Posted: February 8, 2007
Multisport: Welcome to the Greatest Sport on Earth
By Dave McIntosh, CTS Senior Coach
The beauty of cycling is that it is timeless. Itís an activity we learned as children, and one that can evolve into a way to stay fit or to feed our competitive fires as we move through adulthood. With the cold days of winter fading quickly, itís time for a new crop of cycling enthusiasts to rediscover the joy of pedaling through the countryside, on the path to greater health, a leaner body, and a longer life.
I remember watching the Tour de France in the early 80ís as a young teenager. I was enthralled watching Lemond and Hinault duking it out in the high mountains in Ď86, the battle between Lemond and Fignon in the final time trial in í89, when the lead Fignon had seemed insurmountable. I remember my early brushes with cyclingís elite when the World Championships came to my hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado in the summer of 1986, the same year I took out my first racing license as well. That was 20 years ago, but I recall how intimidated I was to even begin competing. Fortunately, since then itís become much easier to get involved in the sport.
By now, you have a bicycle and the necessary clothing and equipment to go along with it. (If you donít, thatís another articleÖ) Youíre ready to ride, but what now? There are so many questions that arise when starting any new endeavor. Should I ride alone, or with a group? Where should I ride, how long, how fast? Well, letís take them one-by-one and get you out on the road on the right foot.
How fast should I go?
When youíre starting out, you want to focus on building your endurance by maintaining a pace you can sustain for the majority of your ride. You might be able to ride 30kmh, but only for 3-5 minutes because you donít have the aerobic conditioning or leg strength to go that fast for a long time. Youíll build endurance faster by going 25kmh for 30-60 minutes; there will be plenty of time for harder intervals (if you want to do them) later on.
How many times should I ride throughout the week?
Time is of the essence! It is most important to maximize your time, especially if you have limited amounts of it due to work, family, and other obligations. Many of the athletes I train are executives who donít have a lot of free time, and they can reach their fitness and competitive goals on structured training programs that contain only 3-4 rides per week, 6-9 hours total. Two one-hour rides during the workweek will do for starters, with one or two longer rides on the weekends, when you presumably have more free time.
What do I need to eat and drink?
In the beginning, keep things simple. Leave the house with two full bottles, one with water and the other with a carbohydrate-rich sports drink. Both bottles should be empty within 60-90 minutes, sooner if itís hot outside. If youíre going to be out longer than that, youíll need to stop to refill them, or consider using a hydration pack that can carry more fluid. In addition to fluids, youíll also need 30-60 grams of carbohydrate each hour youíre riding. This is pretty easy to come by, and can be a combination of sports drink (40-50 grams/bottle), gels (25-27 grams/packet), and energy bars (45 grams/Powerbar Performance bar). While you can get the necessary energy from other foods, sports-specific products are specially-formulated to be easier and quicker to digest so the energy goes to working muscles faster.
What skills do I need?
If youíve had the good fortune to see the movie,Ē Napoleon DynamiteĒ, you know itís all about having great skills! How are your cycling skills? Can you smoothly negotiate a turn at speed? Youíre a fantastic climber, but what about your ability to descend the other side? Are you comfortable riding in a group, or do you spend the majority of your time off the back? Check out these basic skills that you can employ in your training program.
Whether youíre cruising around the corner at the end of your block or diving through the final corner of a criterium, the techniques and skills to exit the turn safely are the same. First, adjust your speed before you get to the corner so you donít have to hit the brakes in the middle of it. Then put your outside pedal (the one facing the outside of the turn) down and put all of your weight on it while leaning the bike toward the inside of the turn. As the bike leans in, your body should stay upright to keep your weight centered over your tires. Since your bike will go where your eyes tell it to, look through the turn to where you want to end up, not down at the curb. An empty parking lot with lines, curbs or a few cones is a good place to practice cornering because you can keep trying and thereís no traffic to worry about. Once youíve mastered cornering on your own, do it with friends. First, follow each other in a line, taking turns at the front through the corner; and when youíre comfortable with this, practice riding three or four abreast, as you would in a criterium. Remember to ride a smooth, even line through the corner, especially when youíre stretched out across the road. The people behind you will appreciate that!
Climbing is part conditioning and art, and to go uphill fast you need to be comfortable, in the right position, for long periods of time. Keep your shoulders up, hands on the tops of your bars, or on the brake hoods, to make it easier to breathe. Sitting back in the saddle will allow you to use your hamstrings more, and take some of the pressure off of your quads. Keep a light grip on the bars- efficiency is key, and a tight grip is wasting valuable energy. Speaking of efficiency, a higher cadence will keep your legs fresher for longer periods of time, so shift into a gear you can pedal at about 80 rpm or faster.
What goes up must come down, and though you donít have to become a daredevil descender, itís important to develop the technical skills to enjoy going downhill quickly and safely. Look far ahead of you in order to anticipate obstacles and approaching turns. When cornering, remember to brake before the turn, start wide and cut to the inside (but stay on your side of the road), lean the bike while keeping your body up and your eyes looking to where you want to go. Donít be discouraged if you go downhill slowly at first; get the technique right and the speed will come with time.
Itís important to get comfortable riding close to another rider, and bumping drills are a great (and fun) way to increase your handling skills and confidence. Set up a relatively small square in a grassy area, and ride within the confines of the circle, bumping elbows with the people riding with you. The key to this is to keep your elbows bent, and lean into the person youíre bumping. Bent elbows will absorb more shock from the person bumping you, and will allow you to move as needed. Conversely, if your buddy bumps you when your arms and body are rigid, youíre more likely to fall. The object of the bumping game is to be the last person still clipped into your pedals!!
Getting in and out of pedals
If youíre new to using clipless pedals and cleats, merely stopping at a traffic light can seem like a daunting task. Youíre not alone; every rider Ė no matter how experienced Ė has a funny story about falling over because of an inability to unclip. Again, the grass is the best place to practice! Set the tension on the pedals to low, so itís easy to get your foot in and out. Practice starting with one foot in, like you would from a stoplight, and clipping out. When stopping, twist your foot away just as youíre slowing down to make sure itís out. Donít wait till you come to a complete stop to disengage your foot, as it may not happen. And remember, if youíre having trouble getting your foot clipped in, just put your foot on the pedal and get up to a moderate speed. Once your moving, you can focus on finding the pedal without the added complication of balancing at low speed.
Itís fun to get out and ride with your friends, and group rides provide immense training and social benefits. Yet, riding in a pack can be intimidating for beginners. Ask the local bike shop or other riders to find out about the ďcharacterĒ of different groups. Some are fast and competitive, whereas others are slow and social, and there are innumerable variations in between. Regardless of the speed, most group rides travel as a double paceline (two lines of riders, side-by-side). Each pair of riders leads the group for a short period (30 seconds to several minutes) and then each rider pulls off to his or her respective side. As they drift toward the back of the group, the two lines of riders pass between them and then they come back together at the back. Riding in a double paceline can be challenging for beginners because you need to get comfortable riding with other riders close to your elbow and handlebars, as well as your front and back wheels. If youíre nervous, stay a little further back from the rider ahead of you, and donít be afraid to ask questions of more experienced riders. Remember, when youíre in the group, itís in their best interest to help you ride safely.
Once youíve had time to hone your skills in training, maybe you want to test yourself in competition or an organized ride. Charity rides often offer varying distances, ranging from just a few kilometers to more than 100km. The best place to get started racing is in a local road race or time trial. Time trials are often less intimidating to the beginner, since youíre riding by yourself! A small, local road race is a good place to challenge your pack handling skills. Itís also a good idea to join a local club or team, as the more experienced riders can help with advice, helping you find registration, etc. Plus, the camaraderie and friendships developed will be as timeless as the sport itself. Enjoy!!
Sidebar: A little structureís a good thing
If you just go out and start riding your bike three or four times a week, youíll get fasterÖ for a while. Pretty soon, though, your progress will stagnate and youíll stop getting faster and stronger. Adding a little structure to your weekly rides is crucial, but you say that youíre not a pro athlete and donít want to follow some strict training program. OK, but there are a lot of options in training programs these days. If youíre looking for a program thatís designed just for you, but that you can just stick on the fridge and follow, try the new Basic program from Carmichael Training Systems. Itís the easiest way to improve your riding without making a big commitment of time or money. Of course, if youíre looking for more one-on-one guidance, they also have a complete range of personal coaching options to choose from. For more information, go to www.trainright.com.
Dave McIntosh is a Senior Coach for Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. and an elite amateur track cyclist in Colorado Springs, CO. To find out more about CTS and to sign up for free newsletters, visit www.trainright.com.
© 2005, Carmichael Training Systems, Inc.
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