Cycling: Winter Miles Are Summer Smiles
Searching for some cycling advive. Read John Masons thoughts on the importance of cycling fitness
Fitness Isn’t Just For Racers
I arrived at the top of the hill panting, wheezing- my chest heaving up and down but seemingly having no effect on the burning I felt in my lungs, nor doing anything to quieten the alarm bells in my head ringing to alert me of excess CO2 in my bloodstream.
I was 10 years old, cycling with my Dad in a nearby forest. And as much as it hurt the approval of my dad meant more to me, so we kept on going…
My early experiences of cycling were very different to those I have today; I wasn’t a naturally gifted athlete so what started out as me cycling at a comfortable pace beside my father as he jogged evolved into the regular, slightly tortuous experience attempting to ‘mountain bike’ with him on my heavy, 24” wheeled mountain bike. (He had a Tim Gould replica Peugeot- bonus points if you’re old enough to remember Tim.)
But eventually I got older, taller, stronger and best of all FITTER. And an hour of pedaling my heart out to keep up became an hour of enjoying the ride, taking in the surroundings and spending quality time outside.
You see, whilst I’m an average level club racer now, my original motivation for improving my fitness was simply to have more fun on the bike. Because faster is fun, right?
As with any new endeavour, it always makes sense to get a physical exam before increasing your exertion.
Be A Flexible Cyclist (I)
I’ve met many cyclists who can happily ride for hours… but only if the route and conditions suit them. Often this is because they’ve become too accustomed to cycling at the same cadence (leg speed), in the same gear.
It means that when faced with wind or hills they gradually start to struggle and then slow, legs turning at a speed they’re not familiar with. Don’t be that person.
When cycling try to spend blocks of ten or fifteen minutes cycling at a high cadence, over 90rpm. This is often referred to as ‘spinning’.
And conversely, seek out some hills and choose harder gears which force you to stay seated, pedaling slower, with much more force behind each stroke- around 55rpm.
Lastly seek out some shorter, steeper hills and move to a standing position; maximum effort behind each leg stroke and a cadence between 40-45rpm.
If you’re able to adapt to high and low cadence work, comfortable with bouts of strong efforts, nothing will phase you!
Didn’t we just do this? Errr, no.
When we cycle we can spend hours in a seated position with only a few dominant muscle groups. Over time this tends to lead to imbalances and tightness in parts of your body.
Stretching after you ride and throughout the week will reduce injury, maximizing comfort and performance.
Stretch your quadriceps and calves- both of these muscle groups work hard when cycling. Search Google or YouTube for some great examples.
Stretch your hip flexors, hamstrings and glutes. These muscles are NOT really used when cycling, but because of this (and the seated position) they can tighten and shorten. Again, search Google or YouTube for some simple ‘at home’ stretches.
Strengthen your core. Our arms and legs are attached to our torso, the part of us often referred to as our core by mainstream media. To ensure we’re stable on the bike (and capable of transferring the power from our legs into the bike) we need to brace ourselves- try cycling hard uphill with no-hands and you’ll see what I mean.
Planks, press-ups and hollow body rocks are ideal core exercises which don’t require significant flexing of the spine- something which some practitioners advise against.
Fuel the machine
There’s enough written on the internet to fill a thousand blogs, so I won’t go into too much detail but the final piece of the cycling puzzle is to get the fueling right. Read the accidental cyclist by John lewis
Not everybody is concerned with chasing watts, or being a lycra-clad super slim racing snake, but I’d urge even the most reluctant cyclist to consider their fitness for some very good reasons:
Go Places You Previously Couldn’t
On our bikes we’re limited by the time we have and the distance we can travel in that time. It takes only modest increases in fitness to enable you to travel further and faster, opening up routes and options you may not have considered before.
Apart from it being incredibly hard to concentrate when your heart is racing and all you can hear is your own frantic breathing, cycling on the road requires bursts of energy to keep you safe.
If I’m cycling around a roundabout I want enough speed and acceleration to minimize my time to danger and be correctly positioned on the road; the faster you move the safer you are.
This applies when turning across the road (that’s turning right for the UK) and especially so when on a carriage way with slip roads- I HATE cycling past slip roads, knowing that vehicles are joining or leaving the road at speed, so let’s power past them! are road bikes good for exercise?
Surprise yourself with what you can do.
Ever been cycling off-road and spotted a big hill? Ever wondered if you can cycle up it? Well give yourself a fighting chance!
Even with the many gears on modern bikes, steep hills require a large amount of power delivered smoothly over a sustained period. It’s so rewarding to conquer a steep and complex climb that even if you measure your rides in Smiles and not Miles, it’s worth building your engine. Road cycling for beginners.
Once you’ve decided cycling is your sport and you’d like to improve your capacity on the bike, there are some simple ways of rapidly improving your performance without having to structure complex training plans or employing a coach. Read Eileen Morgans moving story.
The good news is that most of us carry enough body fat to fuel a journey of hundreds of miles but the bad news is that same energy store slows us down through weight… and that for most of us we also need an amount of carbohydrate to be burned alongside that fat.
It’s hard to push ourselves, to enjoy our ride and improve our fitness if we feel hungry, lethargic and undernourished- but eating too much before a ride also affects performance as blood is diverted to our gut and away from muscles.
Try to eat snacks totaling 200-400kcal every hour, subject to how hard you’re working and your body size.
Not eating in itself isn’t a big deal if your ride is under 90mins or so, but as distances and time in the saddle increase it’s important to keep energy levels constant with a carbohydrate rich snack; bananas are ideal, or even half a PBJ sandwich which offers carbs, fat and a little sugar for a complete pick me up!
After your ride try to consume at least 25g of protein from food sources. It’ll help your body recover and maximise your bodies adaptation to the ride.
By experimenting with different cadences & effort levels, being sure to care for your body and by getting your nutrition on-point you’ll soon find that longer rides of 2, 3 or even 4hrs+ are well within reach. Read steven robinsons inspirying story.
share your opinion – I’d love to hear your thoughts!