TIPS FOR RACE DAY PREPARATION
Set up your bike correctly
Trying to ride a bicycle that is not set up correctly is like taking two steps forward and one step back. Everyone is different with respect to leg, arm and torso length, so visiting a specialist bike shop — where you can have your saddle, stem and handlebar positions adjusted so that the bike is effectively tailored to your body — is an extremely worthwhile exercise.
Lighten the load on your cycle
For a commute, shopping trip or any form of cycle tour, you will need the capability to carry ample loads. The easy way to carry any sort of load on a bike is … on the bike, rather than on you! A small rucksack is fine if you’re carrying something extremely light, but otherwise it would be wise to invest in some panniers, a handlebar bag or seat-pack. There are some excellent bike-specific carrying systems on the market which will make your journey much easier. A bag of potatoes carried on the bike is much easier than on your back!
Correct cycling kit makes a difference
A small investment in a few items of specialist bike kit will be extremely useful for you to get the most out of your training. The minimum items are:
- Bike helmet
An absolute must. Modern cycling helmets are lightweight and well ventilated, and can literally save your life in an accident. The likelihood is that a cyclist will sustain an injury in any kind of spill — so protecting your head should be your top priority.
- Cycling shorts
Seamless and chafe-free, proper cycling shorts won’t necessarily add to the enjoyment of your ride, but will prevent soreness from repeated rubbing and should be a key item in your cycling wardrobe.
- Basic bike tools
A set of Allen keys, a puncture repair kit, tyre levers, a spare inner tube and a pump or inflator will keep you on the road. All you need to know is how to change a tyre and mend a puncture and you’re set up.
- Cycling sunglasses
Not for posing! Sunglasses are actually very useful for cyclists; they will keep dirt, dust and flies out of your eyes, and if you choose a pair with interchangeable lenses then they can sharpen your vision in low light conditions, as well as cutting out glare and reflections.
- Bike toe-clips, cleats or spuds
SPDs — or 'spuds', as they are affectionately known — is the brand name for cycling shoes which 'lock in' to your pedal. They make a big difference to your pedalling efficiency because they enable you to pull up as well as push down. If you’ve not tried them before, start with toe-clips, which are easier to get used to. After a while you’ll wonder how you ever managed without them!
Avoid the 'bonk'!
Running low on energy, or 'bonking' as cyclists call it, will prevent your cycling enjoyment. Cycling will increase your energy requirements, so aim to eat small, frequent meals and snacks on the go in order to maintain energy levels. On the bike, carbohydrate drinks will keep you well fuelled — or you could try taking a couple of energy bars which are easy to eat in the saddle.
Hydrate properly when cycling
Whatever the weather conditions, your fluid requirements will increase significantly when cycling. Losses from exhaled breath and from sweating will serve to reduce your blood volume, resulting in your heart having to work much harder. By the time you feel thirsty you will already be dehydrated, so try to drink small, frequent quantities of water or a sports energy drink throughout the ride. (plenty waterpoints on the route) Recent research has shown that over hydrating is dangerous and can have severe consequences. Avoid over hydration. If in doubt consult with your doctor and/or experts.
Go for long rides
The foundation of all your cycling training should be your long ride. Ideally, do a long ride weekly or fortnightly. The long ride will build your endurance and also make you more efficient at utilising fuel. 'Long' means anything longer than your typical daily ride — so anything from one hour upwards is recommended, depending on your fitness and goals. A long ride is also a great opportunity to explore new areas and visit new destinations.
Try biking intervals
To balance out your long ride, try experimenting with some faster-paced riding. Sessions can be infinitely varied, but basically you are looking to ride faster for a short period, for example 10 minutes, followed by a recovery period and then a couple of repeats of the faster effort. Always include a good warm-up and cool-down before and after your session.
Build up strength
Specific strength training will enhance your cycling, particularly for the legs, back and arms.
Get flexible on your bike
A common problem that cyclists encounter is poor chest flexibility. The rounded shoulder position that you use on the bike can lead to overstretched upper back muscles and a tight chest, so try to spend a few minutes stretching after each ride. Include the chest every time, and ideally you should stretch your legs as well.
Fit to cycle?
The better prepared and fitter you are, the more you will get out of your cycling. By starting out with a correctly set up bike, a few items of kit, a fuelled stomach and full fluid bottle, your training will be more enjoyable. There's nothing worse than a long ride when you're on an uncomfortable bike, when you're hungry or when you're wearing unsuitable clothing! Simply follow the tips above and you're guaranteed to get more out of your cycling.