We all had to start somewhere - here's some basic tips to get you started if you are new to cycling...
1 - Spin, spin, spin!
It's a common misconception that pushing a big (hard to push) gear will build up your legs and make you a faster cyclist -
Fast cyclists turn big gears quickly - so you have to learn to pedal quickly first - otherwise you will be teaching yourself to push hard but slow. Don't worry, you will get enough strength from climbing hills!
A good pedaling cadence to aim for is around 90 RPM (that's 3 up and downs per second - ) on the flat and try to keep pedaling at least 60 RPM on the hills if possible. One way to monitor without counting is: if you are feeling the burn in your leg muscles on fairly level terrain, then you are probably not spinning enough. If you are breathing hard on level ground, you may be spinning too fast. At first it will feel like you are working harder but this is because you are having to teach your leg muscles to be more coordinated. After a few rides, spinning will become second nature and your new found coordinated pedaling style will make you a lot more energy efficient over long distances.
Other reasons for spinning instead of pushing:
* Instead of being a 'diesel' and having to constantly change gear to keep in your comfort zone, you will become a high revving 'petrol' and have a much more flexible pedaling range.
* You will be able to keep up much more easily in a group because you will be able to instantly respond to their accelerations.
* Injury prevention - knees and back are especially vulnerable to overload.
2 - Don't be a 'Nodder!'
When you ride your bike, your upper body should be as still as possible - even when you are trying hard. Some riders have no trouble with this and instantly look like a pro bike rider. For others, it 'feels' more natural and efficient to move their shoulders left and right to shift their upper bodyweight over the leg that is pushing down. One of the reasons that this may feel more 'natural' is that they are not spinning as described above. Sometimes you might have a 'Nod' or 'Bob' that is really noticeable to others - even though you might not be aware of it. Next time that you are out riding with the sun on your back - check your shadow on the road and see how much you are moving your upper body.
Reasons not to 'Nod:'
* The faster you pedal, the faster you 'Nod' - this will impair your ability to 'spin'
* You will find it difficult to ride in a straight line - this may provoke others in a group to have a word with you because you will be endangering their safety.
* You are wasting energy.
* If you find it difficult to stop 'nodding' - try to loosen your grip on the handle bars and try holding the bars in different positions, e.g., both hands next to the handlebar stem.
* If you use 'drop' or 'racing' handlebars, don't grip the brake lever hoods with your elbows pointing out. Rotate your wrists inwards slightly (left wrist clockwise / right hand anti-clockwise) and bend and pull your elbows slightly inwards, so that the inside of your forearms make contact with the handlebars. This transfers more of the load from your muscles to your skeleton. Try it - it works! (If this feels a bit cramped - you may need to move your brake levers down a bit - many bikes come pre-assmbled with brake levers mounted for easiest access - as you become more experienced, you may want to have your levers mounted for optimum access with maximum comfort (high doesn't always mean comfy - ask your bike shop is in doubt.)
If you have a static indoor trainer (Turbo) - try this workout once or twice a week to turn yourself into a spinner:
1 - 10 minute warm up at your 'normal' revs in a low/medium gear (not much resistance.)
2 - Then, staying in the same gear, slowly accelerate until the point where you are loosing coordination and start to bounce on the saddle. As soon as you start to bounce, decelerate back to normal revs and recover. Do as many reps as you can in 5 minutes.
3 - Recover for 5 minutes at an easy pace
4 - Repeat step 2.
5 - Warm down for 5 minutes.
3 - Drink, Drink, Drink!
By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Try to remember to take small drinks often. Until you get in the habit, every time you see another rider take a drink, reach for your bottle. Some riders like water, others prefer sports drinks such as Gatorade. A benefit of sports drinks is the carbohydrates and potassium they contain. Read the label and choose one which contains sucrose or dextrose. Drinks which contain high fructose corn syrup are harder to digest and can cause some riders stomach distress.
* Hold a bottle to the side of your head when you offer it up to your mouth - that way you will continue to be able to see where you are going!
4 - Eat, Eat, Eat!
If you are on your bike for more than an hour, your body needs food. Sports drinks help, but they are not enough for longer rides. You don't want to 'hit the wall' or 'bonk' (cycling slang for when your body has used up its supply of readily available fuel.) It's better to eat small amounts often rather then a larger amount all at once. Some riders like natural foods. Bananas, raisins, and fig bars are good. Others use energy bars - experiment and find what is best for you.
* If you are trying to loose weight - don't reduce your calories during cycling - you will end up just riding more slowly due to fuel shortage. If you eat enough to ride normally - you will actually burn more net calories.
* Always keep some emergency energy bars in your pocket or saddle pack in case you become lost, or delayed, or the weather changes.
5- Punctures will happen - be prepared...
Practice changing an inner tube in the comfort of your home before having to do it for real in the cold and rain (or with others around you shouting 'hurry up!') Always carry a pump (that actually works!) tyre levers, a spare tube, and a repair kit. One spare tube is not enough in case you have two punctures on the same ride. Glueless patches work fine to get you home, but they are only a temporary repair. Check your tire before putting in the new tube. Often, whatever caused the flat is still sticking through the tread - also check the rim incase the rim tape is damaged and also the sidewalls just above the beading.
* Check your tyres for flints and thorns after every ride - often a small sharp object will imbed in a tyre tread and take many hundreds of revolutions before it is hammered through and causes a puncture.
* When you fit new tyres - rub lots of talcum powder into the inside surfaces. This acts as a lubricant and stops the tubes from pinching and helps the tube to distribute itself evenly inside the tyre when you inflate.
* Do you really think that mini pump will be effective? - try it out in your garage before struggling in the cold and rain on a winters day.
6 - Use correct tyre pressures...
Just because it says '140 PSI' or '9 Bars' on your tyre - it doesn't mean that's what you pump it up to - it's just the pressure that shouldn't be exceeded. Remember - a tyre pumped up to maximum pressure will not be at the safest or fastest pressure for anything other than a straight line on a perfect surface.
If a tyre is pumped up too hard it will loose grip in normal conditions. You need some to have some 'give' in the tyre to absorb road vibration and enable some deformation - this makes your bike's handling much more predictable - otherwise you risk loosing grip suddenly, due to side-slipping.
If in any doubt refer to the following info, which will suit the majority of riders - use as a starting point to find out what works best for you:
700c x < 25c Road = 100 PSI
700 x > 25c Road = 90 PSI
650 x < 1.8" Off Road = 45 PSI
650 x < 1.8" Off Road = 35 PSI
7- Don't wear just shorts when the temperature drops.
In fact, adopt a proper cycling-specific dress code for the entire body - cycling is so different from other sports like running when it come to clothing.
When you run for instance, you use a larger muscle group than you use for cycling and so it is easy to maintain a high core temperature. Cyclists have to deal with wind chill from higher velocities and also have to cope with a much higher range of temperatures. One minute you are trying to avoid over heating on a climb - the next you are having to avoid 50 kmh of wind chill on a descent. Also if you have to stop because you or a partner has punctured - you have to stay warm.
It's a big performance envelop to expect from your clothing - so try to use cycling specific clothing whenever possible.
Legs and knees in particular, are especially at risk because joint tissues are often subject to high loads and due to the fact that they have relatively poor blood supply - they can easily become chilled and more vulnerable to damage - even if the rest of you 'feels' warm.
* If in doubt - be like the professionals - add a layer.
Temperature regulation is the key to comfort. If, during a ride, you stop for any length of time, take your helmet off and maybe one upper layer to loose heat before it turns to sweat against your skin. Replace the helmet and layers as soon as you are cool - then if you are stopping for any longer, add another layer (a cape is ideal) until you have started cycling again and have warmed up. This may sound like hassle but it will make long rides more comfortable - especially in winter.
Edited by Guy_Watson