018, the group of 11 women who took it on were a mixture of scientists, teachers, journalists and full time mums. They rode the 3,351km successfully (again!) raising valuable awareness of the continued sexism that surround this event. Aside from campaigning for equality at le Tour and other major races, the group spends its time trying to promote women’s cycling at every level.

Helen Wyman

Helen’s just announced her retirement from professional cycling after 14 incredible years racing Cyclocross. She’s not only been racing and podium placing on a regular basis at the very highest level but has also been actively involved with the UCI Cyclocross Commission which is making significant progress for championing equality in this sector of the sport, including equal prize funds for male and female racers and the introduction of a women’s junior world title.

We reckon this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Helen; with more time on her hands now, the sport is sure to benefit from her as a mentor as well as a lobbyist.

Lucy Gossage

I was pretty sure Lucy announced she was retiring from life as a pro triathlete at the end of 2017 to focus more on her career as an Oncologist. Yep, that’s right, she’s been juggling oncology and being a pro triathlete for years now.

So when I kept hearing that she had been winning races one after the other, I was clearly impressed but also a little surprised. It turns out that Lucy had just dropped the amount of training she was doing due to increased work load and in fact it was benefiting her performance. So, on her ‘off year’, this incredible woman won 3 Ironmans, 2 half Ironmans, Long Course Weekend in Mallorca as well as the inaugural Patagonian Man. That’s insane!

 

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A post shared by Lucy Gossaage (@lucygossage) on May 26, 2018 at 4:13pm PDT

Alongside all of this, Lucy founded an initiative called “5k Your Way” which takes place at regular Park Run locations each month. It’s a community based initiative to encourage and support people living with cancer – family, friends, those working in cancer services – to walk, jog, run, cheer or volunteer at a local Your Way Park Run. She is a true role model for making the most of each day, whatever it may hold.

A snippet from her blog states:

“Every day at work, I’m astounded by the resilience of people. For the last 5 months I’ve been treating a lot of younger people with cancer. It’s what I want to do longer term – I love it. Most people would struggle to understand why a job like this is enjoyable and I find it hard to explain. But some of it, I’m sure, is seeing people at their strongest… But every time, pretty much every single time, patients and families cope. Lives are turned upside down in an instant. Dreams are threatened. Futures uncertain. But people deal with it and work around what they have. The resilience of humans is incredible.

“I guess in many ways, Ironman is also about resilience. Everyone who crosses that finish line will have suffered setbacks. Dealing with those, in training and on race-day is what makes finishing such an achievement. And I guess that’s partly why, in my book, Ironman is in some ways a metaphor for life. It teaches you so much more about yourself than just swim, bike and run.”

I could go on forever with this list but it’s fair to say that there are some pretty amazing women out there, from all walks of life, at all levels of the sport who are leading the way to inspire and encourage more women into this sport.

And maybe, just maybe, one day a women will wear that prestigious maillot jaune…

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Get into… track cycling

The feeling as you drop in from the banking and hit the cote d’azur just perfectly to storm down the finish straight is one like no other. Sure, there are all sorts of rushes you can get on two wheels, but few come close to this one in terms of absolute, unadulterated speed and (hopefully) control.

For those not yet initiated into the ways of the boards, track cycling can seem like ‘just riding around in circles’ and that’s because track is an entirely different beast to other disciplines. Specialist ‘trackies’ like Laura Kenny, Chris Hoy and Elinor Barker choose to spend much of their cycling lives flying around a banked wall of wood, rather than exploring the roads of faraway nations – something not immediately understandable to the outside eye. However, we can tell you the joy is not in the conquering of cols, but in the buzz and excitement of whizzing around a track as fast as you can, all the while trying not to crash.

Yes, the first time you try riding on a fixed-gear bike on a banked velodrome is going to be a little bit (ok, ‘a lot’) terrifying. Everyone who has done their track accreditation (the official British Cycling course that qualifies you to race) will tell you that those first few sessions are tough on the nerves – but once you get into the swing of it, you’ll find yourself rapidly addicted to the rush.

Not even the very best are immune to a bit of nerviness when getting back on the boards. Laura Kenny, multiple Olympic gold medallist, told Cycling Weekly she was a little uncertain when she made her track return after giving birth to her son at the end of last year.

“It took a bit of getting used to – I was a little bit shaky in the first two events in Milton and didn’t feel comfortable in the bunch, as there were a lot of riders who I didn’t know. But once I started the elimination race, I thought ‘actually, I can do this’, and I felt like myself again.”

Equipment

Track bicycles take you right back to the basics of riding with just one gear, a fixed wheel and no brakes. They’re designed to be super light but incredibly strong, with a very aggressive geometry that helps you to adopt the most aerodynamic position – with no gear levers or brakes to worry about, they are the very essence of efficiency.

They can be a little scary at first, but once you get used to how a fixed wheel works, you’ll be whizzing around the track in no time. In a nutshell, the rule is never, ever, ever stop pedalling. With no free hub, following your instinct and attempting to coast will only find you on the deck, a few layers of skin lighter. It’s up to your knees to resist the forward motion and slow yourself down.

Beyond the special bike, the top riders will wear aero helmets for some events and skinsuits are also de rigeur. Don’t be put off, however, you can ride track in bibs and a jersey – and the aero gains you get from a special lid are probably a bit more crucial in an Olympic omnium than at down your local Thursday night tear-up.

Sir Bradley Wiggins leads the Team Pursuit at the Cycling World Championships in 2016

Sir Bradley Wiggins leads the Team Pursuit at the Cycling World Championships in 2016

Starting out

Not everywhere in the UK is blessed with a velodrome and for a lot of us, the nearest can be over an hour’s drive away. There are 28 in the UK, six of which are indoors: Calshot, Derby, Glasgow, London, Manchester and Newport. The Yellow Jersey team will always have a special place in our heart for Herne Hill, the outdoor velodrome built in 1891 and used for the London Olympics in 1948 – our director, Grant, chaired The Friends of Herne Hill Velodrome organisation for several years.

You’ll find that most velodromes offer bike hiring facilities, so you needn’t jump into the deep end and buy a track bike straight away. They should also offer a track accreditation training course, where you can learn how to ride safely around the banking alongside other riders. You’ll need to pass one of these if you want to start racing – and trust us when we say, after you try track, you’re definitely going to want to try racing!

What’s what?

But what kind of races can you participate in? If you’ve watched track at the Olympics or Commonwealth Games, you’ll have come across names like the Keirin, the Pursuit and the Omnium, but keeping the rules straight in your head is another matter.

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Some of the best hand slings from Sixday London last week

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There’s the Madison, where teams of two ‘handsling’ each other into action for a nifty speed boost and first made popular at Madison Square Garden in New York; there’s the keirin from Japan, which sees a motorbike pacer at the front of a pack of sprinters who unleash their efforts with just over two laps to go; there’s the points race, which assigns a given number of – you guessed it – points to the winners of specific laps; and there’s the pursuit, which is a mano-a-mano chase between two individuals.

Derny riders captured at Six Day London 2018

This is just scratching the surface, of course, and there are many more events that have fallen out of Olympic fashion, or are unique to particular velodromes or nations. If you ever attended a Revolution Series event, you’ve probably witnessed the ‘longest lap’, where participants must track stand (stay stationary on their bike without putting a foot down) for an agonisingly long time, before contesting a one-lap sprint.

It’s best as a newbie not to get too fixated on these mini-disciplines, and instead focus on building up your confidence so you can roll the boards with a smile on your face, rather than a rictus grin of terror.

Preparation

Once you’ve got your accreditation and a few hours of track experience under your belt, you might want to set your eyes on some beginner’s races to really fuel your need for speed. There are one-off events throughout the year, but if you want to start racing regularly, we’d advise you join a track league – which mostly run through the winter.

All the information can be found at British Cycling, as can a load of other events, but in essence it works in a very similar way to crit racing, splitting riders into different categories based on their abilities and experience. Start flying through the lower leagues and you may just start to catch the eye of the British Cycling scouts that can be seen prowling the velodrome – this could be your calling!

Longer races like the scratch and point races require a lot of endurance and the ability to sprint every few minutes or so. For these events, HIIT (high intensity interval training) is the best choice, as well as long, endurance-building road rides. For the high-power sprint events, HIIT is another great training method, but you’ll also want to squeeze in a few gym sessions to work on your core and legs, increasing their overall power and strength.

Most amateurs (and many pros) do not spend their entire cycling lives on the boards. It’s totally normal to balance road riding in the summer with track sessions somewhere warm and dry during the colder months – back in the day, greats like Eddy Merckx made their living through winter by competing in six-day track competitions, and if it’s good enough for ‘the cannibal’…

The event

Joining a track league will give you loads of opportunities to compete, so it’s not so much a ‘one event’ sort of affair. Instead, you’ll keep getting out on the boards and pushing your lungs and limbs to their max – growing in confidence and track smarts as you go.

When you’re up there, the key is to keep it loose, be calm and don’t get perturbed by the occasional brush of an elbow from other riders as you battle for position in the bunch. Oh, and never, ever, ever stop pedalling.

You will be covered for track cycling worldwide with the Yellow Jersey Ultimate Bicycle Insurance policy.

 

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