Some are fitness based, some are fun based, some technique based. These aren’t set goals. They are tips and ideas to help you become a better, fitter and stronger cyclist.
You can easily go a mile an hour faster on your next ride without even being any fitter, it is all down to technique. Being an efficient rider and knowing how to carry speed will make you faster and conserve your energy, so it is an important skill to practise on every ride.
Cornering is an obvious situation when you can lose a lot of speed. Remember it is not how fast you enter the corner that counts but how much speed you carry through it. If you go in too hot and have to slam the brakes on that will slow you down significantly.
Descending, and particularly descending before a hill is another area to look at. If there is an uphill after a descent and you can see it is safe, don’t brake or you will lose your momentum. Pedalling into a descent and holding your speed will allow you to roll up the other side with barely any effort at all.
Finally, think about your positioning. Wind drag is the thing that slows cyclists down the most, so to go a bit faster think about minimising your frontal area. Hold the drops instead of the tops of the bars and get low down.
Cycling shouldn’t be uncomfortable although we know that bike riders often suffer aches and pains. However, there is a lot you can do to avoid it. Having a professional bike fit is a good starting point as mechanically your bike needs to fit you.
Conditioning your body to hold your cycling posture has to take place off the bike. Core exercises and techniques such as Pilates strengthen the muscles that support your body, allowing you to keep your upper body still and providing a stable platform to pedal against as well as stopping you from slumping in the saddle.
Having a good routine of stretching and strengthening exercises to do after and between your rides will help prevent many of the niggles and aches that come from bending over the bars for significant periods of time. You can even do them when you stop on your rides to help you feel fresh when you get back in the saddle.
Finding more time to ride your bike is a challenge for every bike rider, and two things help: being creative and being organised. These two qualities will allow you to seize every opportunity that comes your way.
The most obvious way of spending more time on your bike is to ride to work. Even if you can’t cycle the full distance, just riding to the station will give you more time on your bike.
Look at other tasks you do, too. Can you cycle to your friends’ house for dinner or ride to your next business meeting? With a backpack, change of clothes and a pack of wipes, you can easily be presentable for any occasion.
Running out of energy on the bike is a decidedly unpleasant experience but one that can be very easily avoided if you think about your nutrition before and during your ride. Sports nutrition doesn’t have to mean eating expensive supplements; bananas, cereal bars and jam sandwiches all contain lots of easily absorbed carbohydrates, are convenient to carry and easy to eat.
However, the easiest way of ensuring you stay hydrated and have enough energy for rides over two hours long is to use a carbohydrate drink. Always carry a bit more food than you think you need and if you plan to be out for several hours start eating after the first 30 minutes. Taking on 60g of carbohydrate an hour is a good rule of thumb, so check the back of packets to make sure you have enough.
A century ride is a daunting task, but if you take your time and eat well, it is within the reach of every bike rider. There are several steps you can take to make it easier. Firstly, plan your route wisely, taking into account wind direction and hills. Put the hardest hills at the start of the ride (or avoid them altogether) and, if you can, finish with a tailwind to help blow you home.
If the aim is simply to cover 100 miles rather than trying to do it quickly, put aside a full day, start early and ride through to sunset. An all-day ride is a great adventure and without time pressures you won’t need to panic about speed or worry about stopping every hour or so. If you aren’t used to riding big distances, plan regular stops for a stretch, snack or walk around.
Pacing is really important to ensure that you have the energy you need to see you through to the end. Being able to chat to other riders is a good measure that you have your pacing right; if you are panting or out of breath it is time to slow right down. Remember the hare and the tortoise.
There are many more reasons to love hills than hate them, but even so, hills have a poor reputation with bike riders. Hills make you fit. They may make your legs hurt and your lungs burn, but riding hills regularly will build leg strength and, by forcing you to work a little bit harder than usual, they will boost your cardiovascular fitness too. Don’t avoid them if you want to get faster.
Hills give variety to your rides. You see more from the top of a hill and it breaks up the pace, allowing you to have fun on the descents and push yourself on the way up. The more hills you ride, the better you get, and you will start to learn the different types of hills that suit you best. Try timing yourself up a long hill and throughout the year repeat the test and see your time come down.
We often see a group of guys speeding along in single file, more content with utilising slipstream rather than socialising. Wouldn’t it be great to ride together and chat rather than fixating on the wheel in front of you? It’s not a crime to chat when cycling, and being of the same ability as your mates will enable you to do this.
No one wants to be the slowcoach, where everyone waits for you at the top of each hill. Nor do you want to be begging for a push on the back to help get you up that monster of a drag. Get fit, get fast, and ride with your friends the whole day.