TV Presenter Rebecca Charlton Shares Her Love of Cycling and Her Best Bike Tips

Rebecca Charlton
Photo credit: Emma Tunbridge photography

I’m Rebecca Charlton, a television presenter, journalist, passionate cyclist and outdoor-lover from London. With my job taking me to new destinations every week, I never sit still. If I ever see someone at a party, bike race or work environment looking a bit lost, I’m the person that will go over to chat. That side of my personality has led me to working with British Cycling to encourage more women to cycle and overcome all the nerves that go with riding on the road or the velodrome for the first time. It can be daunting and that should never be underestimated but I believe everyone can find their comfort zone and push beyond it.

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How and why did you get into cycling?

My family introduced me to sport and I’d climbed the highest mountain in England and raced regional track championships, cyclo-cross and mountain biking by the age of 10. Track cycling came most naturally to me at that age and I fell in love with sprinting, not only that but I had a whole new group of friends through the sport.

Why is cycling important for you?

Cycling has shaped so much of my life and career, it’s given me a life-long fitness tool, friendship, resilience, allowed me to find a real niche in television and it’s how I met my boyfriend James McLaughlin, a pro rider.

Rebecca Charlton
Photo credit: John Wilson Photography

How do you train and become a better cyclist?

Training has really gone on the back-burner now I’m focused on my job as a presenter but I still spend a lot of time on the bike, for which I need an amount of fitness for! I tend to go for time-poor training now, including HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) on a Wattbike (a static bike with real-time power data) or stick my running kit in my bag and get out for some hill reps on foot.

When I am at home, I always try to get down to Herne Hill Velodrome, the 1948 Olympic venue as I have such fond memories of training there as a child and it’s a lot of fun as well as being the toughest training I’ve ever done! I spend a fair few hours out on the road too.

Rebecca Charlton
Photo credit: Roo Fowler

What are the hardest parts of cycling?

What I love about cycling is those toughest days when every pedal stroke is beyond what you feel you can manage. It strips you down to your basic needs. You return home so grateful for food, a hot shower, a lie down, and it’s that level of achievement that you’d never experience if you didn’t challenge yourself.

How do you prepare for events/races?

My biggest piece of advice for any sportive, event or race is to never do on the day what you haven’t done in training. A chamois (padded insert in your cycling shorts) should always be tried prior to race day, as should any nutrition. You don’t want to end up undoing hours of training due to saddle sores or stomach cramps!

Rebecca Charlton
Photo credit: Emma Tunbridge Photography

How do you handle injuries and recovery?

A fair few years ago now, I crashed heavily and broke some ribs on my left side, in hindsight I tried to get back to fitness way too quickly and as a result I ended up in hospital with pneumonia and a partial pneumothorax (collapsed lung). It still affects me now. I now understand that not fully inflating your lungs when you take a shallow breath can lead to a build up of fluid but at the time I was too worried about missing targets on the bike. It’s the biggest thing I’ve learned with sport and health and that I now try to pass on to other people in the same boat; if you try to rush an injury against the recommendations of your doctor, coach, friends or family you could end up in a much worse situation.

Yes, nine times out of 10 you will probably get away with training on a minor ailment but you must listen to your body when something more serious is going on as it could put you out of the sport all together. It’s about appraising every injury and recovery period and being honest with yourself, even if it’s the most heart-wrenching experience to cancel a race.

Rebecca Charlton
Photo credit: Emma Tunbridge Photography

How do you eat and sleep?

I love to sleep! My schedule is often erratic though and so I’m sometimes playing catch up. I’m very lucky to be someone who can grab a power-nap here and there, if it’s on a train or plane seat so be it! I did have to apologise to a gentleman recently when Iup woke up to find him saying, “you had a good sleep” – I think he’d put up with me snoozing on his shoulder. I’ve actually been researching the ultimate power-nap from the experience of endurance athletes who adopted this approach on solo events such as sailor Ellen MacArthur and 24-hour solo rider Jasmijn Muller. A short sleep as little as 10 minutes in the day can often leave you much more refreshed.

I’m a vegetarian and I’ve never felt like I’ve needed supplements but after having pneumonia I would often feel my immune system needed a bit of help so I’ve introduced a Pharmaton Vitality supplement when I’m on a particularly busy schedule and not eating as well as I should be!

Rebecca Charlton

What is your best advice people new to cycling?

Find a group of people to ride with that will support you, enhance your enjoyment of the sport and give you sound advice. You could look online for your nearest British Cycling Breeze Network and group rides or find a local club. If you find a club and they’re too fast for you DO NOT get disheartened – we have all been there and it just means you’re not ready to step up to this level yet. Go back to the drawing board and find a more entry-level club that caters for a more sociable pace. Often clubs will put their targeted average on the website, if you have no idea what pace you’ll be, go for the slowest group and work up from there.

Best advice for people who have been cycling for years?

I think the trap a lot of riders fall into is overtraining. I see so many people burn out because they’re always worried that the next person is training more than them, especially with the pressures of social media! Everyone is different and some people survive on very little rest, others need at least two days a week completely off. Listen to your body and your needs because not everyone will be targeting the same goals at the end of the day.

Rebecca Charlton

How do you balance normal life with training and competitions?

When I was younger, I quite often had an eye on how a night out, busy day or contact with friends that had a cold would affect my training and racing but now I’m not competing at the moment I have a very relaxed approach – although you always have to stay on top of your health and know when you’re burning the candle at both ends.

What bikes do you prefer?

I’m fortunate in my job to test a range of bikes and being someone who’s raced a number of disciplines that’s been quite a few! I think what’s great is the choice now at all levels of the sport. I’m a fan of Specialized and Pinarello, the performance and aesthetics are pure perfection and also Cube is great when it comes to spec vs price-point.

Rebecca Charlton
photo credit: @jamesmclaughlin90

How do you bring your things and gear with you?

My Castelli Rolling Travel Bag comes with me everywhere! It’s a brilliant kit bag for taking to the velodrome without having to pick it up and lug it around on tired legs and when I head away presenting it fits just the right amount in for the shoot, as well as being able to chuck your gym kit in.

When it comes to travelling with my bike, I’m very precious about my pride and joy getting there in one piece! I think hard boxes are great, and again always something with wheels so you’re not taking the weight, but the Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro ticks every box, offering lightweight yet sturdy protection, plus they come in unmissable bright colours to spot at the airport.

On the bike, I usually travel light with a small mini-pump in my pocket, as well as a few essentials. Spare tubes go under my saddle in a compact Specialized saddle bag and occasionally I’ll ride with my rucksack that was actually an absolute bargain from Decathlon! Find one that fits your back well, doesn’t strain you and that doesn’t affect movement or peripheral vision, which is important when riding.

Rebecca Charlton

What has been your best sport purchase below $100?

My Nike Free RN trainers. They allow me to get out and exercise when I can’t take my bike with me on a TV shoot. My other favorite gear I have is my pair of Oakley Jawbreakers. They’re fluoro and make me feel ready to ride, even on the dullest days. I feel like my outfit’s incomplete without them.

What inspired you to write your books?

Fitter, Further, Faster was the first book I worked on with co-writers Hannah and Rob and signing to Bloomsbury Publishing was a dream come true. I remember waiting for our first meeting at the HQ and the walls were lined with original bound copies of Harry Potter.

The idea behind the book was for it to be a non-intimidating, accessible guide for people wanting to complete their first sportive, or work towards a bigger target. It’s really important to me that others have a route into sport and I feel this book helps that. Not everyone has a family member they can quiz on clipping into your pedals for the first time, or how to start training, I was lucky in that respect – I wanted to provide that advice.

Rebecca Charlton

What will the future bring?

There’s lots of exciting things on the calendar and I’d love to ride London to Paris again with Bloodwise, it’s such a wonderful event and accessible for every level of rider, and it’s about much more than that too. Bloodwise offers such important support, research and funds for those affected by blood cancer. I’d really recommend it to anyone after a big challenge at the end of the summer, the emotion and sense of achievement when you reach the Arc de Triomphe is second to none.

This month, I’ll be hosting Revolve 24 at Brands Hatch, a true festival of cycling at the iconic motor racing venue with a very competitive edge too. Teams and individuals take on a solid 24 hours of racing with the rare opportunity to battle it out on a completely closed Brands Hatch. Last year, we had the company of Olympic champion Jason Kenny and it really does attract the cream of the crop.

Beyond that, I look forward to continuing to expand cycling’s coverage in the media, bringing it to a wider audience – encouraging as many people as possible to take up the sport. It’s never too late to start cycling.

Follow Rebecca Charlton on her website, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook


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