How to become a better cyclist in seven steps
Becoming a better, fitter, faster cyclist doesn't have to be an experiment in self-torment - cycling is fun. Just set a few goals and plan your ride to see improvements.
We're not trying to create a new you. All we want is for you to enjoy cycling as much as possible and, most importantly, to improve (because that's fun too!).
The good news is that it's not that difficult to achieve. If you follow a few simple pieces of advice and use your common sense, the time you spend on your bike will be better than ever.
STRUCTURE YOUR RIDE TIME TO BE A BETTER CYCLIST
There should be no limit to what you can achieve on the bike. If you want it enough, you can ride anywhere, anytime. That's the great thing about cycling - the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.
But you have to find out what you want. This is the first step. It could be a 50 mile summer ride, it could be that you want to speed up your commute, it could even be that your goal is to compete in a race. Whatever, remember that nobody can stop you.
Should you really train like a pro?
Goals are good when you have them. Without them you just drift. Don't be ashamed of how small or big your goal is. As long as you have a plan, there's no reason you can't achieve it.
OK, becoming a Tour de France rider in six months is a little optimistic, but don't be afraid to think big. If your goal is to go to the coffee shop once a week, just do it. Remember, it's about what you want out of it.
When setting goals, the best practice to follow is the SMART acronym:
- time specific
It's a good rule of thumb to follow, and pretty self-explanatory at that. By asking yourself, SMART makes sure you know your goal inside out, what it entails, and by when you're supposed to achieve it.
Some people find it a bit embarrassing to write it down, but it's extremely useful. It shows that you take your cycling seriously, that you want to get fitter and, above all, that you want to have more fun with it. If you write something in your journal, it's much more likely that you'll do it too. In fact, research shows that those who set goals are the most likely to stick to them.
STEP BY STEP TO BECOME A FITTER CYCLIST
Once you've identified your end goal, set smaller intermediate goals. Some call them stepping stones, "process goals" or milestones. Whatever you want to call them, they give you structure and the right direction.
For example, your main goal for the year is to go on a full-day road trip. Great. Now think about what that entails (stepping stones). Maybe you won't be able to do 50 kilometers right away.
It takes a progression and a slow increase in rides that builds up the miles. Diet is another point to consider. What to eat to ensure your body is well nourished and recovering well.
How far would you go to become a better cyclist?
A first step could be to adapt your bike - to your needs. Another step might be a small team of sports masseurs and physiotherapists that you can quickly fall back on if you are in pain.
Set the end goal and work your way back to that moment by thinking about what needs to be accomplished in order to reach the checkered flag.
DON'T TRAIN, BUT RIDE
Having such a plan doesn't mean you're a nerd - it's there to help you. And the faster your goals and stepping stones are identified, the faster you can tackle them.
But that doesn't mean you should punish yourself by exercising. On the contrary, you should have fun. As we mentioned before, structure is important. But you don't have to become a lab rat and tweak your body by percentage. However, a little organization will help you to progress further and ultimately have more fun with it.
Don't necessarily think of your goals as training. Be creative and drive different routes, organize weekend trips with friends and choose a specific inn as a destination.
How to tell if you're overtraining and how to avoid it
That's the genius of cycling. If you want to get a beach body for the summer, you have to hit the gym, run on treadmills and lift weights, push your body through hurdles that are grueling and repetitive. It's the only way to get to that point where you've got six pack abs, bulging biceps, and tight pecs.
If you want to get better at cycling, all you have to do is jump on a bike. Take advantage of the sheer diversity of this sport, always choose new goals (whether in terms of training or the route of your tour). Just make sure it never gets boring (and you'll see that's relatively easy). And remember, the fitter you get, the more endless the possibilities become.
SEVEN WAYS TO BECOME A FITTER, BETTER CYCLIST
Some are based on fitness, some on fun and some on technique. These are not set goals. They are tips and ideas to help you become a better, fitter and stronger cyclist.
- Increase your average speed by 1 km/h
You can easily go a mile an hour faster on your next ride without being fitter, it's all a matter of technique. If you're an efficient driver and you know how to keep your speed, you'll be faster and save energy.
Cornering is an obvious situation where you can lose a lot of speed - or gain! Remember that it's not how fast you enter the corner that matters, but how much speed you can carry through the corner. If you corner too fast and have to brake, it will slow you down significantly.
With the right descent or approaching an incline with momentum, you can save a lot of energy and gain speed. If you're going downhill and see that you're going uphill again soon, try accelerating enough to pull up the incline on the other side. All in all, this saves an enormous amount of energy - provided it is safe.
Finally, you should think about your positioning. Air resistance is what slows cyclists down the most. To go faster, you should minimize your frontal area. Stick to the drops instead of the tips of the handlebars and ride low. A good indicator is your shadow - even if you think you're sitting in an aerodynamic position on the bike, you can often see in your shadow that you're not. Don't be offended, just correct it.
- Ride in total comfort
Cycling shouldn't be uncomfortable, although we know that cyclists often suffer from pain. But you can do a lot to avoid pain. A professional bike fit is a good place to start, as your bike needs to fit you mechanically.
Conditioning your body for on-bike posture must take place off the bike. Core exercises and techniques like Pilates strengthen the muscles that support your body, allowing you to keep your upper body still and have a stable platform to kick against and prevent you from slumping in the saddle.
A good routine of stretching and strengthening exercises, done after and between rides, will help you avoid many of the aches and pains that result from hunching over the bars for long periods of time. You can even do these exercises during breaks so you feel fresh when you get back in the saddle.
- Build more cycling into your week
Finding more time to cycle is a challenge. So be creative but also organized. These two traits allow you to seize any opportunity that comes your way.
The most obvious way to spend more time on a bike is to cycle to work. Even if you can't bike the entire route, the trip to the train station will give you more bike time.
Also look at other tasks you are doing. Can you bike to your friends for dinner or to your next business meeting? With a backpack, a change of clothes, and a pack of towels, you can easily be presentable for any occasion.
- Never get 'the crash'
Running out of energy on the bike is an extremely uncomfortable experience, but one that can easily be avoided if you think about your diet before and during your ride. Sports nutrition doesn't have to mean taking expensive supplements; Bananas, granola bars, and jam sandwiches are all high in easily absorbable carbohydrates, convenient to carry, and easy to eat.
However, the easiest way to ensure you stay hydrated and have enough energy for rides longer than two hours is with a carb drink. Always take a little more food with you than you think you need. If you're going to be out for several hours, start eating within the first 30 minutes. A good rule of thumb is to consume 60g of carbs per hour, so check the back of the packets to make sure you've got enough.
- Drive 50km
Riding a century is a daunting task, but if you take your time and eat well, any cyclist can do it. There are several steps you can take to make it easier. First, plan your route wisely, taking wind direction and hills into account. Put the toughest hills at the beginning of the ride (or avoid them altogether) and, if you can, end the ride with a tailwind to blow you home.
If your goal is to run 50 kilometers, take your time rather than rush it. Start early and take the whole day if necessary. A full day horseback ride is a great adventure and with no time constraint you don't have to worry about speed. If you're not used to driving long distances, plan in regular breaks to stretch, have a snack, or go for a walk.
Pacing is very important to make sure you have the energy to see it through to the end. Being able to converse with other riders is a good indicator that you've set your pace correctly. Remember the rabbit and the turtle.
- love hills
There are many more reasons to love hills or mountains than hate them, but cyclists still give them a bad rap. But hills get you fit, and while your legs may ache and your lungs burn, regular uphill climbing will strengthen you and make you faster.
Hills bring variety to your rides and don't forget, at the end of every climb there is a descent. And they can be a lot of fun, you can feel the speed and you can reward yourself for your efforts. Try measuring your time on a long hill and repeat the test throughout the year to see your time go down.
- Ride with your buddies
It doesn't matter whether you take advantage of the slipstream and reach higher speeds together, or ride side by side chatting - it's just more fun with buddies and long rides in particular are a lot more amusing. You can also compensate for differences in performance so much better, it's no shame to let yourself be dragged a few kilometers in the slipstream of a better driver.
Are you still looking for passengers, exchange and more? Join our le melo community.
And last but not least: Enjoy the Ride