When you ride a bicycle for an extended period of time (depending on your end goal), there is a desire to improve. How is the question. Whether you are riding to lose weight, get faster in general, race or just pedal with friends over a certain distance, you have to have a goal in mind and know how to get there. The source of this knowledge is everywhere, whether solicited or not. There are videos, people in your bike group, magazines, Internet articles, racing on television, or just plain observation. So what is best for you?
When I coached high school baseball for a while, I use to get so frustrated with my players who had weird things in their swing or throwing and would justify it with “that is the way so-and-so for the Boston Red Sox does it, Coach.” My answer was always the same: he is a seasoned and gifted professional athlete with incredible abilities. More often than not, that baseball player could throw a bullet from right field to home plate while popping sunflower seeds. The same goes with cycling! Just because Chris Froome or Peter Sagan does something a particular way does NOT mean it will work for you; more than likely it will NOT. After all, they ride bicycles for a living and train extensively with the top coaches, nutritionists and equipment. That being said, all of what I just said, does NOT mean you cannot learn from the best and . . . here it is . . . experiment in the lab. That lab would be you on your bike on the road, trying to improve yourself with various techniques or training ideas. Here are some simple tips to try in the lab:
- Primarily, you must always . . . always . . . always ensure that your are fitted to your bike. Go to your local bike shop and talk with a trained person who can actually fit you to the bike you ride, not asking a buddy if you look right on the bike.
- Do not get into a rut. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to improve. Same route with same dudes. Same sprint areas. Same hills. Same days. Week after week. Find various cycling workouts to throw into the mix. Interval work, cadence work, sprint or hill repeats, and on and on.
- Have fuel. The most awesome super car in the world will NOT run without fuel, electric or fossil. Dedicate some of your time in researching how to fuel on your bike, solid and liquid. Staying hydrated and carbed are ways of keeping your body at an efficient level. Be careful though . . . too much of anything is bad. And believe it or not, there are times when you do NOT fuel on the bike. For example, you might only be spinning in a low zone for a few miles in the middle of the week. Again, dedicate yourself to learning this very overlooked area.
- Keep your ride maintained. I hear so many riders spinning around with what sounds like a dying rat caught in their rear derailleur or gears crunching like a fat kid walking on gravel. Your bike must function at its highest level for you to be able to function at your highest level. Lube your chain every 100 miles and ensure that your drive train is tuned and tires are inflated properly.
- Positioning on the bike is important. It is not all about how hard you can stomp your pedals. Having a good FULL pedal stroke, when to stand and when to stay seated, knowing how to avoid the drag of the wind, keeping soft elbows and knees in position near the top tube and over the pedals are just a few. Have a friend take a small video of you with his phone (randomly so you do not know when it is being done) and see areas that you need to fix. Just remember that breaking habits are hard to do.
As previously mentioned, there are literally millions of bits of advice floating around. Listen and observe. Try new things. Question proven riders. Experiment and keep a cycling journal of what works and what does not. Always remember that just because it is uncomfortable at first does not mean it is not working. Your data will reveal the truth.