Cycle training requires plenty of dedication, but there are other factors which can impact on your performance and progress. Here are 10 top tips, including advice on gear and equipment, nutrition, hydration and training, to help you make the most out of your sessions on your bike.
Set up your bike correctly
Trying to ride a bicycle that is not set up correctly is like walking two steps forward and one step back. Everyone is different with respect to leg, arm and torso length, so visiting a specialist bike shop — where you can have your saddle, stem and handlebar positions adjusted so that the bike is effectively tailored to your body — is an extremely worthwhile exercise. A thorough bike-fit session can also aid your performance ensuring maximum efficiency.
Lighten the load
For a commute or any form of cycle tour, you may need the capability to carry ample loads. The easy way to carry any sort of load on a bike is … on the bike, rather than on you! A small rucksack is fine if you’re carrying something extremely light, but otherwise it would be wise to invest in some panniers, a handlebar bag or seat-pack. There are some excellent bike-specific carrying systems on the market which will make your journey much easier.
Correct kit makes a difference
A small investment in a few items of specialist bike kit will be extremely useful. The minimum items are:
An absolute must. Modern cycling helmets are lightweight and well ventilated, and can literally save your life in an accident. The likelihood is that a cyclist will sustain an injury in any kind of spill — so protecting your head should be your top priority. Why risk it?
Seamless and chafe-free, proper cycling shorts won’t necessarily add to the enjoyment of your ride, but will prevent soreness from repeated rubbing and should be a key item in your cycling wardrobe.
A set of Allen keys, a puncture repair kit, tyre levers, a spare inner tube and a pump or inflator will keep you on the road. All you need to know is how to change a tyre and mend a puncture and you’re set up.
Not for posing! Sunglasses are actually very useful for cyclists; they will keep dirt, dust, flies, and other debris out of your eyes, and if you choose a pair with interchangeable lenses then they can sharpen your vision in low light conditions, as well as cutting out glare and reflections.
Clipless pedals, whereby you 'lock in' to your pedal by means of a cleat attached to your shoe, make a big difference to your pedalling efficiency because they enable you to pull up as well as push down. If you’ve not tried them before, start with toe-clips, which are easier to get used to and then progress to trying clipless shoes - after a while you’ll wonder how you ever managed without them!
Avoid the 'bonk'!
Running low on energy, or 'bonking' as it’s often called, will reduce your ability to keep going! Cycling will increase your energy requirements, so aim to eat small, frequent meals and snacks on the go in order to maintain energy levels. On the bike, carbohydrate drinks will keep you well fuelled — or you could try taking a couple of energy bars or energy gels which are easy to eat in the saddle.
Hydrate properly when cycling
Whatever the weather conditions, your fluid requirements will increase significantly when cycling. Losses from exhaled breath and from sweating will serve to reduce your blood volume, resulting in your heart having to work much harder. By the time you feel thirsty you will already be dehydrated, so try to drink small, frequent quantities of water or a sports energy drink throughout the ride. You can check the colour of your urine in order to monitor your monitor your hydration in between stages of your training: a pale straw colour indicates that you are well hydrated, whereas anything darker means that you need to drink more.
Go for long rides
The foundation of all your cycling training should be your long ride. Ideally, do a long ride weekly or fortnightly. The long ride will build your endurance and also make you more efficient at utilising fuel. 'Long' means anything longer than your typical daily ride — so anything from one hour upwards is recommended, depending on your fitness and goals. A long ride is also a great opportunity to explore new areas and visit new destinations.
Try biking intervals
To balance out your long ride, try experimenting with some faster-paced riding. Sessions can be infinitely varied, but basically you are looking to ride faster for a short period, for example 10 minutes, followed by a recovery period and then a couple of repeats of the faster effort. Always include a good warm-up and cool-down before and after your session.
Build up your strength
Specific strength training will enhance your cycling, particularly for the legs, back and arms. The following exercises are key ones to focus upon but should always be included as part of a fully balanced program:
- Leg exercises: Gymnasium exercises such as leg presses and weighted squats, or lunges and bodyweight squats, are ideal for building leg strength.
- Arm exercises: Bicep curls and tricep presses will strengthen your arms and keep them balanced.
- Back exercises: Dumbbell rows and lat pull-downs will focus on upper to mid back strength, while back extensions will train the lower back.
A common problem that cyclists encounter is poor chest flexibility. The rounded shoulder position that you use on the bike can lead to overstretched upper back muscles and a tight chest, so try to spend a few minutes stretching after each ride. Include the chest every time, and ideally you should stretch your legs as well.
Other cycle training options
Sometimes the weather is poor, or it's dark, or perhaps you just don't fancy an outdoor bike session. However, there is no need to let your training slip because there are several alternatives available:
Never as good as the real thing - but as a substitute, stationary gym bikes can still give you a good workout. Most have a variety of programmes to simulate hill climbing or interval training and are a good alternative if you can't get out on the road.
Cycle or turbo trainers
An ingenious device that attaches to the back wheel of your own bike and enables you to train at home. Your bike is supported in a stand and the trainer has a variable resistance.
Also for home use, rollers don't support you so there is the additional challenge of balancing during your training session - just as you would outdoors.
A dynamic, group-based stationary bike spinning workout that is usually challenging but enjoyable and provides excellent training. One 60 minute session each week will definitely improve your cycling fitness.
Fit to cycle?
The better prepared and fitter you are, the more you will get out of your cycling. By starting out with a correctly set up bike, a few items of kit, a fuelled stomach and full fluid bottle, your training will be more enjoyable and successful. There's nothing worse than a long ride when you're on an uncomfortable bike, when you're hungry or when you're wearing unsuitable clothing! Simply follow the tips above and you're guaranteed to get more out of your cycling — so you can whiz past the stationary motorists even faster!
Picture credit: Joe Ferrer / Shutterstock.com